Rumiko Takahashi – Viz – 1996 – 3 volumes
When we got in volumes of the Rumic World short stories at work a couple weeks ago, I held onto them, thinking they’d be perfect for the upcoming Manga Moveable Feast focusing on Takahashi, hosted by Rob over at Panel Patter. Turns out a lot of other people had the same idea, and there are many other takes floating around this week that are better than mine (that last one is very old, but I like David Welsh, and it came up this week, so go read it). Still though, I read it, so I’ll write it up here like the OCD blogger that I am.
The short stories are divided up into two sets of collections in English. There’s the Rumic World Trilogy, which is numbered 1-3, and then two “Rumic Theater” volumes, called Rumic Theater and One or Double. I believe the difference between Rumic Theater and Rumic World is the “genre” of the stories, or the place they originally appeared. Rumic World stories seem to have run in Shounen Sunday (and are thus shounen stories), whereas Rumic Theater stories are from Big Comic Spirits, Big Comic Original, Petit Comic, and maybe one or two others, making them seinen (and occasionally josei) stories. Then again, the title story in One or Double ran in Shounen Sunday, so that’s more of a guideline.
Now that I’ve bored the pants off of most people, on to the actual book! There’s really only three stories in this volume. “The Golden Gods of Poverty” and “The Entrepreneurial Spirit” are at the beginning and end of the book. Both are mostly silly stories. The first is about a boy who thinks his parents only value him as a science experiment. Their latest scientific efforts somehow generate a ship with the seven lucky gods from his blood, and the boy robs a bank with them. The last story is about an attractive girl who can summon ghosts for a price. Both stories are decent, and both contain a few laughs, but I’ve read better material from Takahashi, and neither impressed me.
But the bulk of the book is a multi-part story called “Wasted Minds.” It’s the story of two psychics named Yura and Tamuro who work for the Japan CIA and are actively trying to stop an organization called “The Giant Brotherhood of the Supersonic Pig.” This organization is the main focus of the first story, but it’s more of a device in the rest of the stories, simply a desired outcome that usually isn’t reached, but is somehow marginally involved with the plot. The organization is bumbling and cheap, to be sure, and there’s a lot of slapstick in their actions.
Yura and Tamura more than steal the show, though. They aren’t so much psychics as they are… gifted. Yura is super-strong, and Tamura can teleport. Except he can only use his power if he’s in a pile of garbage, and can only teleport to another pile of garbage anywhere he wants. He can also use a whip for some reason, and is often seen carrying around a bulldog.
The two of them are the usual high-spirited Takahashi main characters: They argue a lot, and are pretty good at what they do, but they always seem to fail at their tasks because of incompetence or outlandish situations. The first story is about the Pig organization causing destruction by making a toy pig whose oink is calibrated at an exact destructive frequency. The second one finds Yura and Tamura at a disturbing school where delinquency is encouraged. Another is about the two of them getting lost in a Bermuda Triangle-like forest adjacent to Mt. Fuji. another is about a King Kong monster rising up from the sea and vomiting garbage into boats.
The Wasted Minds stories are extremely funny and entertaining. They were written very early in Takahashi’s career (1979, just a year after Urusei Yatsura began its run), and some of the plots are a little slow-moving, but it’s amazing how her comic timing is still perfect, and she still has a knack for coming up with quirky and interesting story ideas. I loved the running trash teleportation gag, and Yura and Tamura’s reactions to their bizarre and unsatisfying missions was always priceless. Unfortunately, Takahashi loaded up a lot of her early work with puns, and those jokes fall very flat in the translations. But hey, maybe they were lousy jokes in the original, too, but they don’t work as puns in English. The double meaning of Wasted Minds is much appreciated, though (in that Yura and Tamura’s talents are wasted on their idiotic foes, and also that Yura and Tamura also do a fair amount of wasting their talents themselves).
It’s a shame it took me so long to check out these collections. I did like Wasted Minds, but it’s obvious that the stories in this book are not as polished as Takahashi’s wonderful later work, so I’m not as eager to see volumes 1 and 3. I am, however, very curious to read the stories aimed at more mature audiences in the Rumic Theater volumes.