DRAWN & QUARTERED
BOOK COVERS COURTESY OF VIZ
Comic hi-jinks spiral out of control for a while
"Inu-Yasha" is a fun little series.
OK, great, we've gotten that statement out of the way. Now, we can get on to the real purpose of today's discussion.
Here's a look at the series of "Project T" articles that will appear in "Drawn & Quartered" the second Sunday of each month:
» This month: "Urusei Yatsura"
» November: "Mermaid Saga"
» December: "Maison Ikkoku"
» January: "Fire Tripper," "Laughing Target"
» February: "One-Pound Gospel"
» March: "Rumiko Takahashi Anthology"
For while the jewel-shard-collecting adventures of the half-demon, half-human Inu-Yasha; his long-haired pretty-boy brother/rival Sesshomaru; Kagome, the schoolgirl caught between two eras; and all their running buddies are amusing, it's not exactly the only thing worth mentioning in series creator Rumiko Takahashi's long list of creations, either.
Yet if someone was to look at the marketing efforts centered around Takahashi's other works lately, he or she would be hard pressed to think otherwise.
Sure, there's been a resurgence recently in Takahashi-related projects. New anime series based on "Mermaid Saga" and "Rumic Theater" have come out in Japan (and subsequently in America), and Viz has diligently re-released "Ranma 1/2," "Maison Ikkoku" (in its anime and manga forms) and the original "Mermaid Saga" manga. Find a volume from one of these projects, though, and there's a high chance that the words "From the creator of 'Inu-Yasha'!" will be prominently featured somewhere on the cover.
It was around the time that Wilma Jandoc and I were trying to chisel off the umpteen-millionth garish yellow "From the creator of 'Inu-Yasha'!" sticker from a volume of "Mermaid Saga" (trust us, getting one of those things off the cover without it leaving some messy, sticky residue is pretty difficult) when we hit upon the concept of "Project T." Once a month for the next few months, Wilma and I will take a closer look at some of Takahashi's other series. Call it our effort to expand fans' horizons beyond "Inu-Yasha," if you will.
THE FIRST stop on our Takahashi tour is, appropriately enough, the first series that brought her fame, "Urusei Yatsura." The manga had a rather lengthy run in Japan, debuting in the weekly anthology Shonen Sunday in 1978 and running through 1987. While 34 volumes of the manga eventually were released there, the United States only saw a good chunk of 11 volumes translated and published by Viz in nine graphic novels. (Of particular note is that this is actually one of the few Takahashi series that hasn't been reissued in Viz's smaller manga format; the series went out of print after 1998.)
Wacky romantic hi-jinks are what put Takahashi on the map, and "Urusei Yatsura" delivers that in spades. Take the series' lead male character, Ataru Moroboshi, a romantic legend in his own mind. If there's a member of the opposite sex who's cute and registers a pulse, there's a good chance he'll be there, drooling over her.
But it also happens that Ataru is also one of the unluckiest people to walk the planet. In the first few frames of the first volume, he's already getting slapped by his would-be girlfriend, Shinobu, for his wayward glance at another girl. He's also told by a wandering monk, Cherry, that the shadow of death is on his back and that something evil would happen to him.
It would stand to reason, then, that when a beautiful alien girl appears from out of the blue with her father, with the stipulation that he defeat her in a game of tag lest the Earth be overrun by an alien invasion, he would gladly accept. Any chance to snag a babe, whether alien or human, is worth pursuing to Ataru, after all.
Unfortunately, no one mentioned to Ataru that this girl, Lum, had a distinct advantage over him in this fateful game: She could fly and he couldn't. As the days tick away, the world turns against him, his parents wish they had a girl instead of a boy, and things look pretty bleak.
It takes a sudden offer of marriage from Shinobu, as well as a sudden and rather revealing accident for Lum, for Ataru to finally prevail. And as he holds on tightly to Lum and the world celebrates, he cries out, "Now I can finally marry her!"
"Her" meaning Shinobu, of course, But let's remember that he and Lum are together as he's saying this.
Thus begins a rather tumultuous coupling, with Lum being thoroughly devoted to "my darling" and Ataru wanting to be devoted to anyone but Lum.
THE FIRST few chapters can be a test of one's tolerance of slapstick humor and random gags, as the situations can spiral out of control at times. These chapters follow a predictable path: Cherry tells Ataru he sees ill omens for his future; some threat from elsewhere in the galaxy, like an intergalactic taxi driver, Lum's former boyfriend or a snow fairy, shows up; Lum, Shinobu and the rest of Ataru's friends and neighbors get upset with him; and the chapter ends with Ataru in some humorous pinch. In reading these early chapters, one almost dreads turning the page in fear of seeing how much more ridiculous a situation can get.
Patience with this series certainly helps, though, as the wackiness gets toned down in later chapters and new characters, like Lum's skirt-chasing baby cousin, Ten, and Lum's bitter childhood friend, Ran, show up. It feels as if Takahashi developed a better sense of comic pacing as the series progressed, tossing out the earlier formula and fleshing out stories and jokes over several chapters instead of cramming everything into a single chapter.
The manga's popularity eventually spawned a 195-episode anime TV series that lasted from 1981 to 1986, as well as several movies and specials. DVD volumes of the series are being released stateside by Animeigo, with the ninth -- and final -- box set due out next month.
Of particular note with the anime series is that the story doesn't strictly follow the manga's time line or situations; for instance, Ten, who doesn't appear in the manga until several volumes into the series, pops up in the third episode. Most of the changes can be attributed to the animation staff at Studio Pierrot, led for the first few years by director Mamoru Oshii -- the man who would later head a little production called "Ghost in the Shell."