Arata: The Legend, Vols. 1-6

By Yuu Watase | Published by VIZ Media

As a fan of Yuu Watase’s shoujo classic, Fushigi Yûgi, I expected that I would like Arata: The Legend, her first shounen series. Turns out, I had underestimated my enjoyment: I really like it!

The story begins in a world known as Amawakuni, where the child-like princess is preparing to yield the thrown to her successor after reigning for 60 years. There are no suitable females in the royal (Hime) clan to take her place, however, and so a fifteen-year-old boy named Arata is coerced into passing himself off as a girl until another suitable candidate can be found. During the ceremony, the twelve retainers of the princess—known as the shinsho, because they are masters of powerful sword-gods known as hayagami—revolt and the princess is cut down before Arata’s eyes. The shinsho pin the deed on him and his flight to evade capture takes him to the mysterious Kando Forest, where he is swallowed up and exchanged with his counterpart from another world: Arata Hinohara.

Hinohara has been having a tough time lately. In middle school, he was bullied so much that he eventually stopped going altogether. Now it’s his first year of high school, and at first everything seems to be going okay. He purposefully chose a school far away, where no one would know his old self, and is able to make friends quickly, thanks to his quick actions in capturing a train groper. After a month, however, his former nemesis Kadowaki arrives and the torment starts anew, capped off by the betrayal of Arata’s closest new friend, Suguru.

When he arrives in Amawakuni—and is taken for Arata by everyone he meets—Hinohara is thrust into Arata’s role as a wanted criminal. When his touch awakens a slumbering family artifact—what turns out to be a legendary hayagami known as Tsukuyo—he is suddenly recognized as a sho, which means he’s part of the battle for the the throne. The shinsho overthrew the princess because they were tired of the control she exerted over their powers, but now they must battle and dominate each other until one stands supreme. Like it or not, as a sho, Arata is swept up in the conflict and has two choices: submit himself (this essentially means death) or force others to submit. (Meanwhile, Arata contends with life in modern Japan, including going to school and eventually beating up Kadowaki.)

I really love how Watase fleshes out Hinohara’s complex character here, because everything he does makes sense based on what he’s been through. When he first arrives, he refuses to trust anyone, but when Arata’s childhood friend, Kotoha, makes good on her promises to stick by him no matter what, it has a profound effect on him. Too, the prospect of forcing others to submit reminds him too much of the domination he suffered.

Because of his experiences—and because of the unique property that allows Tsukuyo to safeguard the souls of other sho without actually causing their death—he is gradually able to win over a few sho by sympathizing with their own suffering, whether it be betrayal, isolation, or loneliness. In a conversation with the princess—courtesy of the special necklace that also occasionally allows him to converse with Arata—he promises to unite the hayagami under Tsukuyo and return to her before she dies completely. He’s got a long road ahead, and it’s one that can only be won by changing the hearts of others.

It is this mission of Hinohara’s—not unlike those usually assigned to magical girls—that makes me want to apply the demographic label “jounen” to this series. It’s definitely shounen in scope and feel, but it’s also attuned to its shoujo side. The slowly developing romance between Hinohara and Kotoha is very well done, for example, with Hinohara cognizant of Kotoha’s love for the real Arata and Kotoha confused because “Arata” is responding to her in a way he never did before. I also like that Kadowaki eventually arrives in Amawakuni because a) that is so very Yuu Watase, for two outsiders to come into a fantasy world and immediately assume powerful destinies and b) the ultimate test of Hinohara’s newfound bravery and purpose is for him to be able to sustain it in the face of Kadowaki’s unrelenting hostility.

The pacing of the series is also outstanding. There’s just enough foreshadowing of significant things—the gravestone that connects one of the shinsho, Kannagi, with his reasons for rebelling against the princess—to make the eventual reveal more significant, but one never has to wait too long for the answer to a question. Similarly, Hinohara frequently actually comes out and says what he’s thinking, so misunderstandings are not allowed to perpetuate for long. In fact, revealing the truth behind things—like when Hinohara finally convinces Kotoha that he is not her beloved Arata—gives the story more places to go rather than reducing all dramatic options.

