Re-Commendation: Inuyasha

Spoiler: It’s actually a love story.

The updated version of this recommendation is sort of a long time coming, somewhat compounded by the fact that I’ve been able to watch the complete series — only the first two seasons seem to be available for streaming and I haven’t had the disposable income to commit to buying the show on disc (there’s at least seven volumes).

Apparently, the complete series is on Hulu, which is unavailable in Canada. Which is vexing.

Incidentally, streaming has spoiled us. I love not having to actually have to change discs to watch the next chunk of the series…

But, anyway, watching the 50-ish episodes that are available for streaming is sufficient to get a general sense of what the show’s about. Unless, of course, the latter parts of the show go somewhere really weird.

And, like, I have a more positive impression of Inuyasha are 50 episodes than I did of One Piece — largely because those 50 episodes represent a large proportional amount of the story. Inuyasha has 167 episodes, plus a 26 episode final season that’s treated as separate from the main series for reason I’m not entirely clear on (plus a 48 episode sequel series); One Piece has more than 1000 episodes.

The main cast of Inuyasha.
Our heroes: Shippo, Sango, Miroku, Kagome, and the (dog-)man himself: Inuyasha.
Inuyasha: Sunrise and Viz Media.

Funny story, when I was in junior high watching Inuyasha, I’d be thinking: “Aw, man! They’re ruining a perfectly good adventure story with all this stupid romance! You have a giant sword, why aren’t you chopping demons apart?”

Now that I’m older and wiser, the thought process has become: “Aw, man! All this adventure is getting in the way of a perfectly good romance story! You have a love interest standing right there, why are you still chopping demons apart with your giant sword?”

Like the original English version of Sailor Moon, Inuyasha is yet another anime that technically qualifies as CanCon due to being dubbed by a Canadian studio.

Unlike Sailor Moon, nobody got renamed, turned into cousins instead of girlfriends, or given a Brooklyn accent.

Like Sailor Moon, Inuyasha is one of the most popular mangas/animes of the Turn of the Millennium. And, if you’re Canadian and more or less my age, you probably owe your knowledge of them to YTV.

And like Sailor Moon, Inuyasha is fundamentally a romance story. Which, if you’re familiar with Rumiko Takahashi’s other work, should come as no surprise. It’s largely also an adventure story that owes more than a few elements to Journey to the West — not as transparently as something like Forbidden Kingdom or New Legends of Monkey, but the parallels are there.

Most obviously, Wukong had a magic, irremovable headband that Sanzang could magically use to give him headaches when he acted up. Inuyasha has a magic, irremovable necklace that Kagome can use to make him fall down when he acts up — fittingly, since Inuyasha is a dog demon the incantation to trigger this is “Sit, boy.”

Inuyasha falling out of a tree.
It delivers what it promises…
Inuyasha: Sunrise and Viz Media.

Side bar: “Inuyasha” basically translates to “dog demon.” Inu is dog (as, for example, in Shiba Inu), and yasha is the Japanese form of ‘yakhsa’, which is usually translated to ‘demon.’ Don’t, uh, don’t look so impressed by those citations. I don’t read or speak Japanese, I just copy and pasted the characters of the Japanese form of the word “Inuyasha” into Wikitionary…

There’s a bit of a nuance both to what exactly a yaksha is and how ‘demon’ is to be understood in an East Asian context — but, especially in animes and video games, ‘demon’ is generally used to refer to any supernatural, non-human being. A bit like how “Fairy” is used traditional European folklore.

To briefly explain the premise, modern-day teenager Kagome ends up transported back into the Sengoku era via magical well (you know, as one does), where she meets the eponymous Inuyasha, a half-demon with a quick temper and generally bad attitude who’s fundamentally a decent guy despite his frequent protestations to the contrary.

Ultimately, they are joined by they encounter the young, mischievous shape-shifter Shippo (he’s supposed to be a kitsune; personally, I think he looks more like a squirrel), the monk Miroku, who is constantly trying to convince female passers-by to bear his children — it makes marginally more sense in context; he’s been afflicted with a curse and needs to father a child to carry on his sworn mission to kill the bad guy (more on him later) before said curse kills him — and the demon hunter (for all intents and purposes, a ninja) Sango, out to avenge the destruction of her clan.

Given the aforementioned similarity to Journey to the West, it’s not exactly surprising that Inuyasha also has a few similarities in basic structure to Dragon Ball, itself an adaptation of Journey to the West (though admittedly a fast and loose one).

We’ve got the animal-person male lead, the rather more level-headed female lead, the fighter who joins the group, the shape-shifting comic relief character (though, actually, Dragon Ball has two such characters…) and the, uh, other member of the team I can’t quite find any obvious similarities to…

The main cast of Inuyasha.
Once again, that’s Shippo, Sango, Miroku, Kagome, and Inuyasha.
Inuyasha: Sunrise and Viz Media.

