Rumiko Takahashi

Rumiko Takahashi -- Japan's best-loved cartoonist.

When Rumiko Takahashi was 17 years old, her interest in comics was
limited to reading them and occasionally copying a character in the
margins.  Fourteen years later, after the runaway success of such
comics series as _Urusei Yatsura_ (now being published by Viz as
_Lum*Urusei Yatsura_), _Maison Ikkoku_, and _Ranma 1/2_, she is
arguably Japan's favorite comics artist, a multimillionaire with
close to 50 million copies of her books in print.

A slim, attractive young lady with an enchanting personality, she
seems perhaps a bit bemused by her unexpected success.  Most people
who meet her are surprised by her charisma -- an attribute more often
found in performing artists than comics artists who spend most of
their time locked away from life -- and by the husky contralto voice
that seems rather inappropriate for such a petite lady.  She is
renowned in Japan for her dislike of interviews, and clockwork-like
reliability in a field where editors often have to trap artists in
hotel rooms in order to obtain finished artwork.  She seems to be
universally liked as a person, and Frederik Schodt, well-known author
of _Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics_ (Kodansha, 1986), has
said, "I've never heard anything negative about her -- in fact,
everyone I've spoken to who has met her has come away thoroughly
charmed."  Talent, success, money, and personality -- at the age of
31, Rumiko Takahashi seems to have it all.  But how did she get there?

Takahashi was born in Niigata, Japan, in 1957.  After passing the
difficult entrance exam for Nihon Joseidai (Japan Women's University),
she moved into a small student's apartment in Nakano, Tokyo where she
live for several years.  This experience was later to form the basis
for her series _Maison Ikkoku_.  Simultaneously with her entering
university, she enrolled in Kazuo Koike's famous training ground for
manga artists, Gekiga Sonjuku.  Koike is best known to American
readers as the author of _Lone Wolf and Cub_, and like Joe Kubert's
school in America, his college has regularly turned out ready-made

Takahashi is casual about the difficulties of combining university
courses with the notoriously demanding manga school:  "Sonjuku was an
evening course, about two hours long.  It didn't really feel like
school to me, more like participating in a club."

Since Takahashi had done so little drawing before entering the school,
she had her work cut out for her.  Under the personal direction of
Koike, she turned out hundreds of pages over the next two years, and
gradually began to feel that she'd found her place in the world.
Koike's prime dictim -- hammered into students from day one -- is that
"Comics are carried by characters ... if a character is well created,
the comic becomes a hit."

With this in mind, Takahashi began to carefully build the cast of
_Urusei Yatsura_, even as she was honing her talents with various
short stories.  By 1978, her talent was obvious to everyone.  "We all
knew she would become a professional," said Reiko Hikawa, who was in
the same comics club as Takahashi while at university (Hikawa is now a
popular fantasy writer).  "It was only a matter of time.  Her art and
stories had, well, they had that something special."  The editorial
board at Japan's premier comics publisher, Shogakukan, had reached the
same conclusion, and in that same year she was nominated for the
annual "New Artist Award".

_Urusei Yatsura_ first appeared in September, 1978, in "Shonen
Sunday," a weekly comics magazine for young boys.  It ran erratically,
often skipping several issues, until the middle of 1979, when it began
regular publication.  Life was hard for Takahashi in those days.

"My parents said 'Don't do it, you won't be able to eat -- get a
normal job!'  And to be perfectly truthful, I myself wasn't absolutely
sure I could do it ... there was a lot of uncertainty in my own mind
as to whether or not I'd be successful.  And in fact, I ended up
living in a roku-jo room (about 150 sq. ft.) along with my assistants.
It was so crowded that I had to sleep in the closet!"

Due to the size and variety of the manga market (not to mention the
higher remuneration), taking the plunge to be a professional involves
somewhat less risk than in America.  Conversely, however, the
competition is fierce.  "I think that, in Japan, comics are so much
more an integral part of a young person's life ... a lot of people
are caught up by the 'look and copy' psychology."  So are comics truly
a part of mainstream culture, rather than being a sub-culture as in
America?  "Perhaps I wouldn't go so far as to say they're completely
in the mainstream yet -- I think history will have to be the judge of
that.  But certainly, comics in Japan have become somthing that
_should_ be there, that _should_ exist.  They are, at the very least,
something that couldn't be done away with without leaving a gap in
popular culture."

