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In "InuYasha: The Movie," Demons Have Feelings Too

OK, I have to confess at the very top: When it comes to the popular Inuyasha franchise, I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I’ve only seen a few minutes of the TV show. So, I have to judge Inuyasha, The Movie: Affections Touching Across Time as a stand-alone production. So there may be nuances to this story that I don’t get. The good news is that the movie works just fine even if you don’t know the ins and outs of the series.

InuyashaKagome, the heroine, is a typical Japanese junior high school student who spends her free time (of which seems in no short supply) in a highly atypical manner: By way of a magic well, she travels 500 years into the past to hang out with her friends: Inuyasha, an impetuous half man, half demon (and part dog?); Miroku, a lecherous monk; Sango, a fierce warrior; Shippo, the playful fox demon; and the cowardly old flea Myoga. All, even Kagome, have magic capabilities of some sort, and together they are trying to collect all the fragments of the scattered Shikon jewel, which will allow them to keep the world’s demons under control.

But one fragment of said jewel has stirred up the spirit of the demon Menomaru, the son of the mighty Hyoga, who was killed by Inuyasha’s father long ago. Hyoga’s power remains sealed in a huge tree, so the demon seeks out and tricks Inuyashainto using his all-powerful Tetsusaiga sword to break the seal. With his father’s power, Menomaru then sets out to absorb the souls of all living things on Earth. This sets up a battle royale between Menomaru and Inuyasha and company.

The main story is really not compelling and just comes off as another “villain of the week” plot. There is a subplot examining the ambiguities of Kagome and Inuyasha’s relationship, and this love story does add some depth, but it is also somewhat predictable and doesn’t really take the time to establish the roots of the relationship. From what we see, there is little to indicate why Kagome would be so smitten with Inuyasha. Well, he’s got a mighty big sword, and, er, you never know, do you?

Clearly it is the colorful crew of characters that give this franchise life. I’ll just come right out and say that Miroku steals the show. His sudden bursts of perversion are a riot, as when he spontaneously and most earnestly asks a complete stranger to bear his children. His love/hate relationship with the fiery Sango is very reminiscent of that between City Hunter‘s Ryo Saeba and Kaori, although Miroku has slightly more dignity. Inuyasha himself is sort of an interesting anti-hero. He gets the job done, but he is dangerously impulsive and sometimes thoroughly obnoxious. Kagome gets the most screen time, and no doubt she is intended to be the character that the young Japanese (female?) audience identify with. She is a very typical anime heroine, but she has a few nice moments feuding with Inuyasha. Additional laughs are provided by the comic-relief team of the bizarrely transforming Shippo and long-suffering Myoga, who endures no end of casual physical abuse from his friends. A dubious inclusion, though a key plot device, is Sango’s pet Kirara, which looks to be taking time off from its Pokemon day job.

Two other characters seem to be significant but play no real role in the story. Kikyo seems to be an old flame of Inuyasha, but apparently their relationship ended with her nailing him to a tree with an arrow. (Talk about a tough break up!) She doesn’t do much here except mope about and act jealous. The other mysterious character is Sesshomaru, who seems to be Inuyasha’s brother and rival, but does little here except mutter that he will kill Inuyasha. He never gets around to trying.

This is, incidentally, one of the most tangibly Japanese anime I’ve ever seen. It’s set in feudal Japan and features numerous fixtures of Japanese folklore. All characters wear some variation on traditional Japanese dress, and there is much discussion of Kagome’s bento box lunch.

The animation is primarily traditional 2D with a few bits of CG thrown in. It’s nothing groundbreaking but plenty attractive for an anime feature. The art design is fairly conventional, although Hyoga’s immense tree is an impressive sight. In the film’s final battle the foreign demons look suspiciously similar to Heronimous Bosch’s painting of such (and to the short-lived Battle Beasts toy line from the 1980s).

DVD special features include little of note, except for a half hour Japanese TV special seemingly intended to introduce the franchise and promote the movie. I strongly recommend that fellow novices watch this “special footage” before the movie. It gives details on the characters’ background and explains at least some of the mysteries the movie blithely ignores, particularly the roles of Kikyo and Sesshomaru. Also keep an eye out for a surprise cameo from what appears to be none other than Kage of the classic 80s Legend of Kage arcade game. Good to see he’s still getting work.

Inu Yasha, The Movie is really intended for the series’ fans, and it should not fail to entertain the faithful. For the rest of us, it is a decent fantasy adventure with a few laughs that is a harmless enough way to pass the time. Personally, I eagerly await a sequel: Miroku, The Movie: The Groping.

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