Wednesday, March 16, 2011

One Or Double

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of One Or Double (Rumic Theater, volume two) (Viz, 1998).

Rumiko Takahashi is one of my favorite comic creators, and that's despite having spent the last decade writing and drawing some pretty subpar material. In the eighties and nineties, however, she and her studio were responsible for some really interesting and entertaining comics. Several of the short stories that she released during the mid-eighties are available in some long out-of-print collections from Viz. These were released in their older line of books, larger than the contemporary size of digests, with the artwork flipped to the English standard.

Takahashi drew Urusei Yatsura for the first part of the decade. This appeared weekly in the pages of Shonen Sunday, but, if I understand correctly, it was never a year-round series. It would run for 36 or 40 weeks of the year, allowing the creator to fill the rest of her time with various one-offs, and the short stories that would introduce the sporadically-scheduled horrific adventure Mermaid Saga. The unrelated one-offs got the umbrella title of Rumic World, and she has continued working with these short stories. Apparently, apart from the episodes that get slotted into Shonen Sunday in between installments of her ongoing series, a new one-off by Takahashi appears annually in a special edition of Big Comic.

Most of the stories in this collection feature Takahashi's signature blend of high melodrama competition and a (mostly) real-world experience with the supernatural. Everything's done with a light, winking touch, and the foregrounding of plot over character lets Takahashi try out weird incidents without bending her existing characters to fit them. The most interesting installment in the One or Double book is a 1985 story called "Excuse Me for Being a Dog!" which is, effectively, the pilot for her long-running Ranma 1/2, except in this story of martial arts mayhem, the hero turns into a white dog whenever he gets excited and, in keeping with a Japanese art trope, his nose bleeds. "One or Double" itself is a 1994 story set in a kendo school in which the ghost of a much-hated, ultra-competitive trainer takes over a young student's body in order to keep pressuring his students into training harder. "Winged Victory" is a rugby story from 1989 with an inept victory spirit urging the team captain to keep playing after 999 consecutive losses. Sports, ghosts, it's the same ingedients blended together into different combinations.

I tend to really dislike collections like this. The stories themselves are very fun, but It was apparently assembled at random, with no context or notes about the original publication. On the other hand, it's actually a little relieving to read a complete story by Takahashi and know that she is indeed capable of ending a story. When you get to volume forty-odd of the agonizingly long-winded InuYasha, you start to wonder. Recommended with nitpicky reservations, with the hopes that a better, comprehensive collection of this material might one day emerge.

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