Inuyasha. Unlike a lot of big name Shonen anime and manga this one’s premise may not be as remembered by most people (or maybe people just remember the premise). Either way it follows Kagome. On her 15th birthday she gets a calling to go to a spiritual well in the shrine at the back of her house. She goes only to be attacked by a hideous half centipede/half woman demon. Shes pulled back through time to the feudal era. There she meets a half-demon named Inuyasha who was skewered to a tree. She releases him to help slay the centipede woman, only during the fight it is revealed she has the sacred jewel. The jewel gives anyone who holds it sacred power. Through a series of accidents Kagome shatters the jewel across Japan and must team up with Inuyasha to find it. Along the way they meet allies who all have the same enemy, the mysterious Naraku, in common.
Everything will be about the anime by the way. This is a classic Shonen anime (it is long running and has both large and small filler in it), so I used the anime filler website to avoid any unneeded episodes. If an anime having filler is bothersome to begin with maybe that already informs you of its quality.
With that said, it has a strong story engine, the lifeblood of all Shonen stories. That is to say that it has the ability to go on forever. I mean you want character driven fare (and One Piece is both, making it perfect), but just a constant stream of possible creatures to beat, and stories to tell with a vague possible ending in sight is perfect. In that case it works as intended. Inuyasha sure does tell a lot of stories, has lots of enemies to fight, and has a vague ending. However, very little of it is of quality though.
The production was done by Sunrise, home of the Gundam people. This is a double edged sword in the shows favor. It is too consistent, keeping its baseline standards, and even transitions from cell shading to digital fairly seamlessly. The issue with all that is that means it is too polished to be laughably bad. That makes it mundane at worst on a production level.
The art and character designs are good. Some like the villain Naraku, and Sesshomaru are over designed. The monster and creature designs range from basic to absolutely horrifying. The main problem is how many characters share the same face or hair. Mostly bangs and styles of hair. It is not too bad episode to episode, but character to character some look too close to not be clones. It’s the least bad thing about the show really.
I have a big rant mode to go into so I will say this as generously as possible. It was not made to be binged through. It’s constant repetition and recap from episode to episode just kills the pacing. Like, do you know how many times in the span of ten episodes how often we get reminded of BASIC character details over and over.
Actually, now is a great time to talk about the characters. Sango (we’ll get to her) is the only good one, everyone else is utterly boring, plain, or garbage.
Kagome is the audience POV character. Her needing to be informed of basic plot details work, but then she just seems to know things about the world moving forward. She also always wears her school uniform and is not called a witch or demon every time they meet someone. It’s so strange that the fact the bad guy doesn’t realize he has a whole other world to try and take over is the biggest missed opportunity. Her clothes are addressed at the start, but is never addressed again. She also is supposed to be kind hearted, and does put up with a lot (she’s a middle school student trying to get into high school, she travels to the past, and has a boyfriend whose ex has been dead but comes back to life. Not easy). It is just all so formulaic (name of the game here today folks). She exists to yell at Inuyasha, get jealous at Inuyasha for interacting with his ex girlfriend who sealed him and was raised from the dead, talks to her friends in the modern day, find jewel shards, watch others do the fighting, and be saved by Inuyasha (even at the end. Kind of..). She really doesn’t have a character arc. Every time it feels like she has one she goes back to forcefully subjugate Inuyasha when actual conversations would would better. She also feels kind of pointless at lots of points in the narrative.
Shippo is a young fox demon who enlisted Inuyasha and Kagome to help get revenge on the person who killed his father. Following that he staying with the group due to losing his family. He has zero reason to be there. He’s supposed to be a comic relief duo with Inuyasha, but it was never funny and kept going on and on. Every interaction is the same. Shippo says something accurate, or blunt, or rude, Inuyasha reacts by committing repeated child abuse (so funny to beat up little children). The most development he receives from his stories is liking a girl and wanting to help them. It is so not interesting and just goes on for what feels like ever. He’s basically a whiny kid. That might be accurate for a kid, but not good television.
