Review of Inuyasha: Season 1 Episodes 1-12
The prospect for anime has never been rosier in the UK. More and more companies are joining in, and we get all sorts of animated marvels in every genre and every format, from movies, to television series and OVAs. That`s with one glaring exception. Almost absent on UK DVD shelves are the long running series, those serial tales that can stretch in excess of a hundred episodes. You`ll find them in Japan of course, but you`ll also find them in the US, where the fan base is large enough that there is a market for series that will run to fifty or more discs in length, with three or four episodes apiece. That will never work in the UK, where there is little if any television exposure, and the numbers involved just don`t support it. There were a couple of abortive attempts a few years ago, but Dragonball Z never really got started, Yu Yu Hakusho just faded away after five volumes, and the one success was Sailor Moon, which actually got as far as volume 14 before vanishing from the shelves.
Last year however, Manga Entertainment tried a different marketing strategy that seems to work better with long running or obscure series, the half season boxset. Stripping down the extras while doubling or even tripling up on episode numbers, while keeping prices down made for excellent value, and also makes it reasonable to consider investing in a series that will go on for a hundred or more episodes. The success of Naruto opens the door for other similar series to come to the UK.
The manga of Rumiko Takahashi has inspired several long running series, which in Region 2 have seen only limited exposure. While you can get the Urusei Yatsura and Ranma½ series in the US, in the UK we have to make do with just the theatrical features and OVAs for the respective series. Long running comedies with a host of oddball characters, I found the films to be entertaining, and they only piqued my curiosity about the series. But now at last, a Rumiko Takahashi series has come to the UK. Fabulous Films announce their entry into UK anime distribution by releasing the first twelve episodes of season 1 of Inuyasha. Inuyasha is the anime adaptation of Rumiko Takahashi`s current ongoing manga. The series debuted in 2000 in Japan, and her distinctive character designs now get a modern presentation, with a CG lick of paint where necessary. If this proves to be a success, there are another 155 episodes to go.
Inuyasha is a half demon with more than a few canine attributes (Inu is Japanese for dog), who is after the Jewel Of The Four Souls so that he can become a full demon. To that end he plagues a village during the Warring States period of Japanese history, until a warrior named Kikyo defeats him. Kikyo pierces him with an arrow, and binds him with a magic seal before she succumbs to her mortal wound. Her dying wish is that the jewel be cremated with her, so it will pass from this world to the next.
In the present day, Kagome Higurashi is an everyday schoolgirl who lives with her grandfather and family at a temple. Like all teenagers, she pays more attention to her own life than the mystical teachings of her grandfather, so she isn`t prepared when a centipede demon reaches out of the temple well and pulls her in. She wakes up at the bottom of the well, five hundred years in the past. The priestess of the local village Kaede is surprised to see Kagome, who is the spitting image of her sister Kikyo, dead these past 50 years. When the centipede demon attacks again, it becomes clear why. Kagome is the reincarnation of Kikyo, and her body contains the Jewel Of The Four Souls, so coveted by demons and evil men alike. In desperation, Kagome wakes and releases Inuyasha from his fifty-year confinement, and he defeats the demon, but before he can take the jewel, Kaede places an enchantment on him so that he must obey Kagome whenever she speaks the word of submission. Their troubles are only just starting though, as another demon attack leads to the jewel being shattered into thousands of pieces, and it will be up to Kagome and Inuyasha to retrieve them all, before they can fall into the wrong hands.
The first twelve episodes are presented here, six to a disc.
1. The Girl Who Overcame Time… And The Boy Who Was Just Overcome
2. Seekers Of The Sacred Jewel
3. Down The Rabbit Hole And Back Again
4. Yura Of The Demon Hair
5. Aristocratic Assassin, Sesshomaru
6. Tetsusaiga - The Phantom Sword
7. Showdown! Inuyasha vs. Sesshomaru
8. The Toad Who Would Be Prince
9. Shippo And The Thunder Brothers
10. Phantom Showdown - The Thunder Brothers vs. Tetsusaiga
11. Terror of the Ancient Noh Mask
12. The Soul Piper and the Mischievous Little Soul
The image for Inuyasha is presented in 4:3 regular, but in NTSC format. Check your television. Does it have a wooden case, do you have to get up and walk to it to change channels, and do you turn knobs and push buttons to use it? Then you probably will have trouble watching these discs. For everyone else, this is a fine example of what you lose in converting anime from NTSC to PAL, as the image is clear and sharp throughout, there`s no ghosting, softness or jerky pans. But some of you may notice a subliminal flicker (I always do) on PAL television sets, the resolution is lower, and jaggies are always prevalent. Pressing pause is ill advised as the aliasing simply becomes ridiculous.
Otherwise there are a couple of compression artefacts on occasion, and there is an odd moment on the first disc, where the image becomes overexposed to the brink of whiteout for a second or two. It seems to be a problem with playback, not coding, as pausing the show, and then skipping back a frame removes the white overlay. It will be interesting to see if it crops on any other players other than my venerable Sony.
The animation is crisp and vibrant, with distinctive character designs and the precision of computer cel animation. As with any long running animation, it`s wise not to wear out your animators, so there is the occasional flashback sequence, and the animation tends towards the simple and economic, rather than flashy and complicated. It gets the job done though.
Inuyasha gets the original Japanese soundtrack, as well as the English dub, both in DD 2.0. You can also select optional translated English subtitles, but this is one of those releases that prompt you to select from the menu, not from within the programme. As usual my preference is for the original language soundtrack, and there seemed to be no problem here. A little quality control might have picked up the issue of subtitles drifting out of sync with the dialogue, but this happened so rarely that it wasn`t a major concern. The soundtracks are fine, with clear dialogue, and a straightforward representation of effects and music.
