SFE: Takahashi Rumiko

Takahashi Rumiko

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Artist, Comics.

(1957-    ) Japanese comics creator, notable through being a female author largely for magazines with predominantly male readerships, whose best-selling status by the late 1980s helped to propel her to foreign attention. She remains one of the Manga industry’s most prominent celebrities, regularly appearing in annual lists of Japan’s highest tax-payers, and hence one of the most successful Women SF Writers in the world.

Citing the satires of Yasutaka Tsutsui and the boys’ manga magazines read by her elder brother as influences, the young Takahashi was a member of several amateur comics clubs. She earned a history degree from Japan Women’s University, writing her final essay on the response of the Tokugawa Shōgunate to vagrants and indigents, and attended the Gekiga Sonjoku [“Adult Comics Cram School”] course run by the writer Kazuo Koike. Under his encouragement, she submitted her first piece, “Katte-na Yatsura” [“Selfish People”] (1977 Shōnen Sunday) to a talent competition run by the publisher Shōgakukan.

Her first professional success was a rewritten version of her winning story, Urusei Yatsura (1978-1987 Shōnen Sunday), frequently translated as “Those Obnoxious Aliens”, but released in many territories with the Japanese title unchanged. Saddling Ataru, a lecherous and ill-starred Japanese teenager, with Lum, a beautiful but untouchable Alien fiancee, it established many of the tropes and traditions of the Japanese romantic comedy – manga and Anime ever since have been littered with protagonists whose love object is either a gamified code waiting to be broken, or an allegorical distraction that must be dispelled (see Women in SF; see also Fan Service). Lum is a gracile beauty in a tiger-skin bikini, whose identification as an oni [“demon”] establishes that much of Japanese myth and legend is a Shaggy God Story alluding to past incidences of alien contact and invasion. In one of the story’s manifold subtexts, she derives her name from Agnes Lum (1956-    ), a Chinese-Hawaiian pin-up then enjoying widespread fame in Japan as a swimsuit model. Her character hence combines Takahashi’s own eye-rolling indulgence of her readership’s male gaze with a light-hearted investigation of foreigners-as-aliens in Japan.

Urusei Yatsura‘s ensemble cast of mythical creatures and sf archetypes, with a household plagued by old flames, galactic in-laws and high-school rivals, led to its adaptation into the long-running Anime series Urusei Yatsura (1981-1986), directed mainly by Mamoru Oshii. The conferral of a Seiun Award on the manga in 1987 seems to have been inspired by the end of the long-running print series, but might equally be considered as a concession to the failure of the anime to win in the Best Media category, which that year went to Brazil (1985), directed by Terry Gilliam. This award, too, served to increase its media profile, leading to its selection by Shōgakukan’s US spin-off, Viz Communications, as a viable candidate for translation for the growing English-language manga market. The overseas framing of Urusei Yatsura treats much of its sf material as universally comprehensible, but injects asides and footnotes to explain its cultural content, much of which is Japan-specific, parochial and time-sensitive. In particular, the oni “alien” customs are often a foil for lampooning Japanese traditions, particularly regarding betrothals and the disavowal of romantic love in favour of dynastic alliances, many of which can appear incongruous in the modern world, or certainly “alien” to modernity. The anime version of the story often used locations drawn from the real-life Tokyo suburb of Nerima, home to Takahashi but also to many cartoon companies, adding an extra subtext that would pay off a generation later in a vogue for media-inspired “pilgrimage” tourism. Since 2015, a bronze effigy of the alien Lum has been one of the figures greeting travellers at the Ōizumi-Gakuen train station in Tokyo, alongside characters created by Leiji Matsumoto and Osamu Tezuka.