My one complaint about the series is largely rectified by Kadowaki’s entrance into Amawakuni, and that’s that Arata is given very little to do. At first, there’s only a chapter or two from his point of view every once in a while, but once he meets an intriguing girl named Oribe—who can tell he’s an entirely different person than Hinohara—things begin looking up, especially when one of the shinsho is transplanted to Japan in Kadowaki’s place. Suddenly, Arata is in genuine peril, which is bad for him but good for the story!

In the end, while there’s a lot going on in Arata, it never feels like too much, always makes sense, and yet always leaves one wondering what is going to happen next. Not only am I genuinely excited about continuing the series, it has also rekindled my determination to read Fushigi Yûgi: Genbu Kaiden, of which I have heard good things.

Arata: The Legend is still in serialization in Japan; the twelfth collected volume was released there in August 2011.

Review copies for volumes one, two, four, and five provided by the publisher.

Cross Game Color Commentary

As part of this month’s Manga Moveable Feast on Mitsuru Adachi’s Cross Game, Kate Butler and I engaged in a bit of conversation about our love of sports manga in general and this series in particular. As we reference the plot and characters, this page from VIZ’s Shonen Sunday website might come in handy.

MICHELLE: I’m fighting the compulsion to start this thing off by going, “So. Cross Game, huh?” But perhaps I had better begin by introducing my fellow interlocutor, Kate Butler. Kate and I have been friends for about a decade now, and share a markedly similar taste in books, which extends to a love (somehow this word doesn’t seem quite strong enough) for sports manga. In fact, I am pretty sure that it was from Kate that I first heard about The Prince of Tennis and Hikaru no Go, both of which have been long-time favorites of mine.

What was your first exposure to sports manga, Kate?

KATE: The very first sports manga I read was the first couple of volumes of Harlem Beat. Was TOKYOPOP still calling itself Mixx back then? In any case, it was a long time ago, and I remember being surprised that this story about basketball, something which I find incredibly boring in real life, was holding my attention. But the real truth is that my love of sports manga comes about because of my strange attraction to shounen battle manga (and their insanely lengthy anime counterparts)—you really can’t describe The Prince of Tennis as anything else, even though they battle using tennis and not swords or super saiyan techniques.

But even though Cross Game shares a number of elements with that particular genre, I doubt anyone would peg it as a pure battle-sport manga.

MICHELLE: The closest I’ve come to a shounen battle manga that actually involves literal battles is probably Rurouni Kenshin, which I adore. I have yet to read any of the Dragonball series, but I suspect that I’d probably like it, too, since I enjoyed the pair of Toriyama one-shots I read.

You’ve touched upon one of the central mysteries of sports manga for me: how come I never want to watch live sports, but I gobble up the manga like candy? If forced to name a favorite sport, I would probably say basketball or tennis, which some might take as evidence for why I love Slam Dunk and The Prince of Tennis, but I can honestly say that I have never, at any point in my life, ever found baseball interesting. And yet I love Cross Game.

KATE: I wonder at my interest in sports-related manga as well. My adoration for The Prince of Tennis knows no bounds, and sometimes it even makes me think I must have been wrong—of course I must enjoy watching actual tennis! But then I try and am disappointed to discover once again that it’s as boring to me as it ever was.

Baseball is probably my most favorite of all the major league/professional sports popular in the U.S. But that’s not saying a whole lot—I always enjoyed my outings to Fenway Park with my dad, but much of my attention was focused on when I got to buy my next hot dog or ice cream.

I guess my next question would be, is Cross Game really about baseball? At least in the earliest volumes, while there’s plenty of baseball-related content, it’s not -about- baseball, at least not in the way The Prince of Tennis is about tennis.

