Rumiko Takahashi
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Interview in Italy

Taken from Kappa Magazine Issue 5, Star Comics November, 1992 Translated by: Dylan Acres


Question: Give us a quick overview of your career.

Takahashi: I have held my current job for approximately 14 years, but I wouldn't be able to pin down the exact day in which I made my debut in this field... The only thing that I can say with certainty, is that I didn't keep my "pen name" very long.

Question: Where were you born?

Takahashi: I was born and grew up in Niigata where I attended the local grammar school; after that, I transferred to Tokyo for university. Then, during my third year, I participated in a new comic artist competition organized by Shogakukan. I succeeded in earning one of the prizes for the best works in the competition, and it was then that my career began, at the age of twenty.

Question: What pushed you into participating in the competition in the first place, and then launching yourself into the world of comics?

Takahashi: It was a dream that I chased since I was a child... Then, living in Tokyo and seeing all those big houses around me, I thought about being able to make it and I enrolled myself in the competition with confidence.

Question: Had you designed comic strips since you were a child?

Takahashi: Yes and it was always my passion. In the beginning I limited myself to writing small four panel strips. Then, in grammar school, I participated in my first competition... and it was truly a disaster!

Question: Did the fact that you decided to enroll in a university in Tokyo have something do to with your ambitions to be a cartoonist?

Takahashi: No, that choice had nothing to do with my career ambitions. Seeing the failure of my first competition, I decided to renounce it all and enroll myself at the university in my hometown. But my parents had other ideas. They convinced to me to transfer to Tokyo, so that I could create my own, independent, life.

Question: As far as your professional techniques, did you develop them alone or with the aid of some master?

Takahashi: I learned the necessary techniques imitating my favorite artists, and learned to trace lines by roughly estimating. During my college years I took a course in manga illustration from master Kazuo Koike. Over the course of the six month class I was pushed to devise no less than one story per week. Then they made me excercise my ability to create vignettes and entire pages, and these pages had to be based on the scenarios that had been written throughout the course. To be among so many people who had the same ambitions as I did was a stimulating experience and it encouraged me to continue on my path. The disciplines that were taught there were all high quality: in fact some of them I have only been able to understand and appreciate after working in the business for many years.

Question:Which authors have influenced you?

Takahashi:There have been many. In the beginning my favorite one was the great Osamu Tezuka, and then I fell in love with the works of Fujio Akatsuka (Doraemon). While I attended middle school I was huge fan of Spider-Man from Marvel Comics: the Japanese version was written by Kosei Ono and illustrated by Ryoichi Ikegami; after that I became interested in the works of Kazumasa Hirai, but the designs of Ikegami continued to appeal a lot to me. His art was what pushed me to become a cartoonist.

Question:What manga are you currently interested in?

Takahashi:Right now, the most interesting manga to me is Parasyte (by Hitoshi Iwaki), published in Afternoon by Kodansha.

Question:What do you like about it?

Takahashi:The story is very difficult to describe, because if it were not for the extraordinary ability of the author, the work would almost be grotesque. Iwaki succeeds in portraying tears and love truthfully but with a humanity that's uncommon.

Question:Which foriegn authors do you like?

Takahashi:I do not know many, but at times I find American comic strips appealing, they have very beautiful designs.

Question:Do you think it is better for an author who writes and designs their works alone, or is it better to have a subdivision in tasks such as writing and illustration between two people?

Takahashi:It all depends on the author: in my case I prefer to work alone, therefore I am totally responsible for the work. But in the case of an author who has a large-capacity for artistic design, but is insufficiently endowed when it comes to inventing stories, then it would be easier to work from comics written by others. In this case, however, discordance between the two authors can arise, so it's not an easy task.

Question:Most people think that if one's manga is turned into an animated series, then that is the true measure of success. What is your opinion on that?

Takahashi:This also depends on various authors points of view. Personally I am content that my job can be transposed to animation and appear in videos. I realize the propagandist power of the TV, even if the cartoons don't always stimulate the content of the work. Recently a lot of works have been converted from paper to screen, but unfortunately they are not always faithful to the stories they originated from... In some of these cases I'm a bit disappointed.

Question:Your manga are well loved in Italy, and you have many admirers here. That being said, how do you account for your fans all over the world when your stories so closely follow the legacies of Japanese traditions?

Takahashi:Perhaps it is out of curiosity. What is astonishing to me is the interest of foriegn readers in a series like Urusei Yatsura. In fact, this type of comic is pure fantasy, therefore in order to render it as realistically as possible, it is necessary to describle the daily life of the Japanese well. Perhaps the foreign readers are curious about this as opposed to the typical folklore of Japan.

Question:Reading your work it is obvious that Japanese traditions, such as popular fables and stories, often find themselves in your writing. How did you become interested in these stories?

Takahashi:For me, fables represent a shared knowledge, in the sense that the great mass of Japanese readers remember the stories, and are therefore easy for them to understand. The popularity of fables are important and helpful in comics, in that they are easily understood by the mass audience.

Question:Is it true that Maison Ikkoku relects some of your personal experiences?

Takahashi:Yes and no...its my perspective on life. Naturally, in Maison Ikkoku, my way of thinking is reflected, but my life does not have a happy ending yet...

Question:How would you define what "kind" of manga it is?

Takahashi:For the most part, its a romantic comedy.

Question:Evidently this type of story really appeals to you. What other genre's do you like?