A beginning artist makes a good $60,000 - $80,000 a year (although
much of this can be eaten up by wages for their assistants).  But
young comics hopefuls in Japan are surrounded by examples of success
-- the late Tezuka, Fujiko-Fujio, Toriyama and others.  All are
multi-millionaires, and provide a peak to aim for.  However, as
Takahashi points out, it's still a risky move.

"That kind of success _does_ happen, but it's kind of hard to imagine
it happening to yourself.  It's true that (in Japan) there are more
chances to succeed, but if you fail, then everything is lost."  (She
is referring to the usual Japanese employment system -- students are
signed up for companies long before they finish university, and few
companies accept entry level staff any other way.  A 22-year-old
failed manga artist is liable to find the job market virtually
non-existent, even with a university degree.)  "So you have to make the
decision and just do it -- in my case, success didn't come overnight,
it took some time before things really began to move for me.  But of
course, the only way to find out is to do it, try for several years
and just hope for the best."

Once _Urusei Yatsura_ began to take off, it seemed likely that her
life was destined to change dramatically.  In October 1981, _Urusei
Yatsura_ became an animated TV series -- always a sure sign of
success, and a significant boost to the bank account.  But Takahashi
says "At the level of my feelings, nothing changed.  What I do now,
the basic way I live, is the same.  When I sit down at the drawing
board, all that I can see is that white piece of paper -- just as
white after all these years.  In any case," she laughs, "even though
I'm paid very well these days, I really haven't the time to spend it!"

The money was never important to Takahashi, as it has been with some
of her contemporaries.  Even the responsibility to produce hundreds
of pages on a regular basis hasn't spoiled the essential reason she
became an artist in the first place.  "Everyone's feelings about this
are different, but in my case, I'm just happy to be able to have this
opportunity to write so much -- it's vastly preferable to not being
given that chance.  There are so, so many things I want to write, more
than I could possibly write in a lifetime ... I guess I'm just happy
that I can spend my time doing what I want."

At least she can be comfortable while doing what she wants -- she has
been one of the top two or three best paid comics artist in Japan
since 1984, with an annual income averaging close to three million

The popularity of animation based on her works has helped make her
income what it is.  The animated version of _Urusei Yatsura_ ran from
October 1981 to March 1986, and comprised 216 episodes.  _Urusei
Yatsura_ has also spawned five feature films and three original
videos.  At its peak, the fan club had over 250,000 members.  A
limited edition laserdisc set of the complete run of _Urusei Yatsura_
TV shows and movies was released, costing $2,600 -- and it was sold
out in just weeks.  _Maison Ikkoku_ ran on TV from March 1986 until
March 1988, and was made into both an animated feature and a
critically acclaimed live action movie.  Several of her _Rumic World_
short stories have been released on original video animation,
including "Laughing Target" ("Warau Hyoteki") and "One-Pound Gospel"
("1 Pondo Fukuin").  More original videos are in the works for _Urusei
Yatsura_ and _Maison Ikkoku_.  _Ranma 1/2_ began TV broadcasting this
April and seems destined to settle in for a long run.  Rumors of a new
_Urusei Yatsura_ TV series have been rampant for the past few months
in Japan, but this seems unlikely.  Takahashi herself was rather
disappointed with most of the _Urusei Yatsura_ movies, and has refused
permission to make any more.  While this restriction does not apply
directly to a new TV series, it does make it less probable.


_Urusei Yatsura_ epitomizes the Takahashi approach to comics.  It
concerns the tempestuous relationship between Ataru Moroboshi, a high
school student in the small town of Tomobiki, and Lum -- a
green-haired, green-eyed package of sex appeal and jealousy, who just
happens to be an alien.  "_Urusei Yatsura_ is a title I had been
dreaming about since I was very young.  It really included everything
I wanted to do.  I love science-fiction because sf has such
flexibility."  More than just sf, _Urusei Yatsura_ was a melting pot of
love triangles (and other more complex polygons), Japanese and Chinese
mythology, high school life, and more.  The cast of characters grew
over its nine-year run, and when the series ended the audience was
follwing the adventures of more than 25 major characters.  The
characters were divided into roughly two groups -- Lum's friends, who
were often based on Japanese mythological figures, and the earthlings.
Takahashi herself claims to be partial to supporting characters like
"the bizarre Ran, or Benten.  I also like Ryunosuke and her father --
it was so easy to manipulate them in a story.  Ryunosuke's character
was very clear -- she wants to live as a woman, and her father's role
is to prevent her from doing so.  Very clear and simple."  Ryunosuke
-- the girl who dresses and acts like a guy -- also provided the seed
idea from which Takahashi's current series, _Ranma 1/2_, grew.

