If you’re a new anime fan, or even an old one, you’ve probably watched an anime based on a manga by Rumiko Takahashi, probably Inuyasha. She’s the grand old dame of Japanese comic books (manga to us otaku), and easily the most famous manga-ka outside of Japan.

Rumiko’s creations are so popular in so many countries that she’s one of the wealthiest women in Japan. Why, you ask? Let’s look at her works.

A more full account can be found here from which I liberally cribbed this post. πŸ™‚

Urusei Yatsura

Lum-coverRumiko was just another struggling wanna-be until 1979 when she came out with her first big hit, Urusei Yatsura. The love comedy of a clutzy and un-serious high school student, Ataru Moroboshi, and a literally-shocking alien girl, Lum (right) who loved Ataru with all her heart even though he was more interested in other girls. This is the first Rumiko trademark: strong contrasts. In this case, Lum is totally in love with Ataru who doesn’t want to commit. Lum is insanely jealous and Ataru is definitely not faithful which leads to much hilarity. This is the kind of extreme pairings that would become famous as a Takahashi trademark.

Maison Ikkoku

Maison Ikkoku Manga cover

In the early 1980s, she turned to a somewhat more conventional love story in Maison Ikkoku. Easily my favorite of her series (because it has a real and satisfying ending, more about that later). Godai Yusaka is a hapless, screw-up of a college student living in a run-down boarding house (the namesake of the manga & anime) when the new manager shows up, Kyoko Otonashi. Godai falls hopelessly in love with her and for the first time, he focuses on winning her heart against the fierce competition of Shun Mitaka. The handsome, rich tennis instructor who really is everything Godai isn’t. Who will win this romantic show down? And will Godai harpy neighbours ever stop interfering? This series is so popular that even to this day it sells well around the world and this year, 2007, Japan is going to have a live action Maison Ikkoku TV series. That’s pretty popular.

I mentioned something about endings. Rumiko isn’t known for them. In fact, her usual modus operandi is to suck at them. Urusei Yatsura‘s ending was so unsatisfying that it left many fans ticked off. Her “short story” One-pound Gospel, about a boxer and a nun, was started in 1988 then went into hiatus until 2007 when the final chapters were released. Inuyasha is her longest running series, but will we ever see the end in our life times? I’ve often joked that if the series ever ends, it’ll be something I can watch with the grand-kids (I’m 35, single and no-kids πŸ˜‰ ).

Ranma 1/2

Male-Type RanmaWhich brings me to her next most famous series, Ranma 1/2. How do I describe this? A young martial artist and his father go to China to train him to become the best martial artist in the world. Except they both fell into cursed hot springs in China. The father, Saotome Ranma, fell into the Drowned Panda Bear Springs and now turns into a Panda Bear when doused with cold water. Of course hot water returns him to normal, but his poor son, Ranma.

Female-type RanmaYou see, he fell into the Drowned Girl Spring and when splashed with cold water turns into a girl (right). Which leads to the misadventures with girls and boys pursuing him, and deadly rivals who also have problems. The anime ran for quite some time, and the manga finished a few years ago in Japan, and only recently in North America. And in typical Rumiko fashion, it was a non-ending with nothing resolved and no happy ending for the couple. Aaaaaaaargh!!!!

Short Stories

When she was not finishing her running series, she created the manga equivalent of short stories in Shonen Sunday, the magazine that published all her major works. They were ignored by most people except for a few die-hard fans. There are available in trade paperback form, but they aren’t super popular. Then a few years ago they got turned into an anime. They’re pretty conventional domestic stories, but I find them well-written and satisfying. I do recommend them.

Mermaid Forest

Another set of self-contained stories were the haunting Mermaid Forest stories. Only partially connected with each other, it explores questions of mermaids, mortality and morality. Definitely darker and very serious — no comedy or humor in them at all.

Inuyasha: A Feudal Fairy Tale

Inuyasha manga coverThis is her longest running series, and unusually darker for her. Death, violence and suffering during the Warring-States Period of Japan, it’s also infused with Asian mythology and tragic love stories. Kagome Higurashi, a high-school girl from our time, lives in an ancient family temple in the suburbs of Tokyo. One morning, she is abducted by a demon that bursts from a sealed well on the property and is dragged back in time to the warring-states period. There she finds Inuyasha, a half-demon sealed to a tree 50 years earlier by his lover Kikyo. Kagome releases him and Inuyasha saves her from the demon which was after the Shikon Jewel hidden inside Kagome. Then it gets complicated. πŸ™‚

Inuyasha is the only soap-opera I can recall liking. It’s very much a tragic love triangle between Kagome, Inuyasha and the resurrected Kikyo. Add to that is Naraku who has some connection with Kikyo and Inuyasha and has it in for them. There’s also the love story between the lecherous Buddhist monk, Miroku, and the demon slayer, Sango, who did I mention is violently jealous? (which is a bit of deja vu for Takahashi fans).

The anime ended, but the manga is still going strong in Japan with no signs of it ending. But curiously, there doesn’t seem to be any new works from Rumiko either. Could this be her swan song manga? One can only hope she’ll give Inuyasha a proper ending rather than making a whole new generation of fans angry. πŸ™‚