Monday, February 28, 2011

Inuyasha: Season 1

Due to the long running nature of this show, there WILL be some spoilers in this review and the reviews to follow related to subsequent seasons. Read at your own risk. You have been warned.

Now here is an anime that brings back some memories. When most of us were young, we had Pokemon, Sailor Moon, and Dragon Ball Z, but as those of us who found anime fascinating began to outgrow daytime programming we began to seek out darker, and edgier stuff to sink our teeth into. And that was when we discovered Adult Swim. Back in it's anime heyday, Adult Swim carried a number of fan favorites, some of which endured for quite some time. One such program told a feudal fairy tale about a half demon, his not-girlfriend from present day Tokyo, a lecherous monk, a demon slayer, and a young fox demon, who travel the land in search of the ultimate McGuffin, and the demise of those who would covet it for evil ends. It is a tale of romance and magic, so let's grab our bow and arrows, and take a jump through that conveniently placed time portal. Today, we're looking at Season 1 of the long-running series, Inuyasha.

The main cast as they travel through the countryside.
 From left to right, Sango, Miroku, Inuyasha, Shippo, and Kagome.
Inuyasha was one of my personal favorites during my late teenage years, and probably one of the anime I followed the most closely out of any of the shows broadcast on cable TV. And is it any wonder? The characters are fun and interesting and the setting is pretty epic. The anime was based on a manga of the same name that was penned by Rumiko Takahashi (Known also for her other long running manga, and the subsequent anime "Ranma 1/2) and ran in Shounen Sunday from November 1996, to June 2008. That on its own is quite impressive. The anime version was produced by the studio Sunrise (getting a lot of those it seems) and it ran on several local TV stations from October of 2000 to September of 2004. In the USA and Canada it is licensed by Viz Media and in Australia and New Zealand by Madman Entertainment.

Get used to hearing about this incident folks.
 By the end of the season alone you'll have heard about it
so much it will be permanently tattooed into your brain.
Our story starts in Feudal Japan, albeit a very romanticized version of Feudal Japan where demons roam freely and monks and priestesses actually have spiritual powers. Surely the titular half-demon hero of the title is already doing something heroic right? Is he rescuing children? Saving a damsel in distress? Nope. Instead, he is very heroically stealing this treasure called the Jewel of Four Souls from a village after apparently having fatally wounded the local priestess that was guarding it. Hmm, maybe anti hero would be a better description at this point in the story? He gets to this sacred tree at the edge of the village before the priestess, Kikyo, let's fly an arrow which combined with her spiritual powers, seals him to the tree, putting him into what is essentially a magical stasis before she dies in her sister Kaede's arms. Her last words to her sister are that the jewel is to be burned with her body so that no one else can be harmed by it.

You'd think someone would have noticed a lump in her side that large
long before now with everyone running scared about cancer these days.
So a few hundred years pass, and we now find ourselves  in present day Tokyo, as our main heroine Kagome Higurashi turns 15 years old.  As she's off to school from her house which is situated on the property of her family's Shinto shrine, her younger brother tells her that he's lost the family cat inside the old dry well that they have on the premises. In the process of looking for the wayward feline, they take a look down the well and end up getting a nasty surprise, as an incredibly large centipede like monster grabs hold of Kagome and drags her down into the well. During the descent, Kagome manages to free herself from the centipede by inexplicably calling on some as of yet untapped mystical powers before attempting to climb back out. Much to her consternation, she finds herself in Feudal Japan. After discovering a sleeping Inuyasha pinned to the tree (and spending some time playing with his dog ears to see if they are real), she is apprehended by the local villagers who don't know what to make of her strange clothes. At the village she encounters an older Kaede who is surprised by how similar she looks to Kikyo, and explains that her sister died 50 years ago. Naturally, the sacred jewel is not far behind, as the centipede monster gives chase again, wounding Kagome, revealing that it was inside of her. In the struggle, Kagome also releases Inuyasha from the tree and after nearly being attacked by him too, Kaede throws a magic necklace around his neck that is bespelled so that when Kagome gives him a special word of command, he is magically (and quite violently) pulled to the ground in a submissive posture. What is this magic word of command you ask? Being that Inuyasha is half dog-demon, naturally, the first thing that would come to Kagome's mind would be the Japanese equivalent of "Sit." Over the next episode or so a series of events take place that result in the Jewel being shattered and scattered all over Japan requiring Kagome and Inuyasha to team up and travel the country in search of the shards which basically amounted to a mega McGuffin.

With all the dangers in this universe its really amazing there
were any nihonjin left when Commodore Perry showed up.
The world in which the story takes place feels very general in many ways. Aside from some of the demons whom in many ways are closer to Shinto spirits in that they can chose to be good or bad (most are bad but there are exceptions), there aren't a lot of setting related surprises. We know we're in the Japanese feudal period, therefore, we are going to see samurai, we are going to see feudal lords, and we are going to see the peasants, bandits, and such that all traditionally crop up in period pieces. In terms of the disasters that seem to hit however, one has to wonder if Takahashi didn't guarantee the decimation of countless villages by putting the demons in there.  At this point, most of the core group's journeys are largely local. It's relatively easy to get back to the main village and Kagome can go back through the well to see her folks at regular intervals (they are surprisingly quite supportive of their fifteen year-old daughter going into certain danger with a strange man who's way older than her). It is definitely advantageous, as the main duo and the rest of the five-man-band that joins later on definitely benefit from having that base of operations to work out of.

