Sunday, July 27, 2003


Collections display
early range of
famed manga artist

Rumiko Takahashi has been billed as the world's most famous female manga artist. With a whole slate of Japanese manga and anime titles under her belt such as "Ranma 1/2," "Maison Ikkoku" and her latest to hit stateside, "Inu Yasha," Takahashi is perhaps best known for creating romances that go hilariously astray.

Before her first big manga series, "Urusei Yatsura," Takahashi drew short stories that appeared in Japan's Shonen Sunday magazine. They were later compiled and published stateside in three graphic novels called "Rumic World."

Those early comics were one-shot stories or miniseries that run from Takahashi's stereotypical teen romance to supernatural events.

The seeds of Takahashi's famous works are easily found in these early stories. She specializes in creating clueless main characters and plopping them into off-the-wall situations.

For instance, "Those Selfish Aliens" deals with a newspaper delivery boy abducted, in turn, by two different groups of aliens and the Japanese government, all of whom plant bombs in the boy's body. If one goes off, it would trigger the others and cause an explosion powerful enough to destroy the universe.

And through it all, Kei the literal walking bomb is fixated on delivering his papers.


THEN THERE'S TAKAHASHI'S other usual route of taking something simple and blowing it out into comic proportions. In "War Council" various clubs at the appropriately named Wartime High battle to steal the official presidential stamp so they can write the school budget to their own favor.

In the middle is the hastily named new president of the Official Student Council and thus the bearer of the stamp, Sanada, former council secretary interested only in pretty vice president Nanako. With the Combat Student Council (the "jocks"), the Scholastic Student Council (the "nerds") and the chem club after the stamp, it's by pure dumb luck that Sanada survives.

The chaotic stupidity is balanced by plain pragmatism. Kei makes himself useful in escaping the aliens, while Nanako helps Sanada fend off the overeager clubs.

Takahashi also shines in her seldom-tapped ability to weave darker, less hopeful tales that draw readers in with their empathy and twists of fate.

"When My Eyes Got Wings" tells of a hospitalized boy, Hitomi, who falls in love with a teenage girl and uses his little remaining strength to fuel his psychic powers to try and win her, even if it means killing the girl's boyfriend.

And "The Laughing Target," which was also made into an anime, steps into the horror genre. Cousins Azusa and Yuzuru were betrothed as children by their parents. A decade later, Yuzuru lives in Tokyo and has a girlfriend, and Azusa is traveling from their country hometown to collect on their promise.

But Azusa is haunted by spirits called hungry ghosts that eat the dead, and they are using her to provide them with meat.

If you've ever tried to follow Takahashi and felt your jaw drop at the sheer amount of her popular titles ("Inu Yasha" alone is at more than 30 volumes and counting in Japan), the "Rumic World" trilogy is a good, manageable sampling of her work.

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