Lum's race comes to Earth intending to simply invade and take over.
But Earth has one chance -- if Ataru (chosen randomly by computer as
Earth's champion) can defeat Lum in a game of tag, the invaders will
just pack up and leave quietly.  Ataru, who has glandular drives
undreamed of by even the most lascivious of high school boys, is only
too eager to get his hands on the delectable Lum.  This proves rather
difficult whan he discovers she can fly ... But he triumphs in the
end, after undergoing so much pain and humiliation he has (apparently)
lost all interest in Lum.  Lum has fallen irrevocably in love with
him, however, and remains on Earth to chase after him for the next 34

"For _Urusei Yatsura_, I didn't want to create stories in the usual
way -- I wanted the reader to be taken completely by surprise with the
developments in the next panel.  Ideally, every story should have
numerous subplots connecting the beginning and the climax, so that the
readers would be kept guessing.  It was pretty tough, pulling off
those little tricks."

Much of the humor is very slapstick, but this is all part of
Takahashi's plan:  "I wanted to write slapstick comedy because it is a
great way to get the readers to react quickly.  I really get a charge
out of seeing people laughing as they read my books.  If a story is
more serious, it's harder to determine if someone likes it or not.  I
guess I'm really just a kid at heart!"  [_laughs_]

When it first appeared, _Urusei Yatsura_ was not an instant success,
and Takahashi kept herself busy writing short stories (some of which
have been reprinted in the _Rumic World_ series of books from
Shogakukan) and another series, _Dust Spot_ (the title is a strange
Japanese/English term for garbage can -- not original with Takahashi).
_Dust Spot_ concerns the adventures of two agents for the mythical
HCIA organization.  Yura, the female member of the team, is immensely
strong, while her partner Tamuro is an esper -- whose teleportation
ability inevitably lands him in a garbage can or dump.  It ran in
Shonen Sunday from May to September 1979.  But by the middle of 1979,
_Urusei Yatsura_ began to take off, and Takahashi concentrated her
efforts almost exclusively on that series for about a year.

She was also, in her mind and notebooks, slowly turning her
experiences in university into a new series that began in October,
1980 in bi-weekly _Big Comic Spirits_.

"When I was a poor college student, I live in Nakano (a district in
Tokyo) in a small apartment that cost Y55,000 a month (about $450).
Just behind my apartment house, there was another which seemed rather
... er, 'strange.'  Two of the people who were living there often
spent hours talking by walkie-talkie with one in his room and the
other just a few yards away on the street [_laughs_].  I thought they
were pretty annoying, but I was also a little scared and wondered what
they could possibly be up to."

It was that place she wanted to characterize in _Maison Ikkoku_.
Though she never actually got up the nerve to enter that strange
apartment house, she modelled "Ikkoku-kan" (Ikkoku Apartments) after
it.  In design, it was a typical cheap Japanese apartment house where
there are shared bathrooms, no hot running water, and the tenants have
to take their baths at the public baths down the road.  "Once you're
thrown into an apartment, you have to live there -- unless you move
out [this is terribly difficult and expensive in Japan, where moving
into an apartment often requires a deposit of six months rent --
about four months of which is non-refundable].  You can't just reject
the people who share the place with you ... you just have to get along
with them.  I wanted to create an emotional human drama centering
around the apartment and its tenants."