MICHELLE: I think that’s an excellent question, and the key to its appeal. I’ve spoken on this theme several times in recent months, but I adore stories about lazy or disinterested characters who find something to be truly passionate about and/or a place where they belong. That’s why, of all the sports manga I’ve read, Cross Game reminds me the most of Slam Dunk. But even that is not really any comparison, since we learn much more about Ko and his motivations than we do about Sakuragi, and he certainly seems to be coming from a much deeper place than “get the girl” or “be the best.” The story becomes more about Ko and his personal journey rather than the actual specifics of his goal.

That isn’t to say, though, that the baseball games aren’t riveting and masterfully drawn, especially those between “the portables,” the lower-tier members of the baseball team, and the hand-picked varsity squad. Here again, I think Adachi’s stressing the importance of really loving something, no matter what it is, because simply doing that can bring one joy.

KATE: Yes, if I were going to try to identify Ko’s motivations, “be the best” and “get the girl” wouldn’t be among the first to spring to mind. Though it’s interesting that they wouldn’t, because we’re told early on in the manga that he’s actually far more competitive than he appears.

Your description of his journey from indifference to passion sounds a lot like Godai from Maison Ikkoku, though I personally am finding Ko much more difficult to get a handle on than Godai, whose faults and temptations and misunderstandings were all very much on display. Ko, on the other hand, feels slippery to me. Not to say he doesn’t have motivations and desires, but he’s very hard to read. It may have something to do with the way he’s drawn—I find his expression to be inscrutable most of the time, giving me little information about what’s passing in his mind.

Here are some examples of Ko’s expressions, captioned with the emotion he is experiencing at that moment:

Sly

About to Get Beat Up

Annoyed

Confused

Just Saw a Ghost

Puzzled

Shocked

Aaaand sly again

MICHELLE: That’s a good point, and especially true during the portions of the story where others are observing Ko and how much he’s grown. With the lack of facial cues, I pretty much just rely on his commitment to baseball as indication that he’s still doggedly on the path of making Wakaba’s dream come true.

Adachi’s art in general sends me mixed messages. In matters of pacing and paneling he excels, but his depiction of anatomy is more inconsistent. He seems to draw some bodies quite well. Ko’s when pitching, for example, and Aoba’s, especially on the chapter title pages on which she’s wearing revealing attire. I love how her body looks positively normal for a healthy, athletic teen, and don’t even mind that her clothes are a bit skimpy because they’re still practical and plausible. But then I look at her face, and it just seems incongruously cartoony compared to the rest of her. And then you’ve got the supporting characters like Nakanishi who—and I really appreciate that there are several awesome yet stocky characters in the cast—frequently looks too dumpy to even be able to run.

KATE: Well, maybe he can’t run very fast. Or more accurately, he’s not a distance runner. Baseball isn’t really a distance game, though: similar to American football, it’s mostly short bursts of high exertion followed by a bunch of standing around. Which is why your top soccer, basketball and marathoners tend to have a different body shape from football players and baseball sluggers. So I don’t particularly find the body shapes completely incongruous with high school baseball players.

The faces and the rest of the art—well, I’ll admit it, it took me quite a while before I was able to tell Aoba and Ko apart with any consistency. At first I found it annoying, but then I started to think it was probably on purpose that their character designs were so similar. They are meant to be two peas.

MICHELLE: I’m sure that’s intentional. She definitely looks different from Adachi’s other lead heroines, who tend to resemble the Wakaba type. And really, everything else—from the inscrutable hero, to the mild fanservice, to the dumpy bodies—is simply part of Adachi’s style. He’s remained quite consistent, as Joe McCulloch notes in his excellent post at the Panelists. It’s definitely an effective style for conveying this type of story.

KATE: Is that a Seishu uniform I see depicted on one of the panels from Nine? Interesting. I suppose given that so little of Adachi’s work has been translated into English, it’s not exactly unsurprising that I’m not intimately familiar with most of his series, but I do feel it’s a lack. The other series of his to which I’ve had the most exposure is Touch, and that just the anime. So while I can agree that the art is remarkably consistent, I can’t speak toward greater thematic consistency through his work.

