Manga-ka: Yukiya Sakuragi
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: July 2010
Synopsis: “Woofles regular Chizuru advises her friend Serina, who is contemplating motherhood, to try looking after a dog first. Can Chizuru’s dog Melon and a new puppy convince Serina that their affection and cuteness are worth the aggravation?”
Pet manga is a popular genre of manga in Japan that has become a noticeable presence in the domestic fandom with the bestselling Chi‘s Sweet Home, and this long-running series from VIZ. It follows in the path of series like Ginga Legend Weed, Hamtaro, Bow Wow Wata and What‘s Michael. The longest running of these titles, Inubaka is an adorable entry in the brand, originating out of a seinen magazine as Chi’s Sweet Home did, reassuring us manga readers that we are never too old to gush over doggies. And if there’s one thing Inubaka delivers on, it’s a never ending assortment of dogs!
Over the course of the series, Sakuragi has managed to keep things fresh by revolving plots around the Tokyo-based pet shop “Woofles”. The naïve yet practical pet shop employee Suguri is our window into this world, a relatable recent graduate who over the course of the series has become extremely knowledgeable about dogs, through both natural gifts and a range of experience. In previous volumes, Suguri has learnt about the importance of vaccinations, how dogs give birth and the importance of responsible breeding and pet-selling.
One will also often be amused by how unfazed Suguri is by the bodily functions of dogs, hearkening back to Arale of Dr.Slump’s hilarious fecal fixation and giving the series just a touch of toilet humour. Dr.Slump and Inubaka are perhaps the only series in English translation you‘d see a character make an impassioned, dramatic statement regarding the importance of poop. However, while decidedly light hearted for the most part, the series focuses as much on educating your of the perils and responsibilities of dog ownership as it does enchanting you with an assortment of realistically fluffy friends.
This particular volume covers issues relating to neutering of animals and subsequently the serious responsibilities a new puppy offers. Suguri’s friend Chizuru has to make a decision about neutering her Chihuahua, Melon. Offering yet more opportunities for toilet humour, the subsequent chapter still manages to be very educational in terms of the effects neutering or spaying has on dogs, and the reasons behind it. Chizuru’s choice isn’t simply population control, but based in Melon’s future health due to a heart condition. This story arc is followed up by Chizuru convincing her friend who is considering having a baby to adopt a puppy to improve her ability to be responsible.
Serina is a very flighty, childish character, like a refugee from a trendy shojo manga or moe anime, a somewhat jarring fact considering her age and marriage. She wants to prove herself an adult and have a family while making poor choices and partying with her friends. The challenges her Maltese puppy presents is a fairly harsh jab at how some women treat small dogs as fashion accessories, and makes it fairly clear that adopting a puppy is a serious life decision. If Serina can’t handle a dog, how will she handle children? While things generally work out for Suguri’s clients and their doggies, it was refreshing to see Sakuragi return to this theme, helping her readers to comprehend the choices dog owners have to make.
The window-dressing of the series is all cute, trendy pure-bred dogs, yet at it’s core, it’s an instructional manga that looks at the realities of pet care, highlighted in Suguri’s own dog being a spirited mutt. Lupin’s mixture of challenges and rewarding friendship is a core theme reflecting the nature of the series. Sakuragi’s choice to draw the dogs in a realistic fashion simultaneously grounds the series in a real-world context while treating us to cuteness. These dogs face real-life dangers pet owners face, from diseases to traffic accidents, and Sakuragi doesn’t shy away from these aspects.
A somewhat less pleasant subplot involving an unwanted paramour/stalker from Suguri’s hometown emerged in this volume, though it seems to have moved itself to the background, popping up occasionally as a recurring plot-line while Suguri pays attention to the primary stories and needs of the dogs involved. One hopes Sakuragi will resolve this in a pleasant yet responsible fashion, as Fujita is for the most part non-threatening in this volume. While Inubaka indulges in cute, sexy female characters one would expect from a seinen manga, it primarily manages to create an inviting atmosphere that would make it appeal to a broad range of readers.
Despite that somewhat unusual subplot, Inubaka continues to be an enchanting read that many will find both endearing and educational. It’s approach differs from the more pure comedy or action settings we’ve seen in other translated pet manga, and one can discover many fascinating facts about the assorted breeds of dogs over the course of this lengthy series. Sakuragi’s rounded cast of regulars aids in this venture, as Teppei, Momoko and Suguri offer their professional knowledge of dogs and their regular clients like Chizuru and Hiroshi offer a dog owners perspective, a wide array of experiences from beginners to gurus.
VIZ’s presentation of the series is very consistent, opting to translate all the sound effects, an excellent choice given the fairly wide appeal of the subject matter. Each volume includes a roundup of Japanese readers pet photos, in case your saccharine levels weren’t high enough, and Sakuragi’s authors notes are generally pleasant and informative. Sakuragi’s wide array of assistants might seem surprising, but makes sense when one considers the level of research involved in terms of dog breeding knowledge among other things, and the detailed nature of the photo realistic dog artwork.
Inubaka is an ideal choice for those who’ve fallen in love with Chi’s Sweet Home and are interested in seeing manga take on our doggie companions, providing a story with a broad appeal that aims itself just slightly at an older audience than most. For those looking to branch out from their shonen epics and shojo dramas, while still looking for something still cute and fun, Inubaka offers an involving series on a universal subject.