_Maison Ikkoku_ ("Maison" is often used in Japan as a "borrowed" word
from French, but usually refers to an apartment house) tells the story
of Yusaku Godai, a young university student, and his love for Kyoko
Otonashi, the beautiful young widow who becomes the landlady.  Godai
falls in love with Kyoko at first sight, and overcomes obstacle after
obstacle in his way as he tries to both win her love, and make himself
worthy of that love.  Kyoko herself is not a cardboard caricature of
"the perfect Japanese woman," but a fascinating character who manages
to combine gentleness with an occasionally quick temper.  Hesitant at
first, she eventually warms to the sincere young Yusaku.  Again,
Takahashi's genius for characterization gives us an unforgettable
cast, and involves the reader in the story to a degree that is quite

"I had a lot of fun creating this series," smiles Takahashi.  "At
first, I just wanted to start the story by centering on the love story
between Kyoko and Godai, and from there, move into more of a human
drama involving the other tenants.  But as I developed the
relationship between Kyoko and Godai, I became more attracted to their
love story -- and eventually, it took over the series."

The secret of _Maison Ikkoku_'s success -- and it was tremendously
successful, selling 80% more per volume than _Urusei Yatsura_ --
probably lies in Takahashi's unparalleled ability to create characters
that the readers are sympathetic with.  Anyone who reads _Maison
Ikkoku_ ends rooting for Godai, as he tries desperately to win Kyoko's
heart.  Godai begins the series as a "ronin", a university student who
has failed the first round of entrance exams, and is studying
full-time for a year before trying again.  Kyoko has been recently
widowed, and has little room in her heart for anything but memories of
her late husband, Soichiro.  Godai's efforts are perhaps best
described as "three steps forward, two steps back," and he seems
destined to be thwarted at every turn by fate, his friends, and his
neighbors in Ikkoku-kan.  Kyoko's handsome tennis coach, the rich and
personable Mitaka, is his only serious rival -- but that's serious
enough.  _Maison Ikkoku_ resembles a television situation comedy, but
has a gentleness and wit to it that most sit-coms lack.  We never
laugh at the unfortunate Godai's failures and disappointments, and are
filled with warmth when he succeeds.

Takahashi reflects, "I think the basic difference between _Maison
Ikkoku_ and _Urusei Yatsura_ was the way their main characters were
presented.  In the case of _Urusei Yatsura_, the main character was
basically the one the readers wished to be.  In _Maison Ikkoku_, the
main character is one that the readers can sympathize with -- they can
see themselves in his place."

_Maison Ikkoku_ represented a different sort of storytelling
experience for Takahashi, after working on _Urusei Yatsura_ for almost
two years.  "Creating _Maison Ikkoku_ was like letting a ball of yarn
unroll.  I just developed the story step-by-step, each building on the
one before.  _Urusei Yatsura_ was more like letting a football bounce
-- I never knew which way it would go."

Takahashi's latest, _Ranma 1/2_, began in August 1987 and continues
her tried-and-true romantic comedy formula -- but with a truly
inspired twist.  Ranma Saotome is a young martial artist who has
recently returned to Japan after spending some years in China.  Ranma
moves in with the Tendo family (father and three daughters -- Akane,
Nabiki, and Kasumi), and promptly falls in love with Akane, herself a
competent martial artist.  There's only one problem -- Ranma is a
girl!  Or so it appears, until she is doused with hot water, and turns
back into a guy.  Gradually the story comes out -- how Ranma (who was
originally a boy) accidently fell into a magic hot spring in China,
and now switches from male to female depending on whether he/she gets
wet with hot or cold water.  The plot thickens when the female Ranma
begins to attract suitors, and unwelcome guests from China begin to
arrive ... many of whom have had experiences with the same magic hot
spring as Ranma (but with different effects).

_Ranma 1/2_ has proven just as much of a success in Japan as all of
Takahashi's previous works, and perhaps a little more -- so far, sales
per volume of _Ranma 1/2_ have exceeded even _Maison Ikkoku_.  When
released in October 1988, Volume #5 of the series sold over a million
copies in less than a month.

