Hiroya Oku is most well-known for his bestseller Gantz -- a giant science fiction adventure of strange battles with alien beings, invasions and the human psyche. However, this is not his only manga that questions the decisions and motivations of humans when gifted with unimaginable power. In 2014, Inuyashiki was produced in Kodansha’s Evening magazine, returning the quirky and stylistic art Hiroya was known for to his fans. Inuyashiki appropriated some science fiction aspects of Gantz and re-purposed them into a more definitive clash of the hero versus villain narrative that could be found in Western superhero comics.

Inuyashiki follows the protagonist Ichiro Inuyashiki, an unwell and disrespected salary man who appears considerably older than his actual 58. He is killed when an alien ship briefly visits Earth, and to avoid having interfered with life on Earth, the aliens quickly rebuild Ichiro as a cyborg version of himself. However, as they have only weaponry available, they are forced to reform Ichiro into a sort of battle-borg. The story then explores Ichiro's struggle of holding onto his humanity as a re-created being, intending to use his power to do good. Hiro Shishigami, a student, was also rebuilt after the incident, though his path takes a much darker trail.


The narrative of a hero versus a villain

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The initial set-up of the manga places two opposing characters in the same situation, giving them alien powers at the same time and location. In reality, they are both killed and reborn with inserted memories, no longer truly being the people they once were. The importance of this comes in the form of their humanity and what the concept of this means to them. As their bodies are no longer human, it is their memories and their consciousness that remain "human." On the surface, it appears rather straightforward in the conflict between their ideologies -- one uses his power for good while the other uses his power for evil -- yet this is just a basic understanding of the narrative.

Both characters become very aware that their human form has been stripped and replaced by some sort of robotic replica. The question directed toward them is this: are they still human? Hiro’s understanding of this is the ability to feel. With the cybernetics at his disposal, he uses the power to murder and destroy, receiving some feelings from the carnage he causes and regaining a certain sense of humanity, however twisted. It could be connected to his upbringing that led him down the path of destruction when given the opportunity, having suffered at the hands of bullying and poor living conditions, but this cannot be fully argued due to the life of the opposing character, Ichiro.


Why Ichiro Inuyashiki's Journey Is Important

The Exploration and Stark Contrast of Hero Versus Villain in Inuyashiki_1

While Hiro may have suffered, it is comparable to the similar suffering of Ichiro. The story’s protagonist was diagnosed with stomach cancer without much time left to live shortly before his body was destroyed, he is greatly disrespected by his family and society in general, and his view of the world is bleak. As Ichiro receives his powers, he is essentially at the lowest point of his life with an understandable vendetta against how society has treated him. Nonetheless, once he learns from the strength his new body has, he follows a path of good, doing what he can to save and protect people, becoming distraught whenever he fails to save even one person.

What this contrast shows is two sides of the same coin. Both characters have negative impressions of the world and the society they are part of, but they take completely different approaches in utilizing their newfound power. This separation likely comes from fundamentally different views via wisdom. Ichiro’s advanced age has allowed him to experience good as well as evil, separate individuals from the cluster of society and discern right from wrong. Conversely, Hiro’s immaturity has him see society as a collective and individuals as part of a system that has worked against him and his mother for his entire life. Because of this, their conflict is inevitable.

Inuyashiki is a well-crafted take on the superhero origin story in seinen manga form, delving into the morality and psychology of the human mind, alongside an intense external conflict between two similar beings. It explores the fine line the hero and villain tread and how easily a person can fall into either category depending on their level of wisdom, upbringing and capability when given the opportunity to play the role of a demigod. For fans of seinen anime and manga, those who enjoy in-depth messages in their media, lots of violence or even superhero stories, it is a must-read or watch.

Inuyashiki was adapted into an anime in 2017 and can be streamed via Amazon Prime.