Sunday, August 23, 2015

My Thoughts on "Inuyasha"

“Inuyasha” is an action-romance anime and is one of the first anime I watched regularly.  This show is the source of a lot of nostalgia as I first encountered it when I was going to college and it was on its first run on Adult Swim, so I am probably a lot easier on it than I should be when it comes to criticism.

By the standards of most anime programs I encounter these days the story is decompressed, the full team featured in the opening credits isn't entirely introduced until nearly 20 episodes in, the first dozen episodes dealing with the titular character, Inuyasha (a half demon warrior who looks like a silver haired man with puppy ears), and the main character, Kagome (a girl from modern day Japan displaced to the land of fantasy via a magic shrine on her family’s property).  I feel this slow build plays to the series strengths.  There is plenty of time for broad-cute humor, lots of character development, and a big extended cast (which includes a cowardly talking flea man, a badger demon, an old priestess, and lots of bad guys).

The other three principle heroic characters are Shippo (a shape shifting fox demon who uses illusions, but is still a child and mostly assists as a distraction rather than a team heavy hitter), Miroku (a Monk with a black hole in the palm of his hand, a devious personality, and he’s a lecher), and Sango (the last survivor of a tribe of demon hunting ninjas who fights using a giant boomerang).

All of these characters have some tragic backstory, they have desires and motivations that are made clear to the audience, and parallels between their situations are constantly seen between them.  For instance Shippo’s father was a powerful fox demon who was killed by a pair of evil brothers, Inuyasha’s father was a powerful wind/dog demon and he has an evil older brother, Kagome has a younger brother and her father is unseen in the show but she carries on the legacy of her family tending a shrine, Sango carries on the legacy of her family a society of demon slayers and her younger brother is being kept alive and brainwashed by black magic by the series principle antagonist, That antagonist is responsible for Miroku the Monk’s father and grandfather being dead, and the black hole in his hand which is slowly consuming Miroku.  And round and round the character comparisons go creating a good narrative echo, even on things I did not mention.
This is Tessaiga, a magical sword that under normal circumstances looks like a tiny katana, but when Inuyasha uses it to defend humanity, specifically Kagome it grows into a huge buster sword.  Symbolism.
The series could definitely be lumped into the superhero genre as well, as they are sort of a mystical medieval Avengers (as fans of “Demon Knights” weep that I don’t reference that because of it already being obscure).  They have a functional rouges gallery that has 3 recurring villains (though more appear down the line as minions for the main bads).

Last bit of praise, I think the animation really works.  The action flows, all of the characters are well designed and look elegant.  Sure Inuyasha’s murderous brother Sesshomaru looks like a Final Fantasy villain, but the restraint shown in the design of the principle cast is almost uncharacteristic in a show of this type.
Hooray for costumes that won't break the bank for people who want to cos-play them.
Some complaints, first of which is my only narrative gripe.  The series starts with Kagome traveling back thru time to the age of mystical demon haunted Japan.  A teen girl from 2000 in some years during Japan’s feudal era.  But she is able to travel back and forth between the future and the past without much issue, and often demons will follow her back to her time.  And the two time periods run concurrently, a day in the past is a day in the future, so when she goes quest for 4 days, she misses 4 days of school, her normal life is suffering for her time spent adventuring.  There is some narrative value here, the idea that she could leave at any time, to a world without danger and just be a normal person but chooses to stay and rick her safety to help others makes her a good person, but it also defuses some potential tension.
The series could have been a Wizard of Oz type plot in which she can’t get home and meets the various other heroes, that would add stakes, and ultimately the series would hinge on whether she wants to go home after all of the adventures or if she wants to stay, as is the only tension is a “will they won’t they” romantic tension with Inuyasha, and the “they will” is so obvious that it’s not really an issue.  I can see the ending coming and they really should just get to it and provide closer to the series.  (I realize that “Escaflowne” had a similar set up in this regard, anime have lots of main characters that work as audience surrogates).

Then there are some non-story issues, this show is not great to marathon, a lot of each episode is recapping events from previous episodes, "Remember, this, that, the other thing, and one more thing" it gets annoying when you literally just watched what they are talking about.  This sort of thing crops up a lot in shows produced prior to 2005, before the advent of the DVD and streaming market meant that missing an episode meant missing important plot details.  The only way to get around that was to have characters recap to each other (and indirectly the audience) the ongoing story.
(On a related note the 4th season of “Angel” has this to a toxic level, several episodes happen over the course of a few hours and they still spend 5 minutes telling each other what is happening, I bet that show got incomprehensible to new watchers at that point, I should review it at some point).

Another issue, sometimes the dialogue is repetitive, lots of yelling other people's names, people yelling the names of their signature attacks or weapons.  This I think is a genre convention that allows for easier identification of the characters for purposes of marketing merchandise, but even with the rhyming or dramatic declaration there is only so many times you can hear the attack “Iron Reaver, Soul Stealer” before you wonder why he never learned another move to yell.  Making fun of this was part of the advertising.

Also, the opening theme and end credits are obnoxiously long, more than 10% of each episode (they are pretty and have good music, but come on, and the Japanese pop music that accompanies the openings sucks, I can’t even find the decent orchestral opening that I am familiar with and that is on the Netflix stream [FOUND IT]).  This is again another genre convention, as it is supposed to help get people in the move for the show, the opening number is a sweeping score accompanying images of the setting and the characters, and the ending credits are characters being melancholy (a tone immediately broken because they have a preview for the next episode, something I am shocked was not cut for the stream on Netflix).

            Lastly, there are too many episodes, the show became successful and they started to stretch things even though a logical end point for the series was reached, instead you get an anti-climax and the story basically reboots (the series is so long, not all of it is on Netflix at time of this review, only a little less than a 4th of their 193 episodes and 4 movies).  If the series had edited out all of the recapping of previous events and tightened up the latter half of the series it would be great, as is it is just good.

I have no issue understanding why this was popular and remains fondly remembered, and I have no trouble understanding why people deride it, it has flaws just as it has strengths, but it should not be totally disregarded by anybody who likes watching Anime in general.

If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

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