Charles Solomon checks in with a farewell to Rumiko Takahashi’s long-running manga “Inuyasha,” which comes to a conclusion this month with the publication of Vol. 56.
Rumiko Takahashi’s “feudal fairy tale” began as a serial in the magazine Shonen Sunday in 1996; it debuted in the U.S. two years later and has sold over 1.9 million books to date and, along the way, taken on the weight of a true epic and earned the affection of an old friend on the page.
Kagome Higurashi, a normal 15-year-old girl, falls down a dry well in her family’s small Shinto shrine — and finds herself in the feudal past, 50 years after her ancestress Kikyo imprisoned the half-human/half-demon Inuyasha. After unwittingly freeing Inuyasha, Kagome fetters him with the help of her priestess-ancestor Kaede. As the reincarnation of Kikyo, Kagome possesses the magic Shikon Jewel, but when it shatters, Kagome and Inuyasha must join forces to recapture the scattered fragments. Even a tiny shard confers enormous power on the possessor.
The uneasy alliance between Kagome and Inuyasha quickly develops into a quarrelsome courtship reminiscent of Ranma and Akane in Takahashi’s beloved manga, “Ranma 1/2.” Inuyasha is impatient, hot-tempered and a formidable warrior, but Kagome can stand up to his worst tantrums and sulks. Her ability to sense the presence of the fragments and her skill at archery frequently save the day. And Kaede placed the Beads of Submission around Inuyasha’s neck: If Kagome says, “Sit, boy,” he has to obey.
As Kagome and Inuyasha wander through 16th century Japan they make three important friends. The monk Miroku conceals a mysterious weapon in his right hand, although his clumsy passes at women cause more trouble. Sango, a girl who slays demons with a boomerang-like blade, rides an enchanted cat. Shippo, a young fox-spirit, dares to tell Inuyasha off when he behaves badly. Inuyasha acquires the Tetsusaiga, the enchanted sword carved from a fang of his father, the Great Dog Demon.
Their quest brings them into conflict with Naraku, an evil half-demon in a baboon-skin hood who desperately desires the Jewel. If he were to acquire its power, the consequences would be terrible.
Takahashi is one of the most successful and influential artists in manga history, and “Inuyasha” makes it easy to understand why. She skillfully weaves supernatural battles, slapstick comedy, everyday problems and romance into a satisfying tale. That Kagome and Inuyasha will end up together is a foregone conclusion, but Takahashi deftly adds squabbles, rivalries and jealousies that keep the story from feeling predictable. When Kagome returns to modern Japan, Inuyasha follows, his dog ears incongruously hidden under a baseball cap. He wreaks havoc at the class play and rouses the curiosity of Kagome’s friends, who are trying to pair her off with a well-mannered upperclassman. The Shikon Jewel is more than a supernatural MacGuffin. It embodies the qualities of courage, friendship, wisdom and love: When they function together, harmony and happiness are the result. But the Jewel is also a miniature battleground between good and evil: a metaphor for the world — and Inuyasha’s heart — as he vacillates between selfishness and kindness.
The animated version of “Inuyasha” (2000) ran for seven seasons in Japan and spun off four animated features. More than 2 million “Inuyasha” discs have been sold in America, and the series has been translated into nine languages. After spending so much time with them, it’s difficult to bid farewell to Kagome and Inuyasha. But the animated program ended before Takahashi had completed the manga. A second series, “Inuyasha Kanketsu-hen” (“Inuyasha: The Final Act,” 2009), which brings the on-screen conclusion into line with the manga, is currently streaming on VIZAnime.com and at Hulu and will presumably be released on disc later this year. The adventure continues…
– Charles Solomon
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