Author: Lloyd Alexander
My rating: 4 of 5
Village scamp and layabout, young Lukas, finds his life rather upended when a traveling entertainer invites him to participate in the show . . . and somehow sends Lukas straight into another land. In the kingdom of Abadan, shortly after nearly being killed, Lukas is declared king. What better occupation for someone whose deepest dedication is the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of any sort of labor! But when the plight of the people of Abadan and its neighboring kingdom attract his attention, Lukas (known there as King Kasha) finds that being a king isn’t all fun and games–in fact, it can be deadly serious.
I couldn’t say exactly why, but ever since I first read it, The First Two Lives of Lukas-Kasha has been one of my favorite Lloyd Alexander books. It’s certainly true to his style: bumbling boys who haven’t a clue getting thrown into adventures in which they grow hugely; brave, bright young women who are more than they seem; foolish poets who are wiser than they appear; grand adventure at every turn; humor and irony abundantly available; and lessons to be learned in the most enjoyable way of all–through story. I really enjoy the characters in this book. I think it’s especially nice that Lukas is quite clever–however clueless he may seem–and that he grows so much through his adventures. He’s the sort of character that you really don’t particularly like at the beginning, but he grows on you rather. I think the setting suits the story well also–flavored by the legends of ancient Persia, yet unique to this tale. Plus there’s the mystery of what exactly happened that’s never really explained. And maybe it’s just me, but I really love the dry, sarcastic humor with which Alexander seems to view the world; it contains a lot of wisdom, if you pay attention. I would definitely recommend The First Two Lives of Lukas-Kasha to anyone who likes a good adventure–plus it’s appropriate for late elementary (or at least middle school) and older.
Mangaka: Rumiko Takahashi
Kagome was just your average middle-school Japanese girl until she got dragged (literally) into Sengoku-era Japan. There she finds she’s the supposed reincarnation of the priestess Kikyo. Her coming sets off a number of misadventures, including the release of the half-demon InuYasha (who used to be Kikyo’s lover, and now becomes Kagome’s biggest problem) and the shattering and dispersal of the powerful and dangerous Shikon jewel throughout the country. Now she must pair up with InuYasha to retrieve the shards of the jewel before they are snatched up by the evil half-demon Naraku–the very same one who came between InuYasha and Kikyo, murdering Kikyo, fifty years before. Joining them on their quest are Miroku (the monk of the wandering hand), Sango (the bereaved and angry demon exterminator), and Shippo (the adorable kid kitsune), all of whom have their own grudges against Naraku. Now if Kagome can only manage to fit in graduating from middle school between all the fighting demons, tracking Shikon shards, and digging up past grudges!
InuYasha is a manga that is near to my heart for many reasons: it was one of my very first manga ever, it’s led me to finding many other great manga, and it’s a great manga to talk about with other people, among other reasons. Even disregarding the history I have with this story, I think it’s a wonderful manga. Rumiko Takahashi is one of my favorite mangaka, and InuYasha is executed with her typical aplomb and signature art style (which I love). It’s an interesting blend of adventure (somewhat dark and bloody at times, actually), comedy (as per Takahashi-sensei’s norm), and romance (also classic Takahashi). While definitely being more serious (and battle shounen) than, say Urusei Yatsura or Ranma 1/2, it still maintains a lighter side that keeps it from getting bogged down and depressing. I think the relationship between Kagome and InuYasha is one of the most intriguing I’ve ever read–and the most amusing when she gets angry at him and makes him “sit!” And of course, Kagome herself is fascinating in general; I mean, what girl gets dragged to another era, sees a guy stuck to a tree with an arrow through his chest, and immediately thinks “Ooh, he’s got dog ears. I want to touch.”?! The inclusion of numerous wild-card characters (Sesshomaru, Kikyo (reanimated), Koga, Kohaku, and even some of Naraku’s subordinates at times) keeps things interesting as well. My only complaints are: 1) the story kind of dragged on a bit towards the end, like Takahashi was having a hard time figuring out how to end it (but the actual ending is really good), and 2) there’s unnecessary fanservice in the early volumes (understandable, just coming from writing Ranma 1/2, but still unnecessary). But I could keep talking about the things I love about InuYasha for pages and pages, so let’s just say that this is definitely a recommended manga.