Body Horror & Bloody Violence: Should You Be Reading ‘Inuyashiki’?
When you look at the sheer range and number of original stories being told in comics form today, it’s hard to imagine a better time to be a comics reader. Online and in print, from all around the world, artists and writers are telling stories with their own voices and styles, and there’s so much to choose from that it’s sometimes difficult to know what to read next. With Should I Be Reading… ?, ComicsAlliance hopes to offer you a guide to some of the best original ongoing comics being published today.
Gantz creator Hiroya Oku's excellent, self-interrogating, painfully observed comic Inuyashiki is about a salaryman who discovers he has powers: flight, combat, the ability to heal, technological control at the speed of thought. What does he do with it? A teenager with a troubled home life also has these enhancements. What does he choose to do? Inuyashiki: it's nothing to do with InuYasha.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
The eternal superhero/supervillain balance. When two people are stuck by life-altering, body-enhancing circumstances, one chooses to protect lives, and one chooses to end them. With sci-fi vigilantism tropes recognizable to readers used to both Japanese and English-language traditions — from Atom (Astro Boy) and Kamen Rider though every Superman expy you ever heard of and Spider-Man’s responsibility/guilt kick — this is an up-and-coming counter to all of those pundits (looking at you, David Brothers) who’ve been telling everyone for years that One-Punch Man is the best superhero story currently running.
For fifty pages, Inuyashiki is a cruel, pointed slice of life; a big slice of stale cake that dares you to look away. A man beset by ageism, cowardice, a disrespectful family, stomach cancer, and his love for a dog that nobody else appreciates, is killed by an alien mistake. The aliens do not appear, they don't disrupt the gentle, shabby dignity of Oku's stylized realism. We only see their dialogue: We can rebuild him, they think, we have the technology. And, also, if we smooth all this over, nobody will know we accidentally murdered two sapient lifeforms here, whoops.
But they don’t have the blueprints for a human, and they do have the blueprints for a humanoid death machine. So that is what old Inuyashiki becomes: a cyber-body beyond the peak of those seen in Ghost in the Shell, with none of the preparation or infrastructure available to support the mind, or life, of the man suddenly inside of it.
“I’m not myself any more”, he thinks. If he’s not him, what connection does he have to his family, his community, the human race?
What connection did he have anyway?
Quite by chance, he saves a life, and discovers that “heart” means more than just the meat muscle that's no longer within him. So begins the heroism of the least likely comic book star: Inuyashiki.
WHO'S IT BY?
Best known for his work on his series Gantz, Hiroya Oku's specialty is putting humanity (the concept, and humanity, the species) under a bio-mechanical, alien-adjacent microscope. Identity, worth, personal continuity, and injury are pet themes; Oku has dedicated his career to wading against the tide of tropes, expectation, and fictional complacency.
Gantz anime adaptations are famous in western anime fandom for their high-volume blood and boob content; Inuyashiki's pitting of cold-blooded villain Shishigami, a Gantz hater who prefers One Piece, against his soft-hearted ex-best friend Andou, a Gantz superfan, makes one wonder what Oku thought of Gantz' general reception.
WHAT MAKES IT SPECIAL?
Faced with an old, socially impotent man with superpowers vs a young, socially disadvantaged man with superpowers, you wouldn't expect the old loser to become the hero and the young upstart to become the super villain. You wouldn't expect the lifelong friend of a young super villain to align himself with a decrepit-looking old man to combat the bestie offering him money, security, and everyday support. You wouldn't expect to see a disaffected, Gantz-loving youth cry at an old man curing a stranger's child of cancer. You wouldn't expect so much damn cancer, in any book beyond A Book About Cancer --- Inuyashiki is full of it. Never as a focus, always incidental. Cancer as fact of life. Which, of course, it is. Many of us die of it, many of us survive.
Inuyashiki has that clear-eyed bravery, the gall and integrity to observe the good and the bad, and set them upon moral and ethical scales, and not allow the dark, painful facts of this world to outweigh kindness, value, or achievement.
A pack of teenagers set upon a homeless man. A car carelessly runs over a cat. Children tell their father they don't expect him to be effectual. Organized crime and roaming gangs of hipster toughs terrorize and intimidate the general public, and there is rape in this book.
A large yakuza man has a habit of kidnapping, intoxicating, and raping small, pretty women, and before we see him advance on the victim whose personal life we have followed for a little while --- and who will save herself from him and later be protected by Inuyashiki --- we see (or, the scene is arranged in such a way that we do not see, but are aware of the events of the scene) him force his penis into the mouth of yakuza member, a man, young, tattooed, masculine, powerful. I would call it an exceptionally nuanced, non-gratuitous construction of a rapist villain.
The scene in which Inuyashiki attempts to save this woman's boyfriend from strangulation is a superb series of three double-page splashes, following Inuyashiki's progress across the room to his distracted adversary. Using entire spreads as panels conveys the stillness in these illustrations of movement, the urgency, the time limit of trying to save a life!
WHO SHOULD READ IT?
Tokusatsu fans (that Shouwa Kamen Rider "I'll use this cursed body for Good!" kick), superhero fans, slice-of-life fans. Death Note fans (what if L was Kira?), body horror fans, vigilantism fans, Gantz and One Piece fans (our relatable teenaged villain has a Nami crush). Fans of humanity, craft, confidence, and comics.
WHERE CAN I READ IT?