Part of the reason for _Ranma 1/2_'s success may be that it is much
more action-oriented than Takahashi's previous works.  The current
favorite comic series for young boys is Akira Toriyama's _Dragonball_,
which is little more than extended battle sequences (but brilliantly
drawn and paced, mind you).  _Ranma 1/2_ has, to an extent, followed
this trend in boy's comics.  But, as Takahashi no doubt remembers from
her years at Sonjuku, Koike points out the necessity of changing with
the readers.  "That's why I'm still ahead of the game," he says.  "Had
I continued to write just samurai stories, I would have been

Takahashi is best known in America for her romantic comedies, but she
has produced quite a few horror stories as well.  The three volume
_Rumic World_ series contains six horror stories, and she has recently
released a beautiful, 260 page collected volume of her _Mermaid Wood
(Ningyo no Mori)_ story cycle.  For readers used to her light-hearted
comedies and sf shorts, her horror stories in general and _Mermaid
Wood_ in particular can be quite a shock.  The atmosphere of the
stories is quite different, and some of the violence rather graphic.
Takahashi herself seems uncertain as to why she writes them:  "Perhaps
they act as a sort of catharsis for me ... I really don't know.  I
just get these frightful ideas, sometimes."  _Mermaid Wood_, a tale of
what mermaids are _really_ like, is probably her best horror work, but
_Laughing Target_ is a close second.  The animated version of
_Laughing Target_ is a disappointment, largely due to unfortunate

Takahashi, like many other manga artists, has also occasionally
written short stories about herself and her life as a manga artist.
Most manga artists seem to do these largely to grumble publicly about
their editors, and Takahashi is no exception, but her _Kemono
24-jikan_ has become quite famous in manga circles in Japan.  It
offers a very honest look into her creative processes, and it is also
renowned for the excellence of its puns.

Still, Takahashi's forte seems to be her talent for understanding and
depicting the labyrinthine tangle of romantic relationships.  She
seems very young to have developed such an acute awareness of how
people think, especially considering that Japanese manga artists
typically have little time for themselves -- the pressure and
necessity of producing 100 or more pages of work a month leads to
weeks of sleepless nights, and desperate editors peering through the
windows.  Coupled with the hellish life of a Japanese high school
student (especially one preparing to enter one of the top universities
in Japan), and the fact that they often sleep no more than four hours
a night, studying or attending cram schools the rest of the time, it
is surprising that she has developed the ability to understand people
and human nature so well.

"Actually, I've found the secret of dealing with deadline disasters,"
she laughs.  "Are you ready? [_whispers conspiratorially_] Finish
early!  Then the editors don't come pounding at the door, and you're
able to live a somewhat normal life.  I've always tried to get my work
done early, so I have a fair amount of time to myself, compared with
most manga artists ... and of course, I started comics after
university.  One can learn a lot about life and people, in
university."  One should keep in mind that Japanese universities are
different from American universities.  After working insanely hard
through high school, once they've passed the brutal entrance exams and
made it into the university they tend to kick back.  Many attend
classes only a day or two a week, and spend the rest of the time in
clubs or partying.  In general, quite the reverse of the American

More pensively, Takahashi remarks, "I suppose I spent almost all, no
rather, _virtually_ all of my 20s for _Urusei Yatsura_ and _Maison
Ikkoku_.  But I don't regret that -- actually, I'm rather satisfied to
have done so.  All the life experience of my 20s are imbedded in those
two titles."

Other than her peculiar penchant for finishing ahead of deadline,
Takahashi's working methods are similar to other comics artists in
Japan.  She tends to rise in the early afternoon, and putters about
until evening.  "Before I start on a story I meet with my editor to
discuss the basic outline and which characters to use."  Following
that, she generally spends a day or two just sitting at her board
thinking about the story.  "Then I do rough sketches, large ones,
working out problems or ideas for specific panels.  I then set up the
actual boards and put down the layout for the entire story."
Following this, Takahashi finishes her pencils, and inks each page one
at a time.  This is slightly unusual in the manga field -- most
artists pencil an entire issue, then ink it.  She regularly produces
about 80 pages a month, but "if I include short stories, or special
requests, then there may be an additional 20 pages or thereabouts."
Is that about her maximum output?  "Well, if I had to, I guess I could
do about 100 and, say, four pages [_laughs_]."

Like virtually all manga artists working on a regular series,
Takahashi works with assistants.  "Right now I have four.  They do the
backgrounds of course, panel borders, laying the tone -- that sort of
thing.  I still have to do the story, the layouts, pencil and ink all
the characters, and do the covers."  All of her assistants are female
-- Takahashi says  "When the work place has only women, you don't have
to worry about certain things as much."

