It almost feels like carrying cheesecake to New York, adding yet another 5-star review of Inuyasha to the 4 already on record. But there are at least some different points of view here that justify the repetition (I hope). There seems little doubt (and no doubt here) that Inuyasha (or, perhaps more properly, Inu Yasha) is one of the finest animated series on television. It is a huge series, consisting of 176 half-hour episodes and 4 feature-length movies. Of these, as of this writing, barely 100 of the episodes have been aired on the Cartoon Channel. We have a long way to go before we see the ending which in fact is not a true ending at all, in that the main issue (the demon Naraku) remains unresolved.
Its a serious mistake to list this series under kids and family. This is not a kiddie series and its not really family fare either. Most families in this country, having little taste and less imagination, will find this offering too arcane and perhaps a little confusing in that it has an actual plot. The setting (for the most part) is 16th-Century feudal Japan (a topic inadvisedly ignored in our schools). However, the Japan of reality is more a general background to a rather more sinister setting namely the demon-ridden world of Japanese folklore and superstition. Most young children will no doubt find the many sorts of demons portrayed to be rather frightening although demon in that context actually includes good, even cuddly, characters such as Kirara the (usually) cute cat-demon (pronounced in the English voice-over as Kilala).
The overall plot of Inuyasha is complex and requires a large cast of characters. I am going to try to give some idea of its general character, but the cast is much too numerous to be listed in full detail. Like Babylon 5, Inuyashas episodes dont always advance the plot, but are relatively self-contained. Many are gently humorous. In fact, one of the great charms of Inuyasha is that it doesnt relentlessly pursue its plotline, but has many excellent diversions and side trips. The characters are interesting and well developed. One web site (http://www.inuyashaworld.com) divides the cast into Good Guys, Bad Guys, Very Bad Guys, Extremely Bad Guys, and Bystanders. Should have included Comic Relief (such as Jaken).
Inuyashas plot combines 2 main stories: first, a love story (or love triangle, to be precise) of a very unusual character; second, a quest. These elements, despite the exotic locale, puts the series squarely in the mainstream of fantasy stories. (It seems to me that, with suitable paring of less relevant, it would make quite an interesting if lengthy novel in print.
Some 50 years previous to the time in which most of the series takes place, Inuyasha, the half-breed son of a mighty dog-demon, falls in love with the priestess Kikyo (pronounced Kikiyo in the voiceover. She is the guardian of the sacred Shikion Jewel, a spherical gem of complex origins, huge power, and moral ambiguity. The Jewel, although an object, is actually a character in the story, as is Inuyashas sword the Tetsusaiga (pronounced Tetsaiga in the voiceover). Inuyasha covets the Jewel, whose power he believes will make him fully human.
Enter Naraku, a very powerful half-demon who has a history with Kikyo. Naraku was originally a human bandit who had the hots for Kikyo and, frustrated, allowed himself to be possessed by a large number of demons (the fictive Legion of the Bible, we may suppose), in consequence becoming mostly a demon (with a human heart). Naraku deviously deceives Kikyo into believing he is Inuyasha and she gives him the Jewel. In the ensuing confusion, Kikyo pins Inuyasha to a tree with one of her arrows (where he remains for 50 years). She then dies (fall off a cliff, as I recall). The Jewel is shattered into many, many fragment each of which confers various powers to he or she who finds it).
After 50 years pass Kagome comes on the scene. She is a schoolgirl, probably about 15, from the 20th Century. She lives near a well that has a magical connection with the feudal period and which only she (and Inuyasha) can use. Kagome is a reincarnation of Kikyo and therefore naturally possesses the powers of a priestess. In most stories of this sort, the special child keeps her/his status completely secret. In a clever twist, Kagomes family (mother, grandfather, younger brother) is completely aware of whats going on. And, whats more, they actually approve. Hey, its a fantasy, remember?
