How Rumiko Takahashi Defined Character Culture

By Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry

Rumiko Takahashi, "Urusei Yatsura" (New Edition, Vol. 34), pp.166-167 ©︎rumiko takahashi/SHOGAKUKAN

Rumiko Takahashi is the creator of extremely popular works such as Ranma ½ and Inuyasha. What is so captivating about her unique characters that transcend categories of gender and race?

Rumiko Takahashi, "Urusei Yatsura" (New Edition, Vol. 34), pp.166-167 (2008)Original Source: ©︎rumiko takahashi/SHOGAKUKAN

Rumiko Takahashi’s manga have gathered many fans of all genders, generations, and nationalities. Driving people’s fascination is the plethora of unique characters she has created within her works up until now. However, it is not only because there are so many of them. Her original character models are a cornerstone of today’s manga and character culture and have been passed down throughout the genre to the present day.

Rumiko Takahashi, "Kattena Yatsura", from "Takahashi Rumiko Kessaku Tanpenshū [Rumiko Takahashi’s Best Short Story Collection]" (Vol. 1), p.5 (1995)Original Source: ©︎rumiko takahashi/SHOGAKUKAN

Debut work

Rumiko Takahashi made her debut with Kattena Yatsura [Those Selfish Aliens], originally published in 1978 in Weekly Shōnen Sunday as the winner of the best new artist award. Although it started as a one-shot publication, it was the original idea behind Urusei Yatsura (a pun implying “those annoying aliens”), a series that began that same year and became a smash hit. Looking back, however, we can see that the personalities of the characters she was portraying were already expressed in the title of Kattena Yatsura.

Rumiko Takahashi, "Urusei Yatsura" (New Edition, Vol. 34), p.148 (2008)Original Source: ©︎rumiko takahashi/SHOGAKUKAN

Ataru Moroboshi and Lum

Rumiko Takahashi’s characters are “selfish people,” and this is especially typified in Urusei Yatsura. In other words, her characters run about in the worlds of her works freely and with abandon, making a ruckus. For example, the main character Ataru Moroboshi is an unabashed ladies’man who goes around flirting with all kinds of girls from beginning to end, yet never says that he likes the heroine, Lum. On the other hand, Lum is madly in love with Ataru and constantly hovers around him, even as she yells at him in anger and electrocutes him with her special powers.

Rumiko Takahashi, "Urusei Yatsura" (New Edition, Vol. 15), p.17 (2007)Original Source: ©︎rumiko takahashi/SHOGAKUKAN

Ryūnosuke Fujinami, the girl raised as a son

In the worlds of her works, characters strive to live freely as themselves. This is what gives Rumiko Takahashi’s manga special significance. For example, in her manga, sexual freedom, and freedom from gender, is portrayed as something that is taken for granted. In Urusei Yatsura, Ryūnosuke Fujinami is raised by her father who forces her to wear male clothing. However, the way in which she shouts (in masculine language) “I’m a GIRL!!” and shows off her physical strength makes her attractive as a character and as a human who transcends gender boundaries.

Rumiko Takahashi, "Ranma ½" (New Edition, Vol. 1), p.47 (2002)Original Source: ©︎rumiko takahashi/SHOGAKUKAN

The idiosyncratic Ranma Saotome

Ranma Saotome, the protagonist of Ranma ½ (serialized from 1987 to 1996 in Weekly Shōnen Sunday), turns into a girl whenever he is doused with cold water, and turns into a boy when he soaks in hot water. Is Ranma a “he” or a “she”? Ranma is neither; Ranma is simply “Ranma,” a character who tries to escape gender distinctions.

Rumiko Takahashi, "Maison Ikkoku" (New Edition, Vol. 14), p.96 (2007)Original Source: ©︎rumiko takahashi/SHOGAKUKAN

Breaking away from “femininity”

Kyoko Otonashi, the heroine of Maison Ikkoku [The House of One Moment] (serialized from 1980 to 1987 in Big Comic Spirits), is portrayed as a character who wavers between modesty and assertiveness. In order to reach the ending where she marries the main character Yūsaku Godai, the story requires her to become honest with her own feelings and actively approach him. This portrayal of a woman breaking free from conventions of “femininity” is also noteworthy because the manga was created in Japan in the ’80s, when such notions were more deeply entrenched than they are today.

Kazuhiko Shimamoto "Aoi Honō" (Vol. 23), pp.22-23 (2020)Original Source: ©️kazuhiko shimamoto/SHOGAKUKAN

A tremendous influence

Rumiko Takahashi’s manga were forward-thinking and way ahead of the times. Her works shocked both readers and other manga artists at the time, refreshed the way manga and characters were made, and created the current standards for character expression. In Kazuhiko Shimamoto’s autobiographical work Aoi Honō [Blue Blazes] (currently serialized in Gessan), he illustrates the intense sense of rivalry he felt toward Takahashi, who debuted one step ahead of him. Though he expresses it humorously, this example reveals just how tremendous of an influence Rumiko Takahashi was.

Rumiko Takahashi, "Inuyasha" (Vol. 48), p.22 (2007)Original Source: ©︎rumiko takahashi/SHOGAKUKAN

The demon Sesshōmaru

Overcoming the roles and symbolism expected of them, characters seek to transcend all distinctions of gender, race, and upbringing to communicate, interact, and love one another. This is a main theme that exists in all of Rumiko Takahashi’s major works. Even Inuyasha (serialized from 1996 to 2008 in Weekly Shōnen Sunday), which has a more serious style than Urusei Yatsura, portrays characters who build relationships across categories, such as Sesshōmaru, a demon who cares for the human girl Rin.

Rumiko Takahashi, "Ningyo no Mori [Mermaid Saga]", p.31 (2003)Original Source: ©︎rumiko takahashi/SHOGAKUKAN


Because Rumiko Takahashi’s characters behave in ways that freely disregard rules of normativity, they are often treated as outcasts by common-sense society. In Ningyo Series (Mermaid Saga), an early work representative of the Japanese horror themed manga that she has illustrated repeatedly to this day, Yūta and Mana, who ate mermaid flesh and became immortal, emerge as the main characters. The series portrays the world of people as seen from their detached perspective.

Rumiko Takahashi, "MAO" (Vol. 1), p.31 (2019)Original Source: ©︎rumiko takahashi/SHOGAKUKAN

To her latest work, MAO

The freedom, and isolation, of characters who have escaped from the yoke of the world. How should such characters live? This theme has been consistently transmitted in her works through to her latest full-length manga MAO (currently serialized in Weekly Shōnen Sunday).

Rumiko Takahashi, "One Pound Gospel" (Vol. 1), p.61 (1989)Original Source: ©︎rumiko takahashi/SHOGAKUKAN

Outcasts who survive in a difficult world to pursue free and bright lives, and who search for ways to love each other despite their differing origins and appearances. Individualistic and unorthodox, they give their all to pursue their goals. As these characters inspired their readers, the concept of “character” eventually came to possess unique significance for Japanese people—this is the world created by Rumiko Takahashi’s manga.

Credits: Story

Text: Sayawaka
Edit: Nanami Kikuchi, Natsuko Fukushima+Yuka Miyazaki(BIJUTSU SHUPPAN-SHA CO., LTD.)
Supervisor: Hirohito Miyamoto(Meiji University)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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