Talk With Takahashi
It's difficult to discuss someone like Rumiko Takahashi. After all, her work has had unending popularity with fans, both in Japan and here in the U.S. Urusei Yatsura was what hooked ME on anime and manga, and that declaration is one I hear over and over from other fans. There's something magical about the way her stories and characters cast a spell on her audience, and inspire their devotion. So, when writing about her, one tends to be somewhat intimidated; and I certainly never expected a chance to meet her.
In August 1994, at the San Diego Comicon, I did get a chance to meet her, and so did every fan at the convention. This was, I was told, only her second visit to the Continental U.S. I always wondered why she hadn't come more often, so I asked someone who should know: Toren Smith. Mr. Smith is the only person I know of that has actually been able to interview her. He said that it's just a question of time and cultural interest: It seems that Takahashi-sensei, who is constantly at work drawing and creating, doesn't have a lot of time to travel. And since she is most interested in eastern cultures, she tends to go to China or Southeast Asia rather than to the mainland U.S. This tendency doesn't seem to apply to Hawaii; Takahashi seems to enjoy the tropical beaches, and this interest shows in her work. Beach settings, and Hawaii as a location, appear regularly in all of her manga.
At San Diego Con, Takahashi was scheduled for two autograph sessions and a panel. The autograph sessions were more like sold out rock concerts: only 125 'tickets' were given out which entitled the bearer to a moment alone with Takahashi and a signature. Most of these were snapped up by dealers, who saw this as an opportunity to instantly double the value of their Rumic merchandise. Those few fans who won through did so by getting in line at the crack of dawn and then waiting for hours.
Even if one wasn't among the lucky few who participated in the autograph sessions, there was still her panel. At the panel would be a showing of the dubbed version of the second Ranma movie, and then an awards ceremony, and a question-and-answer session. The most anticipated part of the panel was the q&a session: at last, an opportunity to ask the questions that burn in fans' hearts!
The large hall was packed with fans and pros alike. A treMendos cheer erupted from the crowd as Miss Takahashi appeared at the side door and moved toward the speaker's platform. Her appearance was that one of her own characters: Takahashi-sensei has the rounded face, and attractive features of her creations; her hair was cut in a short bob, rather like Shinobu of Urusei Yatsura. Her voice low and intimate, like Sakura's voice (another U*Y character).
She came in 'costume': a black Chinese chi pao dress (like something Shan Poo might wear as a formal). Takahashi seemed a bit uncomfortable at being the center of attention; I understand that in Japan she is no longer the avid con-goer she once was for this reason. She appeared somewhat distressed by the presence of personnel from certain anime magazines, and tried to keep a good distance between herself and them. Nonetheless, she seemed to be genuinely fond of the fans, particularly those in costume. Costumers were moved to the front of the line, and two of Miss Takahashi's assistants were sent out to take photos of all the outfits!
After she thanked the convention and fans for coming, the English dubbed version of the second Ranma movie Battle At Togenkyo! Bring Back The Brides! began. This was the best job at dubbing I have seen to be released by Viz, a triumph by their standards: there were actually a few lines that were adequately written, and delivered in character. The general effect was more amateurish, rather than intentional vandalism. At the end of the movie, the audience politely applauded, since they could hardly do anything else with Rumiko Takahashi herself present.
Miss Takahashi was then presented with the Inkpot award, which is presented by Comicon and the comics industry for outstanding contribution to comic art. A handsome wood plaque with a brass engraved plate, the Inkpot is highly prized by comic artists, writers, and producers; much as the Oscar is prized in the film industry. It is a symbol that one's work is recognized as outstanding, by both the fans and the professionals in comics.
After her gracious acceptance of this award, she was then honored with Anime Expo's "Most Popular Male Character Award (for Ranma-kun). This is an award presented by the Anime Expo convention, on behalf of and in representation of...well, Anime Expo. This handsome certificate, printed on genuine paper, was also accepted by Takahashi-sensei with gratitude; although I cannot be sure she took it with her when she left.
There was then a general stampede as a major percentage of the crowd tried to get in the line to ask questions. Luckily, I and some of my associates were favored for line positions, since we were fully in costume. As I took my photographs, Miss Takahashi smiled for me, warm and as bright and friendly as a sunrise.
Takahashi-sensei settled in front of her microphone, conferring a moment with her translator, She said that she was happy to see her comics enjoyed so much, and asked the audience to please continue to enjoy them.
I asked Miss Takahashi if, when she first started, was she uncertain about doing this kind of work (creating manga) as a career. She replied, "I was very uncertain about doing this when I was in college (she attended Japan Women's University)". While she was at college, Miss Takahashi also attended the Gekiga Sonjuku manga school, which gave her work a professional honing.
