Kodansha USA have been nice enough to send a review copy of Inuyashiki, the new manga series by Hirokya Oku, the creator of another popular Science Fiction action manga series Gantz, which just ended its 37-volumne English run from Dark Horse.
Oku creates mainly Seinan series, comics aimed at an older teen, college age and 20-something male readership. His art style is realistic rather than the cartoony, big-eyed look of most Shonen or Shojo manga. His mission is obviously to be as realistic as possible in conveying the wonder and horror of Science Fiction blockbuster spectacle and horrific violence in his stories. Gantz was a hit in Japan. That should be obvious considering it ran from 2000 to 2013 and lasted 37 volumes, with an anime series and two-part live action feature film.
Gantz was about a random group of people in Japan who find themselves resurrected from death and given power suits so they can fight an escalating series of surreal and deadly alien invaders. The teenage hero finds himself in the ultimate existential conundrum of trying to living a normal life while having a second identity of fighting what look like boss monsters from the endgame levels of the craziest Japanese video games, all the while wondering why he’s doing this, why he should be doing this. The series was virtually a textbook example of storytelling 101, economical, precise and escalating stakes. Oku was constantly finding ways to make things crazier and more epic as the series went along. And all the way through, Oku insisted on keeping the story grounded in the present day and making the characters’ emotional reactions as naturalistic as possible so it felt “real”. It was essentially pulp, but pulp of the highest order.
Now, after a break to recharge his batteries, Oku has returned with a series in the same vein, only this time focussing on a single protagonist. Ichiro Inuyashiki is an elderly salaryman whose wife barely tolerates him and teenage kids are embarrassed by him. His daughter is a mean girl and his son is being bulled at school. Inuyashiki gets a stomach cancer diagnosis from his doctor and can’t even get a word in edgeways at dinner to tell his family because they’re utterly uninterested in him. Lonely and depressed, he wonders if his life ever had any meaning at all. So far, it feels like a modern update of Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru…
…until Inuyashiki gets blown to smithereens by an alien light while on his evening walk on a heath. The panicked aliens hastily rebuild his body from scratch using the only parts they have in their inventory – weapons grade material – before rushing off again. Inuyashiki wakes up none the wiser, but finds his cancer is gone, and he has a new assortment of alien weaponry and wifi capability in his now completely-cyborg body. Horrified that he’s no longer human, he’s plunged into an even bigger existential crisis than before. Soon, he decides the only meaning in life is to help people with his newfound powers. He needs to remind himself he’s still human after all.
On the flip side is Hiro Shishigami, a teenager who was blown up with Inuyashiki on the heath, also rebuilt. Shishigami is a sociopath from a broken home who starts testing his powers by murdering people he doesn’t like and the occasional random family, including babies, just for the hell of it.
Cyborg Dad and Cyborg Teen Spree Killer are clearly heading for a collision course.
What I’m most amused by is how resolutely middle-aged the story is. Teenagers are selfish and disrespectful. Crime is on the rise. Oku happily jumps on every social hot button imaginable: teenagers who torture homeless people, predatory Yakuza who rape women, internet trolls who dox people, the sense of the slow decline of society, in this case Japanese society. It’s almost Death Wish in its seeming reactionary take on the world, only with a Japanese grandpa. Oku aims for catharsis as Inuyashiki and even Shishigami go after horrible people.
Yet, underneath all the violence, horror and realism, there is a sense of dry, deadpan dark comedy bubbling away underneath, as if Oku was quietly and bitterly chuckling as he dares us to keep watching him up the ante with each new chapter, constantly coming up with “Bloody hell! What did I just see?!” images as he did with Gantz. It’s the driest, darkest comedy you could imagine, yet sincere at the same time. You can’t devote that much time and energy in producing art that’s this realistic, detailed and painstaking without real dedication and commitment.
Even before Kodansha sent a review copy of volume one, I’d already gotten up to date with the serialisation of Inuyashiki by reading the legitimate translations through my Crunchyroll subscription – it’s up to volume 5 by now, so the English print edition isn’t that far behind – and without spoiling too much, I can say the series does get darker, more violent and even more gleefully crazy as it goes along. You can spot its influences, but it’s unique in the whole manga sphere right now. It’s not unlike the types of straight Science Fiction comics published by Image Comics right, but it has that extra something that they don’t always have, a certain point of view, a certain dry humour, a certain knowingness, an engagement with current social issues.
Behave, or Cyborg Sad Dad will come for you. He won’t be happy he has to punish you, but you’ll know you deserve it.
Touch my cyborg body at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow the official LOOK! IT MOVES! twitter feed at http://twitter.com/lookitmoves for thoughts and snark on media and pop culture, stuff for future columns and stuff I may never spend a whole column writing about.
Look! It Moves! © Adisakdi Tantimedh