Inu-Yasha, Vol. 18
by Rumiko Takahashi
(Viz, 2004)

The basic idea of Inu-Yasha is a fairly standard fantasy plot. Kagome, an ordinary school girl from modern Japan, falls down a well and into a feudal-era Japan where the heroes and demons of Japanese myths are all very real. One of those demons is the half-human Inu-Yasha, a dog demon temporarily "killed" by Kagome's karmic ancestor Kikyo in a battle for the powerful Shikon Jewel. When the Jewel is shattered and dispersed in an accident, Kagome and Inu-Yasha must unwillingly work together to keep it from falling into the wrong hands, endangering the past and future.

This being Volume 18, the duo's been at it for a while. They've accumulated a small group of friends and a wide range of enemies. Their adventures have given Rumiko Takahashi, a creator who's gotten famous off of comedic teen romances, the chance to show off her artistic chops with a variety of mythical beasts from adorable fox demon Shippo to grotesque crow zombies.

Those familiar with Takahashi's work only from Ranma 1/2 or Urusei Yatsura may be surprised at the genuine trauma she's willing to put her characters through, with every consequence weighing heavily on the later story. Still, the character-based comedy that Takahashi excels at finds its way into the grimmest situations, making the long-running series more endurable for both readers and characters than a pure horrorfest would allow.

While her later, more popular romantic comedies have a tendency to run on, sometimes for years, with no resolution or change in character behavior, Takahashi in her briefer format and in shorter tales like Mermaid's Forest often made her characters pay for their extreme adventures, allowing relationships and behavior to alter permanently and dramatically when called for. Kagome and her friends have all experienced some great trauma, and with the exception of the perpetually cool Miroku, all have grown grimmer along the way.

More impressive has been the developing romance between Inu-Yasha and Kagome. Attraction between initial antagonists is a fiction standby, popular in every form of comedy. Takahashi has excelled at the tensions and machinations of juvenile romance. Almost every one of her lead couples has spent time in the complicated dance of denial, insecurity and jealousy that will be ruefully familiar to anyone with a high school crush. Kagome and Inu-Yasha haven't been exempt. Their growing status as a couple was initially evident more through their jealousy towards any potential rival than by their kindness toward each other. But, almost uniquely in this sort of comedic romance, their relationship has matured. Slowly they've developed patience and begun to listen to each other, instead of just projecting motivation onto one another's behavior. They've stopped snapping at friends who point out their obvious attraction, and generally grown more enduring as a couple.

Volume 18 earns a review separate from the rest of the series because this is where all the careful build up and slow growth of the characters pays off. Not only do the sparring couple confess their feelings for each other in plain language, a landmark moment in any romance, they make the enormous jump from trying to make the other care for them to simply caring for the other. The moment is painful in each case, as they realize that loving another means they can no longer use their own goals as their sole deciding motivation. And their new and noble willingnesses to sacrifice for each other doesn't mean that they can get on to the happily ever after part of the tale; external circumstances still have their lives on hold, the Shikon jewel is still in jeopardy and their foes are getting stronger. But between themselves, they've made the jump from adolescent romance to mature love. The change is evident in every other aspect of their behavior, and the crucial scenes are handled with a deftness that's rare in more respected media and nearly nonexistent in mainstream comics.

If you're just beginning Inu-Yasha, Volume 18 is a poor starting point; you're missing out on a lot of plot and some fine monsters, and the careful dance of characterization that makes this volume so painfully strong. Still, if you're looking for a fantasy comic that won't insult your intelligence or your patience, this is proof that they do exist.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 20 November 2004