The English dub is better off avoided in my opinion. While the voices of the main characters are adequate, the incidental voices are poor, and it very much feels like a Saturday morning `toon. Also for some bizarre reason, a decision was made to delineate the two periods with a difference in dialect, but all it amounts to is the characters in the past using `ye` instead of `you`. That`s it. To say it sounds stupid would be an understatement, especially as Inuyasha`s dialogue is utterly modern, in contrast with his contemporaries.
You may note a burst of large square pixels, three seconds into episode 8. I only mention this, as it may distract you from the fact that both English and Japanese soundtracks are out of sync on this episode. This doesn`t affect the others.
There are a couple of extras with these discs, presented well with animated menus, although the transitions are lengthy.
Each disc gets the appropriate cast lists (both English and Japanese) for its respective episodes.
There is a Line Art Gallery on each disc, lasting 2 minutes and 1½ minutes respectively.
The English language promo and Japanese language promos are repeated across both discs, and while there are no subtitles for the Japanese, there are episode promos for all twelve.
Also on both discs are the Textless Credit sequences.
The discs are presented in a clear Amaray case, and the inside cover has the episode synopses printed on it.
The Play All option stopped working after the second episode on Disc 2, and I wound up selecting the episodes individually.
I enjoyed Inuyasha, although as you would expect from a long running anime series aimed at the middle of the road, it isn`t exactly challenging or groundbreaking. It`s a cross genre piece of fun that entertains, with some broad comedy, some action and a hint of romance too. With just the first twelve episodes here, we`re still in the process of setting the stage, although the show`s premise is quickly established in the first two episodes. I`ve only caught the movies of Ranma½ and Urusei Yatsura, but Inuyasha doesn`t seem to approach that level of harem relationship mayhem. Instead this story tends more towards that of an epic quest, much along the lines of Journey To The West. In this case Inuyasha is the bound demon (dog, not monkey), and Kagome takes the role of monk who releases the demon, and binds him to her service. The quest is to recover the Jewel Of The Four Souls, which conveniently shattered into countless pieces, allowing for as lengthy an adventure as the audience craves. Add to that a little time travel element, and we`re all set for some Saturday morning style action.
With most of the stories on these discs involving Kagome and Inuyasha facing demonic menaces to retrieve the jewel, there are plenty of creative opportunities to see some of the wide variety of Japanese horror imagery. With such a large pantheon of supernatural myths, the inventiveness never ceases to amaze, and the ghost stories here are certainly creative. We begin with a centipede demon, and a crow demon in the first two episodes, but as the focus is more on Kagome and Inuyasha, their development isn`t as strong. Their foe in the next two episodes is much more interesting, Yura is a demon that shapes her world with the hair that she collects from her victims. We return to the quest imagery in the next three episodes. No hero is complete without a weapon, and we also learn of Inuyasha`s past when his brother arrives looking for their father`s sword. Like any decent sword, it`s magic, and only comes to life when Inuyasha wants to protect a human, a bitter pill to swallow for someone who wants to be full-demon.
There`s another creative haunting, when a toad spirit possesses a prince and sets about devouring the souls of all the eligible women in the area. Another two parter follows this, where a couple of demonic brothers have already got a handful of jewel fragments, and their powers have increased. Then there is an obvious strength of Inuyasha, as all the earlier adventures have taken place in the past. Now we see that the door opens both ways, and demonic menaces in modern day Tokyo need defeating too. The power of the jewel fragments awakens an evil mask seeking a corporeal existence, and the disc ends with the strongest episode yet, when Kagome has to help the soul of an angry child find some peace and forgiveness before she is pulled into hell.
Interesting stories are only half the challenge, and fortunately Inuyasha also has a cast of entertaining characters, and some witty writing to it, although the main characters are more archetypes than anything else. Kagome is the typical schoolgirl who is initially out of her depth in the past, but she is plucky, forthright and confident. Inuyasha is selfish, rude, brash and obnoxious, but he`s also determined, brave and strong. Of course the two can`t stand each other at first, but slowly develop an affection for each other, but would rather die than admit it. It`s the sort of lead character dynamic that comes on page 1 of any script-writing guide. As the show progresses, additional characters appear to bolster the cast, and I can see the show achieving Ranma style character overload in short measure. So far we have met the Yoda-esque priestess Kaede who helps the pair prepare for their mission. She`s the one who binds Inuyasha to Kagome`s control. We also encounter Myoga the flea, an elderly and cowardly advisor literally the size of a flea who is always rubbing Inuyasha the wrong way. Just before the end of the discs, we also meet the fox-spirit Shippo, who possesses cunning and a knack for trickery, as well as a bushy tail. He`s a child who was looking to avenge his father, and decided to join Kagome in her quest. I`m sure there will be other interesting characters added to the mix, indeed the opening credit animation pretty much guarantees it.
Inuyasha doesn`t require a lot from the viewer, but is entertaining and imaginative. It`s a fairly simple quest format based around ghost stories, but the potential of having adventures both in the past and present livens things up. Fabulous Films make an impressive anime debut with this two-disc set, although a couple of technical issues needed to be resolved before release. It`s good for a first try, and things can only get better. If you are looking for some simple entry level anime to kick start that habit, Inuyasha is as good a candidate as any, and more committed fans will also find their curiosity rewarded. Well worth a look see.