InuYasha 34 by Rumiko Takahashi: B+

From the back cover:
Inuyasha and the gang follow a trail of rumors that lead to a “living mountain.” Naraku has awoken the mountain from its 200-year slumber and stolen its sacred stone. The “living mountain” then gives a gift to Inuyasha and his group to help them in retrieving the stone. But what could Naraku be hoping to achieve?

There’s an Eddie Izzard routine where he talks about Queen Elizabeth II being forced to fend off a snarling pack of canines while crying, “Aah! Crazy dogs! Crazy dogs!” For the first few chapters of this volume, I kept thinking, “Aah! Crazy rats! Crazy rats!”

In a ploy to lure Kikyo out of hiding, Naraku has deployed crazy rats to eat some villagers. Normally, this would be cause for snoozing, but Kohaku’s personal dilemma is intriguing. He’s the one unleashing the rats, and is caught in the act by his sister. He’s only pretending to be under Naraku’s command, though, but can’t do anything to explain the situation to Sango because he’s being watched by Naraku’s spies. I like this plot thread, and also appreciate when he and another of Naraku’s gang finally decide to start working together to bring their master down.

After the crazy rats are vanquished, Inuyasha and friends encounter some parasites that’re going around possessing demons and which ultimately lead back to Naraku. At this point, I’ve seen Naraku dissolve so many times and yet not die that I just don’t get invested in these little encounters they have. I’m much more interested in what’s going on with Kohaku and in the little random character chapters that pop up, like the one where Shippo has been infected by the parasite or the one occurring in the real world in which Kagome’s school friends get to meet Inuyasha. Both are very cute.

I’m a little sad I really can’t care about the plot more, but it’s a fun reading experience nonetheless.

Maison Ikkoku 8 by Rumiko Takahashi: B

From the back cover:
Godai’s eavesdropping causes him to misunderstand Kyoko’s words—again. This time, it’s during Kyoko’s visit to her former husband’s graveside. A new wide-eyed tenant, Nozomu Nikaido, moves into room No. 2 and quickly causes trouble for the other Maison Ikkoku residents, especially Godai in his pursuit of Kyoko.

I was looking forward to Nozomu’s appearance, since he was left out of the anime. He arrives just after a couple of chapters with a more serious tone—Kyoko realizes she may be starting to get over Soichiro, and asks for his forgiveness—and dominates the rest of the volume with his antics.

It’s not that I disliked the result, it’s just that the antics (pranks among the residents, chiefly) aren’t really anything new. I got all optimistic when it seemed like he was going to steal Kozue away from Godai, since that’d be a tidy ending to their relationship and one in which she wouldn’t end up hurt. Alas, it was not to be. As soon as Godai determined to warn her away from the dense Nozomu, I knew what would happen.

Still, Maison Ikkoku earns points for simple charm alone. Plus, the gradual thawing of Kyoko’s heart makes me happy. I’ve past the halfway point now, so things should begin moving soon!

Maison Ikkoku 7 by Rumiko Takahashi: A

From the back cover:
Godai ends up in the hospital and has two unexpected visitors. His cute cousin comes to nurse him and Kyoko’s other suitor, Mitaka, ends up being his roommate. Godai’s problems aren’t over when he’s discharged—he has to deal with Kyoko and his school absences.

This volume is truly excellent, with many classic moments and even some movement on the relationship front.

I like the appearance of the hitherto unseen Mr. Ichinose, and find the chapter where both parents compete in an event at Kentaro’s school to be sweet and wonderful right up until the end when it’s revealed that Mrs. Ichinose has participated not for her kid’s sake, but to win some sake. That kind of ruins it a bit.

Several chapters feature Godai in a hospital after he broke his leg rescuing Kyoko from a crumbling bit of roof. Some of these aren’t so hot—I didn’t particularly care about the elopment of Godai’s cousin—but it’s about here that Kyoko begins to seriously ponder what her feelings are, and even comes close to smooching him. Anytime we get something from Kyoko’s point of view, I like it.

As good as these bits were, they can’t top my favorite chapter in the volume. Mitaka and Godai, upon running into each other for check-ups at the hospital (Mitaka ended up breaking his leg too), commence hanging out together and eventually drown their Kyoko-related sorrows in some booze. They stagger home, fully determined to tell her off for being stubborn and harboring a grudge against them for being idiots. That is, until they run into her. She says, “Let’s go home” and they both meekly go, “Okay.” Hee.