Takahashi is one of the very few women drawing comics for boys and
young men.  Although her layouts occasionally betray a heavy women's
comics influence, she has a real knack for putting together stories
that are highly attractive to males.  Women, too, enjoy her works and
form a fairly large portion of her audience.  While she concentrates
on the sex appeal of her female characters (as is appropriate for the
magazines in which her work appears), her males are also lovingly
rendered.  L. Lois Buhalis (letterer on _Appleseed_ from Eclipse and
Studio Proteus, and long-time manga fan) was almost unable to choose:
"The male half of Ranma is gorgeous ... but so is Mitakal!  That's a
tough question."  Takahashi seems a little like Ranma herself -- able
to see life from both sides of the male/female equation -- a point of
view sought after since Tiresias in classical Greek mythology.

Her influences comes from many sources, but she claims to find little
to inspire her in movies.  "It does seem that most manga artists
really like movies, but I guess I'm a bit different, for some reason.
I really don't see movies very often."  Conversely, many of her
stories are heavily influenced by Japanese and Chinese mythology, with
several characters even bearing the same names as the mythological
beings.  For example, Benten, from _Urusei Yatsura_, is named after
Benten, the Japanese goddess of good fortune.  However, unlike her
gentle namesake, Takahashi's Benten is a super-powerful,
rough-and-ready scrapper with the vocabulary and demeanor of a drill

Surprisingly, Takahashi has been somewhat influenced by American
comics.  A number of years ago, a small Japanese publisher brought out
several volumes of black & white reprints of American comics,
including _Fantastic Four_, _The Hulk_, and _Spider-Man_.  With covers
by Shuho Itahashi (creator of _Cyber 7_, now out from Eclipse Comics
and Studio Proteus), these 240-page volumes seem to have had an
influence on quite a number of Japanese manga artists.  Takahashi
herself says, "When I was in junior high school, I really liked
_Spider-Man_.  Though there has been influence from those comics, it
hasn't been in style [those printed in Japan were largely drawn by Sal
Buscema], but in the sense of excitement I found in them.  I thought
to myself that this was something that Japanese comics needed more of,
and I've tried to capture a bit of that sense of excitement in my own

The character of Lum from _Urusei Yatsura_ was modelled after the
Chinese singer Agnes Lum, who was quite popular in Japan during the
early '70s.  Like her comics counterpart, Agnes Lum was what the
Japanese call a "glamour girl," in other words, an unusually shapely
young lady.  Another influence on _Urusei Yatsura_ was the American TV
show _Bewitched_, which ran for many years on Japanese TV as "Okusama
Majo."  The parallels between the two are easy to draw -- in both, a
man is involved with a woman from another world, whose friends and
relatives come into his life and wreak havoc.  _Archie_ comics are
another possible influence on the series, since translated pirate
editions were widely distributed during and following the American
Occupation.  The similarities between Betty and Lum, Ataru and Archie,
and Reggie and Mendo are hard to ignore, but may simply be the result
of the overall similarities between love triangles everywhere.

But generally, Takahashi's work has been refreshingly original,
certainly the premise of _Ranma 1/2_ provides for an unlimited number
of interesting situations that have yet to be explored by many

Takahashi has expressed puzzlement that she has fans in America --
many of whom can read little or no Japanese.  "If it's really true,
than I'm truly happy.  But I must also confess as to being rather
puzzled as to why my work should be so well received.  It's my
intention to be putting in a lot of Japanese references, Japanese
lifestyle and feelings ... even concepts such as a subtle awareness of
the four seasons.  I really have to wonder if foreign readers can
understand all this, and if so, how?" [_laughs_]

Perhaps the main reason is that a good story has the same elements in
any language -- good stories concern the core emotions held by people,
any people.  Civilization is a thin veneer on top of millions of years
that are present in any culture.  Another reason could be that, while
her stories take place on a world completely alien to most American
readers, they are internally consistent -- and so take no more of a
leap of the imagination than, say, reading Frank Herbert's _Dune_.
Godai's world in the Ikkoku-kan apartments is scarcely more unusual
than Paul's on Arrakis, and perhaps even less so.

