InuYasha was the first comic that I actively collected, the manga that introduced me to the Wednesday comic-buying ritual and the very notion of self-identifying as a fan. Though I followed it religiously for years, trading in my older editions for new ones, watching the anime, and speculating about the finale, my interest in the series gradually waned as I was exposed to new artists and new genres. Still,InuYasha held a special place in my heart; reading it was one of my seminal experiences as a comic fan, making me reluctant to re-visitInuYasha for fear of sullying those precious first-manga memories. VIZ’s recent decision to re-issue InuYasha in an omnibus edition, however, inspired me to pick it up again. I made a shocking discovery in the process of re-reading the first chapters: InuYasha is good. Really good, in fact, and deserving of more respect than it gets from many critics.
What makes InuYasha work? I can think of five reasons:
1. The story arcs are long enough to be complex and engaging, but not so long as to test the patience.
There’s a Zen quality to Rumiko Takahashi’s storytelling that might not be obvious at first glance; after all, she loves a pratfall or a sword fight as much as the next shonen manga-ka. Don’t let that surface activity fool you, however: Takahashi has a terrific sense of balance, staging a romantic interlude between a demon-of-the-week episode and a longer storyline involving Naraku’s minions, thus preventing the series from devolving into a punishing string of battle arcs. The other great advantage of this approach is that Takashi carves out more space for her characters to interact as people, not just combatants; as a result, InuYasha is one of the few shonen manga in which the characters’ relationships evolve over time.
2. Takahashi knows how to stage a fight scene that’s dramatic, tense, and mercifully short.
3. InuYasha‘s villains are powerful and strange, not strawmen.
Though we know our heroes will prevail — it’s shonen, for Pete’s sake — Takahashi throws creative obstacles in their way that makes their eventual triumph more satisfying. Consider Naraku. In many respects, he’s a standard-issue bad guy: he’s omnipotent, charismatic, and manipulative, capable of finding the darkness and vulnerability in the purest soul. (He also has fabulous hair, another reliable indication of his villainy.) Yet the way in which Naraku wields power is genuinely unsettling, as he fashions warriors from pieces of himself, then reabsorbs them into his body when they outlive their usefulness. Naraku’s manifestations are peculiar, too. Some are female, some are children, some have monstrous bodies, and some have the power to create their own demonic offspring, but few look like the sort of golem I’d create if I wanted to wreak havoc. And therein lies Naraku’s true power: his opponents never know what form he’ll take next, or whether he’s already among them. More »