I haven’t talked about Takahashi’s art lately, but I’ve really been enjoying it. Background details continue to be excellent, and I’m particularly fond of little realistic touches, like a plane flying by in the background of one panel. It’s such a small thing, and yet I’m not sure I’ve seen it done before. The storytelling is also excellent, and though I do tire of the neighbors spoiling things, there were enough satisfying moments in these chapters that I didn’t come away annoyed.

Maison Ikkoku 6 by Rumiko Takahashi: B+

From the back cover:
Grandma Godai comes for an extended visit and manages to meddle in Godai’s love life at every turn. Before she leaves, Grandma brokers a dream date for her wishy-washy grandson, but the night doesn’t turn out exactly as she planned…

Even though I didn’t like every story in this volume, as a whole, they formed a cozy, charming reading experience. In any other series, a random baseball chapter would probably irk me, but Maison Ikkoku can pull it off.

The one chapter I actively disliked featured Godai and his friend Sakamoto attending a welcoming party for freshmen. It was the first time drinking for one of the female attendees, and when she got drunk, Godai came very close to taking advantage of her. This was all played for comedic effect, of course. I don’t remember this being in the anime, so I have to wonder whether it was removed to kind of downplay Godai’s scumbaggery.

Godai’s grandma was in most of the stories, and stirred things up with many awkward questions and demands. She and the neighbors were especially annoying in this volume, but just when I was getting thoroughly fed up with the propensity of the latter to show up everywhere and ruin things for Godai, things took a turn for the cute when Godai and Kyoko ran away to escape them and had much fun in the process.

I’ve said before that Maison Ikkoku is like manga crack, but I think it’s more like manga meatloaf. Filling, satisfying comfort food with one essential recipe that can be tweaked many different ways. A perennial favorite.

InuYasha 33 by Rumiko Takahashi: B

From the back cover:
A fierce battle rages in the borderland lying between the world of the living and the afterlife. A mysterious force is attacking Inuyasha and preventing him from obtaining the last Shikon shard. This force claims to be acting on behalf of the will of the shard itself! Inuyasha also faces the dreaded Naraku, who will stop at nothing to obtain the shard. When all hope seems lost, Inuyasha receives help from a surprising force—his half-brother!

This volume is good, but the confrontation over the final shard is initially kind of dull. Then Sesshoumaru gets into the game and once everyone begins to contribute, it becomes more interesting.

The pattern of Sango and Miroku with their own mission to accomplish continues, to my enjoyment, and ends on a great cliffhanger with her encountering her brother, Kohaku, formerly under Naraku’s control but now in possession of his memories again and simply biding his time while maintaining the appearance of minionhood.

I also enjoy seeing the internal power plays within Naraku’s camp. His “team” is finally shaping up to have as much interpersonal dynamics as the good guys, and it’s very welcome. I’ve really enjoyed my InuThon; it’s going to be a long wait ’til July for the next volume.

InuYasha 32 by Rumiko Takahashi: B+

From the back cover:
Kagome faces a difficult decision—only she can help Kikyo heal from Naraku’s miasma. Will the love triangle between Kagome, Inuyasha, and Kikyo stop her from doing the right thing?! Kohaku comes under Naraku’s power and is ordered to steal the infant Hakudoshi. Will Kohaku be able to resist? While Inuyasha and his comrades watch, Naraku shows up at the demon bird’s nest for a showdown. A series of disturbing events is about to unfold, and a path to the borderland will be revealed!

This “last shard” arc is quite enjoyable. Not only is there the whole fun taking a path to the otherworld part, it also seems to be providing many more opportunities for the supporting characters to do things. Miroku and Sango are feeling like more important members of the cast now, which I appreciate. There even seems to be a slight evolution in the relationship between Inuyasha and Kikyo, which is also good.

I’m annoyed by the blurb on the back of the book, though. It makes it seem as if Kagome hesitated before healing Kikyo, when she did no such thing. She even makes a remark about it being insulting that someone would even consider she’d let her die for some Inuyasha-related reason.

One thing I particularly like about Takahashi is the way she paces the flow of action across a page. There’s one brief bit, where a lady is sneaking away in the background over several panels, glancing back over her shoulder and all that, that really struck me. It seems sort of cinematic somehow, and just so perfectly done that, though simple, it’s impressive. Some people can just draw pretty pictures, but Takahashi excels in using them to tell a story and set a mood.

InuYasha 31 by Rumiko Takahashi: B

From the back cover:
The search for the final shard of the Shikon Jewel leads Inuyasha and the gang to a mountain fortress. But the gate is guarded by two giant statues and a force that will only allow the dead to enter! Meanwhile, while seeking a path to the underworld, Naraku teams up with demon Abi Hime, who hunts the blood of innocent villagers to heal her mother. Inuyasha and friends step in to stop them when they find that Kikyo may be involved!

