Centuries ago, a dog-like half-demon named Inuyasha attempted to steal a powerful gem known as the “Shikon jewel” from a village, but was thwarted by a beautiful priestess, Kikyo, whose enchanted arrow pinned him to a tree. There he remains for fifty years until Kagome—a modern-day high school girl transplanted to the past by means of an enchanted well—frees him because he’s the only being in the village capable of defeating the monster currently threatening it. Kagome is revealed to be the reincarnation of Kikyo when the Shikon jewel, carried by Kikyo into her funeral pyre, emerges from a cut in her body.
When the jewel is later shattered, scattering slivers of its power across the land, Inuyasha and Kagome team up to hunt for the shards. They’re joined in their travels by a young fox demon (Shippo), a lecherous monk (Miroku), and a demon slayer (Sango). A cast of recurring characters includes Inuyasha’s full-demon brother (Sesshomaru), a brash wolf demon who fancies Kagome (Koga), and the resurrected Kikyo, for whom Inuyasha had romantic feelings back in the day and whose occasional reappearances cause him angst and prevent any progress in his nascent relationship with Kagome.
InuYasha is rather notorious for the repetitiveness of its plot. Over and over, the group will encounter a village that is being menaced by some kind of supernatural threat, be it a horde of self-replicating rats or a band of undead assassins. They will generally discover that a Shikon shard is in use and that Naraku, the chief antagonist of the series, is responsible. They will track Naraku down and Inuyasha will fight and nearly defeat him, but he will escape, even if all that’s left of him is his head and shoulders, and eventually return, due to his regenerative powers.
Volume 36 adheres closely to this pattern in its outcome, though the beginning stages vary somewhat, as Inuyasha and friends are now in search of Naraku’s heart, hidden in the body of an infant, which is what enables him to defy death so frequently. They receive some assistance from a surprising source—Kagura, one of Naraku’s creations, has been angling for a while to be free of his control, and so leads the good guys to a cave where the infant has lately been hidden.
In volume 37, things are a little different, though not substantively. Half-demons change into human forms on the night of the new moon, and Inuyasha is in that weakened state when Moryomaru, a demon created by one of Naraku’s minions, comes after the last Shikon shard in Kagome’s possession. Sesshomaru arrives to save the day and a rather uninspiring battle ensues, ending with Moryomaru’s disembodied head escaping, sure to return, et cetera. The volume does end with some great infighting amongst Naraku’s cohorts, though.
I long ago stopped feeling any investment in these encounters with Naraku and no longer expect anything but another reiteration of the pattern. Knowing that there are nineteen more volumes to follow these ensures that I won’t feel genuinely excited until we are much nearer to the end. Given this lack of forward momentum, then, why do I find the series so endearing?
The answer lies in the series’ characters. Like any good sitcom, InuYasha boasts a cast of likable leads. Everyone has their own subplot—Miroku is cursed with a “wind tunnel” in his hand that is slowly killing him, Sango’s late brother has been reanimated by a Shikon shard and forced to serve Naraku—and genuinely cares for the others. For every storyline that pans out exactly as one expects, there are nice scenes like the one near the end of volume 36, where Kagome and Inuyasha share a quiet, peaceful moment in a tree, musing upon how happy they are to have the other by their side.
Also, despite occasional gore and an inordinate number of severed heads, the story has a gentle sort of humor that I appreciate. I don’t find Miroku’s pervy antics to be that amusing, but other things are cute, like Shippo’s shape-changing abilities and the shorter tales that don’t tie in with the main narrative, like one about a handsome traveling medicine man who wishes only to return to his original form… a mosquito.
Takahashi’s art is up to the challenge of handling all of the story’s diverse elements. Her style is distinctive, and a little bit retro, and I’m a big fan of it. She doesn’t skimp on backgrounds and uses tone judiciously—daylight scenes are usually bright and clean while tone is chiefly used to provide gloom as needed. The biggest complaint I could make is that the art has been flipped. Thankfully, volume 37 marks the end of that era, as Viz recently announced that beginning with volume 38 in July, InuYasha will be released in English with unflipped art for the first time. The upcoming VIZBIG editions will also read right-to-left.
InuYasha is a manga institution for good reason. It may meander at times, but I don’t regret a single moment I’ve spent reading it.
Review copy for volume 37 provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.