Kagome finds and releases Inuyasha. (Reality check: Inuyasha, as a half-demon, becomes and ordinary [mortal] human once a month, during the night of the New Moon. Why he doesnt die of his wound at that time is one of those things its better not to ask.) Inuyasha is still deeply in love with Kikyo, so naturally immediately begins to have feelings for her incarnation, Kagome. In the 1st episode of the series, it turns out that Kagome has the Shikon Jewel, and during a struggle over it in the 2nd episode, its shattered into many, many fragments each of which confers various powers on any demon who finds it). Inuyasha and Kagome immediately set out to find all the numerous and dangerous -- shards of the Jewel. However, this isnt a continuous quest, as there are the non-quest episodes and in addition. Kagome shuttles back and forth to and from the modern world, where shes still going to school (infrequently) and trying to keep her head above water by passing tests. Inuyasha pays the occasional visit and Kagomes family like him, primarily because they dont see the more grating and immature aspects of his personality. Kagome struggles to get Inuyasha to improve himself and then theres her highly effectual sit command
Later on a witch collects Kikyos bones and reanimates her using a clay body. Kikyo, despite not having her own soul, is too strong to be a puppet, and again becomes an independent actor in the saga. She is nourished by other souls, brought to her by flying white snake-like creatures with little insect-like arms in front. At first she goes gunning for Inuyasha, but later finally realizes Narakus treachery and goes gunning for him, instead. Shes the one who receives the mostly-reassembled Jewel from Kagome and then gives it to Naraku. This is alleged by her to be part of a long-range plan to bring Naraku down. Inuyasha is naturally torn between Kagome and the revived Kikyo, and Kikyo doesnt make this any easier on him by putting him in compromising situations and inciting Kagomes jealousy. In a late episode just broadcast (#98), Kagome and Kikyo are trapped together in a cave thats actually a giant demons stomach, are threatened by all sorts of dire situations, and seem to reach a rapport as a result to the extent that Kikyo allows Kagome to depart with her (Kikyos) only Jewel shard.
Since no quest is complete without a gaggle of buddies
a sort of Fellowship of the Jewel in this case
Kagome and Inuyasha quickly pick up a number loyal companions. These are:
Miroku, a monk. He has a lecherous nature, asking nearly every woman he meets if she would like to bear his children, and is a dedicated practitioner of a sort of manual frottage. (Aw, go ahead; you can look it up.) Hes actually a fairly powerful character, with a demon-smashing staff and paper anti-demon charms that actually work. He also has a wind tunnel, a sort of miniature black hole, in his right hand. Covering it with cloth keeps it from doing its very destructive job. The wind tunnel is a curse laid on Mirokus grandfather (and the first male child of each generation) because, while its a powerful weapon, it also grows with time so that it eventually consumes the person whose hand its in. Needless to say, Miroku is also on the hunt for Naraku.
Shippo, a juvenile fox demon. His hairdo and clothes tend to make him look female to western eyes. He has some limited powers that come in very handy for the group on occasion. He has no history with Naraku, but his attitude toward the quest is Why not?
Sango, a young (perhaps 18-20) demon slayer. Her weapon of choice is her hiratsu, a very large metal boomerang its taller than she is. It also slices and dices most demons with ease. Sangos beef with Naraku is personal. She belonged to a clan of demon slayers. Naraku was able (method unknown) to gain mental control of her younger brother, Kohaku, whose weapon is a very nasty scythe blade on a long chain rather than a handle. During a battle with a demon, Kohaku slaughters the entire clan, including their father, but only wounds Sango. Naraku then abducts Kohaku, wipes his memory (more or less), and puts him to the occasional nefarious use. Sangos highly useful pet/sidekick is:
Kirara (Kilala), a furry, cuddly, 2-tailed little cat demon which can grow to the size of an orca. In this form she can fly, breathe fire, and be generally terrifying. (Flying large animals often have small clumps of lame on their feet when airborne. I have no idea why.)
Listed in the web site indicated above as a Bad Guy, Inuyashas half-brother, the full demon Sesshomaru (Rock-paper-scissors!), Demon Lord of the West, is in fact not evil, but morally ambivalent. He affects an attitude of lofty indifference, but is in fact more like his (and Inuyashas) father, who cared very deeply for his human wife (Inuyashas mother). He is apparently fully capable of killing Inuyasha, but always seems to find it inconvenient or untimely when he has the opportunity. Unlike most evil demons, he doesnt kill humans (or anything) unnecessarily and isnt interested in eating people. Sesshomaru travels about with 2 companions. The first is Jaken, a feckless toad-like creature who likes to think hes evil but is really the worlds most perfect sycophant. The second is Rin, a young girl (perhaps 10) who nursed Sesshomaru after he was attacked by wolf demons. Sesshomaru cares for Rin far more than he could ever admit, which is probably the true measure of his actual character. Similarly with Jaken, who tickles his fancy and give his ego a deep verbal body massage.
