Inubaka Vol. 5 (Viz Media)

inubaka-header.jpgThis tale of a gal who’s crazy for canines brings a refreshing new take to the sometimes stale romance genre.

 

216 pgs. B&W; $9.99

(W / A: Yukiya Sakuragi)

Inubaka shouldn’t be as interesting as it is. Basically, it’s a shojo (girls’) comic about Suguri Miyauchi, an 18-year-old girl who has a deep—and occasionally deeply disturbing—connection with canines. We’re not talking bestiality here—apart from the obligatory panty shots and bikini spreads, Inubaka is strictly G-rated—but let’s just say that Suguri’s been known to eat dog food, catch dog poop in her bare hands, and wear a collar 24-7. She works at Woofles, a Tokyo puppy shop run by the hunky Teppei, who keeps his love for dogs at a more realistic level. Over the course of the series’ first four volumes, Suguri and Teppei have matched several owners up with the dogs of their dreams, and these characters (including a pop idol and her Papillon, an otaku and his French Bulldog, and a hostess and her Chihuahua) have become an unlikely cast of regulars. Meanwhile, there’s an undercurrent of sexual tension between Teppei and Suguri, complicated by the boss/employee relationship.

 

The cover to Inubaka Vol. 5. Click thumbnail for a larger image.There are two things that make Inubaka stand out from your usual shojo fare. First, while the plots involving dogs can often seem contrived and melodramatic, they’re ridiculous enough to have you laughing out loud. (A Golden Retriever senses a Chihuahua’s heart murmur? An evil trade ring involving apricot Poodles?) Naturally, it helps that writer/artist Yukiya Sakuragi has a real talent for drawing realistic, downright adorable dogs. You’ll be amazed at her ability to flawlessly render every breed under the sun. Second, the "will they or won’t they" plot between Suguri and Teppei is nicely understated, and very rarely the sole focus of the action. This isn’t a manga about love with dogs as a cutesy theme; it’s a manga about dogs with romance as a secondary concern. In the mushy world of shojo, this is downright refreshing.

 

In Vol. 5, Sakuragi explores darker territory than anything she’s attacked thus far. Suguri and her mutt, Lupin, must save a girl who’s into self-mutilation from almost certain psychotherapy. Then, after a fateful encounter with a depressed German Shepherd, Suguri takes up the sport of canine agility in an attempt to heal the Shepherd’s damaged doggy soul. Meanwhile, a dog food commercial star is determined to win the competition, and cement his position as the king of canine agility. It’s ludicrous. It makes no sense. The people in Inubaka behave as though dogs are the center of their completely unbelievable universe. And it’s hilarious. | J. Bowers

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