On the other hand, Cross Game itself employs many plot elements to which I’m very partial. You said earlier that you enjoy stories where a less-than-inspired protagonist evolves into a passionate pursuer of something. I happen to adore stories where the arrogant and insufferable are brought up short by a plucky underdog. (That is, after all, one of the prime plot components of Pride and Prejudice, my favorite book of all time.) And in this first half of Cross Game we’ve already had a payoff on that particular plot thread.

MICHELLE: It is a Seishu uniform! I didn’t even notice that. And yes, I was only referring to artistic consistency because, sadly, like you, I haven’t enough experience with his long-form stories to know how the they compare. I’m hopeful that Cross Game will do well enough that VIZ will license more by Adachi. Alex Hoffman of Manga Widget recently speculated that Katsu! might be a contender, and I concur.

I’m with you regarding the payoff! Perhaps I should have expected that something like that would happen, but I still thought it was handled rather elegantly. In fact, one could probably predict several things about where the Cross Game story is going to go, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be enjoyable.

KATE: Well, after that random Seishu uniform, I must say my interest in seeing Nine has shot up about tenfold. I do hope Cross Game is selling well enough to spur more Adachi licenses.

The way the payoff of that particular plot was handled was excellent—but the buildup to it was also interesting, especially since neither of our protaganists was actually the original instigator of the portable team’s secret plan. I do love it when characters presented initially as thuggish turn out instead to be quite clever and nice. (At least to those who deserve it.)

MICHELLE: Me, too. And I think I’d read an entire manga about Okubo, the cheerful yet underestimated manager of the portables. I think that in it, she should solve crime. Also, I think I now ship her with Nakanishi.

KATE: I would so read Okubo: Girl Detective. Someone needs to write this manga!

Ahem. Getting back to the actual discussion again: Cross Game is very enjoyable thus far, we both agree. But there are few stories I find so perfect there’s not at least one or two things I might change. Is there anything in particular you haven’t liked so far?

MICHELLE: Hmm. Well, I’m not crazy about all the fourth-wall breaking that’s going on. I expected it more in volumes two and three, and so it bothered me less, but Adachi complaining about his schedule or depicting the characters reading his earlier series is just never going to amuse me. There was a bit in volume three that I laughed at, though, where someone threw something at a box of omniscient narration.

I also think Aoba’s dad is really creepy. For Ko, a teenage boy, to be curious about girls and to go into a daze while looking up the skirt of the girl ahead of him on the escalator doesn’t bother me, but for a grown man to hang around a batting cage so that he might catch a glimpse of a young woman’s underpants is, like, a criminal offense or something. And that his daughters know about and freely discuss his proclivities is also pretty gross.

How about you?

KATE: I’m completely with you on both points. It may be possible to break the fourth-wall in a way that blends almost seamlessly into the story, and there are a couple of instances even within Cross Game where it works out all right, but most of the time it just serves to jar you right out of the story.

And I don’t even know where to begin with Mr. Tsukishima. The existence of numerous other lecherous father figures (Shigure from Fruits Basket springs to mind, along with Nanjiro Echizen from The Prince of Tennis) suggests he’s part of some grand tradition I just do not understand. We may have to wait for someone to make this a topic of their dissertation before all the cultural dots are connected.

MICHELLE: Maybe so. I mean, it must be funny to someone, right? Probably Japan is just more relaxed about that sort of thing than Americans—it is the land of used-undies vending machines, after all—but I’d think actually ogling a customer would cross some sort of line even there.

Now that I think about, there are loads of fellows in Cross Game who are unabashed about their girlie mags. Azuma’s brother, Junpei, has a pile in his delivery van when we first meet him. Ko’s got his own stash. His dad left one lying about at one point, too.

