by Rumiko Takahashi
published by Viz
Review by Ed Sizemore
Rumiko Takahashi has been a professional manga author for 33 years now, and she is known for her long (30+ volumes) shonen romances. Remarkably, she has also found time to write and draw stand-alone short stories over the years.
Viz published five volumes of these short stories. Unfortunately, all five volumes are currently out of print, which is a shame. For a reader wanting to sample Takahashi, these short stories provide the perfect opportunity. You could pick up any one of the volumes and get a sense of her art and storytelling without feeling like you have to commit a truckload of time and cash.
Here are a few that I’ve particularly enjoyed.
“Maris, the Chojo” (1980) — It’s easy to see from the character designs that Takahashi wrote this while working on Urusei Yatsura. Maris is a member of Space Patrol’s special police. She has the strength of six humans. Her partner is a fox, who not only is as intelligent as any human, but he can shape-shift, too.
The story is a classic screwball comedy set in space. Maris’ strength and short fuse have gotten her into trouble with her superiors. She currently owes the Space Patrol for three spaceships she destroyed with her bare hands. She goes to rescue the son of a very wealthy man in the hopes the kidnap victim will fall in love with her, marry her, and pay off all her debts.
Much to Maris’ chagrin, things don’t go as planned. There is a wonderful twist at the end. It’s a funny and quickly paced tale. It would be a great way to determine if you would like the humor of Urusei Yatsura.
“Fire Tripper” (1983) — It’s hard not to see this story as a prototype for InuYasha. Suzuko is a high school girl who finds herself thrown back into the Feuding States (16th century) era Japan. There she meets a young and powerful warrior, Shukumaru.
Their relationship starts off on the wrong foot, but it doesn’t take long for them to begin developing feelings for each other. Like “Maris, the Chojo”, there is a neat twist at the end. I won’t spoil either the twist or the ending. This is a good story for a reader to get a sense of whether they might like InuYasha.
“Merchant of Romance” (1987) — This came out the same year that Takahashi completed both Urusei Yatsura and Maison Ikkoku. Yukari is owner and operator of The Wedding Chapel. The place is run down and barely staying ahead of the creditors. Yukari is considering closing, but she agrees to do one last wedding for a man who worked for her father when he ran the chapel. It turns out the couple is broke and can’t pay for the wedding. The positive attitude this middle-aged couple have about starting over inspires Yukari to give the chapel one more try.
“Merchant of Romance” feels like a series pitch. It’s easy to see the episodic potential here. Each chapter, a different couple comes in, and we learn their backstory leading up to getting married. The comedy comes from watching Yukari stay one step ahead of the creditors and putting on weddings with little to no resources. Considering this appeared the same year that Maison Ikkoku ended, perhaps this was meant to be the series that replaced it.
“Tragedy of P” (1991) — The character designs let you know this was written while Takahashi was working on Ranma ½. It’s a funny story about a housewife who finds herself being a penguin-sitter. The catch is that she lives in an apartment complex that forbids pets so she has to keep the penguin hidden so her family doesn’t get evicted.
The story is a marvelous slice-of-life comedy. The humor naturally arises from the circumstances, such as having a grade-school son who doesn’t understand the need to keep a penguin secret from his friends. It’s perhaps my favorite of her short stories. Plus, I can’t lie. She draws a great penguin.
In addition to being a good writer, Takahashi is also a great artist. She’s adept at both action and comedy. The action sequences are dynamic and engaging. She has some of the best exaggerated reactions in manga. She has a nice clean style that’s easy to read. Her use of a more traditional grid page layout makes her very accessible to American readers.
A quick note on the translations in these books. The Rumic series was published prior to the movement to keep as much of the Japanese language in manga as possible and still make it readable in English. So there are no honorifics, and they are not necessary or missed. In fact, reading these stories reminded me how much I dislike honorifics and untranslated Japanese in my translated manga. These stories are easily accessible to anyone who picks up the book. You don’t need a basic understanding of Japanese culture and language to enjoy these works.
It’s refreshing to simply see the characters as people first and Japanese second. The current translation style throws the foreign origins in the face of the reader. You’re never simply reading about a working class couple caught in a weird circumstance, like babysitting a client’s penguin. Instead, you’re reading a Japanese story about a Japanese working class couple living in Japan having to babysit the Japanese client’s penguin. Let’s return the focus to the story and characters and not be so obsessed with the country of origin.
One other item of interest. Looking at the difference between the 1993 version of Rumic World and the 1996 version shows how Viz’s confidence in Takahashi greatly changed. In 1993, Takahashi was a huge success in Japan, but Viz wasn’t sure she could find an audience in the US. The 1993 release of Rumic World only had three of the five stories that its Japanese edition contained. There is nothing on the back cover. On the last page of the book is a small photo of Takahashi and a brief biographical blurb.
That changed in 1994 when Takahashi won an Inkpot Award at San Diego Comic Con. The 1996 edition of Rumic World has all five Japanese stories. The back cover proudly tells the reader, “CLASSIC SHORT STORIES BY THE WORLD’S MOST POPULAR FEMALE MANGA ARTIST!” Certainly, Takahashi deserves Viz’s full confidence. She’s proven she can be a best-selling manga author in the US as well as Japan.
While it’s understandable why these books are currently out of print, it’s still a shame. Takahashi’s current series, Rin-Ne, is selling well in the US. Viz should regain its confidence and publish new editions of Takahashi’s entire back catalog. The Rumic books would be perfect for the new 3-in-1 omnibus line Viz is launching this summer.
Thankfully, while out of print, affordable used copies of these books can still be found online. They are a must-have for Takahashi fans. It’s no accident that Takahashi has been a successful manga creator for three decades. She’s a skilled storyteller and artist. If you haven’t read anything by her, these books are an excellent place to start.