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You Can (Not) Watch Inuyasha

Now, thanks to some dedicated viewing, no one can say I haven’t watched every single episode of Inuyasha. And, as a result, I’ve determined I’ve wasted my life.

I think 200 episodes of an anime does that to you.

Let’s start at the beginning: Inuyasha is an anime that first premiered in the US on Adult Swim in August of 2002. At the time, I was a college student, not quite drinking age, and, oh yeah, a gigantic nerd. Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming block had started a year earlier, and with it came Cowboy Bebop, not only one of the best animes ever made, but possibly one of the greatest series ever released in any format (the absolute greatest being, obviously, Fish Police). On the buzz of Cowboy Bebop alone, I’m pretty sure I dutifully watched all Adult Swim anime through the next five years, expecting that, logically, another series must come down the pike that is at least half as good as Cowboy Bebop. That…. Never happened. But back in 2002 I didn’t know that, and Inuyasha looked like a contender. It’s got time travel! And demons! And it’s from the Ranma ½ author! This is gonna be great!

Inuyasha wasn’t great. Inuyasha was for babies.

I also ate it up with a spoon.

Actually, let’s go back to Ranma ½ for a moment. Ranma ½ was author Rumiko Takahashi’s previous manga that was adapted into an anime. It was an often hilarious story about a boy and a girl and the boy occasionally becomes a girl when splashed with water. It was a great little series, but it was nearly impossible to watch in America, because it wasn’t premiering on any television networks, and the age of the VHS was not kind to any bit of media longer than two hours. If you were lucky, one of your friends (the one with an unkempt beard, obviously) had some bootleg VHS tapes of the sub that he totally scored at one of those “con” things (or maybe on IRC). Otherwise, you were never going to see poor Ranma, and the best you could hope for would be a confusing SNES game or maybe some online discussion about what clearly must be the best anime ever.

BARFAnd this was the bizarre world of the late 20th Century. Anime wasn’t kept overseas because companies (likely correctly) believed that there was no profit to be had in importing “Japanimation”, anime was unattainable because it was too adult for our stupid American minds. We got Sailor Moon, but did you know that the original Japanese version was gay as hell? Zoisite is a woman, and those “cousins” are a little bit closer than you’d expect. And Dragon Ball Z! I heard from a friend of a friend that Vegeta and Nappa totally kill people in the original! And Goku gets all bloody, too! And… and… and can you just imagine what those shows we didn’t get look like? Ranma ½ is totally about trans culture! We stupid, prudish gaijin wouldn’t understand!

But, having watched Ranma ½ as an adult years after the fact, I’m forced to admit that the series is merely “good”. It’s hilarious, fun, and occasionally really pretty, but it’s nothing revolutionary. The whole “transformation” thing is treated like a burden by absolutely everyone afflicted (whether they transform into a woman or a piggy) and the majority of the action is focused on the madcap hijinks and how every third man and woman on the planet is inexplicably attracted to Ranma. Aside from some vaguely homosexual notions (is it “gay” if a boy is attracted to a boy that happens to currently be a girl?) there is absolutely nothing earth shattering about Ranma ½, and it’s just… good. Ranma wants to be the best martial artist he can be, and Akane is his obvious match that just happens to have the ability to embarrass him at a moment’s notice with a splash. Story as old as time.

BARKInuyasha is basically the same setup: you’ve got the powerful man (half demon) who can kill anyone in the world with his magically powerful sword, and you’ve got the woman that he obviously loves, who incidentally has the power to bring him to heel instantly (“sit, boy”). And then it takes Ranma ½’s knack for creating a strong supporting cast, and transforms it into a JRPG. We’ve got a big bad that literally craps out clones with random and interesting-to-fight powers, and a party of support staff that is useful for monster identification, exorcisms, and the occasional gigantic spinning top. Throw in a saber tooth kitten that doubles as an airship, and you’ve got Final Inuyasha VII in a nutshell. It’s pretty typical shonen stuff, and the fact that it stars a girl just starting junior high should give you a tipoff to the intended audience.

But Inuyasha did not headline a children’s channel here in America, it was the latest from the very mature Adult Swim. You know, the network with that guy from Fiddler on the Roof complaining about his nipples? Totally mature. And this coupled wonderfully with Inuyasha’s completely insane pacing issues. Inuyasha is definitely an ensemble piece, but its first consistent supporting cast member is not introduced until episode 9. After the tiniest bit of teasing, the villain of the piece eventually arrives during episode 16. For a show that is airing an episode a week, that means approximately four months before the main conflict of the series appears. Four months! In that same amount of time, I’m pretty sure our esteemed president started seventeen nuclear wars! And you could easily make the argument that Inuyasha’s cast isn’t complete until the introduction of the Robin to Sesshōmaru’s Batman, Rin, who appears somewhere around episode 35. By that time, the series had already repeated about six trillion times, and we desperate viewers were convinced those Saiyans were never going to get off Namek! It was infuriating!

And, for some reason, I thought that was the most adult thing of all.

