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It's a Rumic World
Taken from Yomiuri Shimbun July 2008
by Kanta Ishida.
The time-traveling, supernatural adventures of middle school student Kagome Higurashi recently came to an end. In the manga series Inuyasha, Kagome slips back in time to the Warring States period of the late 15th to late 16th centuries. There, she teams up with allies including the series' title character, a hanyo (a being who is half human and half yokai fairy), to confront an evil enemy called Naraku.
In its original manga form and in its TV series anime adaptation, Inuyasha has won popularity both in Japan and abroad. But after a 12-year run, the manga saw its final episode published in mid-June in the boys' manga weekly Shonen Sunday, which had carried the series since the beginning.
Shortly before this milestone was reached, I visited Inuyasha's creator, Rumiko Takahashi, at her studio in Nerima Ward, Tokyo.
Takahashi, also renowned for the hit manga series Urusei Yatsura and Maison Ikkoku, marks the 30th anniversary of her debut as a mangaka this year. Her work has had a profound influence not only on the world of manga but also animation and other parts of the culture from the 1980s onward.
For instance, Inuyasha is basically a piquant swashbuckler, but Takahashi broke new ground with it by clearly depicting serious love-hate dramas and the darker aspects of humanity.
"It took me some time to make readers realize I wasn't making a comedy manga this time," Takahashi said. "I always wanted to create a manga with a fateful story or with emotional scenes."
"My story in a way automatically develops according to the characteristics of the characters."
Takahashi said she also wanted readers to focus on male characters in Inuyasha as it had always been her female characters who drew a lot of attention. "So I have never got bored with depicting Inuyasha and his elder half-brother Sesshomaru."
But perhaps the most striking character is Naraku, an invulnerable monster who repeatedly transforms itself in grotesque ways. It is a truly insidious manifestation of evil, which is rather unusual for a character found in Takahashi's work.
"Things like 'world conquest' do not mean very much to me," Takahashi said. "Isn't a desire to tenaciously pick on a romantic rival easier to understand?"
"It is the character of Naraku that he prefers destruction to control and wants everybody dead. Although, he might have just wanted to be loved by someone at heart," she said.
When asked whether she finds that people like Naraku are becoming more numerous in the real world, she said she dissociates her manga from reality.
"Since reality is much more harsh, I just think I can't forgive the culprits of brutal cases since people in a weaker position always become the victims," she said.
When it came to the fate of the series' heroine, even with a publication deadline already on the calendar, Takahashi told me: "I still don't know what I should do with Kagome in the end."
Takahashi said she does not decide things in detail when she creates manga for weeklies since some improvisation is necessary for such publications. "My story in a way automatically develops according to the characteristics of the characters."
For a reporter who is of the same generation as her, Takahashi's debut with Urusei Yatsura while she was still a university student was shocking. I was fascinated with the manga's surrealistic, knockabout, strong science-fiction flavor and rapid-fire comic dialogue. Moreover, I got a major kick out of heroine Lum, a fantastically sexy bikini-clad princess with petite demon's horns from outer space.
"I didn't think the depiction was too racy. I just made it. I sketched about 10 kinds of hairstyles and costumes, and finally decided on what I thought best," Takahashi said.
Since she is a great fan of science-fiction novels by Yasutaka Tsutsui and Kazumasa Hirai, Takahashi had always thought of making manga like their world.
"I first regarded Lum as a guest character. I didn't think she would be so popular," she said.
Ataru Moroboshi, the protagonist, was originally slated to marry his classmate, Shinobu Miyake, but Lum became popular enough to wrest Shinobu's position from her, which made the closing episodes of Urusei Yatsura confusing.
After graduating from university, Takahashi started to serialize Maison Ikkoku, while continuing to work on Urusei Yatsura, in the newly launched manga magazine Big Comic Spirits, creating a renowned manga pattern of "love between a female manager and a male lodger".
Takahashi's works stood out for their reversal of power relationships between men and women. Her heroines are strong and tough, and men are masochistically at their beck and call. After Maison Ikkoku, manga with similar 'Ikkoku-kei' patterns began to find favour among otaku readers.
The 1980s were also an era of romantic comedy in manga, typified by such major hits as Kimio Yanagisawa's Tonda Kappuru, Mitsuru Adachi's Miyuki and Touch, and Hidenori Hara's Sayonara Sankaku. But Takahashi's works might have helped young male readers discover their inner 'girl's mind'.
"I just felt everything became possible in manga, and people began to read manga openly and fairly, compared to the time when I made my debut," she said.
Nowadays, female mangaka working for boys' manga magazines are not uncommon. But Takahashi's contribution to them is beyond comparison. The serialisations of Urusei Yatsura and Ranma 1/2 lasted for nine years each, while that of Inuyasha continued for 12 years.
Even manga giant Osamu Tezuka, best known for his Astro Boy, did not accomplish the feat of working at the manga forefront for as long as 30 years.
Takahashi, the daughter of a maternity clinic doctor in Niigata Prefecture, has read Shonen Sunday ever since she was small, thanks to her elder brother's influence.
She was fascinated with Osomatsu-kun by Fujio Akatsuka, Obake no Q-taro by mangaka duo Fujiko Fujio and Tezuka's Vampire.
Takahashi only once produced a short manga for a girls' manga magazine. It was Slim Kannon, which she contributed to Petit Comic in 1991.
"I didn't know how to draw girls' manga, so I asked my assistant how to do it," she recalled. She said then she realised how difficult it is to do.
She also has been contributing a series of works to Big Comic Original with middle-aged salarymen as protagonists. The works are full of pathos, including P no Higeki and Senmu no Inu, and are receiving high critical marks.
But her primary arena is boys manga magazines. "I want to stick to manga for primary, middle school and high school students as long as there are readers.
"I began to receive a lot of fan letters from girl readers around when I began to draw Ranma. They sent me a lot when I began drawing Inuyasha, too. I want boys read more in my next work," she said.
Her studio is filled with ambiguous or mysterious items, including a doll of Urusei Yatsura character Kotatsuneko, made by one of her fans; a potbellied figure of priest Sakurambo (Cherry), another Urusei Yatsura character; and a nobori vertical flag displaying the word "yakisoba" (grilled noodles).
It was like an ennichi fair--a collection of food stands and carnival game booths--from a different world, something that Takahashi fans cannot resist. Like the everyday tumult at the Ikkokukan lodging house in Maison Ikkoku, the world of Takahashi is basically upbeat and filled with childlike innocence and wonder, making you want to go back there repeatedly.
"It's up to readers whether they laugh or cry with my manga. What I want them to do most is to relax and enjoy it," Takahashi said.
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