Rumiko Takahashi's new series
is completely different, yet strangely familiar
The greatest danger of
success is others' expectations -- and after the smash hit
RANMA 1/2, both fans and critics of its creator, Rumiko
Takahashi, were ready to pounce on her next ongoing work.
After much speculation, INU-YASHA appeared in Japan in late
November, in SHONEN SUNDAY #50, 1996. Astute observers knew
that none of Takahashi's primarily comedic series were
exactly alike -- but possibly no one was prepared for
INU-YASHA, a combination of popular manga elements with
something grim and unique.
INU-YASHA is a fantasy manga in which Kagome, a teenage girl
from modern Japan, travels back to Japan's Middle Ages to
face demonic creatures from the past... and Inu-Yasha, her
unwitting demonic ally, captured by herself in a former
life. The art style draws from Takahashi's action-heavy
RANMA 1/2 and the moodier MERMAID'S FOREST, and sees some of
her first use of computer tone effects, giving it a denser
look. Super-powered battles abound, and it wouldn't be
Takahashi without humor, but the atmosphere is generally
fantastic -- and horrific.
INU-YASHA is similar in
many ways to Yoshihiro Kuroiwa's ZENKI THE DEMON PRINCE and
Kazuhiro Fujita's OSHIO AND TORA, both successful manga (and
anime) in which the descendants of priests summon or release
bloodthirsty demons but, luckily, are able to bend them to
their will. (USHIO AND TORA has its cat-like "Tora"
pinned to a wall with a 'demon spear'; ZENKI has a female
heroine.) But the feudal setting, and time travel, recalls
nothing as much as Rumiko Takahashi's FIRE TRIPPER. Like any
good writer using time travel, Takahashi plays tricks with
it, with events that happen in the past 'foreshadowing'
events that have already occurred in 1997. Takahashi, though
generally influenced by fairy tales and Japanese folklore
(down to the style in which some of her creatures are
drawn), did not use any specific legends for INU-YASHA; the
supernatural elements are all her own, and are some of her
Inu-Yasha (which translates roughly to "dog demon" -- "I
wanted a cool, but wild name," Takahashi has said) is an
untamed, almost frightening "hero", whose martial arts are
gorier than anything in RANMA 1/2. How his relationship with
the main character will progress is certainly going to be a
major question in the series... is romantic comedy on the
way? (Probably not as long as he keeps threatening to kill
her.) But Kagome, the main character, is no meek sidekick to
Inu-Yasha; she's as strong-willed, smart, and potentially
magical as any sailor-suited schoolgirl has ever been.
In INU-YASHA, Takahashi breaks away from the 'expected'
Takahashi series, and puts her own mark on another genre --
or possibly a combination of genres. It's too early to know
how strong the fan reaction is to INU-YASHA -- the first
Japanese tankobon, and Viz Comics' English INU-YASHA,
have only just been released this April -- but it's sure to
attract a new audience. When asked (in SHONEN SUNDAY #4,
1997) what her resolution for the New Year was, Takahashi
said the obvious: to keep writing enjoyable manga. "I'll do
my best on INU-YASHA,"" she said. "So please look forward to