Takahashi:Honestly, I love all comics, from sports to drama. Though my work reflects other aspects of my personality; in fact when I read novels or see a film, I prefer comedies. Even if I try to write sports or dramatic works, in the end they always become comedies. That's what I'm naturally inclined to do.

Question:Usually manga that are produced by women are serious, dramatic works. However yours are completely varied...did you purposefully choose to go this route at the beginning of your career?

Takahashi:With Urusei Yatsura it was my intention to create a science-fiction/fantasy story as the background of the series, and it nearly became a farce. Up to that point there were not many manga of its kind, so I wanted to begin a new tradition. But soon after the series began its publication, readers would send letters and I learned that their interest was mostly concentrated on the relationship between Lum and Ataru. At the beginning this astonished me, but then I became convinced that that would be a natural direction to go in.

Question:Where do you draw the inspiration in order to create manga like Urusei Yatsura, Maison Ikkoku, Ranma , Mermaid Forest, Dust Spot and Rumic World?

Takahashi:As far as Urusei Yatsura goes, it's like I've said before. In the case of Maison Ikkoku, when I was a student, behind the building I lived in there was an apartment house full of strange people. The place was rather suspicious, and I recall this happening a lot: there was a boy wearing a hat and a blonde man, and a kendo mask was always hung in a window. This apartment wasn't far away from the road, and every so often I saw someone come out to the street and use a two-way radio to communicate with someone in the building.....I came to realize that it was natural to expect strange things from this apartment building. But the story had to be a drama with realistic implications, and I decided without a particular reason that the main protagonist had to be the caretaker of the building. And then the appearance of the student who is ready to move out until he meets her, and is busy preparing for the college entrance exam. The comic element, the romance between the two, came into the story as it moved along, and soon, without me noticing it, became the main story. With Ranma , I had thought a lot of doing a series with a male/female like protagonist, and since in the greater part of my previous stories the main character had been a woman, I planned to use a man this time. I was worried about writing a male main character because of the hundreds and hundreds of male readers, therefore I decided on the character being half man and half woman. In Mermaid Forest I have not illustrated my personal world. I wanted the reader to feel the atmosphere of a typical small Japanese village. One of those places that everyone of us visited when we were little and on which which an infinite number of fables and legends were based. With Dust Spot I had already had it in mind before my debut. When I was young and played with my friends we would invent and design characters: it was then that the inspiration for the story came to me. Dust Spot however, although it is very old and only ran for five chapters, is one of those stories which people have become very attached to. In the series Rumic World I have put the reader into various single stories, some are in the same vein as Mermaid, others are comedies. Also the capacity for comedy can be found in people's everyday lives. Every so often I would want to be able to write a story with a normal person, an individual who behaves seriously from the beginning of the story to the end. With regard to the slapstick manga, I can say that they are truly my forte...they come to me more easily.

Question:When you prepare new stories, do the ideas come rapid-fire, one after the other?

Takahashi:I have always needed to go to my deepest thoughts, trying to understand the best thing to make in that moment. With dramatic stories I strain myself to come up with ideas, because that type of manga is more difficult for me. Instead with comedies, especially those that are conclusive, I have to invent many situations and I can try different things. This means that I have to have lots of new ideas, therefore I might need to consult with the editor.

Question:How do you decide to end a series?

Takahashi:In the case of Maison Ikkoku, practically since the beginning I had decided to finish it with the wedding of the protagonists, and then the story would move along in whatever way you could imagine. At the same time I was also ending Urusei Yatsura, which I could have continued, but it had lasted for a long time and I chose to dedicate myself to completely starting a new story.

Question:Are there any special instruments or technical particulars that you use in your work?

Takahashi:No, nothing special, which the exception of some authors who use excessive amounts of adhesive films and screen tones, my methods are normal.

Question:Do you have assistants who help you in your work?

Takahashi:Today there are five of us, while earlier in my career, when I published Urusei Yatsura and Maison Ikkoku there were three of us, including myself. They were very fast with their designs and so we were more than sufficient with just the three of us. And I don't use male assistants so that the girls will work more seriously if they aren't worried about boys.

Question:Their job consists of drawing the backgrounds?

Takahashi:Yes, I sketch them and they finish them.

Question:About how much time is necessary for you to layout a chapter?

Takahashi:Before I do anything I make the sequence of the story out on paper, and that takes about nine to twelve hours for a sixteen page story. The longer the story the longer the amount of time necessary to complete it.

Question:About how much time does it take from the creation of a story until the finished product?

Takahashi:If I've started laying things out in the evening, then I will have finished by dawn. After I have rested for about a day I call my assistants and in the course of two or three nights we finish the job. If we strain ourselves we can finish the whole thing in four days, but usually five days are necessary.

Question:So you don't have a certain day to rest duing the week?

Takahashi: If I have something truly interesting to do then I take a day off.

Question: Then you cannot take a vacation for a long period of time?

Takahashi: Exactly. In fact, in the last five or six years I have not taken a single vacation. (She finally took one after the end of Ranma , in 1996.)

Question:What advice would you give to aspiring cartoonists?

Takahashi:First, try to focus on stories that will come to you in the easiest and funniest way possible. When an interesting thought comes to mind, think of the readers and how many people will truly be able to appreciate it. The last bit of advice is that you can't do a story if it doesn't appeal to you, because the most important thing is that you make yourself happy: only after this can you strain yourself enough to amuse others as well.

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