KATE: I can’t claim to be an expert, but anecdotally, that kind of soft-core porn seems much more out in the open. Salarymen reading it on trains, etc. So is it really meant to be funny? I guess the idea that it’s a joke is less depressing than the idea that it’s meant to be serious and no one cares.

MICHELLE: I don’t think the act of reading the magazines is really supposed to be funny, just a casual thing, but I bet that Mr. Tsukishima’s antics were intended to be. For the most part, I bet Adachi uses those magazines to show that these are just regular guys and, though they may be talented, or be able to summon great dedication for something that they love, in the end they all still get goofy for teh boobies.

KATE: That’s probably true. And in that sense, the T and A quotient of this series is really not any more than you’d find on your average American sitcom. Or maybe even in Archie comics, considering how that’s been going lately.

I think as long as these things remain in the background as the series progresses they’ll continue to be ignorable offenses for the most part. My larger concern going forward is, of course, the bane of authors everywhere: the conclusion. So many authors are so incredibly talented at the beginning parts of a story. Quite a few authors can sustain a story admirably through the middle portion. But then the endings! Oh, the weak, underwritten, cop-out finales. I’m both eager and afraid to see which side Cross Game falls out on.

MICHELLE: Oh, indeed. Like I mentioned before, certain aspects of the tale can be predicted, and that’s simply because of the kind of story it is. I mean, I suppose Adachi might never allow the Seishu team to make it to Koshien, but I’d consider it highly unlikely for a sports manga to go that route. I must admit, though, that I have heard that some of his endings are rather open-ended.

KATE: I think the baseball-related developments are probably set in stone—it would be unthinkable not to see them get to Koshien eventually, though whether or not he’ll take us through the entire tournament is less determined. But the character side of the equation is where the possibility of letdown really exists. So far things there have been developing at a nice pace, so hopefully the ending won’t disappoint.

MICHELLE: I guess we will just have to wait and see!

Thanks for joining me to talk about Cross Game!

KATE: Thanks! This was a lot of fun!

Cross Game 2-3 by Mitsuru Adachi

The first volume of Cross Game (well, the first collected volume from VIZ, which includes the first three volumes of the Japanese version) introduced the characters and established the motivation for average boy Ko Kitamura to devote himself to becoming a good enough pitcher to reach the Koshien tournament. It’s very good, but there’s little actual baseball. Volumes two and three (four through seven in Japanese) make up for that in a big way.

Ko has now entered high school, but the publicity-hungry interim principal has hired Coach Daimon, who is known for getting teams to Koshien, and has built a dorm to house the students who’ve been especially recruited for the team. Neither seems to care about the boys or their enjoyment of the game—the interim principal is merely out for acclaim, and the Coach doesn’t put forth any effort to instill a team mentality in his players, seemingly content with a top sixteen placement because it’s good enough for him to keep his cushy job.

Anyway, Ko and his two close friends, Akaishi and Nakanishi, have refused to even try out for the varsity team and spend their time amongst “the portables,” which is the nickname for the leftover players who must practice under inferior conditions and with a coach who’s considered past his prime. Twice over the course of these volumes the portables challenge the varsity players, and both times the game is riveting in a way I have never experienced before with baseball.

Adachi’s great at pacing and setting the scene, and the flow of each game is easy to follow. The first match-up results in a close game, with the portables ultimately losing. A special training regimen ensues, and Ko works on building up his stamina and his arsenal of pitches. When the teams have their rematch, he’s a changed pitcher, and better than anyone the varsity team faced during their progress through the spring tournament. It’s true that we don’t get into Ko’s head much during all of this intense effort on his part, but I take this to mean that he’s got a singular focus—there’s no need to constantly reiterate that he’s attempting to fulfill the dream his childhood friend, Wakaba Tsukishima, had before her accidental death.

While the games occupy the most real estate in these volumes, there are some important character moments, too, mostly between Ko and Aoba, Wakaba’s younger sister, who always resented how much attention Wakaba gave him and who has never been able to shake the belief that he’s no good. I love that when Ko gets serious about pitching, it’s Aoba’s form and style that he emulates. Sure, Aoba is likely going to wind up in a love interest role, but that’s not her only purpose here, and it’s refreshing that the female lead is so thoroughly competent.

