InuYasha (pronounced Ee-noo-yasha) is an anime series containing fascinating concepts and characters, poignant scenes, lovely artwork, and harsh violence, all mixed with insipid, juvenile dialog and situations.
Kagome Higurashi (her first name is pronounced Ka-go-may) is a 15-year-old Japanese school girl living in the present day. Her family owns an ancient shrine. Inside the shrine is a well which is able – much to Kagome's surprise – to transport her back in time about 500 years to Japan's feudal era, when life was cheap, demons gleefully fed on villagers, and priests and priestesses battled the demons and protected the hapless villagers as best they could.
Upon arriving in the past, Kagome swiftly gets caught up in the affairs of a half-demon named InuYasha and the priestess Kikyo.
InuYasha was born of a demon father and a human mother. Most demons are evil, but a few are simply amoral. InuYasha's father was an incredibly powerful demon who fell in love with a human woman, much to the dismay of many other demons who have nothing but contempt for humans. InuYasha's father died the day InuYasha was born.
As a half-breed, InuYasha doesn't fit into either demon or human society, although he has the supernatural powers and strength of a demon. His manner is abrasive and condescending, he's not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and he would rather use his brawn than his brain. His answer to almost any situation is to rush in immediately with fists and swords. But because of the human half of his nature, underneath his gruff exterior InuYasha's heart is actually very much in the right place. He would just rather die than admit it.
Kikyo is one of the most powerful priestesses in the land. Her spiritual power can purify evil, even at a distance using arrows fired from her bow. She has been entrusted with one of the most powerful magical items in the world – the Shikon jewel, a gemstone capable of vastly increasing the powers of any demon who gets ahold of it.
InuYasha wants the Shikon jewel in order to become a full demon. Kikyo won't allow anyone near the jewel. They argue endlessly, and, of course, fall madly in love.
A demon named Naraku – the main villain of the series – disguises himself and tricks Kikyo and InuYasha into betraying each other. Kikyo, mortally wounded and believing that InuYasha was the one who killed her, pins InuYasha to a large, ancient tree with a spiritual arrow, condemning him to sleep for eternity. Asking that the Shikon jewel be burned with her body to keep it out of the hands of those who are evil, she dies.
When Kagome arrives from the future, she encounters InuYasha sleeping peacefully, pinned to a tree by an arrow. In the nearby village, she learns the story of InuYasha and Kikyo, and that InuYasha has been pinned to the tree for 50 years. When the village is attacked by a demon, Kagome pulls the arrow out of InuYasha – something only Kikyo should have been able to do. InuYasha revives and saves the village.
Everyone then discovers that Kagome is, in fact, Kikyo's reincarnation. Kagome has the power to purify evil just like Kikyo. This is further verified when the Shikon jewel reappears, bursting out of Kagome's body; it had followed Kikyo's soul to be with her in her next life.
Kagome accidentally shatters the Shikon jewel into hundreds of fragments, which fly off in all directions all over Japan.
InuYasha and Kagome – who do nothing but bicker at first – embark on a quest to find each shard of the Shikon jewel, for even a single fragment contains too much power to allow to fall into the wrong hands. Naraku, who wants the Shikon jewel for his own evil purposes, also sets out to gather the shards, and the race is on.
Along the way, InuYasha and Kagome form a fighting group with new friends: Miroku the womanizing priest; a woman named Sango, a professional demon-slayer; Kirara (pronounced Kee-la-la), Sango's animal companion; and Shippo, the irritatingly cute little fox demon.
InuYasha, completely overcome by the fact that Kagome is Kikyo reborn, finds himself falling in love with her.
One of the many foes they face takes the dirt from Kikyo's grave and re-creates Kikyo's body, then captures Kagome in order to force the soul of Kikyo/Kagome back into Kikyo. But only part of Kagome's soul goes into the new body of Kikyo, who then runs away, as she is still confused and angry – after all, her most recent memory is of InuYasha betraying her.
This sets up the strangest love triangle ever. Kikyo has now been resurrected; she and the girl who is her reincarnation walk the Earth at the same time; and InuYasha is in love with both of them.
Kikyo and Kagome share the same soul, but they do not share memories, nor any sense of identity. Each is a completely separate person, and neither is really thrilled with the other's existence.
The group tracks down Kikyo and explains the misunderstanding which led her to believe that InuYasha had betrayed her 50 years ago. This calms her anger, but her personality has still been changed significantly. She is no longer the easy-going, content Kikyo she used to be; she is now more mysterious, more callous (she even tries to kill Kagome at one point, which is surreal), and wishes to be alone. Kikyo does not travel with InuYasha and his friends, and she does not appear in every episode. Throughout the series, she maintains a presence from a distance, wishing merely to have a simple life, and occasionally showing up during a battle with Naraku to give a gentle nudge to InuYasha (and to fuel the love triangle). One of the show's most tragic figures, she seems both to love and to be bitter about InuYasha, and plays her cards very close to her chest.