Miroku is a monk who was cursed with a wind tunnel embedded into his right hand. It can absorb anything but will eventually absorb him. He is set out on a journey to slay Naraku, the demon who cursed his family.
So I did not really need to explain every other character (I will for the main cast anyway) because every issue and problem with the characters of the show is present in Miroku. Miroku is a monk whose family was cursed with an all consuming wind tunnel by the villain Naraku. The wind tunnel is passed on at birth and has the power to eventually tear him apart if overused. He has lots of good pathos and possible drama that only kicks in until the second series: Inuyasha The Final Act. The reason for these problems is that he is a single joke that is never funny. See, Miroku knows his life is short so he wants to have a child and goes up to every attractive woman and asks to have his kids and touches their butts. Isn’t that just so funny (trust me it gets sooo much funnier, yeah I’m being sarcastic. Obviously). This is bad enough, but what makes it worse is how this single joke hinders any character development into a less perverted person (again until Inuyasha The Final Act). His character development is tied to his teammate Sango.
Sango is one of the few characters I would call compelling. She comes from a clan of demon slayers. When her family goes out to hunt a demon for a shogun her younger brother, Kohaku, is corrupted and kills their whole team and leaves Sango for dead. Naraku heals her and says that it is Inuyasha’s fault. After the fight it is revealed Naraku is in control and has taken control of her brother, wiped his memory, and used the sacred jewel shard to keep him alive. Her quest is simple, she wants Naraku to free her brother and find a way to save him. She is also Miroku’s love interest. She puts up with both a lot and very little of his womanizing. It’s more played for very funny “comedy.” They get psudeo-engaged, but Miroku still does his schtick, and stays. It makes them both less endearing.
What makes Sango the best is how consistent she is. Her goals are simple and understandable. She goes through growth to be a better person and gets what she wants in the end. Not all of it is of her own actions. That hinders her, but she is just heads better than the rest.
Finally, the titular Inuyasha. He is fine. Inuyasha is a half demon. He has trauma from not being accepted by either humans or demons because of that. After his mother dies he works alone and tries to be independent. He grows a little from his relationship with Kikyo. That is reset when Naraku frames them both and he is sealed. Once he’s awakened by Kagome he is basically a selfish jerk. He talks a big game, but is more hurt and haunted than anything else. Through his continual relationship with Kagome and the rest of their team he softens up some, but is still quite imperious, dumb, and single minded. Those qualities also make him the funniest (on purpose or not) because he cares so little sometimes he’ll just tell a foe to shut up and fight. He fails when it comes to the love interests. He is paddled back and forth by Kikyo and Kagome forced to choose but doesn’t have a choice. It’s weird and tedious. His arc is also hindered like Miroku due to how he’s used for comedy. He will make seemingly dumb choices to be yelled at or abused with the very funny “sit” command Kagome has. He’s the baseline for the show overall.
It’s a Shonen, so it has many side characters. All of whom are one note. Some are a good note that is overplayed like Sesshomaru. His arc is that he’s Inuyasha’s brother who wants Inuyasha’s sword because his sword heals, and he hates humans (get the arc? Do you? Cause I hope not it’ll take hundreds of episodes for the character to get it). Some are bland like everyone Kagome knows in the present day. Others are just boring, like Koga, a wolf demon who is rival for Inuyasha. Of course he is not a real rival in any way, but fills that slot. They’re fine. I mean they are all dull as khaki, and super uninteresting, but fine.
Maybe the characters suck, but if the action was good it might help. It is not good and does not help. The action is all the same. The characters use their signature moves to deal with the same enemies with very little strategy or tactical movements involved. There was a saying years ago that you were a bad action artist if you used beam attacks a lot. That seemed dismissive until seeing the characters swing a sword and only use the energy beam attacks to try and do damage. To boot, all the big plot turns hinge around characters getting stronger moves through killing stronger demons. There is little character training, and what training there is just a single episode (there are some longer plot lines, but the actual training itself is short).