Words aren’t going to get anywhere with Aoba, so Ko can only prove by his actions that he’s dedicated and reliable, and we begin to see some very incremental signs of thawing. Small, episodic intervals chart the development of their relationship, and my very favorite moment in these two volumes—even with all the exciting sports action—falls into this category. It happens at the end of volume three. As a child, Ko used to accompany the Tsukishima siblings to visit their grandparents in the country, but he hasn’t gone in the five years since Wakaba’s death. Now he and his parents have been invited to come along and Aoba recognizes, from silent clues like Ko’s breakfast dishes and his solitary footprints heading out through the snow towards the woods, exactly where he is headed (to a spot he used to go with Wakaba) and prevents her youngest sister, Momiji, from going after him. She’s now ready to acknowledge how deeply he cared for her sister, which strikes me as a very mature moment.

Cross Game offers readers the best of both worlds. There’s intense baseball action for sports manga fans like me to avidly devour, but there’s also character drama, a strong female lead, and a sure artistic hand. Need I say again how ardently I hope we’ll see more Adachi manga in English in the future?

Review copies provided by the publisher.

Cross Game 1 by Mitsuru Adachi: A-

When the first volume of Cross Game arrived at my house, I’m pretty sure my exact words were, “Eee!” Happily, I liked it every bit as I thought I would.

You can find my review for Comics Should Be Good here.

Cross Game is published in English by VIZ, who is bundling the seventeen-volume series into eight chunky tomes. This one is comprised of the first three volumes and the others will contain two each.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

InuYasha 45 by Rumiko Takahashi: B

A running plot in InuYasha involves the fact that the villain, Naraku, can never be wholly vanquished because he has secreted his heart away and as long as it exists elsewhere, he can’t die. It’s been dozens of volumes, so my memories of his methods are hazy, but his heart has resided for some time in the body of an infant, which has constructed itself a living fortress in the form of an armored demon called Moryomaru.

The evil baby has been plotting a takeover (what fun that phrase is to write!) for a while, and volume 45 features the climactic confrontation between Moryomaru and Naraku. It’s pretty riveting, I admit, although I am unclear on exactly why Naraku does a certain thing other than that it will be convenient for our heroes down the line.

The worst part about their battle is that it reduces the main cast to spectator status for a time, watching a ball of commingled demon flesh going “sqwch sqwch” and “slthr slthr.” They do get in on the action eventually, though, and the volume ends with a portent of future doom for one of them.

In the end, a bunch of stuff happens but true resolution continues to be evasive. Par for the course for InuYasha.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

InuYasha 42-44 by Rumiko Takahashi: B+

I had determined some time ago not to get excited about any seeming progress in this series until the last couple of volumes, but I broke my own vow with these volumes, in which our heroes get closer than ever before to defeating one of the chief obstacles standing in their way.
[Read more…]

RIN-NE 2 by Rumiko Takahashi: B

rinne2From the back cover:
After a mysterious encounter in her childhood, Sakura Mamiya gained the power to see ghosts. Now a teenager, she just wishes the ghosts would leave her alone! Then one day she meets Rinne Rokudo, a boy who is far more than what he seems.

Sakura and Rinne deal with the ghosts of an ancient warrior and a girl who drowned in the school swimming pool, but that’s just a warm-up! A wandering spirit leads them to a surprising confrontation, one that takes Sakura and Rinne on an even more amazing chase!

Review:
When RIN-NE first debuted, I used to read the chapters on The Rumic World faithfully, but after a while my interest waned. I had, therefore, already read the first few chapters of this second volume—those pertaining to the ancient warrior and the ghost of the drowned girl—and found them just as uninspiring on a second read.

