Manga Review: Inuyashiki (Oku Hiroya)

Inuyashiki solidifies my belief that Oku Hiroya is the Roland Emmerich of the manga world. The series is bombastic and action-packed, with many compelling ideas, but like an Emmerich movie, the exciting premise is bogged down by surface-level details, with a plot and characters that could be much more persuasive and captivating than they ever are.

The manga opens with central character Inuyashiki Ichirou — a man in his fifties who looks more like a man in his seventies. He’s a salaryman with an unchanging routine, whose family doesn’t expect much of him. He’s downtrodden and out of luck, with his health suddenly deteriorating. In a moment of agony, Inuyashiki leaves his house late at night and laments in the middle of a park. Realising he isn’t alone, he looks up at a nearby high school student who is staring at the sky, when the two are suddenly enveloped in a devastating explosion of extraterrestrial origin.

Inuyashiki awakens on the grass that morning to find himself miraculously intact, but he soon learns that his body has been reconstructed — his interior is entirely mechanical. His back opens to reveal a jet pack, his arms become canons, and his head unfastens to display his robotic brain, itself the shape of a golf ball on a tee. At first he mourns his humanity, but discovers that his new body can rather be used as a tool to spread his compassion. Meanwhile, Shishigami Hiro, the boy who was with him that night, is similarly awakening to his own robotic body, but has other ideas for his newfound power.

It’s a compelling sci-fi concept that quickly gets rolling, but it struggles to maintain some of its more meaningful intrigue. Early on, there is some internal discord concerning humanity, when main character Inuyashiki seems unable to cry, and questions whether or not he could even be considered himself anymore. But much of this inner strife takes a back seat, with antagonist Shishigami given even less attention.

It often feels crude and incomplete, with inconsistencies and undeveloped ideas. There are inklings of deeper thematics, with some commentary on broad pervasive topics such as crime, bullying, and social conscience, but in the end, it all boils down to spectacle. In several ways, Inuyashiki is kindred with author Oku Hiroya’s previous series, Gantz, which similarly drew complaints regarding the quality of the writing.

The crude writing is much more forgivable in Gantz, where the cast is so much larger, and there are huge leaps in logic — it simply works as a kind of fever dream or experiment in lunacy. The chaos doesn’t quite land the same in Inuyashiki. With a more contained plot, the lack of foundation is much more glaring. I liked that the main character is an unassuming elderly man, but author Oku doesn’t seem to have done much with it, simply opting for someone who is sympathetic. That he’s advanced in his years doesn’t lend to the plot as much as it could.

Sensibilities from manga by someone like Jiro Taniguchi, who worked extensively with older male characters and is very notable in his characterisation, would have been a great reference here. There’s a sort of wisdom and depth with age that could have slotted into the younger-oriented action setting of this manga in memorable and earnest ways, using something like generational contrasts and juxtaposition opposite the juvenile antagonist to create a commentary and conflict that is meaningful and layered, but mostly it seems to have been a missed opportunity.

Comically, though, the author seems all too aware that his series aren’t known for their complexities. One of the characters in Inuyashiki is a die hard Gantz fan, with posters all over his bedroom. Another character derides him for it, saying the manga “makes no sense” and is just “full of murder,” concluding by making a point of how everybody criticises it online. The Gantz fan retorts, to some effect, that the opinion of the internet matters little.

I suppose, just as a Roland Emmerich film could have much more finesse and subtlety and intricacy, that’s simply besides the point. Maybe it’s folly to criticise the manga for not doing something the author clearly has no interest in doing. Oku Hiroya aims for spectacle foremost and in that he certainly delivers. Inuyashiki never reaches Gantz-levels of enormity and sensation, but the action is exciting and dramatic.

Utilising a similar photorealistic style as his previous long-running manga, author Oku incorporates real-life photography and reference images into his artwork, staging his characters within rotoscoped settings. The action is frenetic and sensational, but it is grounded within an authentic Tokyo and often viewed from a bystander perspective, which highlights well how ferocious and astonishing the acts of Inuyashiki and antagonist Shishigami are. As a reader, you get the sense that the two main characters truly are unrivalled — their indomitable bodies constantly prompting a terrific sense of awe.

Some backgrounds are a bit too rigidly adapted from real-life images and simply look like a photograph with an art filter applied (particularly in digital copies of the manga, where the halftone is abundantly clear in higher resolution), but these are few and far between, with most of the art blended well. The traced backgrounds are limiting in some scenarios, but are utilised well in others. The angles and perspectives, for example, aren’t particularly innovative, with a lot of standard close-ups and medium shots. If the author drew without such strict reference, I can imagine it being much easier to experiment.

However, the backgrounds lend themselves well to some impressive sequences where the action unfolds like frames in an animation. By using an identical background for several pages whilst painstakingly illustrating kinetic action unfolding in the foreground, author Oku mimics a sort of cinematic slow motion, creating an acute sense of dynamism through perceived movement.

If you enjoyed the artwork in Gantz, while decidedly more modest in scale here, Inuyashiki provides a similar level of gorgeous detail, crafted through a distinct and unorthodox technique which Oku Hiroya really seems to have honed. While many authors implement photographs as a basis and framework for their illustrations, none quite maintain the level of realism that Oku consistently does.

Inuyashiki, much like Gantz again, ends rather abruptly. But unlike its predecessor, which leaves behind an enduring legacy through virtue of its sheer lunacy, Inuyashiki doesn’t abide very long after the closing pages. It’s an enjoyable if undemanding read, that sadly doesn’t have the depth or character to prove memorable. Much like a routine blockbuster, it will deliver what is expected and nothing more, though the artwork is invariably impressive. Its length is to its benefit, as at only ten volumes long the manga is a fairly quick read, but with more time in your arsenal, note that it is outdone in every aspect by Oku’s still flagship series, Gantz.

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