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Rumiko Takahashi at the beginning of her career
discussing the way she creates her manga in Sunday Manga Garage.
Written by Harley & Dylan Acres
On October 10, 1957 one of the most significant creators in
Japan was brought into this world in Niigata, Japan. Rumiko Takahashi
had a normal childhood, but her interest in manga seemed no more
developed than that of most Japanese adolescents. She occasionally
doodled in the margins of her notebooks while attending Niigata
Chuo High School, but never considered tackling the difficult life
of a manga creator as a profession. Even during her college years,
manga had only risen to a hobby for Takahashi. During her years
at Japan Women's University she enrolled in Gekiga Sonjuku, a manga
school that was known for the demanding nature of its founder, Kazuo
Koike (best known in the United States for Lone Wolf and Cub
and Crying Freeman). Koike is a giant creator in Japan, and
his personal overseeing of Takahashi's formative years clearly left
an impression on her work. During her time at Gegika Sonjuku she
worked alongside another up-and-comer Atsuji Yamamoto. While attending
Gegika Sonjuku, she also entered Nihon Josei-dai, an exclusive women's
university, where she became friends with Hanako Meijiro, a fellow
manga artist and Reiko Hikawa, a fantasy writer. She also worked
as an assistant under Kazuo Umezu, Japan premiere horror manga creator,
who's Orochi series is considered one of the finest in the
genre. Takahashi would become more noted than any of her acquaintances,
and her popularity would rival, and perhaps surpass that of her
For two years Takahashi trained under Koike, who
stressed the importance of interesting characters in one's stories.
Takahashi's fascinating characters can be linked to lessons she
learned during this time. From the perverted protagonist of Urusei
Yatsura, Ataru Moroboshi, to the conflicted innocence of Angela
in One-Pound Gospel, Takahashi's characters are one of a
kind. Her characters break the mold established for most anime and
manga archetypes. She takes care to portray women as very strong
characters who break away from the traditional view of the demure,
Japanese, female. Her females match her male characters in toughness
Almost all of her characters though are not good or evil- only human.
Her characters are constantly at odds with each other and the situations
they find themselves in. Rivalries flare up and die down and people
fall in and out of love. For instance, the hapless Shinobu Miyake
of Urusei Yatsura loves the fickle Ataru Moroboshi, but eventually
grows tired of his skirt-chasing and begins to pursue Shutaro Mendo,
a suave, richboy. As the series goes on it seems as if the two will
finally have their moment in the sun, but it never comes and Shinobu
once again moves on to find true love with Inaba.
Another shining example of Takahashi's ingenious characterization
is Shun Mitaka from Maison Ikkoku. In Mitaka, Takahashi has
found yet another fascinating character study. She sets him up as
a perfect man who has everything going for him, money, looks, refinement;
and plays him against Godai, who has nothing going for him. It would
be easy for Takahashi to follow the formula of most romantic stories
and make Mitaka a greedy jerk who is only out to get what he wants
and then leave Kyoko, but ingeniously she takes a completely different
approach. Mitaka loves Kyoko as much as Godai does, and readers
are made to see that he shouldn't be judged based on his looks or
his money, but what is in his heart. These ever evolving relationships
in Takahashi's work are a testament to the way her characters grow
throughout their published lives.
After graduation, Takahashi returned to honor
Koike's manga school by doing a years worth of covers for the school's
magazine, Gekiga Sonjuku.
Before signing with Shogakukan, Rumiko Takahashi's
work was first published in this fanzine, Bibitto.
In 1976 Takahashi began putting her training to
use, publishing short manga as a part of the Japan Women's University
Manga Club. As part of the club she put out stories like Thus
A Half of Them Are Gone and Bye-Bye Road. Her earliest
years were fraught with difficult decisions for the young creator.
She had to choose between entering the work force or pursuing her
dream of becoming a manga artist. In Japan, not participating in
the difficult process of interviewing for a job at the same age
as others can negatively affect ones future. Should Takahashi try
her hand at comics for a few years and find no success, the job
market would not hire someone her age when there were other younger
people who were just as qualified. Thus the decision to become a
manga artist was a difficult one. Her parents tried to dissuade
her from her chosen path, but ultimately she decided to carry on.