The beef between the brothers involves their swords. Their father (whose name is never mentioned that I recall) has had 2 swords forged from his fangs (demon fangs make, in the vernacular, really b*tchin swords). One is the hugely powerful Tetsusaiga (Tetsaiga) which is assigned to function only for Inuyasha (and probably Kagome as well, since shes able to pull it out of the rock its stuck in, after Sesshomaru fails). The powers of the Tetsusaiga are revealed gradually as the series goes on (one chapter states that the Backlash Wave is the swords ultimate technique dont you believe it). The Tetsusaiga also acts to keep Inuyashas demon aspects in check. Without it, under great stress, he becomes a very dangerous full demon.
The other sword is the Tenseiga, meant for Sesshomaru. He is very disappointed in this legacy, since its actually useless as a weapon and only does things like heal the wounded and resurrect the dead. Sesshomaru covets the Tetsusaiga, even though he knows he cant use any of its powers. He eventually has another sword, the Tokijin, forged from the fangs of a demon (one of the numerous part-incarnations of himself that Naraku makes).
The series teems with numerous other characters. Many of these are demons of various sorts, most of whom dont survive more than 3 episodes. Several are incarnations of Naraku each one different in form and personality. One, Kagura of the Wind, is a fairly important character. Like all Narakus creations (save one, who doesnt last long), she is bound to his will but is sufficiently autonomous to wish she were free of his control. Thus far in the series her plots to free herself have failed.
The Jewel itself undergoes various vicissitudes. Many of its shards have been discovered by minor demons. Most important of these is Koga, the leader of a wolf-demon tribe. He has a shard inserted in each of his legs and in consequence can run very fast and jump very high. Hes also smitten with Kagome, which creates a juvenile rivalry (wolf vs. dog) with Inuyasha. Kagome (who can sense the presence of jewel shards) succeeds in collecting most of the Jewel and then loses it to Naraku. He, in turn, passes it to various individuals (who dont keep it long) for nefarious purposes. One shard he implanted in Kohaku, who is controlled through it but would also die if it were to be removed.
The plot development of this series becomes ever more complex as character development is enriched. Other Japanese anime productions have a good deal of complexity such as the ever more silly and strident commercial-cum-fantasy Yu-Gi-Oh but Inuyasha shows sophisticated planning, humor, imagination, and creativity. Artistically, backgrounds, outdoor scenes, and what we might call sets are stunningly realized. Animation of the characters, unfortunately is burdened by the usual deficiencies of Japanese anime. Eyes are unnecessarily over-large and faces of many characters suffer from what Ive called the kewpie effect. Teen-aged girls and young women virtually all look exactly like Kagome and are differentiated (if at all) by hair style and clothing. Kagomes school chums are all in uniform, of course, and pretty much coifed identically, so you just cant tell the players even with a scorecard. Typically of the anime style, most of the characters look far more European than Japanese. As is typical in Japanese anime, a character who is a "character" is portrayed with much more individuality. The animators also save effort by deconstructing some scenes, using stop-motion stills. At least they dont use the hoary (and boring) Scooby-Do trick of using stale old animation of characters running and just changing the backgrounds.
This is not, I believe, a series you necessarily want to start in the middle of although it doesnt take too long to become acclimated. The Cartoon Channel has a habit of doing a run of new episodes and then going back to the beginning and starting over. The current run is at least as long as any theyve offered, so I expect theyll start over fairly soon. Some episodes are on DVD, but I dont recommend you buy them because they are REALLY CHINTZY in offering only 3 episodes (a teeny bit over an hour) on each disc and no worthwhile extras
at a price no lower than $16 through epinions. At that price and without anything else of value, Id expect 6 episodes. (The timing seems to indicate that each episode is about 3 minutes longer than the U.S. broadcast time.)
I dont recommend this series for children under 13-14, and the late hour at which the Cartoon Channel broadcasts confirms its not kiddie fare. Frankly, children or adults who watch this ought to give themselves a bit of grounding in Japanese history and mythology. When a character with the family name Nobunaga shows up at one point, most American viewers wont have a clue as to why hes the wrong Nobunaga. Most Americans understanding of their own history is pathetic; but when it comes to other world powers such as Japan and China it amounts to criminal negligence. (To be perfectly fair, insofar as Im aware, Oda Nobunaga [the right one] is the only historical character even mentioned in the series. However, some of the minor lordlings who appear might bear historical names. Getting a good, detailed history of 15th-16th Century Japan is pretty nigh impossible in this country.)
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Type of Program: Cartoon or Animated
Program Quality: Thought-provoking, original material
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