InuYasha Season 5 (VIZ Media, T)

dvd_inuyasha.jpgSince this is a boys’ anime, there’s lots of fighting and demons and some great historical battle scenes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you look in the dictionary under "anime empires," one of the entries should certainly read "see InuYasha," because it’s one of the longest-running and most popular titles out there. The manga InuYasha ran in Shonen Sunday from November 1996 to June 2008, and was also published by Shogakukan in 53 volumes. The television series ran 167 episodes, and there have been four InuYasha movies as well. All this has helped make series creator Rumiko Takahashi, who also created Ranma ½, one of the richest women in Japan.

This success is not undeserved: InuYasha is a high-quality shonen (boys’) anime whose advantage over its competitors is not that it is wildly different from them, but that it’s just better in all the major aspects: premise, story development, characters, art; even the theme music is a cut above the norm.

The story begins in feudal Japan, where the half-demon InuYasha steals the Jewel of Four Souls. A miko (priestess) named Kikyo shoots him with an arrow, which seals him into a sacred tree. Meanwhile, in modern Japan, a ninth-grader named Kagome is pulled down a well by a centipede demon, and emerges to find herself also in feudal Japan. And wouldn’t you know, she’s a reincarnation of Kikyo and looks just like her.

All the demons in Japan want the Jewel of Four Souls for the powers it conveys on the owner, and during one of their many struggles it is broken into pieces which are scattered all over Japan. So the task of InuYasha and Kagome is to gather up the shards to prevent them being used for evil. They acquire several companions and helpers on this mission, including the lecherous monk Miroku (he’s found of asking every woman he meets if she’d like to bear his child), the demon slayer Sango and her faithful nekomata (demon cat) Kirara, and the kitsune (fox demon) Shippo. Their chief adversary is Naraku, a shape-changing half-demon who wants the jewel in order to become a full demon, but lots of other demons, monsters and related obstacles also appear as the band continues on their journey.

The DVD box set for season five includes episodes 100 though 126, which are nicely integrated (bearing in mind that this was a television series) by the "Band of Seven" story arc which is developed over the season. The Seven are mercenaries who were executed, then brought back to life by the jewel shards, so they have to be killed all over again. They’re sort of like the X-Men in that each has a special power or weapon: Bankotsu wields a huge sword, Renkotsu is an explosives and mechanical expert, Mukotsu is a master of poison, Kyokotsu is gigantic, Jakotsu has a sword with snakelike blades, Suikotsu has metal claws, and Ginkotsu not only has weapons (including cannon, axe and spear) built into his body, but was reconstructed by Renkotsu into a tank with saw blades for wheels.

Since this is a boys’ anime, there’s lots of fighting and demons and some great historical battle scenes which seem lifted right out of Ran. But the characters are also well developed and change and grow over the course of the episodes, and there’s at least two love triangles going on: Kikyo-InuYasha-Kagome and Koga (leader of the wolf demons) -Kagome-InuYasha.

One thing I love about anime is the layers of meanings and the way fairly complex psychology is worked into stories which can still be enjoyed by children. Many of the characters are a mixture of contrasting elements, which they must try to reconcile: InuYasha and Naraku are both half-demon and half-human, Kikyo is trapped between life and death, and even Kagome harbors some bitterness in her pure heart. One of the Band of Seven spends part of his time as a saintly doctor, prompting Kikyo to remark that "good and evil exist in all men who walk the earth."

Even the names carry layers of meaning: Naraku means "hell," Shippo means "seven jewels" (a Buddhist reference to the seven jewels of royal power), and Miroku is the Japanese name for Maitreya, the Buddha of the future. The Band of Seven all have names ending in kotsu, meaning "bone," a reference to their undead state.

The art of InuYasha is within the standard shonen anime style: The characters are quite stylized but have enough individuality that there’s never a problem telling them apart. The backgrounds are particularly beautiful and use a variety of styles, from saturated color for the forests and mountains through which our band of heroes is endless traipsing, to monochromatic ink drawings representing a medieval village.

InuYasha is rated T for Teen; there’s loads of cartoon violence but nothing that would daunt even a young teen teenager, and the character’s relationships are sometimes emotionally intense but entirely pre-sexual. The DVD transfer is sharp and clean, with intense colors and vivid images, and the soundtrack is available in both English and Japanese, with English subtitles. The box set includes two extras, both on disk five: "InuYasha Special Footage" gives an overview of the characters and plot (a useful introduction if you came late to the series) and the "Textless Ending" is a sort of music video presenting the characters and location accompanied by music. | Sarah Boslaugh

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