Her stories caught the eye of mega-publisher Shogakukan, and she
was invited to publish a story for their weekly boy's magazine,
Shonen Sunday. Little did Takahashi know that this magazine
would become her home for the rest of the century and beyond. The
story that Takahashi published was Those Selfish Aliens,
her first professional work and the one that earned Takahashi the
prized "New Artist Award" and gave her the opportunity to publish
her first serial. The story that she was about to create would go
on to be one of the most beloved series of the 1980's, Urusei
The rigors of publishing a weekly manga series proved
difficult for the young creator. Unfortunately Takahashi had trouble
meeting deadlines early on and the publication was frequently interrupted
until 1980, when she finally found her niche and began publishing
with regularity. After all being that she was only 20 years old,
and was entering a field dominated by males, strict deadlines and
schedules, Takahashi was off to a rousing start. Urusei Yatsura
was offbeat and quirky, but popular.
The story was unique- a young boy with incredibly bad luck is just
trying to have time with his girlfriend when an annoying monk predicts
terrible things for him. The young boy, Ataru Moroboshi, is forced
to compete against Lum, an alien princess, in a game of tag with
the world's fate hanging in the balance. The story evolves and changes
as Takahashi becomes more comfortable with her characters and storytelling
abilities. Ataru goes from a hapless, unlucky high schooler into
a legendary pervert. Lum, a character who was intended to become
only a minor part of the story became the main focus of the series
and then as years passed evolved into a Japanese icon. Looking back
Takahashi says that Urusei Yatsura was easy for her to write
due to the fact that she was writing for a college-aged audience,
which is exactly who she was at the time.
The early years of her career were tough. In the beginning she
lived in a 150 square foot apartment with her two assistants. The
apartment was small, messy, and crowded from wall to wall with artistic
supplies, manga, and empty ramen cartons. She often slept in a closet
due to the size constraints. Her life at this time became the inspiration
for her second series, Maison Ikkoku. Created in 1980 and
published simultaneously with Urusei Yatsura (although it
was monthly whereas Urusei Yatsura was weekly), Maison
Ikkoku follows Yusaku Godai, a young man in his early twenties
who is a ronin, a student who has failed the college entrance examination
and now must wait a year before he can retake it. As he waits, he
moves into a cheap boarding house called Maison Ikkoku and encounters
the insane tenants of the building, who waste no time in making
his life miserable. When he finally decides to move out, a new building
manager appears in the form of Kyoko Otonashi, a gorgeous young
woman who was recently become widowed. The series follows Godai
trying to win the heart of the more mature Kyoko as he attempts
to find his place in the world and fend of his rival for Kyoko's
affections, Shun Mitaka, a suave, handsome, rich, tennis coach.
The complex romantic triangle established in the series sucks readers
in and creates a truly universal story about the hardships of love.
Takahashi's home over the course of her entire
career, Shonen Sunday. She would also publish in other magazines
such as Big Comic Spirits, Young Sunday, BIG GORO,
Petit Comics, and Heibon Punch.
Takahashi in her late late 20s, while simulatneously
publishing both Urusei Yatsura for Shonen Sunday and
Maison Ikkoku for Big Comic Spirits.
Takahashi wrote Maison Ikkoku for an older
audience than the other projects she was working on at the time
and it shows. The series is her most realistic work. There are no
aliens, martial artists, or demons- only people who are down on
their luck trying to find someone they can relate to and overcome
the odds life has handed them. The characterization of the series
is some of the best seen in any manga series. Yusaku Godai undergoes
an amazing transformation as the series moves in real time. He grows
with the readers and through sheer determination he leaves behind
his indecisiveness and becomes a successful, mature adult.
The pinnacle achievement for almost any manga artist is to have
one of their works translated into animation. Takahashi reached
this goal in 1981, guaranteeing her more notoriety, success, and
fame. Urusei Yatsura began airing on television sets across
Japan on October 14, 1981 and was directed by a then unknown Mamoru
Oshii. Oshii would go on to become one of the most significant Japanese
directors of the 1980s and 1990s with other series such as Patlabor,
Ghost in the Shell, and Jin-Roh, but his success began
as he rode Takahashi's rising star of celebrity. The adaptation
of Urusei Yatsura began her long association with Kitty Animation,
the company responsible for animating all of her works throughout
the 1980s and 1990s. Her association continued with the company
until Kitty Animation went out of business in the late 1990s.
Takahashi had a mass of ideas she wanted to get on paper in the
early years of her career, and the 1980s are marked by the dozens
of short stories she created. Three of her stories- Maris the
Chojo, Fire Tripper, and The Laughing Target were
all made into successful OAVs. Her short stories would continue
throughout her career, but the 1980s marked her most significant
outpouring of this genre.
