Maison Ikkoku 10-15 by Rumiko Takahashi

Maison Ikkoku is a series I’ve been meaning to read for a decade now. I watched a lot of the anime, and got up to volume nine in the manga a few years ago, but it took an MMF dedicated to Rumiko Takahashi to finally concentrate my determination sufficiently to conquer the final six volumes. Since I am writing specifically about the end of the series, and the methods Takahashi employs to bring it about, please beware of spoilers.

For those who are unaware, Maison Ikkoku is the story of the occupants of the titular boarding house, specifically bumbling but good-hearted Yusaku Godai and Kyoko Otonashi, the beautiful young widow who manages the property. Godai is in love with Kyoko and would like to propose, but wants to prove himself reliable first by finding work. Meanwhile, Kyoko is trying to decide whether she even wants to remarry and, if she does, should she wait for Godai to get his act together or accept the proposal that handsome, rich tennis coach Shun Mitaka has made.

Volume ten finds Godai job-hunting. He has recently concluded a spell as a student teacher at the same all-girls’ high school Kyoko once attended, where he caught the eye of Ibuki Yagami, who pursues him relentlessly. It so happens, however, that Yagami’s dad is the hiring manager for a major company, but Godai has botched the chance for an interview due to a medical emergency with a random pregnant lady. Honestly, this whole arc is frustrating, because Yagami is so wrapped up in the romance of supporting her impoverished man that she regularly makes a fool of herself, and Godai keeps getting dragged into situations that torpedo his chance for success. Even here, though he finally gets a job, he just can’t win, for the firm immediately goes bankrupt.

Though I didn’t realize it at the time, this marks a turning point in the series. Originally conceiving of it as a stop-gap measure until he finds other work, Godai begins working at a preschool and discovers a real aptitude for it. This is the first time we’ve actually seen Godai be really good at something and, not only that, the first time he begins to think of a possible career rather than just a job. Alas, he’s laid off in volume twelve, but is determined to get his teaching certification and continues to study while operating a nursery for the employees of a risqué cabaret in the evenings.

So, while on one hand we have the beginnings of maturation for Godai, on the other we have the beginnings of thawing in Kyoko. Although she thinks of Godai more as a little brother than a potential husband in some ways, she’s still obviously fond of him, enough that she can’t quite accept Mitaka’s proposals, even though he would seem to be the better match. “Please. Come home soon,” she thinks at one point. “Please tell me not to marry him.” This maturation+thawing trend until the end of the series, with many advances and setbacks, but it really starts here.

Various hijinks ensue while Godai and Kyoko are gradually growing closer, involving myriad misunderstandings and an arranged marriage for Mitaka, who hasn’t given up on Kyoko and is working on conquering his fear of dogs in order to woo her without her friendly mutt causing any problems. The next big step in the main couple’s relationship occurs in volume thirteen, when one of the employees at the cabaret leaves her children in Godai’s care while she runs off with a customer.

Godai is primarily concerned with the happiness of the children, and brings them home to Maison Ikkoku to look after. This creates a homey feeling, and causes Kyoko to notice how Godai is able to shoulder additional burdens with equanimity. Gone is the Godai who thinks selfishly—he simply wants to do the best for these kids, and later we’ll see him express concern for Mitaka’s fiancé’s happiness where a younger Godai might have exulted that Mitaka was soon to be out of the running for Kyoko’s affections. I applaud how smoothly Takahashi is able to make this transition, because it seems natural that Godai has become this kind of man, though it’s impossible to say precisely when.

Before Godai and Kyoko can really be together, however, their secondary significant others must be dealt with, so a lot of time is devoted to resolving the Mitaka situation, with Kyoko finally saying she can’t marry him, and, later, to getting Kozue (Godai’s long-time platonic girlfriend) sorted out. I really love how Takahashi accomplishes this, because she basically twists the same sort of comic misunderstanding plots that have populated the series this entire time so that they actually have lasting repercussions that wrap things up for these love rivals in satisfying ways. No threads are left hanging!

By the final volume, Godai has become a reliable prospect. He dedicates himself to studying for his exam and passes on his first attempt. Again, it is simply great watching him be good at something, and though this stability will help him win Kyoko, it’s also something that he wanted for himself. While Godai waits for the right moment to propose to an expectant Kyoko, the pair works through some trust issues, and when he finally pops the question, it’s completely awesome. Also in the category of awesome is the amazing scene in which Godai, no longer threatened by Kyoko’s past, visits the grave of her first husband, Soichiro. I got majorly sniffly when he said, “You’ve been a part of her since the first day I met her and I still fell in love with her. So… I’m taking you into my life too. As part of her.” In fact, I got verklempt again just writing that.

I won’t spoil the exact details of the ending, except to say that it couldn’t possibly be more satisfying. Although Maison Ikkoku was at times a frustrating read, it was also an affecting and amusing one. Takahashi has created a cast of characters who, even if frequently wishy-washy, are immensely appealing. In addition, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the role Takahashi’s artwork plays in making the series successful, for though she absolutely excels at depicting adorable children and dogs (especially Mitaka’s delightful McEnroe), she’s also nails the emotional moments. I’m especially fond of some scenes in later volumes in which characters shed their shells to various degrees, with Mitaka losing his ever-present smiling glint and Kyoko opening up emotionally.

I’ve written over a thousand words now, and could probably write a thousand more about this fantastic series. Rather than do that, however, I think I’ll merely conclude with a heartfelt recommendation: you simply must read Maison Ikkoku.

