Takahashi has amassed an enviable record as the creator of numerous beloved series. Manga and anime such as Rumic World, Maison Ikkoku, Urusei Yatsura, Ranma 1/2, and InuYasha are well known to many longtime anime fans, and they're all Takahashi creations. Even more remarkable about her career is the fact that she is among the few female creators of shounen manga (comics predominantly intended for a male audience, although they can and do have a following among women as well).
Takahashi boasts a clean yet subtly detailed artistic style that can depict action or slapstick comedy with equal aplomb. She's expert at eliciting amusement with her characters' exaggerated facial expressions. On the writing side, her love of puns, wacky situations, and romance has led her to create some of the most unique and beloved manga series ever, each of which balances comedy and romance in varying proportions. Her superb and memorable characters have also won her acclaim and adoration by fans.
She also is fond of incorporating references to Japanese and other folklore in her stories. Her ability to produce thousands of pages of superb art and write clever and humorous plots and dialogue for Japan's weekly manga publications is nothing short of astounding.
There are more than 50 million copies of Takahashi's manga in print, to say nothing of countless hours of anime based on her works. And thanks to publishers and distributors like VIZ, AnimeEigo and Central Park Media, translated versions of Takahashi's anime and manga have won a loyal following Stateside as well.
Takahashi was born in 1957 in Niigata, Japan. A manga fan throughout her childhood, she founded the manga appreciation society at Niigata Chuo High School. She then attended the prestigious Nihon Joseidai university for women. She also studied the manga-ka's craft at Gekiga Sonjuku with Lone Wolf and Cub creator Kazuo Koike. It was there that she began to absorb Koike?s emphasis on characterization as the key to a manga's success. And while there, she sold her first manga story, Katte Na Yatsura (Overbearing People), to Shonen Sunday magazine, beginning a relationship that would prove long and fruitful for both.
During her college years, Takahashi lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in Nakano. Her observations of her neighbors and fellow lodgers would later appear in her popular romantic manga Maison Ikkoku. In 1978, Takahashi saw her first breakout hit with the publication in Shonen Sunday of Urusei Yatsura (Those Obnoxious Aliens!). That year, she also won the "Best New Comic Artist Award" from the leading manga publisher Shogakukan.
Urusei Yatsura is a funny yet touching story of klutzy, vastly unlucky and unrepentantly lecherous loser Ataru Moroboshi, who finds himself tapped to save the world from the alien Oni that threaten to invade Earth. The Oni have agreed to spare the planet if Ataru can beat the curvaceous and vivacious Oni Princess Lum in a game of tag. Unfortunately, Lum can fly, which complicates matters. He manages to win, though, only to have Lum interpret his shouts of triumph as a marriage proposal.
Soon Lum is living with Ataru and his apprehensive parents. A huge cast of human and aliens - comprised of more than two dozen major characters, most of whom are rivals for either Lum or Ataru - soon arrive to complicate the situation even further. And then there's the fact that Lum can zap Ataru with bolts of electricity when she catches him leering at other women. Urusei Yatsura was developed into a popular anime series that ran from October 1981 to March 1986, and comprised 216 episodes. It also inspired five feature films and three Original Animation Videos (OAVs).
In 1982, during the successful run of Urusei Yatsura, Takahashi began writing and drawing Maison Ikkoku, which appeared in the magazine Big Comic Spirits. (As the story focuses more on romance, it appeared in a magazine aimed at a lightly older audience.) Maison Ikkoku tells the tale of Godai, a ronin, or young man who has so far failed to pass his college entrance exams, who lives in the titular boarding house along with a boisterous batch of fellow tenants who disrupt his studies with their drunken partying.
The plot revolves around Godai's efforts to win the heart of Maison Ikkoku's beautiful new manager, Kyoko Otonashi. A recent widow, Kyoko is hesitant about opening her heart again. There are also complications in the form of romantic rivalries for both leads, a theme that Takahashi would continue in her later works. Again, Maison Ikkoku inspired a spinoff anime TV series that ran on from 1986 through 1988.
In 1987, Takahashi wrapped up both Urusei Yatsura and Maison Ikkoku, but not before the former had filled 34 collected volumes and the latter 15. But Takahashi was not to remain idle - instead, she began work on a series that was to display the perfect blend of romance, comedy, action and wacky hijinks: Ranma 1/2.
Ranma 1/2 is about a talented and arrogant teenaged martial artist named Ranma Saotome who, thanks to a curse he was tagged with at a forbidden Chinese training ground, transforms into a cute girl whenever he is splashed with cold water. Roped into an arranged marriage with Akane, the tomboyish daughter of his father's best friend (to the mutual dismay of both Ranma and Akane), Ranma and Akane soon find themselves also the objects of numerous unwanted suitors (in Ranma's case, for both his make and female guises). Ranma 1/2 ran the longest of all of her series, concluding after 38 volumes in 1996. The popular TV series also featured several film and OAV spinoffs.
Soon after that, Takahashi began her next series, InuYasha Sengoku Otogi Zoushi (Inu-Yasha: A Feudal Fairy Tale). Although it hardly eschews comedy, InuYasha focuses more on action and romance. The story focuses on Kagome Higurashi, a young Japanese high school girl who, thanks to an encounter with a mystic well, winds up in Warring States Era Japan, circa 1500 AD. There she meets a doglike half-human, half-demon warrior named InuYasha.
Although they initially dislike each other - and indeed, InuYasha tries at first to attack her - they become bound together by both a powerful spell and by a quest to retrieve the scattered shards of the mystic Shikon Jewel that can turn Inu-Yasha fully human - or fully demon. A group of regular characters (although not as large as those of previous works), both demon and human, soon joins their quest or tries to thwart it. And as has become par for the course with Takahashi's work, the spinoff anime has proved wildly successful both in Japan and in the United States.
One of Takahshi's trademarks is stories and characters inspired by Japanese and Chinese mythology. For example, the Oni, the alien race from Urusei Yatsura, are drawn from traditional Japanese demons, as are several of the series' other alien races. (Another inspiration for the character of the Oni princess Lum is said to be the popular - and shapely - Chinese singer Agnes Lum.) And that show's intergalactic bounty hunter Benten is named after the Japanese goddess of good luck.
Takahashi is also known for incorporating puns based on the various interpretations of Japanese characters into her manga characters' names. For example, the name of Ataru's erstwhile girlfriend in Urusei Yatsura, Shinobu, means 'to endure.' The wacky Buddhist monk Cherry's name is also an elaborate pun: The Japanese word for 'cherry' is 'sakuranbo,' but using different kanji, the same name can mean 'deranged monk.' (Possibly aware of this double meaning, the mad monk prefers to be called 'Cherry,' in English.) And the name of Cherry's comely niece Sakura means 'cherry blossom.' The tenants of Maison Ikkoku also have names that reflect their room numbers.
Takahasi's enormous and prolific talent has made her one of Japan's most revered and successful manga artists. As such, she has certainly been instrumental in driving the popularity of the genre in Japan. And increasingly, she is finding her fame being exported to more and more faraway lands... with the United States being no exception.