Keita is an inukami trainer, and Yoko is his inukami. From this deceptively simple setup, a treacherous river of entertainment flows fourth. Grab your kayak and steel yourself for coarse comedic rapids and short drops of lighthearted romance.
Writer/Artist: Mari Matsuzawa and Mamizu Arisawa
Translation: Rhys Moses
Adaptation: Lorelei Laird
What They Say
Inukami: a sacred being with a dog-like appearance that forges a contract with a powerful human tamer to help them eliminate evil monsters and demons.
Though Kawahira Keita is the descendent of a long line of Inukami-tamers, he seems to lack the necessary ability and has been forsaken by his family. One day, he meets a cute Inukami named Yoko, who, at first glance, looks graceful, obedient, and beautiful.. but upon forging a contract with her, Keita discovers that Yoko is a wild and mischievous Inukami that no one has ever been able to control.
The front cover has a great picture of Yoko inside a thin wreath of flames, casting the Dai-Jaen spell she enjoys so much, set against a white background. The logo is at the top, and the creator information and volume number are in the left and right corners, respectively. The back contains a fairly long summary of the story and what inukami are, beneath a miniaturized Yoko pouncing on a miniaturized Keita. The spine has the expected information, but what’s particularly nice about it is the small image of Yoko at the top is a colored portion of the illustration on the title page, and not found elsewhere on the cover.
Some people want me to apologize for thinking that the cover of Inukami! is great, but I won’t do it and damn the consequences. Yoko has a very attractive and vibrant character design, which only serves to compliment the real star on display: the coloring. I wish I saw more use of pastels in manga today instead of the endless parade of bold reds, blues and blacks, particularly manga targeted at male readers. The soft green of her hair, the light purple of her dress, the peach of the fire, even the use of white to show the light source is quite impressive. Unfortunately, there are no color pages, the back cover falls a little flat despite the amusing scene between Yoko and Keita, and while the white space on the front does serve to accentuate the colors, it also makes it seem empty. That’s just a very tiny fly in a big mug of hot chocolate, though. Only still delicious and not disgusting and inedible like my analogy.
Ms. Matsuzawa’s art is very, very good. In fact I had to double check and make sure the artist was really a woman. That may sound sexist, but in all the manga I’ve read (and I’ve read a whole lot), I can count the number of really good female artists who venture outside the shoujo realm on one hand. The character designs are great; you can see why women might fall for Keita even though he’s a disheveled slob, while Yoko straddles the line between cute and sexy in what is a very precarious balancing act. The details on the characters are admirable, particularly the clothes, and I have to wonder how much the author was cursing Keita’s collar by the end of the volume.
In fact, the only part of the visuals that isn’t rainbow kittens and candied sunshine would be the backgrounds. There’s a lot of white space present, but considering both the number of small panels and the quality of the backgrounds that do pop up, I guess I can let that go. I guess.
Text/Translation: The translation has no glaring problems, and the sound effects are translated with the original Japanese intact, which I prefer. The only issue I have is the way some words are bolded, like in a comic book. Sometimes the word is supposed to be emphasized, which is fine, but there are many cases where words that don’t seem as though they should be stressed are bolded, which is distracting. Inukami! isn’t the first manga to do this, and it’s nowhere near the most obnoxious, but I’d still like to see it toned down if not dropped altogether. I don’t believe most readers need help with the cadence of written dialog.
Contents (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Keita Kawahira, like many manga protagonists, was born into a long line of Important People. These particular Important People are inukami trainers, who posses magical powers and make pacts with benevolent dog spirits to combat evil and mop up nasty buggers. Keita has already taken the journey to find an inukami partner. He returned empty handed. Some time later, his grandmother summons him and gives him some good news: there’s an inukami who has agreed to be his partner. And at first glance, Yoko seems to be perfect. At least until Keita gives her a key to escape the mountain’s barrier, anyway. She then becomes truly wicked.
Eventually Keita and Yoko come to an uneasy understanding, after the liberal application of Yoko’s primary weakness (adorable puppy dogs). The rest of the volume takes place after most of the animosity between the two has died down and they’ve settled into a mutually antagonistic relationship. In the midst of this tottering peace they’re contracted to root out and banish evil spirits, although only one (large) segment of this volume involves any real investigation. The rest serves to more clearly establish Keita and Yoko’s relationship, and introduce Kaoru Kawahira, Keita’s cousin, and his ten inukami, with a special focus on Nadeshiko. Yoko doesn’t care for Nadeshiko, and the final chapter serves as a comedic denouement of jealous inadequacy.
Low-brow slapstick, lighthearted romance, and fanservice. These are the three pillars upon which Inukami! unabashedly sits. And it pulls it off, which is somewhat amazing as far as I’m concerned. The humor is coarse without being paint-strippingly toxic, the romance simple but blatant enough to be used as the lever driving most of the comedy, and the fanservice is just this side of tasteful. There are no drastically surprising elements here, but the mixture is just right.
Keita is a slacking, skirt-chasing ruffian, but the horrors Yoko inflicts on him make it hard not to sympathize with the guy. It’s difficult to find a girlfriend, or even remain sane, when a supernaturally powerful harpy is hovering over your shoulder at all times, ready to inflict massive third-degree burns for any real or imagined slight. He’s still sort of a sleazeball though, so you never feel like he’s totally undeserving. Meanwhile Yoko manages to remain emotionally vulnerable while still carting around enough firepower to blow a good-sized army clean off the map. In fact, her abilities seem to be a far cry from normal, if Keita’s grandmother’s inukami, Hake, is to serve as a yardstick in terms of power. He takes Yoko’s threat to torch the entire city as part of her tantrum very seriously. I’m looking forward to the no doubt upcoming story arc about it.
The side characters are pretty sparse, with Keita’s grandmother, her inukami Hake, a traveling cat named Tomekichi searching for Buddhist statues, and Nadeshiko, one of his cousin’s inukami, being about it. This means a lot of time is spent focusing on Keita and Yoko, and that’s really when the manga shines. They have such an amusing love-hate relationship going on, and it doesn’t seen forced by circumstances or contrivances; it’s believable that, as characters, these two personalities would simultaneously be attracted to and repelled by one another.
How much can really be done with this scenario that hasn’t been seen before? I don’t know. Maybe nothing. Maybe the whole ‘slacker guy gets a magical girl servant and they fight evil’ setup has nothing left to give. It has been tinkered with six ways from Sunday, after all. But if that’s the case, why did I enjoy Inukami! so much? How did I keep from rolling my eyes even once throughout the entire volume?
Because Inukami! is fun, has a nice sense of humor, doesn’t take itself seriously, and does what manga is supposed to do: entertain. Those who stand by serious manga as the be all, end all, stay far away; no sense of self-importance is allowed within a dozen yards of this series. No matter how much the attractive artwork and solid production draw you in, stay away. It’s like kryptonite, man.