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.

These three volumes focus on two things: swords and defeating Moryomaru, a creation of Naraku’s who has rebelled against his maker. The sword fixation begins in volume 42, with Sesshomaru receiving an upgrade to his blade thanks to his newly acquired ability to grieve for others and Inuyasha getting some unexpected assistance from Naraku in mastering his sword’s new power. Of course, Naraku then turns around and presents Moryomaru with a way to improve his armor, hoping to empower both of his enemies enough that they’ll finish each other off for him.

Some pretty awesome battles follow. The first occurs in volume 43, with Inuyasha making more headway than ever before in penetrating Moryomaru’s armor. It’s a gory affair, with Moryomaru attempting to assimilate the bodies of a couple of feuding demon brothers, but mighty cool, as well. After this bout, a very brief training arc ensues in which Inuyasha rather quickly acquires the ability to see demon vortices. “What’s a demon vortex?” you may ask. A detailed explanation isn’t offered, but suffice it to say it manifests as swirly energy in the air and when Inuyasha cuts it, it’s a good thing.

This prepares him for the second awesome battle, this time in volume 44. It’s very satisfying to see Inuyasha and Koga working together for a change (I love the comment from the peanut gallery: “Pretend you’re adults!”) and, again, they come verrrrrry close to defeating Moryomaru. I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up because there are twelve more volumes to go, but I did, anyway.

In between these more climactic battles, the group still travels around and helps the downtrodden. Now, though, each of these episodic encounters seems to yield something that will contribute to the final battle, even if it is only a chance for our heroes to hone their new abilities. While nothing much has been developing on the personal front lately, each member of the team seems to be contributing a good deal and there have been some nice comedic moments, as well.

While these volumes don’t move the plot along monumentally, they do a good job of maintaining the tension and delivering a slightly more action-packed story than we’ve had for a while. There aren’t any resolutions, but the promise of resolution is reinforced, and that’ll have to be good enough for now.

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!

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!

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.

InuYasha 36-37 by Rumiko Takahashi: B

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.

InuYasha 35 by Rumiko Takahashi: B-

From the back cover:
A new crop of demons is plaguing the land. The more demons are killed, the more humanlike they become. This progression culminates in a battle between the gang and Moryomaru, Hakudoshi’s new and fearsome creation. Can Koga and Inuyasha stop their infighting long enough to battle a common enemy?

In volume 34, which I reread before starting this one, Inuyasha and pals pledged to help a living mountain regain his “nulling stone,” stolen by Naraku, which hid his demonic power and let him pretend to be a normal mountain so he could live peacefully and undisturbed. I mention this because the story shifts so abruptly into fighting this new batch of demons created from other demons—or “hodge podge demons” as I dubbed them—that I completely forgot about their quest. Eventually, Naraku’s minion, Hakudoshi, swipes some nulling stone-detecting crystals from Miroku, at which point I went, “Ohhhh! Riiiiight.”

That kind of gives you an indication of how blah these plots were. Hodge podge demons rampage, Inuyasha and the gang kill them. Hakudoshi appears with a more advanced demon. Teamwork prevails and the bad guys flee, etc. After that, there are a few chapters about a girl who Miroku had apparently pledged to marry two years ago who is now due to wed a catfishy lake spirit. The saving of her is not interesting, but I enjoyed Sango’s reaction. I wish she would’ve stayed pissed a bit longer, though, since Miroku’s sleazy ways do not amuse me.

I also liked seeing more signs of dissension within Naraku’s ranks, as Kagura visits Sesshomaru with one of the stone-detecting crystals, which will enable him to find the location of Naraku’s heart—it being kept separate from his body is supposedly what’s allowing him to regenerate so often—and destroy it. It occurs to me that I’d really love to see a chapter or two that tells the story from the bad guys’ perspective—A Day in the Life of Kagura or something like that.

Maison Ikkoku 9 by Rumiko Takahashi: B+

From the back cover:
Godai finally gets serious about finding a job. Unfortunately, Kyoko is the only one who takes him seriously—a little too seriously—when he talks about his “future.” For the immediate future, he gets a position waiting tables at a resort, and an eyeful when Kyoko loses her top in the pool. Once he finally lands a gig student-teaching at Kyoko’s old high school, a googly-eyed student named Yagami moves into his life, and, sneakily, into Maison Ikkoku. Will she manage to get between Godai and Kyoko?

Even though I find Yagami pretty annoying, I must admit that this volume was consistently entertaining. With the previous volume, I’d gotten tired of stories about the neighbors pulling pranks, so it was nice to read a continuous storyline that had little to do with that sort of thing.

My favorite part, though, was the Christmas chapter. Godai and Kyoko were drafted by the puppet theatre club, who they’d helped a few years previously, to provide some voices for a show being given at a pre-school. Godai ended up cast as a penniless pauper and Kyoko’s character berated him for his worthless state. This lead to a nice conversation between the two of them where he lamented the state of his life. I don’t remember this from the anime, so to me it kind of felt like the first glimmer of the plot going in a more serious direction and getting the two of them together.

The volume ended with one of the most frustrating bits I remember from the anime—when Godai missed his job interview with Yagami’s dad because he encountered a woman in labor on the way and got roped into escorting her to the hospital. I suppose it’s a testament to the quality of the series when the characters’ faults make me want to shout at them, but it’s still irritating.

I’m almost up to the point where I abandoned the anime and am really looking forward to finally seeing the conclusion of this classic series!