However, the English-language version of Urusei Yatsura struggled in the book market and was abandoned partway through its run, repurposed as a monthly inclusion in the Manga Vizion anthology magazine, and reissued, again only partly, as The Return of Lum (graph 1995). Arguably, its humour, particularly regarding Ataru’s harassment of women, was already outdated, and Takahashi’s art style understandably undeveloped in her debut work. Even as Viz Communications tried to sell her 1978 work in America, there was a clear disconnection between it and the later materials that appeared in English almost contemporaneously. A retranslation by Camellia Nieh, underway in 2019, is purportedly a “complete” edition at last, but its predecessors were also billed as such until they were cancelled. Takahashi might thereby be recognized as one of the first Japanese creators to suffer from a reverse affliction of what Takayuki Tatsumi identified as the “time lag” in translations, in which the longevity, popularity and generational location of an author in one territory is inexactly replicated in another. In effect, her US publishers suffered a degree of cognitive dissonance over the dawning realization that the 1990s Takahashi was a decade removed from the rookie who wrote the first chapter of Urusei Yatsura, a far more experienced, popular and financially successful creator than her former self. Urusei Yatsura underperformed in the American market, but her later, more accomplished works brought quantifiably better returns, albeit nowhere near the multi-million best-sellers of her home market (see Longevity in Writers).

Even as Urusei Yatsura found Takahashi a following in the Japanese teenage market, she began a second work, the fortnightly non-sf romance Maison Ikkoku (October 1980-April 1987 Big Comic Spirits) in a magazine for adult men. Both series were running when she embarked upon “Ningyo no Mori” (September 1984 Shōnen Sunday trans by Rachel Matt Thorn as “Mermaid’s Forest” in Mermaid’s Forest 1994 graph coll), a more serious study of the Parasitism and Symbiosis implied in Japanese myths surrounding mermaids, which drift much closer to Vampires in local lore. In this second Seiun Award winner, Yuta, the protagonist in the first of several linked stories, is a former fisherman, inadvertently conferred with Immortality after eating the flesh of a mermaid. He has been wandering Japan for five centuries in search of a cure for his condition, which can manifest as further mutations, propelling him into a Wainscot Society of mythical creatures persisting in a thinning modern world. His travelling companion is Mana, a human girl once held captive by a coven of mermaids, who infected her with immortality as a part of plan to eat her, and hence rejuvenate themselves by Shapeshifting into her form (see Rejuvenation).

The Mermaid Series has been retroactively assembled as a self-contained story in its own right, but originally appeared with the qualifier “Rumic World”, subsequently used as an umbrella title for Takahashi’s collected short stories. Even though Takahashi’s short stories usually appear only once a year or on special occasions, her forty-year career has allowed Rumic World (graph 1984-1985) and Rumic Theater to encompass eight collected volumes reminiscent of the Tales of the Unexpected (1979) of Roald Dahl, ranging from simple vignettes with surprise endings to experimental one-shots designed as proofs of concept. These have never managed to reflect the popularity of her longer serials, but this is primarily a feature of their small footprint in page-counts and running times, not of their relative importance to Takahashi’s oeuvre. Many of these have also been adapted into animation, including her Superhero satire “The Supergirl” (October 1980 Shōnen Sunday trans as “Maris the Supergirl” in Rumic World Trilogy 1996 graph coll) and “Warau Hyōteki” (April 1983 Shōnen Sunday trans as “The Laughing Target” in Rumic World Trilogy 1996 graph coll), in which two cousins, each the last heir to a traditional samurai clan, are exhorted to marry in order to perpetuate the bloodline.

Ranma 1/2 (September 1987-March 1996 Shōnen Sunday trans Kaori Inoue, Gerard Jones, Trish Ledoux, Rachel Matt Thorn, Toshifumi Yoshida graph 1995-2006) refashioned Takahashi’s menagerie sit-com template by introducing a theme of magical martial arts (see Wuxia) to everyday life in Japan. Ranma, scion of a martial arts family, is cursed by a magic spring to switch sex whenever touched by water (see Transgender SF), setting up numerous comedic situations, and a transsexual protagonist. Other cast members are often periodic Shapeshifters, although much of the serial’s everyday humour derives from its depiction of a household that revolves specifically and unceasingly around the traditions and concerns of martial arts: quest narratives incongruously applied to suburbia, and ancient feuds reignited in shopping malls. Ranma 1/2, easily Takahashi’s best-seller among best-sellers, followed her other works into foreign languages, and achieved particular success outside the Anglophone market in the Chinese-speaking world. Pirated as Qi Xiao Quan [“Scattered Smile Boxing”] (graph circa 1992) and legally reissued as Lunma Han (graph circa 1995), it found readers in Taiwan and Hong Kong, and eventually Mainland China, substantially contributing to the image of Japanese pop culture in China.