One thing about Kikyo which hasn't changed is her power. She remains the only mortal Naraku fears. Not only is she still a powerful priestess, but she can usually out-think and out-manipulate Naraku, and she can see into his heart further than anyone else. InuYasha and his friends later learn that Naraku didn't just set up Kikyo for betrayal 50 years earlier for the Shikon jewel – he also did it because he secretly desires her, and knows he can never have her. He is jealous of the fact that she loves InuYasha.
Naraku also has a healthy dose of respect for Kagome, who gradually learns to use her spiritual power the way Kikyo does.
InuYasha has a half-brother named Sesshomaru, who is a full demon. Sesshomaru hates InuYasha for three basic reasons:
Sesshomaru is a fascinating character. Calm, cool, collected, the world could come to an end and the expression on Sesshomaru's face would not change a bit. Cold, stoic, passionless, powerful, amoral, and proud, he despises humans, never raises his voice, and never rushes anything. He frequently fights InuYasha, even when they end up fighting on the same side against Naraku, for Naraku attempts to use Sesshomaru as a pawn against InuYasha – an act Sesshomaru does not appreciate.
Despite his contempt for humans, Sesshomaru picks up a little orphan girl, Rin, as a companion. After a particularly nasty battle left him injured and unable to move, Rin selflessly tended to his wounds and brought him food, for no other reason than that she has a good heart.
Sesshomaru never speaks any of his feelings for Rin aloud and rarely acknowledges her presence (though, to be fair, Sesshomaru rarely acknowledges anything or anyone). Yet when Rin is in danger, Sesshomaru will move heaven and earth to save her. So there's a tiny chance that there's a smidgen of InuYasha's good heart within Sesshomaru, as well.
Sesshomaru, by far, also has the best costume in the whole show.
Naraku is a master of manipulation. He loves to set friends, family and lovers against one another, then stand back and watch their anguish from a distance as they fight. He doesn't do this just because he takes pleasure from it (which he does), he also does it because every act of betrayal corrupts the Shikon jewel a little bit more, infecting it and turning it to the forces of evil.
One of the story arcs involves Sango's little brother, Kohaku. Naraku erases Kohaku's memory, takes control of him like a puppet, and orders him to attack Sango and her friends. This forces Sango to experience the anguish of fighting her own family. She is constantly trying to stop Kohaku without hurting him, and trying to find a way to set him free.
Naraku is so powerful he can create various incarnations of himself – lesser demons with their own identities but who are still bound to him. Since these demons have plans of their own, and don't always like being kept on a short leash, some of them constantly plot to betray Naraku in order to be free, and they, also, attempt to use InuYasha and Sesshomaru as pawns in their own plans.
However, along with the lovely artwork, and the complex and wonderful characters and story, the show also contains some really irritating and juvenile execution:
Also, Kagome has incredible adventures all over Japan in her school girl's uniform, which is a very short skirt. Amazingly, no matter what happens to her, her skirt never betrays her modesty.
Even more unbelievably, Kagome sometimes returns to her own time, never missing any significant classwork or time with her family! She does miss a lot of school, and her family continually creates fake illnesses for Kagome to cover for her (and what family would do that, really?). Although Kagome experiences anxiety over the tremendous amount of missed schoolwork, she never suffers any real consequences from it. The viewer is asked to believe that Kagome somehow lives two complete lives 500 years apart, devoting her full time to battling demons in the past for days at a time, and her other full time to attending school in the present, and keeping her complicated love life a secret from her classmates. Even if this double life was possible, there's another problem: Kagome's only method of time travel is the well in her family's shrine, and InuYasha's group is often miles away from it, so she couldn't return regularly even if she wanted to. None of this is ever explained.
Kagome's immediate family members know about her trips to the past and are perfectly fine with her secret life of battling demons. In one episode, Kagome's mother actually makes lunches for all of Kagome's adventuring friends, and gives them to Kagome to take back in time with her. She acts as if her 15-year-old daughter is simply going on nice field trips, not fighting life-or-death battles on a daily basis.
InuYasha occasionally visits the future with Kagome (for some convenient reason, he is the only one who can do so), and his ignorance of modern machinery is intended as comic relief. Basically, any episode which takes place in Kagome's time is not really worth watching.
But InuYasha's biggest shortcoming is its failure to explore the paradoxical existence of Kikyo and Kagome, the two who are actually one. The concept of the same soul traveling back in time to co-exist with its earlier incarnation is a storytelling gold mine. Yet, aside from a few instances in which Kagome is able to negate Kikyo's powers in some way, the series treats Kikyo and Kagome as simply two parts of a normal love triangle, and rarely addresses the same-soul issue at all, as if it was too trivial to mention. It's a monumental wasted opportunity to explore an incredible idea. This is so frustrating that I wrote a fan fiction short story to fill the void.
Despite these flaws, when InuYasha engages in the adult storylines of Kikyo's sadness, or InuYasha's fights with Sesshomaru, the artwork, music and storytelling can be beautiful and memorable. For example, the show takes some time to explain the origins of the Shikon jewel and to tell the viewer why it's so powerful, and it's a wonderful story.
So InuYasha is a bizarre mixture of the beautiful and the irritating, the adult and the juvenile, the complex and the simple, the fascinating and the tedious, never really making up its mind where it wants to be. Overall, though, it's a fun series to watch.