Portraying Tough Women Characters Through Manga

Posted by: Roy Wilbur


Rumiko Takahashi was born on October 10, 1957 in Niigata, Japan. She displayed no special talent or interest for manga (Japanese comics) while attending Niigata Chuo High School, but while attending Japan Women’s University, she enrolled in Gekiga Sonjuku, a manga school founded by Kazuo Koike (artist and writer of the mangas Lone Wolf and Cub, Crying Freeman and Lady Snowblood). His influence in her work is considerable. He stressed the importance of interesting characters in one’s manga series. Takahashi took his lessons to heart: her characters often break the stereotypes inhabiting manga at the time. Takahashi takes care to portray her women to be as tough and as intelligent as her men. Almost none of them can be called an out-and-out villain. They often have different motivations and goals which puts them at odds with each other, and from this arises the dramatic tension of her stories, and quite often, the comedy as well.

The following is an excerpt from Toshifumi Yoshida’s interview with Rumiko Takahashi.  The article, titled “Inuyasha Comes to America” is from Animerica Vol. 9 No. 6 June 2001 and was translated into English by Andy Nakatani.   Takahashi’s anime feature Inuyasha The Movie: Affections Touching Across Time will be screened at the “2017 MooreWomenArtists: Women in Animation Film Festival.” 

Question: Let’s move on to Inuyasha. There are many grotesque monsters that appear in Inuyasha. Are the monsters you create based on old myths and legends?

Takahashi: There are some that are: the design of the ghosts, demons, dragons, and the hebi no bakemon kappa demon (“snake kappa demon”) are all from Japanese legend. But over half are my original creations.

Question: The Inuyasha story is darker and more serious than Ranma. Is this a change within yourself, or because you waited to do something new?

Takahashi: I wanted to do something that was not a comedy. And I’m doing it to head in a new direction.

Question: Are there any particular reason that you set the story in the Sengoku Era?

Takahashi: Perhaps because it is relatively easier to extract a ghost story from that time period. I didn’t think that deeply about it. It’s just that in the Sengoku Era, there was war, and lots of people died. For a ghost to appear and kill a lot of people in the present day- although I guess there are some manga like that- but for one of my manga, I thought that if I set it in the Sengoku Era, it could be portrayed more softly. The cruelty becomes softer, I think.

Question: To set the story in the Sengoku Era, did you gather material and research for this purpose?

Takahashi: It’s not that I did that much research for the purpose of Inuyasha, I just used the knowledge that people would know even as a child, such as the image of samurai wearing armor and riding horses- from that type of perspective. Also, for example, say castles from a certain time took a popular type of form. There are many different forms of castles, but after a certain period of time passes, castles become more grandiose and I can say that Inuyasha is set before that time.

Question: As Kagome and Inuyasha’s relationship develops, they seem to move backwards, and even now there are some ambiguous aspects. Will this ever be resolved?

Takahashi: Hmmm, yes… I would like it to be. I don’t really know what will happen until I actually write it, but I am writing with the hope that it will be resolved.

Question: So you, yourself, don’t know what is going to happen?

Takahashi: At this point I don’t really know what will happen.

Question: Kagome is the reincarnation of Kikyo’s character, but in terms of personality these two characters are very different. The same person has two personalities, and Inuyasha is attracted to both personalities- is there any deep meaning to this?

Takahashi: There isn’t really any deep meaning. In terms of reincarnation, Kagome is not really a personality that is part of Kikyo. Kagome should let her individuality come out, and Kikyo is already a very original person in expressing her individuality, and I think the story will get more and more interesting as this continues.

Question: Even if Kikyo is already dead?

Takahashi: Yes, even if she’s dead.

Question: What is the Shikon no Tama (“Jewel of Four Souls”) that is such a key element to the plot?

Takahashi: That could possibly be made gradually clearer as we get closer to the end of the story.

Question: Is it something that is historically based?

Takahashi: No, it isn’t.

Question: So when it comes to writing your stories, be it Inuyasha or Ranma, the ending are not set beforehand, are they?

Takahashi: No, they are not. It’s better if I think about it on the spot. To force your characters to go in a direction that you have preconceived- that manga will most certainly not be very interesting. What you think is best on the spot, right before you take a step and go forward and make the path- I think that is what creating manga is all about. That’s the best way for me to create manga.

Click here to read the full interview



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