DRAWN & QUARTERED
In the first DVD of "Rumiko Takahashi Anthology," pets pose problems, a wedding-hall owner finds a way to start over, and a father loses his memory.
"Anthology" brings lesser-known stories to light through anime
And so we come to the final article in our "Project T" series. Over the past six months, Jason Yadao and I have embarked on a virtual archaeological dig and unearthed stories that, though not as well known, have just as much significance in Rumiko Takahashi's illustrious career as her more famous series do.
Other Takahashi works covered in "D&Q"
It would be remiss for us to not mention in passing some of Rumiko Takahashi's other works that have already been covered here in "Drawn & Quartered." Here are brief descriptions of those series, along with links to where the full articles can be found online:
» "Ranma 1/2": Ranma Saotome falls into a cursed spring and turns into a boy or a girl, depending on the temperature of the water hitting him. Hilarity ensues.
» "Mermaid's Scar": One part of Takahashi's "Mermaid Saga," this 1993 OAV (original animation video) explores the darker side of eternal life. Mermaid flesh is said to grant immortality, but what happens when you get tired of living forever?
» "Rumic World": Takahashi's early short stories, originally published in Japan's Shonen Sunday magazine, were later collected in three graphic novels stateside by Viz. These stories run the gamut from teen romances to supernatural events.
Perhaps it was the wild success of her most recent series, "Inu-Yasha," that prompted the creation in Japan and Geneon's subsequent, four-DVD American release of the 13-episode "Rumiko Takahashi Anthology" anime, based on short stories she wrote in the early '90s. Most of those works were later collected in America by Viz under the manga titles "Rumic Theater" and "Rumic Theater: One or Double." Another collection was published in Japan as "Senmu no Inu (The Executive's Dog)," which was never seen stateside.
But whatever the reason, "Anthology" allows newer Takahashi fans to enjoy her other works that might otherwise never have been known, especially since some of these stories are seeing light for the first time in North America. Each story in "Anthology" is a microcosm of Takahashi's entire body of work, filled with themes of life and death and everything in between.
In "Living Room Love Song," Ichiro Tadokoro's wife dies of food poisoning on their wedding anniversary. But even after the funeral, he can't bring himself to believe it. His fatigue each morning leads his subordinates to believe that he is tossing and turning from grief.
But the real reason is that wife Makiko's ghost haunts the living room, yakking away just as she did when she was alive. Ichiro is the only one who can see and hear her, and it's this specter that causes his sleepless nights.
Before long, a young worker named Hitomi Momoi starts spending more time at Ichiro's home, cooking and chatting with him. Ichiro is smitten, but Makiko insists the young lady is doing it solely out of pity. Ichiro not only must face his growing affection, he also cannot figure out why his wife's spirit won't rest in peace.
In the end, Ichiro realizes something about love and loyalty and, when everything is resolved, he can sincerely say that he misses his wife.
Although Takahashi often delves into the spiritual realm, she is especially talented at taking ordinary situations and spinning them with hardship and humor to weave them into profound learning experiences.
The stories in the manga "Rumic Theater" are the basis for six of the episodes in "Rumiko Takahashi Anthology." Another graphic novel, "Senmu no Inu" (The Executive's Dog), published only in Japan, provides the other seven episodes.
In "The Tragedy of P," housewife Yuko Haga not only has a working husband and energetic young son to deal with, but also stern neighbor Mrs. Kakei, who is the leader of the anti-pets faction of the residents association of their apartment complex.
Yuko is neutral on the subject, having no pet in the family. This changes when her husband brings home Pitto the penguin, the pet of an important client who has asked Mr. Haga to care for it while he is away. Yuko is on pins and needles for the entire week of Pitto's stay, and the close calls get worse in typical Takahashi style when the bird is forced to stay beyond the original week.
But in the midst of the stress of keeping a pet hidden from Mrs. Kakei, Yuko discovers things about her neighbor that make her realize there is something deeper behind the woman's stance on animals.
The anthology also showcases Takahashi's signature device of blowing the smallest thing out of proportion for comedic effect. In "As Long As You Are Here," proud businessman Kouichiro Dohmoto finds himself unemployed after his company, which he has worked at for 30 years, goes under. When his wife falls ill, his honor demands that he fill in for her at her job at a local deli.
His unyielding personality might have helped him in the cutthroat corporate world, but it is a serious detriment in the delicate sphere of customer service, and his first day is a hilarious disaster. His frightening mien keeps scaring away customers until the shop is deserted. But timid owner Hosoda cannot bring himself to chastise the overpowering Dohmoto.
Still, Dohmoto has his ethics, and he is determined to do the best he can by watching what others do and even "training" -- his sessions in front of a mirror trying to learn how to shift his scowl into a pleasant smile are funny to watch.
Dohmoto's time at the deli indeed teaches him a lot -- not only about the intricacies of service, but also about himself.
This Takahashi collection focuses on the supernatural, with a boxer who turns into a dog, a high school boy's popularity contest against a Buddha, and a rebellious grandson whose dead grandmother possesses his body to see the stage show she loved in life.
With each episode completely separate, "Anthology" at times uses cameos as a vague link: You can see the kids from "Aberrant Family F" playing in a different episode or the deli from "As Long As You Are Here" in the background.
All this wit and whimsy is nearly wasted, with Geneon's U.S. releases so low key and almost uninspired. The first DVD has a limited edition with a collector box that holds all four discs, and the company also released the complete set in a slightly different box. Otherwise, the DVDs do not offer much in the way of extras.
The inclusion of production art is almost pointless, with the pictures appearing so small on screen it doesn't show off any of the character and costume detail that such art is meant to do.
It's all about the stories here, and the anime captures perfectly the spirit of the original manga. The tales in "Anthology" have touching, rather than happy, endings. They lift your spirits by giving you hope, by showing people emerging from their troubles a little stronger than before -- and, therefore, so can you, no matter what your situation. Their subtle bits of advice encourage you to make peace with your past, embrace the present and work to make the most of your future.
Then again, the same could be said of most of Rumiko Takahashi's works, because while she might be "The Creator of Inu-Yasha!" as those marketing tag lines and annoying bright yellow stickers declare, she really should be known for much more. And we hope that after this series, you, dear readers, share in that appreciation.