Thursday, May 12, 2022


Finally, a Rumiko Takahashi manga with all the quality of her best-known works but doesn't require committing an entire shelf to it!

RUMIC THEATER (Takahashi Rumiko Gekijo), by Rumiko Takahashi.  First published in 1987 and first published in North America in 1996.


This collection of short stories covers everything from a struggling wedding chapel to an old woman coming back from the dead to right some wrongs.  Along the way, there are women dealing with suspicious neighbors, troublesome penguins, and unwanted household gremlins.


Rumiko Takahashi is rightfully known and loved for her long-form manga, but from my experience I find that her shorter stories are some of her most consistently enjoyable works.  You can't get much shorter than the one-shots contained with the Rumic Theater collection, an anthology of unconnected one-shots that stand out from Takahashi's more famous works in some interesting ways.

What caught my notice about this anthology is that they all feature something you don't see a lot of in American manga releases: adult women.  Every lead character is either a currently married woman (be they with or without children) or one who was married in the past.  A lot of their stories are small-scale, focused on their homes and their immediate community of friends and family.  True to Takahashi fashion, though, they are also often comical.  For example,"The Tragedy of P" involves a housewife hiding a visiting penguin from her landlady and "House of Garbage" finds a family grappling with a pile of souvenir junk from the husband's boss thanks to a mix-up at the local trash pick-up site.  I was personally fond of "One Hundred Years of Happiness," where the elderly Rika comes back from the dead (with a bit of telekinesis to boot) to serve as matchmaker.  It's the most fantastical story of the lot, but Rika is so charming and spritely and the twist at her story's end is the perfect endcap to her tale.

That being said, there are some moodier, darker pieces to be found.  "Hidden In the Pottery" has a woman make a grisly discovery that sheds light on a neighboring widow's abusive relationship with her mother-in-law.  There's also some limits to what Takahashi can do as far as character-building in such a short space.  I will say that after a while all the harried housewives and ineffectual husbands started to blend together.  Still, even when dealing with hidden pain and sensitive family issues of others, Takahashi manages to make their plights charming, touching, and relatable.  


The artwork seen here is more typical of Takahashi's earlier, rougher style.  While the character are all drawn in her recognizable style, they are taller and more angular than the characters she tended to draw from Ranma 1/2 onwards.  Backgrounds are rather fleeting beyond the odd establishing shot so the characters tend to drift through black and white limbos.  Still, it's all rendered with her usual clean, crisp linework and paneling.


Rumic Theater is a nice reminder of a side of Rumiko Takahashi's work that we seldom get to see, one making short stories about grown-ups instead of endless tales of bickering supernatural teens.  It's a quiet, charming collection that anyone can (and should) enjoy.

This book was published by Viz.  It is currently out of print.

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