1987 may have been the most significant year of
Takahashi's career. She had been in the business as a pro for almost
10 years when she decided to end her two ongoing series, Urusei
Yatsura and Maison Ikkoku. In retrospect Takahashi views
both series as her Twenties personified, and will always remember
them fondly. Both series found their happy endings, and Takahashi
was quick to move on to the next phase of her career.
She began by creating The Mermaid Saga, a series she has
worked on on-and-off for a decade. The series follows a pair of
immortals who seek to find an end to their everlasting life and
die in peace. While most creators would make characters enamored
with the powers of eternal life, only Takahashi would create characters
who sought to end their unending existences. These characters marked
a truly new direction in storytelling for the creator. This was
not her usual romantic comedy, but a dark, horrific and graphically
violent story. It was very akin to her mentor Kazuo Koike's works.
Yuta is a 500 year old immortal who wanders across Japan for centuries
before he finds Mana, a young immortal who he takes as his companion.
They meet others who seek to gain their power but are not strong
enough, resulting in most becoming demonic creatures called 'Lost
Souls'. The Lost Souls were used as a metaphor for qualities in
man that would seek immortality for selfish gain. Takahashi has
said that The Mermaid Saga is a way for her to release her
inner emotions- a catharsis.
She followed The Mermaid Saga with One-Pound Gospel,
published in the newly debuting magazine Young Sunday, a
spin-off of Shonen Sunday where Urusei Yatsura had
run. One-Pound Gospel is unique in that it deals with Christianity,
a very offbeat topic for manga in a culture that is dominated by
Buddhism and Shintoism. At it's core it is a series about commitments.
Angela is a novice nun preparing to take her vows, the most important
to the series being the vow of celebacy. She is tempted by a young
boxer named Kosaku Hatanaka who has his own temptation- food. He
constantly battles his weight problems to stay within his proper
weight class, all while trying to win the heart of the seemingly
unattainable, a woman who is completely unavailable due to her religious
commitments to God.
The ending of Urusei Yatsura and Maison Ikkoku
marked the end of an era for the author, and the start of a brand
Takahashi hits 30 and begins Ranma ½ and
has her first work published in English in the USA. This photo was
taken from an interview in 1989 shortly before the anime series debut.
And then, as if 1987 was not busy enough already,
Takahashi released another blockbuster, her third major series,
Ranma ½. During the late 1980s the shonen (boys) manga field
was dominated by martial arts stories, the most significant being
Akira Toriyama's hit Dragon Ball Z. Takahashi always enjoyed
the action and martial arts of Fist of the Northstar and
decided to take her own swing at martial arts manga. Of course she
added in her trademark romance and comedy for an completely unique
story. Ranma ½ follows Ranma Saotome, a headstrong young
martial artist who has recently returned to Japan from a long training
trip in China. He is engaged to Akane Tendo, a friend of the family,
against his will and then his embarrassing secret is revealed....when
splashed with cold water this macho martial artist becomes a girl.
The series deals with gender issues, an often touched upon topic
in Takahashi's work. The relationship between a tomboy girl and
a macho boy/girl creates an interesting dynamic that had not been
seen before, but has been often imitated since.
Ranma ½, like her previous series, also was made into an
anime. The series dealt with ups and downs in the ratings. The series
sometimes drifted away from the work of Takahashi which could relate
to the difficulties the series faced from time to time. As the series
met it's end in 1992, Takahashi expressed her sadness to see it
go, but subsequent specials and films hued more closely to her original
ideas. Unfortunately though, she ended the manga in 1996 shortly
after the final piece of Ranma ½ animation was released.
The series was never to be resolved in animated form. As the 1990s
came to a close Kitty Animation, the home of all of the animated
adaptations of her works went out of business.
In 1989 Takahashi had another distinction, her works were translated
and published in English for the very first time. A subsidiary of
Takahashi's publisher in Japan, Viz first released Urusei Yatsura
in 1989 and ran the manga sporadically for a few years. Unfortunately
it did not meet with the success that the series did in Japan, perhaps
due to cultural hurdles or because of poor marketing. Regardless
of the lack of success of Urusei Yatsura, it opened the doors
for the rest of her work to be translated and each subsequent title
met with increasing accolades. Rumiko Takahashi, more than any other
creator, ushered in manga and anime to English speaking audiences.