It is also clear the characters were made too strong in planning stages because after characters get a big move, Inuyasha’s wind scar or Miroku’s wind tunnel, there are contrived reasons not to use them. Introduce a barrier that can stop anything, or poison insects that will kill him. Just anything to make the fight continue and increase the drama.
It’s characters and action suck, but it has a good, well-woven plot with the sinister Naraku maybe it works. Why am I even giving it the possibility for credit? It doesn’t.
Saying something has a video game plot is often disparaging and not accurate to a lot of video games. This does absolutely have a JRPG video game plot and it’s super noticeable, really tedious, and annoying.
Just to break it down here is the plot of the show in rough sketch. Kagome and Inuyasha meet. They go on side quests until they meet Miroku and Shippo, they do some main quests to find Naraku, and hunt for shards. They meet Sango and she joins the party. They do more side quests and hunting. They corner Naraku and his minions only to realize he can’t be damaged. They get away and find a power to stop him. They do that only for him to run away and send more minions. He reemerges stronger. Then repeat the process as they hunt for jewels and complete side quests. They face different challenges and boss fights, but that’s really it. Oh, and Naraku becomes a god like so many JRPGs do.
Naraku compounds the issue because he is not a real menacing villain. He is always a presence throughout the story. He is the goal to beat. Every ploy goes back to him, but he just is not scary or threatening. He uses incarnations of himself or proxies to go after the main party, and lets them actively try to decisive him to take control. They don’t of course, but they try and waste our time. When he does appear he is always powerful but he doesn’t do anything cool or different. He has a barrier that can never be destroyed until Inuyasha gets a new power, he has tentacle blades, and poison. Nothing real creative. That would be okay if he is a real tactical master. He’s supposed to be. He seemingly knows everything and can predict anything that will happen. It’s also not cool or fun in the way where he goes through how every step connects. It just goes his way because he has that much power and needs whatever the plot needs him to do. It makes it real dull.
That’s the name of the game really. Dull, tedious, repetitive. Those all best describe the show. It is a soap opera and it’s not crazy, bad, or interesting enough to deliver. We get people coming back from the dead, fake deaths, love triangles, betrayals, heartfelt confessions, big action, memory loss, family drama, found family, grief, loss, and being heroic. It has so much going on and yet is just so, so boring.
The source of boredom comes from the slow, repetitive nature of the individual episodes. On top of the usually sub-par OPs and some good, some real slow EDs there is constant recap at the beginning of the episode (something every classic Shonen like this has), and recap in the story proper. Do you want to know how many times I was reminded of Miroku’s wind tunnel, Sango’s brother having amnesia and under Naraku’s control, Kikyo and Inuyasha’s relationship, Sessoshmaru’s quest for Inuyasha’s sword (all character motivation really), and how strong Naraku is? A lot. Everything I said is something that is reminded at least once every other episode, or every time that character is part of the plot. It’s exhausting.
Exhausting is a good descriptor, because this show feels like a sitcom that you watch once a week and get all the big character moments. You tune in to see Miroku touch a woman’s butt, and Kagome and Inuyasha bicker, and a demon be slayed by the exact same move every time. It tries to be comfy, but it is almost too standard to be comfy. Everything is so obvious that it makes every episode a chore to watch. Less so in Final Act, but the rest of the pieces are still intact that it’s hard to change course to be anything better than decent (at best).
I feel that way a lot about all these classic Shonen. Even the good parts of the Naruto, Dragon Ball Z, One Piece, and Bleach anime feel wrote when binge watching as compared to their print versions. The shows were not made to be watched that way, but read as manga. To that end the movies are made as a way to get a bite sized story and tell an interesting side story. I prefer to rewatch all the Bleach and Naruto movies over watching the show. With that in mind, I can say about the four Inuyasha movies are that they reflect the show.