The portion that I hadn’t read previously fared a little better, though. It’s the story of a high school boy named Reiji who’s traveling on his motorcycle to deliver a birthday present to his girlfriend when he runs into a telephone pole. He’s not dead yet, but his spirit has left his body and is thus vulnerable to Masato, a devil with a grudge against Rinne and the ability to corrupt Reiji into a vengeful spirit. Although Masato is unfortunately rather incompetent—the gags involving the traps he sets for Rinne are woefully unfunny—this story is still the most interesting of the volume and also provides Sakura with the opportunity to do some investigating on her own. She’s so essential, in fact, that Rinne compliments her awesomeness quite genuinely, which is kind of rare for him.

Although this volume is a quick and generally pleasant read, I’m a little disappointed that the story isn’t showing any signs of going anywhere. I know this is an unreasonable expectation: this is Rumiko Takahashi, after all, and I really shouldn’t expect movement for thirty more volumes or so. I like the characters, I like Sakura’s increased motivation to get involved, but in general, stories about helping ghosts pass on will get old after a while. A peek at forthcoming chapters shows that a new character will arrive in volume three, however, so perhaps the plot will perk up a bit then.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

InuYasha 41 by Rumiko Takahashi: B

inuyasha41In the past few volumes, it’s begun to feel like the final confrontation between Inuyasha and the evil Naraku is drawing nigh. First, however, Inuyasha and friends must defeat Moryomaru, a living demonic armor constructed by and to protect the scheming infant that houses Naraku’s heart. Unless the heart is destroyed, Naraku will never truly die. Naraku, for his part, wants Moryomaru dead, too, and is seemingly content to let his enemies fight each other without getting involved.

Moryomaru absorbs powers from other demons to increase his offensive and defensive capabilities, so he’s a tough opponent. Luckily, Inuyasha has just acquired a handy new power for his sword, but it’s one that he’s having trouble controlling. Still, if he’s to have any chance at all against Moryomaru, he might have to use it.

Pretty much this entire volume is about Inuyasha trying to master his sword’s new power while Moryomaru causes a reanimated turtle demon to wreak havoc. Later, the gang and their goodish allies reunite to beat on Moryomaru for a bit, but he escapes. For fans of the series, this actually qualifies as progress, but even speaking as someone who really likes InuYasha, I rather doubt anyone else would enjoy starting here.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

InuYasha 38-40 by Rumiko Takahashi: B

inuyasha38Fans of InuYasha have long been resigned to the fact that nothing much seems to happen to further the main plot of the series along. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when several very major things happen in the 38th volume of the series. Afterwards, alas, we plunge back into more episodic fare, but it’s definitely starting to feel like the beginning of the end.

Volume 38 is a first on several levels. It’s the first volume to be published as part of VIZ’s new monthly release schedule for the series. It’s the first volume to be published under the Shonen Sunday imprint. And, most importantly, it’s the first volume of the series with unflipped artwork; to see earlier volumes unflipped, one will need to buy the VIZBIG editions of the series that will begin coming out next month. Unfortunately, the new packaging approach does not include refreshing the same old “Story So Far” section or providing actual chapter numbers instead of simply numbering them scrolls one through ten.

inuyasha39It seems only right, therefore, that this volume would also provide our first glimpse of some real plot movement in quite some time. When last we left off, Naraku’s minions were conspiring against him, some seeking only their freedom while others strove to take his place. When Naraku gets wind of their plans, he takes care of business and man, is it gratifying to witness something permanent actually happen in this series! While this is going on, Moryomaru, the demon that houses Naraku’s heart, is after the few remaining shards of the Shikon Jewel, which means that Kohaku is a target. We get a few nice scenes between Kohaku and Sango before the end of the volume brings new complications: Kikyo has absorbed the spirit of the priestess who originally created the Shikon Jewel and is on a quest to use the reformed jewel to defeat Naraku, never mind that doing so will cause Kohaku’s death.