Continuing her policy of beginning a new major series as the previous one ended, all the more impressive when one considers that each decade-long saga has to be produced at an unceasing weekly output, Takahashi followed her sustained run of successes into the 1990s with Sengoku Otogizōshi Inu-Yasha (November 1996-June 2008 Shōnen Sunday trans Mari Morimoto and Gerard Jones as InuYasha: A Feudal Fairy Story graph 1998-2011). Reminiscent of her earlier Rumic World short “Hono’o Tripper” (August 1983 Shōnen Sunday), and drawing to a great and granular degree on her historical education (see History in SF), it is a Timeslip story in which a modern Japanese girl is revealed to be the Reincarnation of a sorceress from the period of Japan’s samurai wars. It features a prolonged quest to recover scattered and potentially dangerous fragments of a magical shard, coupled with encounters with creatures and figures from Japanese legend. InuYasha is distinguished from Takahashi’s other longer works by a darker tone more redolent of the Mermaid Series, with the late-medieval setting deliberately chosen in order to subject characters to substantially greater jeopardy.

Kyōkai no Rinne [“Rinne of the Boundary”] (April 2009-December 2017 Shōnen Sunday trans Christine Dashiell and Christine Schilling as RIN-NE graph 2009-2018) showed a substantial drop in sales, possibly more related to changes in print consumption and youth demographics rather than any decline in creative quality. Even in its anime incarnation it lasted for a mere 75 episodes, impressive by twenty-first century industry standards, but still under-performing compared to Takahashi’s previous major works. It returned, once more, to Reincarnation and what amounts to inter-species romance, as a half-breed shinigami (death god) teams up with a Japanese schoolgirl who wishes to relieve herself of the curse of being able to see the spirits of the dead (see Psi Powers).

Takahashi remains one of the most successful manga creators in contemporary Japan, garlanded with foreign honours and acclaim, and still a blue-chip investment for her publishers at Shōgakukan. Unlike her cohorts from the overseas manga boom of the late 1980s, such as Masamune Shirow and Katsuhiro Ōtomo, she has maintained her halcyon output for decades, with an appeal that overflows the boundaries of the genre into the mainstream and prime-time. Her loyalty to her long serials, and her continued creativity, have largely obscured what might be regarded as a certain disenchantment with formulae. Critics have occasionally decried the repetitive nature of some of her more picaresque plots, but this, after all, is what is required of an almost unbroken weekly output across forty years, that must still be familiar enough to allow new readers to jump aboard. Takahashi herself seems to regard her shorter works, printed annually in special issues of Shōgakukan magazines, as a welcome and fruitful opportunity for experimentation and dissent, an attitude which makes the Rumic Theater spin-offs crucial in understanding her true artistry and interests.

Undaunted by the passing of her fortieth anniversary in the manga business, she embarked on her latest series MAO (May 2019-ongoing Shōnen Sunday) in the magazine venue that has consistently supported her since her debut. [JonC]

Rumiko Takahashi

born Niigata, Japan: 10 October 1957

works (selected)


The Checklist below only lists the first iterations of Takahashi volume publications in Japanese and English. Several series have since been repackaged in collections with different numbering schemes, for example as bunko (archive) editions or collector’s editions.

Mermaid Series

  • Ningyo no Mori [“Mermaid’s Forest”] (Tokyo: Shōgakukan, 1988) [coll of linked stories: graph: Mermaid Series: pb/Rumiko Takahashi]
    • Mermaid’s Forest (San Francisco: Viz Communications, 1994) [coll of linked stories: graph: trans of the above by Rachel Matt Thorn: Mermaid Series: pb/Rumiko Takahashi]
  • Ningyo no Kizu [“Mermaid’s Scar”] (Tokyo: Shōgakukan, 1992) [coll of linked stories: graph: Mermaid Series: pb/Rumiko Takahashi]
  • Yasha no Hitomi [“Eye of the Demon”] (Tokyo: Shōgakukan, 2003) [coll of linked stories: graph: Mermaid Series: pb/Rumiko Takahashi]
    • Mermaid Saga (San Francisco: Viz Communications, 2004) [coll of linked stories: graph: in three volumes: trans of the above by Rachel Matt Thorn: Mermaid Series: pb/Rumiko Takahashi]

Rumic Theater

individual titles

This Checklist follows the common Japanese practice of regarding multi-volume manga without distinguishing subtitles as single graphic novels, even when they span a decade of publication.


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