Rumiko Takahashi taught me that I hate low comedy.
Low comedy, hijinks, farce, or what I refer to as “wackiness ensues,” i.e., the use of physical gags, has been a standard form of humor at least since Greek Drama. (You can’t convince me, however, that prehistoric pies weren’t being thrown in prehistoric faces….)
In live-action performances, low comedy often requires extraordinary physical skill – you can see this watching a Harold Lloyd or Buster Keaton movie. If you like Rumiko Takahashi, I strongly suggest you do watch Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton movies. You will love them. Even I love them – and I don’t like physical comedy.
In comic performances, low comedy requires, at minimum, excellent timing. Slapping the boke on the back of the head a little too slow ruins the dramatic tension that was created by the boke being a doofus.
In comics or manga, low comedy still requires excellent pacing. A storyteller must be able to break up the comedy with drama, just enough – not too much – and the drama must never overshadow the comedy. As fanfic writers found, when Ranma 1/2 became the first massively popular series to spawn fanfic here in the US – comedy is hard, and farce is nigh on impossible, to create well in text. So, when faced with a manga built on impeccably timed and framed low comedy, there’s only two routes you can take – one, to desperately try to recreate the slamming doors and “I’ll get you!” comedy and fail miserably or, to forget the comedy and wallow in the drama. Both kinds of fanfic mostly suck, but they taught me how *hard* comedy is to write. Wit, sure, no problem. Low comedy? Forget it. For instance…
Telling you that someone falls out a window and lands on a ladder precariously balanced on a sawhorse, so that they end up walking back and forth on the ladder so that it balances, then they slowly tilt it to one side and walk down to the ground is pretty damn boring. But if you *saw* it, it would be a pretty funny trick, don’t you think? A comic genius like Lloyd or Keaton could turn it into five solid minutes of fun.
Rumiko Takahashi understands humor. She understands that to balance the humor there has to be a smidgen of drama and a sympathetic, if not entirely average, protagonist. She knows how to balance romantic interest without ever really moving the romance forward. She understands how to balance on the ladder, slowly walking from side to side to keep the thing level on the sawhorse of audience attention.
I have sincere respect for Rumiko Takahashi’s skills. She taught me important lessons about balance and timing – lessons I still incorporate in my own writing. But she also taught me something else about myself.
Rumiko Takahashi taught me that I really hate low comedy.