Original post here.
to tie it into my New Legends of Monkey recommendation — given that they’re both (admittedly fairly loose) adaptations of Journey to the West.
But then I didn’t have to time to re-watch The Forbidden Kingdom between now and then.
However, I have been binging Inuyasha since the third season has been put up on Netflix — at least in Canada. My understanding is that the whole series is available on Hulu, which is not available in Canada.
Which is vexing.
So, here’s my revised recommendation of Inuyasha.
For a bit of context: “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.
Notably, it doesn’t have the inherent negative or evil connotations that the word “demon” has in English.
Incidentally, my big takeaway from binging things on streaming is that streaming has spoiled us. I love not having to actually, physically change discs to watch the next chunk of the series.
Based on the original manga by Rumiko Takahashi, Inuyasha is very clearly a Rumiko Takahashi manga.
Like her other best-known and most influential works — namely Urusei Yatsura (which, incidentally, has received a new anime adaptation in late 2022) and Ranma 1/2 — is a romance story with a supernatural bent. Lum from Urusei Yatsura is an alien with an Oni aesthetic, Ranma is cursed to transform into a girl when exposed to cold water, Inuyasha is dog demon (that’s basically what “Inuyasha” literally means).
When I was first watching and learning about Inuyasha, I was actually kinda surprised that it was written by the same woman who first rose to prominence writing pretty goofy romance stories. The incongruity is really only superficial, though. Although Inuyasha has a more epic story arc with higher stakes than Urusei Yatsura or Ranma, Inuyasha is fundamentally a romance story.
Especially once you’re aware of Takahashi’s style, the Takahashi formula becomes pretty apparent.
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?”
Back in the halcyon days that were the 1990s, YTV played a major role in introducing a lot of influential animes to Canadian viewers — Pokémon, Escaflowne (incidentally, not aired in full in the US but aired in its entirety on Canadian TV), Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball, at least a couple of the Gundams.
And, of course, Inuyasha.
Of course, a lot of those animes aired at times my parents didn’t let me watch TV at — I wasn’t even allowed to watch TV after supper until at least junior high, so Dragon Ball was right out (though I think it did replay on Saturdays), and Gundam and Inuyasha aired at something like 11:30 on Friday nights.
Yet more reasons why streaming has spoiled us…
Still, I did manage to catch a few episodes of Inuyasha.
All of this is to say, that because a Canadian channel was airing all these animes, a lot of those animes ending up being dubbed into English in Canada (usually Vancouver, usually by the Ocean Group, which, incidentally is still around and still active).
Which ultimately means that a lot of 90s and early 2000s anime actually satisfies CanCon requirements.
Unlike Sailor Moon, nobody got renamed, turned into cousins instead of girlfriends, or given a Brooklyn accent. Which is actually kinda surprising that Inuyasha can actually be pretty dark and violent (more on that later). Though, of course, the 90s dub of Sailor Moon while still technically CanCon, was done by DIC and aimed at a much younger audience that the original Japanese version was intended for, whereas Inuyasha remained aimed at a shōnen demographic (basically 12-18).
Again, much like Sailor Moon, Inuyasha is fundamentally a romance story.
And, as it happens, Inuyasha actually has a certain Journey to the West quality to it.
It’s not a one-to-one comparison: but we’ve got the unruly animal-person main character (i.e. Sun Wukong and Inuyasha), the monk (Sanzang and some combination of Kagome and/or Miroku; she’s a miko and he’s a Buddhist monk), the shapeshifting sidekick (Zhu Bajie and Shippō) and the serious one (Sha Wujing and Sango).
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.”
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).
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 of … Less 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.
Now, as a shōnen manga-inspired multi-season anime — clocking in at 167 episodes initially (compare that to more than 1000 and counting of One Piece, 720 of Naruto across two series, and 328 of Fairy Tail) — Inuyasha does have multi-episode plot arcs and several filler arcs exclusive to the anime (which, admittedly, I actually enjoyed).
Unlike certain other animes (looking in your direction, One Piece) the story arcs never take so long that they overstay their welcome. On the other hand, it does rarely feel like the main characters are any closer to fixing the Jewel and beating Naraku after any given episode.
Several years after the conclusion of the original Inuyasha anime, which did not cover the end of the manga, another 26-episode season was produced to wrap up the story.
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.
Man, I really dodged a bullet there thanks to my parents not walking into the room while I was watching Princess Mononoke. Unlike all the animals who got shot in Princess Mononoke…
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.
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 together) being the next most prominent.
I think the general consensus is that it’s less good (though, granted, that’s almost universally true of sequels or spinoffs) and it reveals enough, um, plot revelations that alienated chunks of the fanbase (though, granted, that’s also almost universally true of sequels or spinoffs).
I probably agree that it’s less good than the original, though it’s been perfectly fine so far considered on its own merits. And, for what it’s worth, I don’t care enough to be particularly upset by any of those aforementioned controversial revelations.
Copyright 2023 J.B. Norman.
Revised and expanded based on a post originally published 2023
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