The coolness I was anticipating from the conclusion of the previous volume didn’t really pan out, as the journey to the gate was brief and no part of the dangerous Land of Fire was actually glimpsed. Inuyasha fought some statues. Ooh.

Most of the volume was centered on demonic birds who were ravaging nearby villages. This tied in with the main plot only slightly, and was more about a mysterious holy lady with the power to penetrate Hakudoshi’s barrier with a single arrow and whether she was Kikyo. Wow. I am so surprised Kikyo didn’t die. Takahashi, you fooled me again with your totally unpredictable storytelling ways.

This volume wasn’t bad by any stretch, but it was a bit of a let down. It ended with a fairly angsty cliffhanger, though, so I’m glad to have the next one on hand.

InuYasha 30 by Rumiko Takahashi: B+

From the back cover:
Evil Kagura and demonic baby Hakudoshi are searching for the border between the afterworld and this world, where it is said that the last Shikon Jewel shard lies. Inuyasha and the others are also doing everything they can to recover the last shard. Could it be that Inuyasha and Kagome have been to this border before?!

So far, this arc with Hakudoshi is shaping up to be a lot more interesting than the Band of Seven storyline. It’s not that Hakudoshi himself is anything particularly special, but the fact that this is supposedly a race to retrieve the last of the shikon shards makes the stakes much higher. The volume ends with the team learning how to pass the border and I have good hopes for the story ahead.

Something else of great significance happens in this volume, and it surprised me a good deal. Before the Hakudoshi plot really ramps up, the gang hears a legend about a group of ogre women and goes to investigate. Sango and Miroku take the center stage for these chapters and much coolness ensues, including a battle between them (when Sango comes under a demon’s control) and some revelations that I never thought would actually be made. Granted, it doesn’t seem to’ve made much difference in the ensuing chapters, but it’s a step.

InuYasha 29 by Rumiko Takahashi: B

From the back cover:
Inuyasha and the others are trapped inside Mount Hakurei with yet another newly reassembled Naraku. Meanwhile, Naraku reveals to Kikyo that his true purpose in hiding inside Mount Hakurei is to perfect an emotionless new form that could attack and even kill Kikyo without hesitation. Having finally divorced himself from Onigumo’s heart, will Naraku succeed in killing Kikyo? Inuyasha is troubled by a premonition of doom but arrives too late, finding only Kikyo’s broken bow!

Some things actually happened in this volume that surprised me, like Naraku cutting Kikyo down in battle and the explicit statement that only a few shikon shards remain uncollected. Things that failed to surprise me include the fact that Kikyo’s body was never found—I am entirely sure she will crop up again down the line—and that the chapter entitled “Inuyasha’s True Feelings” completely failed to reveal any such thing.

I liked the chapters involving Naraku’s plan to use Kagome to find the shards for him, especially since it prompted exploration of her feelings concerning Inuyasha and his lingering connection to Kikyo. I was also happy to see a brief segment occurring in the real world; seeing Inuyasha in that environment is always fun.

In all, I enjoyed the volume and its rare statement of a concrete fact, though it’s too bad I can no longer have faith in people truly being dead or things like that; it really dampens the impact of any kind of plot twist in that vein.

InuYasha 28 by Rumiko Takahashi: B+

From the back cover:
Trapped inside the holy shield of Mount Hakurei, Inuyasha’s demonic power has been stripped away, leaving him vulnerable. Will Miroku’s wind tunnel prove strong enough to break the barrier and free Inuyasha? And will Inuyasha’s strength be enough to defeat the leader of the Band of Seven, who has absorbed the Shikon Shards from his fallen comrades and become an even more formidable foe? A fierce battle is about to erupt—and Naraku is about to make a shocking appearance!

The Band of Seven arc draws to a close in this volume with a series of battles that are fun to read, despite Inuyasha just doing Wind Scar over and over. Jakotsu continues to be amusing, taunting Inuyasha with pervy comments while fighting him, and there’s some interesting stuff between the brothers, too.

As is usual for this series, there’s a lot of gore and random body parts flying around, but one particular scene takes the award for most disturbing imagery when a cave of proto-babies is uncovered during the search for Naraku. I wonder sometimes if Inuyasha shouldn’t be classified at least a little as horror, what with all the freaky stuff Takahashi seems to delight in drawing. I’ve also contemplated keeping a severed head tally box, but that just seems tacky.

Anyway, things culminate in dramatic fashion and I actually cheer the villain’s return by the end of the volume. I’m sure Inuyasha and friends will make it through, seeing as how there’s, like, twenty more volumes of this series, but I can pretend their peril is truly reason for concern.