She continued, "Within three years, I had won the Shogakukan manga award (a year after she graduated)." This award is for new artists, presented by the Shogakukan's editorial board to an outstanding newcomer. "After that," Takahashi said, "I was pretty certain I would make it as a manga artist."
Does she use any special art supplies or techniques to create her manga? "As for the paper I use, I get it from a printer; it's nothing special. I just use a zebra type "G" pen, and I use pilot ink. Just standard, everyday art supplies.
Is there some project that Takahashi is particularly proud of, a story she liked best? "I'm very proud of all the work I do...but perhaps the darker stories, like Mermaid 's Scar."
To most Americans, it seems there is a recurring theme concerning male/female relationships (and how they work) in her stories. Is there any intentional message that Miss Takahashi is trying to convey? "The story of boy meets girl is more a habit than anything else. It makes the story easy to write, and puts emotion into the characters. As for any message in my work, well, "It's good for people to love each other" is the simple answer. Other than that, there's no deep meaning behind this." From seeing her work (and her realistic portrayal of male characters), one might think she has a surprising insight into the way men actually think and feel, even though she tends to make fun of them a bit. Takahashi's reaction was "we're all human, male and female."
Takahashi-sensei then discussed aspects of specific works, like Maison Ikkoku. Where did the idea Maison Ikkoku come from?
She replied, "When I was in college, there was a very run down, Ikokku-kan type apartment behind where I lived, and I would see different, strange people coming in and out of that apartment. Sometimes I'd sit around and wonder, ‘what kind of strange people live there?". That became the foundation for Maison Ikkoku. The characters followed along once the idea was there."
Miss Takahashi was in somewhat the same situation as her Ikkoku character Yusaku Godai she was living in the vicinity of some rather peculiar people, but unable to afford moving to another apartment.
The questions moved to Urusei Yatsura. One of the noticeable elements of U*Y is that Takahashi-sensei tends to use ideas and characters based on Japanese folklore and mythology; these references aren't always familiar to the American audiences. Many of the 'Aliens' in U*Y are actually mythological Japanese gods and monsters. Lum herself is a cute, feminine version of the traditional Japanese demon, the onii. A Urusei fan brought up an interesting query concerning this tendency toward mythological characters: is the character Rei (Lum's ex-hometown boyfriend) based on a mythological monster, or did Takahashi make him up?
Miss Takahashi answered, "The character of Rei, it's not derived from any mythological character I can think of. Rei is an original character; but I do like to use mythical characters and gods. As for Rei, I just made him up."
There was also interest in the similarities of some characters from Urusei Yatsura and Ranma 1/2. Takahashi was asked, "Is their some connection between the characters Rynosuke and her father, and the characters of Ranma and Genma?"
She answered by saying, "They are very strong characters. Perhaps there is something in their relationship, that has crossed over to the relationship between Ranma and Genma. I think that could be true."
Is she ever going to continue the story of Urusei Yatsura, or tie up the story lines with a definite ending a la Maison Ikkoku?
"Urusei Yatsura ended the way it ended, and what happens after that is up to your imagination. You won't see me doing any more."
Moving on to Ranma 1/2, the most popular of her current works, Miss Takahashi was asked by a fan," Which [of the your] characters from Ranma do you like best?". She replied that she likes them all, male and female. When will the Ranma gang graduate from high school?
Takahashi indicated that it would probably not happen until the story ends. Does she intend to tie up the loose ends? Will Ranma and Akane ever put aside their differences, and end up together?
Takahashi said, "I'm writing it as the goal for this story, so that in the very last story of Ranma, they will!" When will Ranma 1/2 end? Miss Takahashi smiled for a moment, and said "Well, Ranma will end when it ends."
Rumiko Takahashi, the goddess of manga and anime, has affected everyone who has read or seen her works. I think it fitting that I let her say "good bye" to you with the words she used to say good-bye to those of us lucky enough to hear her in person:
"Seeing your positive reaction to it [her work] made me happy. My goal is to just make people smile and forget about things they don't like when they read me. Now, if my comics do similar things overseas, if they make people smile and forget the things they don't like, then that makes me very happy. Sometime, I'll come up with a new comic, so please invite me over when it comes out."
Takahashi-sensei, I have no doubt that we will.
K.J."Keiji" Karvonen is the co-author of two books that are most often found in the remainder bin, and the manga TEENAGERS AND OTHER ALIENS. He is well known for his costuming and fan activities, and is married to a beautiful alien who must constantly punish him by high voltage shocks for his silly behavior. Having fallen into a cursed spring, whenever he is all wet he changes form (or at least costume), sometimes becoming a large panda whose photo appears uncredited in anime magazines.