Ah, Sesshomaru.
Arrogant, racist, and abusive as hell to his younger sibling,
 and we loved every minute of it.
One of the advantages in a long running series is that you can take as long as you want when introducing the main characters, so that rather than having everyone spontaneously show up in episode 1 you can have them spread out over a few episodes or even a whole season. This show makes full use of that advantage giving the writers plenty of time to introduce each new character and allow their story to develop in relation to the others without leaving you feeling like nothing's happening. Inuyasha and Kagome weren't officially even working together before partway through episode 4 and it wouldn't be until episode 9 that we got to meet any of the other main characters. This is totally okay once we realize the importance of the stuff that happens in between and how it serves to establish Kagome and Inuyasha's relationship with each other and introduce some important quest items, such as the sword Tetsusaiga, a family heirloom from Inuyasha's father and some of Inuyasha's problems like his incredibly racist demon half brother Sesshomaru (we'll talk about him later), and his inconvenient weakness of turning human at the new moon (in a sort of reverse werewolf phenomenon). Once the other characters in the main party start trickling into the picture, it's really nice to see the time Takahashi and the subsequent story board people at Sunrise took to establish these characters within the group. For instance, when the third member of the group, the young fox demon Shippo, is introduced, he's got his own problems with the Thunder Brothers as his father was killed by them because of the sacred jewel shards in his possession. After the Thunder Brothers are dealt with and the shards liberated, he stays with Kagome and Inuyasha because he has nowhere else safe to go and he's still just a kid. Kagome is fine with that because she still feels somewhat responsible for the sacred jewel getting shattered anyway, and Inuyasha develops a sort of sibling rivalry with him.

Here's an interesting question: When Urasue revived Kikyo,
she had to pull her soul out of Kagome because
it had already transmigrated. Kagome hasn't been born
yet, so does this mean there's another reincarnated priestess
walking around with a sacred jewel in her side? Hmm...
It isn't long after this (and a small smattering of filler) that the story begins to get complicated. While the gang is away hunting for jewel shards, Kikyo's grave is defiled and her ashes stolen by a demon named Urasue, who then proceeds to use those ashes and Kagome's soul (being Kikyo's reincarnation) to bring Kikyo back from the dead. Naturally, given the circumstances of her death, this does not bode well, as she didn't get the memo that Inuyasha is a good guy now (uh....  sort of), and is still bent on killing him. As a result however, new questions begin to arise as it seems that Kikyo and Inuyasha both are convinced that the other one attacked them first 50 years ago, and it seems that before the incident, they were actually dating (which injects a whole lot of awkwardness for Kagome as she and Inuyasha have been getting closer to each other lately). Kikyo departs, leaving the party to question what the heck is going on. However, this in turn sets the stage perfectly for a new party member.

Now that is a big frigging boomerang.
The season is half over now as we finally get to introducing Miroku, an itinerant Buddhist monk with a penchant for lechery who is on the trail of a demon named Naraku, who has cursed him with...   the ultimate weapon! It basically amounts to having a black hole in one's hand. Sure there's that little problem of it eventually killing him if he doesn't off Naraku first but it's still a really powerful weapon, especially against lesser enemies. Miroku's troubles with Naraku turn out to be intimately connected to Inuyasha's past as it turns out that Naraku cam into being around the time Inuyasha was pinned to the tree and was actually responsible for the incident because it was his orchestrations that caused Inuyasha and Kikyo to be turned against each other. Soon after, Naraku tries to get at them again by using Sesshomaru, giving everyone a good look at him, and then he goes into hiding. Not long after that Kikyo is alerted to the misunderstanding and then right as we go into the last couple of episodes of the season, Sango is introduced along with her cat demon companion Kilala (or Kirara depending on the preferred pronunciation scheme). Sango probably has the most tragic back story of all given that she comes from a village of demon slayers that was completely destroyed by demons at Naraku's bidding, including her father and kid brother, and on top of it all, Naraku tricks her into believing Inuyasha did it so that she can distract them while he's doing his own thing. Eventually, she learns the truth, but not before being brutally injured multiple times. The season ends with Sango telling them how the sacred jewel originated in her village and the crew continuing their search for for the sacred jewel and Naraku (which works out, because, big surprise, he's collecting the shards too) once Sango's injuries have healed.

