So Many Lums

Posted by on February 3rd, 2010 at 6:52 PM

This is fun.  Each volume of the newest edition of Rumiko Takahashi’s classic slapstick romantic comedy Urusei Yatsura includes a pinup by a different manga artist.  Here are thumbnails of all 31 illustrations, each depicting bikini-clad alien demon girl Lum:

The artists:

1. Rumiko Takahashi herself (Urusei Yatsura, Maison Ikkoku, Ranma 1/2, Inuyasha)
2. Mitsuru Adachi (Short Program, plus lots of untranslated sports-themed romcoms like the 1980s baseball series Touch)
3. Mine Yoshizaki (Sgt. Frog)
4. Eiji Nonaka (Cromartie High School)
5. Sensha Yoshida (the untranslated surreal gag strip Utsurun Desu.)
6. Takashi Shiina (the untranslated 1990s horror/comedy Ghost Sweeper Mikami)
7. Kazumi Yamashita (the untranslated 1990s drama The Life of the Genius Professor Yanagizawa, notable as one of the few manga with an elderly protagonist)
8. Fujihiko Hosono (the untranslated Gallery Fake, plus the manga adaptation of Crusher Joe)
9. Kazuhiro Fujita (the untranslated Ushio and Tora, another, very different manga about a teenage boy and a Japanese demon)
10. Kazuichi Hanawa (Doing Time)
11. Minoru Furuya (Ping-Pong Club)
12. Ryoichi Ikegami (Crying Freeman, Sanctuary, Wounded Man, Mai the Psychic Girl, the untranslated Spider-Man manga, and a billion other insane ultra-macho men’s manga)
13. Noizi Itoh (light novel illustrator best known for Shakugan no Shana and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya)
14. Kazuhiko Shimamoto (artist who worked on the Shotaro Ishinomori properties Kamen Rider and The Skull Man; his own series, including the tongue-in-cheek shonen parodies Blazing Transfer Student and Hoero Pen, are untranslated)
15. Ryouji Minagawa (Project ARMS, Spriggan)
16. Hiromu Arakawa (Fullmetal Alchemist?
17. Isami Nakagawa (children’s cartoonist best known for Kuma no Puutarou and Poguri)
18. Moyoko Anno (Happy Mania, Flowers and Bees, Sugar Sugar Rune, general awesomeness)
19. Atsushi Kamijou (prolific, untranslated artist with a shojo-esque style, probably best known for his punk rock drama TO-Y)
20. Takatoshi Yamada (another untranslated long-timer, creator of the feel-good medical drama Dr. Koto’s Clinic and many other series)
21. Gosho Aoyama (Case Closed)
22. Junji Ito (Uzumaki, Gyo, Tomie)
23. Taiyo Matsumoto (Tekkon Kinkreet, Blue Spring, Gogo Monster)
24. Katsutoshi Kawai (creator of the hydroplane racing manga Monkey Turn–this is one of those series everyone in Japan and no one in the U.S. knows, and, yes, it’s really about hydroplane racing)
25. Tetsuo Hara (Fist of the North Star)
26. Yuu Watase (Fushigi Yuugi, Ceres: Celestial Legend, Alice 19th)
27. Koji Kumeta (Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei)
28. Fusako Kuramochi (the untranslated shojo manga A Gentle Breeze in the Village)
29. Tsukasa Hojo (City Hunter)
30. Akira Saso (the untranslated Child of a Child, about an eleven-year-old who gets pregnant–can’t imagine why no American publisher wants to touch that one)
31. Kiyohiko Azuma (Azumanga Daioh, Yotsuba&!)
32. Chika Umino (Honey and Clover)
33. Daijiro Morohoshi (major but untranslated horror artist, creator of Wall Man, Yokai Hunter, and the horror/comedy Shiori and Shimiko)
34. Yukinobu Hoshino (2001 Nights, one of the first Viz graphic novels–boy, does that take me back)

Lately I’ve been nostalgic for Urusei Yatsura, the inspired comedy responsible for unleashing harem manga, “magical girlfriend” manga, and tsundere on an innocent world.  Hey, Takahashi couldn’t have known that her cheerfully raunchy sci-fi comedy would push manga down a long, slippery slope destined to end in body pillows.  She just wanted to draw sexy girls, tell funny jokes, and make total bank.  Which she did.

There’s a great chunky, curvy line to 1980s shonen comedy manga.  You can see it in Takahashi’s work, and also in work by other artists who started around that time, like #2, Mitsuru Adachi, who has a similar sensibility.  It’s funny to see photorealist seinin artists like Tetsuo Hara and Tsukasa Hojo take on the cartoony Lum; Hara’s busty, M-for-Mature Lum is disturbing yet strangely compelling.  Some of the shojo artists have interestingly off-kilter takes too.  And of course the Cromartie High School guy draws her in the same teenager-doodling-on-a-notebook-cover style in which he draws everything, which is awesome.