The final battle appears nigh, as our heroes, who refuse to condone Kikyo’s plans, resolve to defeat Naraku before the jewel is completed. To that end, they spend the next two volumes engaged in the grand shounen tradition of powering up. Koga acquires a legendary weapon imbued with spirits of wolf demons. Inuyasha, who has been told that inuyasha40Naraku cannot be defeated by any sword, learns of a blade with the ability to absorb the power of demons, so he tracks it down with the intent of incorporating its attributes into his own weapon, Tetsusaiga. He conveniently locates it right away and, after a bunch of fighting, acquires its power. It soon becomes apparent, however, that this new ability is darker and more dangerous than he had presumed; this whole storyline reminds me of Bleach, in which Ichigo takes on some qualities of his enemy in order to obtain the power required to defeat his enemy.

The power ups are important, to be sure, and I really do like it when our heroes acquire new fighting techniques and shiny weaponry and all that, but after the goodies offered in volume 38, I found the subsequent two to be rather bland in comparison. Still, I guess a bit of a lull is generally required before the big climactic battle and they’d sort of have to obtain some new tricks in order to actually, like, win this time.

RIN-NE 1 by Rumiko Takahashi: B+

rin-ne1From the back cover:
As a child, Sakura Mamiya mysteriously disappeared in the woods behind her grandma’s home. She returned whole and healthy, but since then she has had the power to see ghosts. Now a teenager, she just wishes the ghosts would leave her alone! At school, the desk next to Sakura’s has been empty since the start of the school year. Then one day her always-absent classmate Rinne Rokudo shows up, and he’s far more than what he seems!

Sakura’s curiosity about the mysterious Rinne draws her deeper into an amazing world on the boundary between the living and the dead. Helping Rinne is one thing, but will tagging along with him leave her trapped in the afterlife? And does Rinne really know what he’s doing? Dealing with the afterlife isn’t easy, especially when you don’t know all the rules!

Review:
When Sakura Mamiya was a little girl, she was lured into the afterlife by a corrupt shinigami. A kind lady rescued her and sent her home, but ever since then Sakura has been able to see ghosts. Having lately begun her first year in high school, Sakura had hoped that by this point in her life things would’ve changed, but she continues to see spirits. Still, her wish is granted in a way when she is the sole witness to her mysterious classmate, Rinne, banishing a chihuahua spirit in the middle of class. She’s the first person who’s ever been able to see him performing his spiritual duties, and he’s the first person who’s ever been able to see the things she can, including a persistent male ghost who’s starting to get a little too attached to her. After dealing with beings both amorphous and amorous, Rinne and Sakura work together on a couple of other cases, with Sakura sending “business” Rinne’s way when her friends have supernatural problems.

There could never be any doubt that RIN-NE is a Rumiko Takahashi manga. If her distinctive art weren’t enough of a clue—and it really looks gorgeous here—there’s her gift for creating characters; the building of camaraderie via episodic adventure; the gentle, never zany humor; and an amazing sense of pacing and paneling to bring the point home. Weekly chapters of RIN-NE are published online by VIZ and I’ve actually already read the eight chapters collected in this volume, but somehow I enjoyed them so much better in this print edition. The story flows well and I firmly believe Takahashi’s art simply looks better on paper.

The series is off to an intriguing start, but it’s too soon to tell whether a long arc will materialize or if the episodic adventures will continue indefinitely. I like the characters and setup enough to enjoy several volumes in that vein, but I might grow tired of it eventually. Also, the characters in RIN-NE will likely feel rather familiar to InuYasha fans. You have the schoolgirl heroine with special sensitivity; the half-human, half-supernatural boy she encounters and who says “feh” at least once; and the pint-sized, animalesque character with the ability to create illusions. The specifics are different, of course, and I can understand why Takahashi would stick with a formula that has proven successful, but if a tough chick and a lecherous guy join the group I am going to have to cry foul.

Ultimately, volume one of RIN-NE is entertaining and fun in that special Takahashi way. If you’re already a fan of hers, you’ll probably like this series, too.

Review copy provided by the publisher.