Miroku: Naraku...  if those bugs couldn't poison me when I did it,
I'd suck you up like a vacuum cleaner!
The supporting characters in the series so far are usually not that important unless they are recurring. Most of the time, especially in filler episodes which are usually just "monster of the week" in format, you'll have a specific support character or village with a problem which the Inu-nakama has to come in and fix, like in one episode there's a young servant who's looking for a princess on behalf of his lord, and in another, a water god has mysteriously turned evil and started demanding human sacrifices from the local populous. On occasion some of these characters are catalysts for the crew learning important information, but most of the time thier just distractions from the meat of the plot. However, there are a couple of recurring characters that have appeared that are important. From the first village, there is Kaede of course, but then there is also Myoga the Flea-demon who is a servant of Inuyasha's (and rather humorously likes to suck his blood or the blood of anything else living and handy), who is very old and is often the provider of plot information. There is also Hachi, a tanuki demon who is a servant of Miroku's (How that happened with an itinerant monk I don't know), who occasionally helps the gang out with various things. Many of the antagonists aside from Naraku are complicated to explain because aside from being mad at Inuyasha for various reasons (Sesshomaru because Inuyasha's a half-demon, and Kikyo because of that whole betrayal thing), but once Naraku enters the picture for them, it's hard to see them as technically true enemies because if not for their grudges, they'd all be on the same side. Not to mention, Sesshomaru is really kinda hard to hate if you know what's coming for him. Inuyasha already cut his arm off when they were fighting over Tetsusaiga so aside from the rascism thing he's a handicapped bishounen badass, which is why I think a lot of girls went nuts over him when the show was big (including me?..  Well..  maybe...   er...   just a little...    okay yes, I did too, I admit it). However, don't even think for a second that this applies to Naraku. Once he appears, most of the shenanigans go out the window, and no wonder, considering his name actually means "Abyss" in Japanese, and he's already thought up about six different plots to handle the situation before you've thought up one.

Kagome: Inuyasha!
Inuyasha: Kagome!
Kagome: Inuyasha!
Inuyasha: Kagome!
Sesshomaru: Um...   can't you save this until after I've killed you?
In terms of overall style, I doubt we're going to get to that until the end of this review which I plan on interchanging with a different anime every month so we're not doing the same thing every review week. But at this point in the series, the jokes are funny and even some of the stuff that much anime falls victim to like over use of calling people's names and calling one's attacks are enjoyable both in English and Japanese. The plot is moving at a nice pace, the filler is not overly suffocating, and I'm having a good time, so I can't say I have many complaints this season. It would be kinda nice if Kagome wasn't always over analyzing everything though. Like in the episode where Sesshomaru's introduced, she has this whole internal monologue about Inuyasha's relationship with his human mother and how it compares to her own mother and while some of this is related to the plot, I would have thought she'd have figured out that Inuyasha had a human mother looong before someone came out and told her point blank. It's kinda obvious. Not to mention, some of the dub work in the English version is a bit corny. Enough so that it's quite laughable For those of you who are wondering why I'm not calling foul about Miroku's tendency to flirt with girls and occasionally feel them up when I made such a fuss about Yuuji back when I reviewed Tona-gura!, there's a reason. Miroku's antics are mostly played for comedy, and other characters call him out on it, with repercussions, and they don't completely dominate the plot. Not to mention, he does choose to exhibit self control when it is required of him and he actually does have some real redeeming qualities. Yuuji on the other hand, aside from arousing Kazuki's anger, usually seemed to get away with everything Scot free, was sometimes encouraged to behave that way, and his antics WERE the plot, and even his hobbies had perversion potential.

So far, the art style is fun, and the music is pretty nice. Each character has their own ensemble of musical themes backing them up, some of which are nice enough I catch myself humming them all the time, like Kikyo and Kagome's themes which both sound almost like lullabies at times, but Kikyo's sounds more tragic and regretful, while Kagome's seems slightly more romantic and sweet. It works really well especially since the series is so long and allows the viewer audiological cues along with the visual ones that something character-related is going on. When it comes to the intro and outro theme songs, I guess their okay. "Change the World" the show's first intro which is performed by V6 is a nice upbeat song, but I'm not sure if it's the theme I would have picked given all the stuff that happens. The two ending themes "My Will" Performed by Dream, and "Fukai Mori" by Do as Infinity are also both nice, but I tend to think the second one resonated with me better than the first one. Having thoroughly seen both the Japanese and English dubs for this season now I can fairly say that I like both of them. On the one side, the English dub has some very nice actors for their ensemble. There's Kirby Morrow as Miroku who also did part of Ocean's dub for Goku in Dragonball Z, and there's Monica Stori as Kagome, Richard Ian Cox as Inuyasha and some others the English only crowd may find familiar, but in the Japanese version, they've got Kappei Yamaguchi as Inuyasha (also Shinichi Kudo in another long running series, Detective Conan), Toshiyuki Morikawa as Naraku (would you believe this guy was actually Jonouchi in Yu-Gi-Oh and Sephiroth?) and then we have Sango's seiyuu Houko Kuwashima who has been practically everywhere (Medusa in Soul Eater, Clare in Claymore, Isara Gunther in the first Valkyria Chronicles PS3 game, the list goes on.), not that some of the others haven't. Overall I think it's been a good start to the series so hope you'll come back and see us when we come out with the overview for season 2.

Images taken from Inuyasha.

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