Rumiko Takahashi* (1957-)
Takahashi was born in Niigata, Japan. She started in manga studying under Kazuo Koike* (author of Lone Wolf and Cub and Crying Freeman) at Gekiga Sonjuku, a famous mangaka school, while still attending Nihon Joseidai (Japan Women's University). At the time, she lived in a student's apartment in Nakano, Tokyo - forming the basis for one of her most popular works.
After She started out with small short stories, but in 1978, started Urusei Yatsura, which was published in Shounen Sunday, a popular boy's comic magazine. Until UY took off, she had to put up with living in a small room with her assistants and her parents' complaining about getting a "real job." However, in the same year, she was nominated by publisher Shogakukan's editorial board for the annual New Artist Award.
In 1981, Urusei Yatsura was licensed as an anime show, running until 1986 (216 episodes). It also spawned five movies and three OAV series, and a fanclub of over 250,000. The laserdisc box set of all the animated UY works sold for US $2,600 and sold out within a month. By 1984, Takahashi was one of the highest-salaried mangaka in Japan, earning nearly $3 million annually.
In 1980, while still working on Urusei Yatsura, Takahashi began on a romance story partially based on her life when she was a student called Maison Ikkoku. It was also brought to anime and ran for 96 episodes, from 1986 to 1988. Also, a feature film and a live action film were created based on the same.
In 1987, she began work on Ranma 1/2 (Ranma Nibonnoichi), yet another romantic comedy. This one, with the help of a more action/adventure plot, exceeded the popularity of Ikkoku, with over a million readers in Japan alone. More anime, OAVs, and movies followed, of course.
Her latest work, Inuyasha (1996-present), follows a similar line with Ranma - a comedic romance story with action to help push the plot around and keep it interesting. According to Shogakukan, a new anime based on the story will air in Japan starting in Fall 2000.
Takahashi also has several popular short works, including some horror stories. Rumik World (Rumic World in the U.S.) is a three volume collection of the best of them, including more romance, but quite a bit of horror as well. Several of those stories have been put to animation, including Fire Tripper, Laughing Target, and One-Pound Gospel ("1 Pondo Fukuin"). For horror stories, her Mermaid Wood (Ningyo no Mori) is considered one of the most violent and frightening stories of the time.
Takahashi's work is unique in that the plot is usually secondary to the character design and development of their personalities. She can mold characters so believable in such a short story that the characters seem more like distant (often embarrassing) family members than drawings. Her skill at characterization makes any of her stories work beautifully, be it from a bikini-clad alien in love with a human and a witch out to destroy an ex-lover to something as simple as an apartment tenant chasing after his recently-widowed manager or a nun falling for an amateur boxer.
She's also pretty famous for her deep, multi-level use of puns. For example, one of her best puns is from one of the characters in Ranma 1/2, Shan Pu. The name is a pun in English, Japanese, and Chinese languages all at once (the English one being Shampoo, and her partner named Mousse). She's been using these since her earliest works - the name "Urusei Yatsura" is a pun itself (though we English-speakers won't quite get the full impact of it without more work than it's worth ^^;).
She's definitely one of the most popular comic artists/writers worldwide, selling over 100 million copies of her work in Japan alone. Also, one of the busiest, with upwards of 1200 stories to her name. Those that don't like her work often claim they don't like her minimalist artwork, as she tends to only draw the "important" parts (the ones expressing body language) and the basic shapes. But for what she devotes to the stories and her amazing understanding of the human condition (and sometimes inhuman), the drawings can be little more than guidelines to who's talking and still come out with a bestseller.
Takahashi is one of the few female millionaires in Japan, and is revered by other women for her hard work and determination to be where she is now. She hasn't claimed to be a feminist that I know of (the Japanese connotations of that word seem to vary wildly anyway), but she strongly supports women as equals in the workplace as well as in life in general. All of her assistants are female, though she claims it's just easier to work that way (it's rumored that she works best in her flannel pajamas).
In the States, most of Takahashi's work has been published by Viz (Shogakukan's sister company), and all but the Urusei Yatsura manga is available translated through them, as well as the Maison Ikkoku, Ranma, and most likely (though a few years from now), the Inuyasha anime.
Some quotes (taken from www.tomobiki.com/rumic/article.htm):
- "I think my comics are things that people should just read and enjoy, and laugh along with, and that's really enough for me. I suppose that there are deeper things hidden in my work -- sometimes not deliberately -- but I don't set out to write literature. One theme that runs through my work, or at least I try to make it that way, is the idea that people should be kind to others. So, if people read my comics, and begin to feel more strongly that their friends are important, that they shouldn't be cruel to them or anyone ... if people can get those feelings out of my work, then that's enough. If people became more gentle in their lives because of my comics, then that would really make me happy. It would be worth all the work and sacrifice in my life so far."
- "I suppose I spent almost all, no rather, virtually all of my 20s for Urusei Yatsura and Maison Ikkoku. But I don't regret that -- actually, I'm rather satisfied to have done so. All the life experience of my 20s are embedded in those two titles."
- "This is really all I want to do with my life -- write stories. I don't expect to change the world."
Information from: www.tomobiki.com/rumic/article.htm, Viz Video, Newtype magazine, and the inserts from the Maison Ikkoku box set. Art is a good thing.
* - names rendered in non-Japanese order