Listen to this article
In 1976, when she was 19, Rumiko Takahashi asked her parents for Y70,000 to attend manga school in Tokyo. Concerned about her career, they said she could have the money but that when it ran out, she had to look for a “proper” job. Takahashi has never had to find one.
Born in Niigata on the northwest coast, Takahashi has become one of Japan’s most successful and influential “mangaka” – and reputedly the country’s wealthiest woman. Although she says she always wanted to be a manga artist, Takahashi had done little drawing before she enrolled at manga artist Kazuo Koike’s Gekiga Sonjuka school. Despite that, and while studying history at Japan Women’s University at the same time, her first professional work, the one-off Katte na Yatsura, came out in 1978, before she had graduated. The story of Kei, a newspaper delivery boy who is abducted by aliens, was published by Shogakukan, the company she has been with ever since.
On the back of the acclaim for her debut, Takahashi began Urusei Yatsura, an epic serialisation drawn and written in weekly instalments from 1978 until 1987. In it, Lum, the daughter of a space warlord, falls hopelessly in love with Ataru, a chronically unlucky womaniser – and is determined that the two will be together. Such extensive works have been the mainstay of Takahashi’s 35-year career.
Takahashi is celebrated for her complex characterisation, unusual storylines and, in particular, for her strong female roles. When, in the late 1980s, manga was dominated by martial arts, she featured a male martial artist who becomes female when splashed with cold water as the central character in the Ranma ½ serial.
Though Christianity is rarely a manga theme, One-Pound Gospel, Takahashi’s serial that ran from 1987 until 2006, tells the story of a novice nun who struggles with her feelings for a boxer with an eating disorder.
Her depiction in Maison Ikkoku, a serial published between 1980 and 1987, of a young man who falls in love with his landlady is considered to have started a trend for representing similar relationships in manga.
Takahashi’s works are collectively described as the “Rumic World” – a brand but also a genre encompassing her mix of comedy, love stories, sci-fi and drama. The series are published in magazines initially, predominantly Shogakukan’s Shonen Sunday, and then as books, sales of which are approaching 200 million.
Takahashi’s creations have proved popular beyond the page – and outside Japan. Since Urusei Yarsura, all of Takahashi’s works have been animated, both for television and as films, and the adaptation of the serial Inuyasha was shown on the Cartoon Network in the US. Her current series, Rin-ne, was the first manga to be released simultaneously in Japan and the US.
From the ongoing serial “Rin-ne” (2009-present).
Teenager Rin-ne is a shinigami, a god of death responsible for transporting lost spirits from the land of the living into the afterlife. He is helped by Sakura, a classmate who can see ghosts.
The character from “Inuyasha” (1996-2008).
Inuyasha, a half-demon, half-human from the Warring States period of Japanese history, is pinned to a tree by his dying lover, who wrongly believed he had betrayed her. After 50 years, he is freed by Kagome, a girl from the future. Together they search for the fragments of the shattered, magical Shikon jewel.
From Takahashi’s second serial “Maison Ikkoku” (1980-1987).
A young widow, Kyoko, is the landlady of a lodging house. The object of both student Yasaku Godai and tennis instructor Shun Mitaka’s affections, she worries that choosing either of them will devalue the love she had for her husband.
From the serial “Ranma ½” (1987-1996).
Ranma is a teenage martial artist who falls into an enchanted pool. From then on, whenever splashed with cold water, he turns into a redheaded female version of himself. Numerous other complications aside, this causes difficulties in his already fractious relationship with his fiancée.
From Takahashi’s first serial, “Urusei Yatsura” (1978-1987).
When aliens invade, Earth is given a challenge: to avoid destruction a human must defeat a space warlord’s daughter, Lum, in a game of tag. A hapless teenager manages to beat her – winning her love in the process. Lum was intended to be a minor character in the series, but became a phenomenon in Japan.
Be alerted on FT Magazine