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"Rumiko Takahashi Anthology" Vol. 3: Adding "Extra" to "Ordinary"

There are several well-known godfathers of manga and anime who have produced a wide body of work and introduced many memorable characters. These include Akira‘s Katsuhiro Otomo, Gundam‘s Yoshiyuki Tomino, and of course Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki. However, even though Japan remains largely a man’s world, the industry also has a godmother. She is Rumiko Takahashi, whose always quirky, usually cute, and sometimes flat-out weird creations such as InuYasha and Ranma ½ have been the subject of a number of successful anime. The latest such series is Rumiko Takahashi Anthology, a collection of magical slice-of-life short stories as only she can tell them. Volume 3 contains episodes 7, 8, and 9.

Look out for freaky beak Hoshino in the lower left corner.

Although her tales are often full of magic and monsters, Takahashi spends a good deal of time exploring or parodying ordinary day-to-day life in Japan. This is the main focus of the series, which does contain some magic but otherwise stays very close to reality. There’s no freaky horror, which comes as a relief since, cute designs aside, some of her material is rather disturbing. These are lighthearted tales of human relationships designed to make you laugh and possibly get a little teary-eyed. (Not that this writer would know anything about the latter. How about those Bears?) It may all seem a little bland at first, but Takahashi magic soon kicks in, and you can’t help but be caught up in it. She demonstrates her limitless creativity with the many neat little twists that send events in unexpected directions.

Episode 7, “Hundred Years Love,” begins in a hospital where the very elderly Risa Hoshino miraculously bounces back from death’s door. She discovers she has mysteriously developed magic powers like flight and telekinesis. Becoming obsessed with a young patient who closely resembles her suicidal adolescent love, she sets out to protect him from making the same tragic mistake he did.

“In Lieu of Thanks” finds young housewife Kobato caught up in a bitter rivalry between two neighbors at her new condominium: the crusty old “witch” Ukai and the snobbish “queen” of the residents’ association, Shiratori. When Ukai breaks a bone Kobato runs to her aid, earning her the wrath of Shiratori and yearlong building cleaning detail. As Ukai departs for the hospital she entrusts her myna bird to the defiant Kobato as an unlikely ally in her struggle.

Finally, in “Living Room Love Song,” middle-aged section chief Tadokoro’s chatterbox wife Makiko passes away, leaving him on his lonesome. Or not quite, as her ghost remains to pester him. Meanwhile his young, cute subordinate Momoi takes a liking to and/or pity on him and starts dropping by to chat, much to the ghost’s irritation.

These stories comprise a fascinating microcosm of Japanese society. As the housewife turf war illustrates, one must be careful to make nice with the right people and not rock the boat too much or face ostracism. It also shows how a single faux pas can be crippling in a society where face means everything. Tadokoro’s unromantic middle-aged marriage is depressingly common in Japan, and we get a hint of the country’s rampant age discrimination in that his love life appears to be dead and buried before age fifty. Famously, Japanese women over age twenty-five used to be called Christmas cake, because no one wanted them after the 25th. Although attitudes have become more liberal in recent years, it still seems quite uncommon for people over forty to date, and it’s a rare sight in popular entertainment.

Caution: Flying housewives.

As with all of Takahashi’s works there are plenty of eccentric screwballs on parade. Oddest of all is the bizarrely superpowered grandma Hoshino, but it is the cutthroat housewives who are the most fun. Polite and docile on the outside, it’s not hard to imagine them exchanging drive-by shootings if it were only possible to acquire MAC-10s in Japan. Shiratori is a classic villainess not unlike Sleeping Beauty‘s Maleficent, who speaks with a velvet tongue but oozes evil from every pore. Although it is Ukai who is branded a witch, it’s Shiratori who brings to mind bubbling cauldrons and sinister spells. And special mention must be given to Makiko for portraying possibly the most annoying wife ever, jabbering non-stop about the most trivial nonsense even from beyond the grave. Tadakoro’s expression during her gabbing suggests someone having his brain shaved with an ice pick. The dub is generally solid, but to get the full effect of some of these very Japanese conversations the original language is preferable. The dub does employ the bizarrely archaic insult “eat your hat,” which suggests that the studio’s slang dictionary is a bit out of date.

In one of the funnier moments Hoshino flies up to the young man’s balcony and pours out her heart about her lost love, only to find on finishing that he is still vacantly staring out the window in disbelief. Kobato’s verbal confrontations are amusingly enhanced by fiery background effects that suggest a Dragon Ball Z match. The best visual gag comes when Momoi gives Tadakoro a new wallet and he, sure this is a sign of her boundless affection, imagines the two of them soaring through the air Aladdin style.

Though nothing complex, Anthology‘s animation is cute and attractive. It warms the heart to see such old-school character designs in a recent anime, even if Hoshino’s freaky beak mouth is a bit disturbing.

The only special feature is a production art gallery, which contains a nice selection of character sketches with various expressions for the budding animator.

Rumiko Takahashi Anthology finds its author in fine form, and longtime fans are advised to check out this amusingly oddball series. If you seek her tales of otherworldly fantasy or outrageous comedy there are more potent examples of both, but don’t be too quick to write off Anthology‘s low-key charm. If nothing else, you’ll be inspired to visit Japan to see if its people are really this nutty. Clearly at least one of them is.

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