Pop Culture Gadabout
Sunday, June 03, 2012
      ( 6/03/2012 06:29:00 PM ) Bill S.  

“YOU WERE BORN TO PROTECT THAT JEWEL!” This manga exploration biz can get pretty daunting at times. Get hooked on too many series, and it becomes harder to find the time to delve into something unfamiliar. Recently, I started delving into a 56-volume series that’s been mega-popular as both manga and anime adaptation, though: Rumiko Takahashi’s InuYasha.

Originally running from 1996 to 2008, Takahash’s epic manga fantasy first debuted in American via paperback collections presented in the much-maligned “flipped” format. (Where original manga are laid out to read from right to left, American publishes initially were uncertain of readers’ willingness to “read backwards” and thus shuffled the panels so the works would conform of Western reading practices.) With Viz Media’s VizBig Edition’s current reprints of the saga, though, Takahashi’s work has been happily returned to its original compositional format.

Reprinting the first three paperback (tankobon) collections in a larger trade omnibus, the VizBig InuYasha definitely looks to be the proper package for sampling this hit series. The first VizBig volume was released in 2009, and at this writing the publishers are up to volume ten. I’ve gone through the first two big books and can see the appeal: InuYasha is an enjoyable blend of heroic fantasy, romance and comedy -- with some effective dashes of horror manga thrown into the mix.

Set in 1997 Tokyo and Japan's feudal past, the story revolves on Kagome, a middle schoolgirl who lives with her grandparents by a well in a sacred shrine. After our heroine is given a keychain attached to an artifact called the Shikon Jewel, a demonic lady centipede creature emerges to grab our heroine and pull her down into the well. Kagome finds herself in the Sengoku Period, a time in which demons live more openly, and her keychain gemstone turns out to be a demon magnet known as the “Jewel of Four Souls.” In contact with a magical being, we’re gold, the jewel can bestow great power.

Our heroine’s rescuer proves to be the title lead, a dog-fox-eared half demon named InuYasha, who himself wants the jewel and was pinned to a tree fifty years earlier by its original protector, a spitting image of Kagome. (“You stink of the woman who killed me,” InuYasha snarls at their first meeting.) To get the jewel, InuYasha would just as soon kill Kagome, but a string of prayer beads gives our girl the power to make the half-demon obey her. After the jewel is shattered in a second demon battle, its myriad pieces are scattered, and it’s up to our reluctant duo to retrieve them all.

Thus, we have the basic set-up for the rest of the book: our heroine is capable of traveling to the past and present through the well -- catching the attention of evil magical beings in both worlds. Along the way, she and InuYasha are joined by a young fox demon with shapeshifting abilities and a talking flea. The final storyline in the first VizBig edition turns on a Noh-like mask called the Mask of Flesh, which possesses anyone who wears it, transforming them into a multi-limbed beast with a penchant for devouring its victims’ heads.

InuYasha’s heroine proves up to facing the Big Bads and is more than a match for the surly half-demon. Their relationship is half boy/girl and half master/pet (when she’s first given the prayer beads, Kagome’s first command for InuYasha is to “sit!”) though we already know from the first three books that it will become something deeper as the series progresses. The growing bond between the two is the primary glue that holds the series, though a few of the secondary characters (the Naruto-like fox demon Shippo, for one) prove appealing.

Takahashi’s art is another big draw in this engaging series: crisp and bright, it is capable of carrying comedy and slam-bang action as well as dark horror. A few sequences of the latter rather surprisingly reminded me of Charles Burns and Junji Ito in more than one panel -- not what I was initially expecting.

But that appears to be what the celebrated manga-ka is attempting with this series: a genre-busting work that plays with and remains faithful to the conventions of shonen manga. By my reckoning, there should be 19 volumes in the VizBig reissues ‘til we get to the end in two years or so. Looks like I’ve made another hefty commitment.

(First published on Blogcritics.)


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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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