"InuYasha 2": Same Old Dog, Brand New Demons
Only a few months after the original movie’s U.S. release, InuYasha 2: The Castle Beyond the Looking Glass arrives on DVD. Once again, this fantasy tale of demons, magic, and light romance demands an intimate knowledge of the TV series in order to follow it closely. Like the first movie, this installment sees Inu Yasha and the gang band together to defeat the evil menace du jour, but this time there’s less time spent on explaining origins and more on unraveling a mystery. Consequently the story is a bit more absorbing, although it ends up in the same place.
InuYasha is notable among anime for its distinctly Japanese character. This is especially apparent in the plot of this film, inspired by Japanese folklore staple Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. In this story an old bamboo cutter discovers a tiny young girl, Kaguya, in a bamboo stalk. He raises her and she becomes a beautiful woman who attracts many suitors. Being a capricious type, she demands they bring five unattainable treasures to win her hand. Inevitably they fail and she returns to the moon from whence she came. This same Kaguya and treasures appear in the film, albeit under altered circumstances. Furthermore, many scenes are punctuated with verse that may or may not represent actual poems. Here my feeble knowledge of classic Japanese literature fails me. As an aside, this bamboo cutter folktale is also explored in a more literal form in that evergreen classic Big Bird in Japan.
InuYasha 2 begins abruptly with the crew (perverted priest Miroku, fox child Shippo, possessed cat Kirara, high school cutie Kagome, warrior Sango, and flea Myoga) at battle with archenemy monster Naraku while InuYasha sits it out since it’s nighttime and he apparently has no powers. I suppose he’s sort of a reverse vampire. Maybe he sleeps in a cradle. Suddenly day breaks and InuYasha springs into action, destroying Naraku. At the behest of demon (?) Kaguya, Naraku’s alternate incarnations (?) Kanna and Kagura set about acquiring the five elements necessary to weave a spell that will give Kaguya control of the world and earn them their freedom. Reminds one a bit of those old G.I. Joe miniseries. Meanwhile Sango rescues her little brother Kohaku from apparent enslavement, but then discovers he has a strange infection. The gang encounters Hojo, ancestor to Kagome’s admirer in the present-day world, who has Kaguya’s robe and is on his way to Mt. Fuji to destroy it. Kaguya recovers the robe, the final element, and takes Kagome prisoner. Finally the gang gathers for a battle royale with Kaguya and a second unexpected menace.
The characters have changed little from the first film. Having been previously established, InuYasha and Kagome’s romance doesn’t garner quite as much attention this time, and instead Kagome frets over how much longer she will be able to travel between her world and InuYasha’s. Myoga and Shippo are mere afterthoughts in this film, while Miroku spends some time in the spotlight as he discovers that the demise of Naraku has caused the wind tunnel in his hand to close up. Hojo is a lovable doofus, not unlike Urusei Yatsura‘s Ataru. As for the baddies, they’re pretty much par for the franchise. They offer lots of sinister gloating but little in the way of distinctive personalities.
The animation seems slightly more detailed than in the first movie, or perhaps it is just less ambitious. There’s not much CG work this time around. Anyway it looks smooth if not grand and the action scenes are well executed. The art design is quite similar to the first film, although there are a few bizarre characters on display. Naraku has to be one of the freakier looking villains I’ve seen, especially considering the cute nature of most of InuYasha‘s cast. Half man, half some sort of disgusting mutating spider thingy, it’s no wonder he’s got some aggression to work out. He’d clear out any singles bar in seconds. The pig warriors who pursue Kohaku look suspiciously like cousins of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles‘ Bebop. Thankfully we are spared the corny jokes. Also Miroku flies about on what appears to be a giant magical… er, hot dog, but which actually turns out to be raccoon servant Hachi. This seems like a very literal take on the theory that men’s vehicles are an extension of their, well, you know. Which is especially apt in Miroku’s case.
InuYasha fans will find plenty of action to sink their teeth into. Two thirds of the film play out like an extended Justice League episode, with the team combining their various powers in a battle to the finish with a fearsomely powerful opponent. If you’re not particularly invested in these characters, however, the fighting can start to drag after a while. I continued to be intrigued by the normally defiant InuYasha’s odd deference to the “sit” command. I understand from his name that he is part dog, but we never see him do other canine things like lift his leg.
The special features include a gallery of line art, some trailers, and advertising for the manga and trading cards. Looks like InuYasha is treading dangerously close to YuGiOh territory. Also there’s a Japanese TV special that explains the back story (partially reenacted with dolls!) and sets up the film, although not as thoroughly as the first DVD did. It features a brief look at the sweatshop where Sunrise’s animators toil away and some foley work in the studio.
InuYasha 2: The Castle Beyond the Looking Glass is another one for the fans, who are sure to embrace it. So much knowledge about characters is assumed that viewers unfamiliar with the series will be unlikely to find the film involving. The mysterious first half is rather intriguing, albeit confusing, but the very prolonged denouement had me pining for a Wonder Twins cameo. Still, lovers of fantasy anime, Japanese folklore, and superhero battles will find something to enjoy. And yes, the franchise’s devotion to Japanese traditions again delivers a tantalizing female bathing scene. InuYasha, sit!