There’s also the fact that both stories revolve around the pursuit of magical, wish-granting jewels: I shouldn’t have to really explain much about how the Dragon Balls are a big deal in Dragon Ball (incidentally, there is no “Dragon Ball” joke you could possibly make that the show hasn’t already made first; the original Dragon Ball is shockingly raunchy). Whereas Inuyasha revolves around Inuyasha and Kagome trying to collect up the pieces of the shattered Shikon Jewel (which they themselves shattered in the first place).

The Jewel promises immense power to whoever can put it back together, so Inuyasha and Kagome and friends are contending with various demons, monsters, and miscellaneous ne’er-do-wells. The romantic tension starts pretty much immediately, not helped by the fact that Kagome is the reincarnation of the Inuyasha’s former girlfriend.

Thanks to the time travel shenanigans inherent in the premise and the fact that said former girlfriend gets brought back to life, we end up in the middle of a love triangle that I think requires a doctorate in Theoretical Physics to fully appreciate…

Inuyasha sort of has the same problem as Sailor Moon, in that it takes a while for the main group of characters to all get together, but it’s not quite as bad in that it both happens slightly quicker and that the first season of Inuyasha doesn’t have a major climactic battle in the same way Sailor Moon does for it to feel like they’re going from “just met each other” to “saving the world” nearly as abruptly as the Sailors.

The main, overarching villain of the series is mortal-turned-demon Naraku, who can occasionally be over-the-toply and one-dimensionally evil, even for the villain of a Fantasy anime. Still, he has enough flair for the dramatic and presence that he’s at least impressive even if he’s not particularly interesting or nuanced.

Naraku serves the purpose of being the obstacle the heroes must overcome perfectly well, but the most meaningful and interesting conflict in the series is between Inuyasha and his older half-brother Sesshomaru.

The juxtaposition between the Jerk with a Heart of Gold Inuyasha and the Jerk with a Heart ofLess Jerk Sesshomaru allows for a lot of good storylines as they encounter each other throughout the series, And Sesshomaru, who was never really even a villain to begin with, probably has the deepest and most significant character development of any character in the series.

And he’s absolutely gorgeous.
Doubly impressive, given that his dad was a giant Dog-Monster.
Inuyasha: Sunrise and Viz Media.

Quick content advisory: Inuyasha can get pretty violent, and the bad guy monsters can range from unsettling to outright horrifying. It’s about on the level of Lodoss War — which is also rather more violent than most of my other recommendations (except maybe Redwall…).

I was watching Inuyasha when I was in the age demographic it’s aimed at, and was never particularly upset with anything that I saw. On the other hand, I watched Princess Mononoke when I was way too young for it, and also wasn’t particularly upset by that, either.

But, honestly, if you can handle the Lord the Rings or Hobbit movies, there’s nothing in Inuyasha that will traumatise you.

The manga is even more graphic, but is somewhat mitigated by the fact that it’s still images in black and white, rather than live in living colour like the anime.

All in all, Inuyasha is fairly episodic, while “find the Jewel Shards” never stops being the most pressing concern and there are several major plotlines: Naraku’s backstory, Inuyasha’s background, the Shikon Jewel itself’s backstory, Sesshomaru’s character arc, and each main character gets put into the spotlight at various points, there are a lot of episodes that are essentially standalone stories that are wrapped either in a single episode or a handful of episodes.

It’s not really that different from any long-running anime, but it feels less drawn out than something like Naruto or One Piece because Inuyasha has significantly fewer episodes. Inuyasha is long enough to demand a not insubstantial time commitment, but compared to One Piece, it’s much, much quicker.

There are also a handful of Inuyasha movies, which apparently aren’t treated as canon to the main series. I haven’t watched any of them, mostly because I’ve been pre-occupied trying to find where to watch the series proper. I do believe they’re available on Netflix.

There’s also the recent sequel Yashahime: Princess Half-Demon (we’ve been over “yasha”; “hime” is princess), which is about the children of Inuyasha‘s main characters — Sesshomaru’s daughters being the main focus and Inuyasha and Kagome’s daughter (I don’t see how it’s possible that could be considered a spoiler; it was obvious from the beginning they were going to end up togethe) being the next most prominent.

The three main characters of "Yashahime."
That’s Setsuna, Towa, and Moroha. Full disclosure: it’s been long enough since I watched the episode that I had to look up which one was which…

Yashahime: Princess Half-Demon: Sunrise and Viz Media.

I got curious and watched the first episode. I didn’t have any major negative reactions to it, except maybe that it was a bit too much of a prologue where nothing really happened.

I didn’t feel any need to start watching it all the way through, but I make a note of it and put it in my “things to watch when I have nothing left to watch” pile. I may have something more meaningful to say about it when I do get around to watching it.

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