To honor her great achievements she won the prestigious Inkpot Award
in 1994 at the San Diego Comic Convention.
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On July 6, 1995 Shogakukan celebrated the sale of
Rumiko Takahashi's one-hundred millionth book, Ranma ½ Volume
34. Guests of the event were greeted by girls dressed as Lum from
Urusei Yatsura, and Takahashi was accompanied by her favorite
Takarazuka actor, Yoka Wao. As the ceremony began, a highlight reel
was shown featuring all of Takahashi's past work. The montage was
narrated by Fumi Hirano and Toshio Furukawa, better known as the
voices behind one of Takahashi's most famous couples, Lum and Ataru
from Urusei Yatsura. Following the presentation, Takahashi
was given a piece of framed artwork signed by various manga artists
congratulating her on the achievement. The artwork was presented
by Mitsuru Adachi, a fellow manga creator who's series have appeared
in Shonen Sunday alongside Takahashi's since the beginning
of her career. The two artists have remarkably similar careers,
both have a simplistic yet elegant style to their artwork, both
have reached the one-hundred million selling point, and both have
worked for Shogakukan's Shonen Sunday weekly magazine throughout
their careers. The two artists have even collaborated on drawings.
Takahashi openly admits that Adachi is one of her favorite peers.
After Takahashi received her honor from Adachi, a wrestling ring
was erected, and in honor of Takahashi's love of the sport, a match
took place between Genma Saotome in panda form from Ranma ½
and Kotatsu-neko from Urusei Yatsura. Following the exhibition,
six of Japan's most famous wrestlers put on a show for the audience.
The match consisted of a six-way tag match between Manami Toyata,
Reggie Bennett and Kaoru Ito versus Kyoko Inoue, Takato Inoue and
Aja Kong. After the match ended the announcer proclaimed, "The real
winner tonight is Takahashi!".
Throughout the rest of the 1990s Takahashi continued on and off
with her Mermaid Saga stories and One-Pound Gospel.
Often her short stories were published in Big Comic Spirits
rather than their old home of Shonen Sunday. Because of this
change her works were more in the vein of Maison Ikkoku,
domestic and family comedies rather than for the science fiction
bent her earlier worked dealt with. This marked a maturation in
her subject matters and would be even more apparent in the fourth
major series of her career, Inu-Yasha Sengoku o Togi Zoshi.
Inu-Yasha marked a major change in the way she presented
her most mainstream works. It was much darker and decidedly non-comedic
when compared to the works that had come before. It had more in
common with the dark and violent Mermaid Saga than anything
else. Inu-Yasha deals with the reawakening of a half-demon
named Inu-Yasha who must come to terms with the death of the woman
he loved who he believed betrayed him fifty years earlier. A classic
Takahashi love triangle is set up when the woman, Kikyo, comes back
from the dead only to find he is now with her reincarnation from
the future, Kagome. The relationships are more mature even though
it focuses on youthful characters. Life and death are common elements
dealt with in the series, and it often feels as though the characters
lives are hanging by a thread. These are certainly the most tormented
group she has ever written. It also marks the creation of her first
irredeemable villian, Naraku. By doing this Takahashi moved away
from justifying the actions of her earlier antagonists and created
a truly evil being with no regard for the lives of others.
With the closure of Kitty Animation, Takahashi had to find a new
production company to release the animation for Inu-Yasha.
It had been four years since Ranma ½ ended, marking the longest
drought in having one of her television shows on the air in Japan.
Fans welcomed her back with open arms and Inu-Yasha became
one of her biggest successes yet. Some of this popularity can be
attributed to the new company behind the anime, Sunrise, best known
for their work on the legendary Mobile Suit Gundam franchise.
Sunrise stayed closer to her original story ideas than Kitty did
with Ranma ½, marketed it well, and success came in spades.
In 2003, Sunrise began another animated series based on her short
stories. This time the company decided to focus on her domestic,
mature comedies rather that the slapstick short stories most recognized
by her fanbase.
As the new millennium begins, Takahashi is still on top and growing
more and more successful every year. Her career continues to explode
after almost thirty years of creating manga. She has devoted her
life to her career, never marrying, and by her own confession rarely
having time to enjoy her massive fortune. She has no regrets regarding
the path she has followed. Rumiko Takahashi's stories bring happiness
to millions of people across the globe, and that enjoyment is what
brings her back to her drawing table every week.
Some of her earliest English work was published
in the anthology magazine Manga Vizion.