The Inuyasha movies are the most creative part of the series and play with either character pasts, or the fact the two time periods are connected. The first movie, Affections Across Time, is the worst. It features a demon from China (the continent) being resurrected by a jewel shard and using his magic to destroy the feudal era. The most interesting idea is that the tree Inuyasha was sealed to goes through time and that means the arrowhead shot at Inuyasha was imbedded in the tree and used. The opening where the characters are introduced is also good at getting everything about them across in a short action scene. Everything else is just the show in microcosm. Dull, obvious, and a chore.
The second movie, The Castle Beyond the Looking Glass has the best premise for an anime movie, and does a lot with Japanese mythology. It features the team finally beating Naraku in the opening. From their Naraku’s minions summon moon princess/demon Princess Kagyua. It was of course a ploy to get Naraku more power. It is interesting, and seeing how the characters could end up is a strong comparison to what actually happened, but it is also just kind of boring as they try to stop her, fail, and repeat until they do.
The third movie, Swords of an Honorable Ruler, is far and away the best one, and what I would say good. It focuses on Inuyasha and Sesshomaru’s father and his legacy. We meet the ex-husband of Inuyasha’s mother (before his demon dad), find out how their dad died, and that he had a third sword that could raise the dead. That sword is released and seeks revenge (that is just dumb enough to be fun). This forces Inuyasha and Sesshomaru to work together and advance their arc well before the show got to it, and built the world out in an interesting way. It also uses the side characters well but doesn’t leave focus. It’s probably the only part of Inuyasha I’d say was good.
The fourth movie, Fire on the Mystic Island, is the most basic movie. It features a mystic island that only appears once every 50 years, and Inuyasha and Kikyo just so happen to have been their once. They have to fight four war gods, save slave children, and free themselves. It’s the least interesting, but not the most boring one. It’s just fine.
The movies might be the best way to get the characters in the classic series, but the shadow looming over all of this is Inuyasha: The Final Act. The Final Act is the conclusion series. The classic show ended with them just continuing the adventure and nothing major getting accomplished, meaning they needed to correct it. They did complete the series, and make it better, I’ll give it that.
The Final Act is a tight 26 episode finale. It focuses just on the end of Naraku’s plot, and Kagome and Inuyasha’s relationship. Due to its condensed nature it leaves a lot of the bad episodic elements behind in favor of setting up the final conflict. The characters also feel like they get more development, and dig into drama that the 200+ episode series didn’t even touch. It is not perfect because everything else in the plot is the same. The focus is to find new powers, the battles are not very tactical or interesting, and the end game plan is not interesting. The epilogue is also very standard and pretty easy to predict from the beginning.
Inuyasha has a subtitle (subheading?) called: A Feudal Fairy Tale. This story fancies itself a fairy tale. They feature love, good versus evil, magical worlds, and folklore. To be fair it does have all of those things. So it could be called a fairy tale. The problem arises when it is extended for over two hundred episodes, four movies, and 56 volumes. Fairy tales are conscience stories that go on for a couple dozen pages, or a full Disney movie. Even as Disney turned their fairy tales into shows, Aladdin, Hercules, Emperor’s New School, and Tangled (I assume) they made it far complex and complicated in order to sustain the length of a show. Inuyasha tried to be more complicated. Lots of twists, high drama, big action, big cast, but none of it amounted to anything that couldn’t be easily predicted in the first episodes.
Predictability is not bad. Elements of all good stories are predictable. You know a detective is going to catch a criminal at the end of the show. To stick with anime adaptation: FullMetal Alchemist (Brotherhood), Yu Yu Hakusho, My Hero Academia, and Bakuman all have predictable romance plots, and conclusions (for Hero Aca it would be how arcs end instead of the series). However, the arcs the characters go through, and the challenges they face are not. It’s okay for the story to be about the journey, but the journey has to be interesting.
Inuyasha is not interesting.
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