MrowWhen I was growing up, soap operas were derided as lowbrow claptrap. Granted, no one exactly talked about “daytime soaps” in the same way modern man derides anything involving the Kardashians, but it seemed to be constant undercurrent in our other media. I can’t tell you how many times I saw the gag of someone stays home from work or school for a few days, they get dependent on some fictional soap opera, and then everyone has a good laugh about this character’s new, fresh failure of an addiction. Liking soaps is so lame! And, around this same time, serialization was just starting to creep into “normal” media. Star Trek The Next Generation generally forgot its definition of gods, universes, and time travel from week to week, but Star Trek Deep Space Nine was lauded for carrying a cast of characters forward with deliberate callbacks and gradually accumulating motivations. HBO made a killing with The Sopranos, and it was based on intricate storytelling and some poor intern who had to remember which characters were dead at any given moment. And, from my own limited recall of the past, I feel like the first series I ever watched that really cared about continuity was Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the very mature story of a teenage girl jumpkicking vampires until everyone had feelings about everything. Mature storytelling isn’t just ongoing soap opera mush, it’s the elaborate weaving of a million threads that explain why Xander just made a fart joke (it’s because of daddy issues).

Naturally, this lead me to believe Inuyasha’s glacial pace was some apex of sophistication and art. Despite the fact that basically everything you would ever need to know about the series happens in the first two episodes (Inuyasha and Kogome secretly love each other, the cast will be happy forever after we kill every last monster in feudal Japan), I kept watching Inuyasha for… something? I guess I thought they’d eventually reassemble the sacred jewel and then… I don’t know… go to the beach? Or start a new, more interesting plot that wasn’t just Adventure Story #1 (collect all the shiny things)? I don’t even know what I wanted from Inuyasha, I just wanted to see that story move forward and… end. Hey, maybe I didn’t enjoy the show at all! Maybe I just wanted to check off another box on the ol’ “list of shows I done watched”. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Inuyasha consists of 167 initial episodes, and an additional 26 that were produced three years later. With weekly viewings, that all adds up to too damn long to spend on any one piece of media. I moved on. … Or I just let my cable subscription lapse.

What?But, because I am a completionist at heart, I decided to take another stab at it. I decided that I’d watch Inuyasha from start to finish, and see how it all really ends. For anyone curious, here are the bullet points for how Inuyasha’s overarching plot:

  • Kagome travels back in time, and encounters Inuyasha, a half-demon dog that was formerly smitten by Kikyō, who was reincarnated as Kagome.
  • They fall in love and form a kinky dom/sub relationship immediately.
  • Inuyasha picks up a magical sword, which is coveted by his brother, Sesshōmaru, who incidentally has his own magical sword that can freaking raise the dead (but is only used, like, once).
  • Kagome and Inuyasha gain three allies: Sango the demon huntress, Miroku the lecherous monk, and Shippō the walking stuffed animal. They are additionally joined by an unevolved litten, and the occasional fleaman.
  • Kikyō is revived, and, drama bomb, Inuyasha has an undead ex wandering around.
  • Naraku eventually shows up. He’s basically Kikyō’s jealous “nice guy” ex, except he possesses the ability to absolutely never die.
  • Nothing happens for 130 episodes.
  • Inuyasha’s sword turns into a dragon (?) that can puke Hell (?).
  • Naraku, the villain who will not die, dies.
  • Kagome gets a new school uniform.

MROWAnd that’s a ball game, folks. About 20 episodes of actual content, rising action, and consequences, followed by roughly 150 episodes of everyone standing around saying, “I really want to kill that one guy, but hoooow?” I’m going to lie and claim that I don’t mind “filler” episodes, but only when they’re actually entertaining. Your average filler Inuyasha slots into three categories:

  1. A random demon/furry is causing trouble, time to kill it
  2. A random demon is causing trouble, but it is disguised as someone that needs help. It takes a couple episodes for the gang to notice Team Rocket at it again.
  3. The We Hate Naraku Support Group sits around and shares stories about why they hates that varmint so much.

And that’s it! I’m pretty sure Naruto at least had ninja in its filler episodes, here you’re lucky if you go a whole three episodes without exploring an eight year old’s love life. Against all odds, the most interesting episodes wind up being the ones where Kagome visits her home time period and Inuyasha has to fight a bicycle. It’s absurd, it’s ridiculous, and it forsakes the entire premise of the series, but it’s actually entertaining. This might be the one anime in history that makes “the school festival” remotely interesting (step it up, Persona). It might not actually involve a single demon, but Kagome’s beleaguered friends attempting to interpret her ludicrous love life (which involves a dog man and a wolf man) is always a good time. And it only happens about ten times over 200 episodes. Inuyasha is … let me get out that calculator… crunch a few numbers… 0% good!

SpookyBut I’m not writing this article because I want to attack Inuyasha (lie), I’m writing this because I want to warn others. Let me be your canary, and listen to my last gasps of air. Don’t watch anime! Wait… no, that isn’t right, let me try again… Don’t watch anime that is hundreds of episodes long! It’s not worth it! Stories do not work like that! You’re just going to start logging every damn time Miroku can’t use his wind tunnel because of “Naraku’s poisonous insects” (91 times), and you’ll wish for death by the third season. Don’t confuse length for maturity! Don’t watch something just to say you watched it! Whatever ending you imagined, it’s better! I guarantee it! Don’t waste your life like me!

Anyway, article over, I gotta get started on Yu-Gi-Oh now.