With this month’s Rumiko Takahashi-centered Manga Moveable Feast now underway, the Manga Bookshelf crew discusses their recommendations for some Takahashi first reads.
KATE: If someone asked me, “Which Rumiko Takahashi title should I read first?”, I’d direct them to Mermaid Saga, one of Takahashi’s shortest — and best — series. Mermaid Saga focuses on Yuta, a four-hundred-year-old fisherman on a quest to restore his mortality. Yuta crisscrosses Japan in search of a mermaid who can grant his wish, along the way encountering thieves, murderers, and immortal beings, all of whom seek mermaid flesh for their own purposes. As I noted back in October, Mermaid Saga is one of Takahashi’s most accessible works. “Takahashi’s writing is brisk and assured, propelled by snappy dialogue and genuinely creepy scenarios,” I explained. “[Though] the imagery is tame by horror standards, Takahashi doesn’t shy away from the occasional grotesque or gory image, using them to underscore the ugly consequences of seeking immortality.” Best of all, Mermaid Saga stands up to multiple readings; I revisited the series last year, and was just as engrossed on my third pass through the material as I had been on my first.
MICHELLE: If someone asked me the same question, I think my answer would be InuYasha. Despite its sprawl (56 volumes!) and its penchant for repetition, InuYasha is deservedly a shounen classic. When I reviewed volumes 36 and 37 for Manga Recon two years ago, I attempted to explain why the series remains so endearing to me despite its flaws.
“The answer lies in the series’ characters. Like any good sitcom, InuYasha boasts a cast of likable leads. Everyone has their own subplot—Miroku is cursed with a “wind tunnel” in his hand that is slowly killing him, Sango’s late brother has been reanimated by a Shikon shard and forced to serve Naraku—and genuinely cares for the others. For every storyline that pans out exactly as one expects, there are nice scenes like the one near the end of volume 36, where Kagome and Inuyasha share a quiet, peaceful moment in a tree, musing upon how happy they are to have the other by their side.”
MJ: As the least Takahashi-literate of the lot, I’m not sure my recommendation is really the best for a first read, though it’s certainly my favorite. Though I’ve finally begun to catch up on her lengthy catalogue, my heart still belongs to Maison Ikkoku, my own first Takahashi series. I’m a real sucker for grown-up romantic comedy and Maison Ikkoku hits the spot just as perfectly as can be. Warm, funny, and just over-the-top enough to make its rare, quiet moments really ring true, Maison Ikkoku is a veritable buffet of raw humanity, presented with true affection by its immensely skillful author.
DAVID: Would it be perverse of me to pick an out-of-print title as an introduction to Takahashi? Probably, but I hope I can be excused, because Rumic Theater should be in print at all times, possibly in hardcover with informative biographical pieces added. As I noted in my very old review, the short stories are “vintage Takahashi… The shorts are a great showcase for her trademark wit and warmth. As always, her characters are stylized but look real and human, even in the extremities of comic distress.” If you can’t find a copy, you’re certainly welcome to wag your finger in my direction, but you could also write a cordial but forceful email to Viz to get this back on the shelves. Since some of her series are dauntingly long, it would be a great snack pack to hand to the wary.