Supposedly the artists were selected by Takahashi herself, which offers some insight into her tastes and influences.  It’s no surprise that a lot of her fellow 1980s manga-ka made the cut, as did some of the most popular artists in Shonen Sunday, the magazine that publishes most of Takahashi’s work.  (Takahashi’s influence is largely responsible for the bright, rounded, anime-friendly Shonen Sunday house style; you can see it in Sunday‘s most popular current title, Case Closed, by #21, Gosho Aoyama.)

It’s also unsurprising that the lineup includes a lot of creators of classic hardboiled action and horror manga.  Takahashi apprenticed with the Gekiga Sonjuku program, founded by Lone Wolf and Cub artist Kazuo Koike, which emphasized realism and character-focused writing and inspired many seinin (men’s) manga artists of the 1980s.  Hara, #25, is one of Takahashi’s fellow Gekiga Sonjuru graduates.  Takahashi is also known to be a fan of horror manga.  Supernatural horror artist Daijiro Morohoshi, #33, is the namesake of Ataru Moroboshi, the oft-forgotten horny male protagonist of Urusei Yatsura.

But some of the other choices are surprising for an artist with such aggressively mainstream sensibilities.  Kazuichi Hanawa,#10, is an underground artist whose graphic novel Doing Time, translated by Fanfare/Ponent Mon, meticulously depicts his life in prison.  Taiyo Matsumoto, #23, is the alt-darling creator of Tekkon Kinkreet (published twice by Viz, the first time under the title Black and White).  Moyoko Anno, #18, is a brilliantly funny josei (women’s) artist; I guess she’s not too surprising a choice, because she’s fairly popular in Japan, but her smart writing and funky art style push her a little outside the mainstream.  (As a personal aside, Anno is one of my inspirations to keep plugging away at my art, because she’s gone from a smart writer with crude, moves-the-plot-along artwork to one of the best, sexist artists in manga, and in fact seems to be getting more work lately as a commercial illustrator than a manga creator.  We should all improve so radically.)

I’m sorry these are just headshots, although you can find a lot of the full scans online, because some of the full illustrations are pretty funny.  Junji Ito’s includes the creepiest Ataru of all time.  Gosho Aoyama’s is a Case Closed pun.  In Case Closed, the members of the evil Men in Black conspiracy are all named after alcoholic beverages: Gin, Vodka, Sherry, etc.  Aoyama’s pinup has Lum as one of the Men in Black, carrying…rum.  Of course.

It’s hard to underestimate the impact Urusei Yatsura had on manga when it debuted in 1978.  Takahashi invented the modern shonen romantic comedy: character-driven, episodic, and sexy in a cute, nonthreatening way.  (Even Takahashi’s prime-time-friendly gags about lecherous guys and cleavage-baring girls seem downright filthy compared to later iterations like Kôsuke Fujishima’s Oh My Goddess, where holding a girl’s hand is almost beyond the pale…or to any modern moe manga.)  By adding sci-fi and fantasy elements to the core male fantasy of the perfect girl falling out of the sky, she tied the genre to the developing otaku subculture, instantaneously creating an army of obsessively loyal fans.  Lum was the It Girl of 1980s manga and anime, unseating Nausicaa of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, and unseated in turn, come the 1990s, by Rei Ayanami of Neon Genesis Evangelion.  (Who is it now?  Some perky cartoon eight-year-old, probably.  Bah.)  Of the three, Lum was the girl you’d want to be, the girl who had it all: demonic powers, an hourglass figure, the ability to electrocute men without fear of reprisal, and a bitchin’ tiger-striped spaceship.

Each pinup is accompanied by an essay from the contributing artist. The message board thread where I snagged the above image includes a nice translation of one of the essays, by contemporary horror artist Junji Ito:

The thing about Takahashi-sensei’s characters is that they were very fresh. In those days, physically, female characters in manga were depicted as the male ideal in very concrete terms- a kind and tender girl who was like a protective mother-figure, or conversely one who had an unyielding spirit, the motherly-type who would preach at a man, or perhaps a girl who was not good with words and was very dependant upon men. These kind of women who were created from the perspective of men were quite prominent.

And then came Takahashi-sensei’s women, who didn’t fit that mold and seemed as real as true flesh and blood women. They could fly into a rage or become jealous. If she were not a woman, I don’t think she would be able to so accurately depict what is in the hearts of her female characters. After that, our concept of the “ideal woman” suddenly seemed old-fashioned and out of date.

