Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Collections of Rumiko Takahashi short stories both delights and dissapoints

Japanese writer/artist Rumiko Takahashi has been referred as the 'Queen of Romantic Comedy.' This is a title that works such as "Ranma 1/2" and "Maison Ikkoku" proves that she richly deserves.

I've referred to Takahashi in articles as one of the greatest living comic book creators in the world. In this post, I review two volumes of short stories where she shows her range as a story-teller, especially when it comes to telling stories that aren't usually presented in the sequential art medium.

Rumic Theatre (American Edition published by Viz Media)
By Rumiko Takahashi
Rating: Ten of Ten Stars

Rumic Theatre is a collection of six of the finest Rumiko Takahashi stories that I've read so far. As always, the characters are likable and engaging, the tender moments touching, and the comedy top-notch. All of the elements that her fans love are displayed here, but we also find that she is capable of creating far more sedate stories than usually flow from her pen.

All the tales in Rumic Theatre are more down-to-earth than Takahashi's usual output, dealing primarily with the trails and tribulations of everyday people--all of whom are characterized in a believable and three-dimensional fashion--but that typical Takahashi magic is still very clearly evident on every page. What's more, the art in this collection is among the best she's produced.

My personal favorites in this collection are 'The Tragedy of P,' (which revolves around a pet penguin in an apartment building where animals are absolutely not allowed), 'Hidden in the Pottery (where reality, perception, and the dangers of gossip are examined), and 'Extra-large Happiness' (where a young wife sees her future happiness endangered by a gremlin that only she can see). The remaining stories are also of high quality, but the characters and situations in the three mentioned above are the ones that moved me the most.

Even those who don't typically appreciate the 'standard' style of Japanese comics should consider buying this book. If you appreciate the art of comic books for more than just slam-bang superheroics, you won't be dissapointed.

One or Double (American Edition published by Viz Media)

Story and Art: Rumiko Takahashi
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

One or Double is a collection of short tales that don't fit into any of Rumiko Takahashi's ongoing series. Unlike the first volume, which contained mostly recent stories, this one seems to cover a range of years, judging from the art styles. They're not all winners, but over all this book is yet more solid evidence that Takahashi is a master of the graphic story telling medium. Whether you're a fan of "manga" or not, there's no denying that she's a skilled artist and writer who deserves the accolades and success she has enjoyed.

Most of the standout stories in the book are, sports-themed. 'Excuse Me for Being a Dog!,' (a young boxer turns into a dog whenever he gets a bloody nose) 'Winged Victory,' (the tale of a rugby team that's lost 999 games in a row and the ghost who watches over it), 'The Grandfather of All Baseball Games' (a young man plays hardball with his obnoxious grandfather), and the title story (in which a kendo instructor is put in the body of the club's pretty manager) all use sports either as the backdrop or motivation for the story and its characters. The characters in these stories are Takahashi at her most charming.

'The Diet Goddess' (about a girl who buys a dress with the intention of losing enough weight to look good in it) and 'Happy Talk' (about an adoptee who embarks on a search for her biological mother) are two slice-of-life stories ala the majority of the shorts from the first 'Rumic Theater' volume, and the 'Maison Ikkoku' series. Again, Takahashi presents us with charming characters the reader can't help but care about, in stories both funny and touching.

Dissapointments in the book include 'To Grandmother's House We Go' (about a pair of hardluck cases who try to collect the large birthright of a deceased friend for themselves) and 'Reserved Seat' (a curious tale about a rock singer who is haunted by his grandmother and Tarakazuka). The first story is simply too short and it feels rushed on every level--the ending feels particularly unsatifactory--while the second is the only Takahashi story I've read where I felt no sympathy or good will toward any of the characters present in it.

Finally, there's 'Shake Your Bhudda,' a tale that is to very early Takahashi. It's clear she was still mastering her craft when it was created, and there's very little to recommend this tale. In fact, I feel the book might have been better served if it had been left out all together.