Looking back on her success, Takahashi feels that she wouldn't like to
have it any other way.  "This is really all I want to do with my life
-- write stories.  I don't expect to change the world."  Have her
comics had any effect on Japanese culture?

"I think my comics are things that people should just read and enjoy,
and laugh along with, and that's really enough for me  I suppose that
there are deeper things hidden in my work -- sometimes not
deliberately -- but I don't set out to write literature.  One theme
that runs through my work, or at least I try to make it that way, is
the idea that people should be kind to others.  So, if people read my
comics, and begin to feel more strongly that their friends are
important, that they shouldn't be cruel to them or anyone ... if
people can get those feelings out of my work, then that's enough.  If
people became more gentle in their lives because of my comics, then
that would really make me happy.  It would be worth all the work and
sacrifice in my life so far."


Quotes and information for parts of this article were supplied by Viz
Comics, David Lewis of Studio Proteus, and Frederik Schodt.
Invaluable assistance was provided in Tokyo by Katsuya Shirai and
Takashi Fukuda of Shogakukan Publishing.  Thanks also to Rumiko
Takahashi for being such a sweetheart.

Toren Smith has been involved with bringing manga to America since
1982.  He has co-translated _Kamui_ for Eclipse/Viz Comics, and his
company Studio Proteus has produced the manga translations for
_Appleseed_, _Outlanders_, _Nausicaa_ and _Cyber 7_.  He is also the
co-translator of all the preceding, and co-writer of _The Dirty Pair_
(from Eclipse) with Adam Warren.  Toren has had the dubious honor of
having a Japanese animation character named after him (said character
didn't make it to the end of show alive).


What's In a Name?

_Urusei Yatsura_ is a complex Japanese pun that is probably worth
explaining, since Takahashi is tremendously fond of puns, and
liberally sprinkles her work with them (as do most Japanese writers --
puns are a linchpin of Japanese humor).  Japanese is a wonderful
language to pun in, since the characters have pictorial meanings in
addition to their readings.  In the case of "Urusei Yatsura," the pun
works like this:  "urusai," meaning "noisy," or "shut up," is usually
written phonetically in the hiragana character set.  Takahashi
substitutes the kanji (pictographic character) "sei," meaning "star or
planet."  This character is used when naming planets -- e.g., Mars is
called "Kasei" in Japanese (the "ka" meaning "fire").  "Yatsura" is a
somewhat low-class term meaning "rabble" or perhaps "group of
obnoxious people."  So the first level meaning is simply "Planet Uru
Rogues."  Layering on the obvious "urusai" implication, the second
level meaning is more like "Those Annoying/Obnoxious Aliens from
Planet Uru."  All of these meanings are more immediately perceived by
the Japanese when they read the title -- alas, we can only feel a
fraction of that impact.  But it does highlight the difficulties faced
by translators of Takahashi's works -- and Japanese comics in general.

Takahashi has always taken great delight in concocting multilevel puns
for her character's names.  The name of Shinobu, Ataru's
long-suffering girl-friend in _Urusei Yatsura_, means "to endure."
Cherry, the doomsaying Buddhist monk, has one of Takahashi's best
pun-names.  The Japanese word for "cherry" is "sakuranbo."  However,
using different kanji, but keeping the same homophonic reading for the
word gives the meaning of "deranged monk."  Takahashi caps this by
having Cherry insist that he be called "Cherry," in English.  _Maison
Ikkoku_ also has some brilliantly clever names.  Everyone living in
the apartment house has a name which begins with the number of their
room -- for example, Godai lives in room #5, and "go" means "five."
But more than that, many of the names are that of train stations in
Tokyo ... and further, the area surrounding the station often
corresponds to the character of the person.  The red-headed bombshell
bar hostess in room #6 is Akemi Roppongi -- the first character of her
name means "six," and Roppongi is an area of Tokyo notorious for its
expensive hostess bars.  Yotsuya, the extremely strange fellow in room
#4, gains his name not only from the number four that begins it, but
the Yotsuya train station, and the mysterious Yotsuya of folkyore in
Japan.  Takahashi has continued this trend in her latest work, _Ranma
1/2_, and show no sign of becoming less inventive -- in fact, one
character (Shan Pu) has a name that involves a three-level pun in
English, Japanese, and Chinese!  A translator's nightmare ....