Takahashi changed the female ideal in manga from a bland, nurturing mother figure out of a Judd Apatow movie to a series of hot, flawed, funny women, girls with tempers as hot as their bodies, girls with personalities.  At the time, it was revolutionary.  Nowadays the concept has mellowed into a set of stock romcom character types like the tsundere–the girl who runs hot and cold–and it’s hard to find unique characters who leap off the page like Lum.

Looking over artists above, a veritable Captain’s Feast of every major manga genre, I suddenly realize who’s missing: any of the countless shonen romance artists directly inspired by Takahashi.  No Kôsuke Fujishima, no Masakazu Katsura (Video Girl Ai), no Ken Akamatsu (Love Hina).  The newer artists here mostly draw wacky or surreal comedy, horror, sci-fi, shojo, or alternative manga.  Many, like Junji Ito, were inspired by Takahashi to some extent, but their work is radically different from hers.  As for Lum’s direct offspring–well, I can’t blame Takahashi for not being all that interested.

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10 Responses to “So Many Lums”

  1. Bill Randall says:

    Great analysis. It’s like a pocket guide for these artists’ individual styles. And I’m surprised at which ones feel weird– like the last one by Hoshino. I’d expect that from the Hanawa, but his seems natural.

    & the more I think about it, the more UY’s a good case study in why sources are better than imitators. It works on a dozen levels and contains so many later trends. In its way, it’s a bridge between wild 70s comedy like Harenchi Gakuen and the oughts’ dull hum of Azumanga Daioh.

    The only thing that makes me appreciate the manga just a touch less is that I think the second movie’s just about perfect.

  2. […] Shaenon Garrity looks at the many faces of Lum. […]

  3. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by Toukochan: Yay, Lum! http://www.tcj.com/manga/so-many-lums

  4. […] Shaenon Garrity looks at the many faces of Lum. […]

  5. Ah, “Beautiful Dreamer.” SF Signal recently interviewed a bunch of sci-fi writers and anime/manga critics for their “Top 5 Anime Films of All Time,” and my friend Jason Thompson was the only one who included “Beautiful Dreamer,” “Night on the Galactic Railroad,” or “Wings of Honneamise.” Bah! Like “Ghost in the Shell” is even that great, people.

  6. Bill Randall says:

    What? Madness! I guess that’s a consequence of Night & Wings’s first US DVDs being god-awful transfers. At least I hope that’s why.

  7. Kristy Valenti says:

    You know, even though Rumiko Takahashi is in my all-time favorite cartoonist pantheon, I was never able to get into Lum. Maison Ikkoku is amazing, and I adore her Rumic World stuff, but Lum was just too schticky for me (and I’ve been told a lot of the humor requires more knowledge of Japanese culture than I possess). I should check out the anime.

    I am a fan of many of the manga-ka listed here (I would definitely pay money for a Moyoco Anno Lum short story) though, so this is a fascinating exercise.

    (Ippongi Bang is also the world’s cutest Lum cosplayer.)

  8. […] 2 Likes Yen announces new Haruhi and Yoshinaga manga « MangaBlog 2 Likes So Many Lums « The Comics Journal The magazine of comics news and criticism. 2 Likes The Moon and the Sandals Book 2 […]

  9. […] Professor Yanagizawa, written and illustrated by Kazumi Yamashita. I just heard of this book via Shaenon Garrity’s smart look at the style and influence of Rumiko Takahashi over at The Comics Jou…. Garrity added that the series is “one of the few manga with an elderly protagonist,” and since […]

  10. Shay Guy says:

    The commodification of moe has probably fragmented the girl selection too much for there to be an It Girl anymore. (Wasn’t Nausicaa six years AFTER Lum?) Individual characters don’t make as much a mark, just the now-mostly-solidified stock tropes from what Hiroki Azuma calls the “database.” I don’t think single girls get much bigger these days than Mio Akiyama or Shana. (Haruhi Suzumiya MIGHT be an exception.)

    And I like Akamatsu. C’mon, Negima is FUN. And I don’t think OMG’s half bad either.

    While it’s undoubtedly more influential, it’s worth noting that UY, while gaining SOME popularity, never really caught on in America the way Ranma did. God, the 1990s Ranma fandom. The shipping wars, the wank, the huge ass-amount of fanfic (just look at an RAAC archive)…I don’t know whether to be thankful or regretful that I missed that era.

    I saw Honneamise a while back, and while it’s gorgeous and bursting with creativity and energy, it’s also seriously disjointed. (Plus the sheer WTF of the near-rape scene. One of the best examples of a Big-Lipped Alligator Moment I know of.)