Sometimes I think back on my experience with Inuyasha and my conclusions about it have always been conflicted. It was the first anime that I watched whole heartedly, and it was the first thing that brought me into the realm of Japanese media and culture. I've come to love anime and manga, appreciate the history and the different styles and subtleties that come with every genre and now consider it a very large and colorful part of my life. Naturally I look back on Inuyasha with a sense of fondness,the yellow volumes and DVD's on my shelves only a small testament to the dedication I had to the story. However as I said, Inuyasha is something I think about with a degree of conflict. It was the work that introduced me to the magical world of Japanese television, however in its own right Inuyasha is the most chaotic and exasperating anime I've probably ever seen.
There are flaws in the overall composition. Things one might ask themselves like; why, if you KNEW you we're going to be trekking across feudal Japan for months on end, would you bring only one outfit? And more importantly why would it be your Junior High School uniform - i.e. a bright green miniskirt?
Regardless, the story itself is very weak, as its the random plot arcs and ridiculous character relations that really make the show. To summarize, a young girl falls down a well at her family's shrine, only to be transported back in time to feudal Japan, where she frees a grumpy dog eared half demon man who is stuck to a tree (The result of a bad breakup) and ends up breaking a magical mystical artifact that then shatters into a bazillion pieces. Ditzy teenage girl and pissy dog demon guy now must work together to find all the shards of "The Sacred Jewel" before the bad guys do. Sure there's another load of subplots - pointless, funny and romantic alike - but we'll get to that.
Although the premise is simplistic it does expand further along in the story, but only if one likes the show enough initially to move on in the series through the 160 + episodes.
The subplots and the arcs are what make this series entertaining. (And also agonizing if the arc you're in bores you to tears) We'll have run ins with random demons and get mixed up with numerous characters who may or may not come and go. Each plot brings changes and the characters do a very good job of growing and evolving as a result. The series does, despite its episodic nature, still follow some sense of linearity. Development in the characters remain as they would in a real person. (This excludes the Inuyasha movies, unfortunately)
Despite all that, its still one of those series that makes it very easy to drop in at any time and figure things out eventually. I watched from the middle first before I decided I loved the show and went back to see the beginning - which was drastically different to me considering the amount of change that takes place from beginning to middle to end.
I can't go into detail very well considering the story, as there is so much of it its hard to find a place to start. The elements of the setting and time really come into play with the presence of the spirits and demons all of which offer a uniqueness all to its own. The multiple love triangle issues are superficial but also complex, so there is a degree of decent conflict in that regard. I also really appreciate personally how the development of the relationship between the two main characters, Inuyasha and Kagome, is gradual.
Coming to the characters, there are many. Too many to identify them all in this review. This is a great thing about the show, but can also be annoying and for the casual observer, confusing as hell. I'll touch on the main characters at least:
Kagome is a really plain Junior High School girl. As a heroine she starts out pathetically dull and often comes off as a total ditz. However if you give her a chance she does show you how she can grow to be a capable human being despite the fact that she is a 15 year old idiot running around feudal Japan in a miniskirt. Throughout the show we find shes short tempered, opinionated and rash, but she does keep a sense femininity intact somehow. She also retains an ability to sympathize with and care for the people she comes to know. What I love about her is that she starts out completely incompetent. Literally she is nothing but a Mary-Sue-ish teenage airhead with little care in the world aside doing well in school, and she morphs (gradually) into a priestess who can use a bow and even protect herself. She - going through the show constantly compared to the priestess Kikiyo (Details will become clear if you decide to watch the show) she makes a deliberate effort to break free of that confine and become her own person, and I like that.
Inuyasha is also a great source of character development. I know I keep saying "Development development development!" but really is one of the biggest things this show has going for itself. I almost see this anime as some kind of document of how Inuyasha becomes a man. Hes over 50 years old but despite that he is extremely childish, boorish and often rude and annoying. He also works pretty hard to gain strength and create a name for himself. He is an 'underdog' (lol puns) and also has a bit of a Gary-Stu thing going for him. Being a half demon with a snobby older brother and a messed up undead ex-girlfriend gives him a lot of stuff to complain about.
The characters ARE shallow. But their relationships are entertaining and - if you get all the way to the end of this series and the short Inuyasha Sequel: Inuyasha the Final Act - are rewarding to see until the end.
I'll keep the review of the art quick in saying that it is very traditional for the time it was made. Its got a lot of square and rectangular shapes and brightly colored character designs that fit in well with its shounen genre. The style is very consistent, budget obviously allowed for lots of attention to detail and a tone of seriousness. It has its own sort of beauty, very reminiscent of Takahashi's earlier works like Ranma 1/2 and the like, which aired in the late 1980's. Almost a retro anime style if you get my meaning. Movies have much more bold and sharp lines. Character designs could use work (I can't get over the miniskirt thing, I'm sorry. Its just too stupid. And I get really sick of Inuyasha never wearing anything but his giant red.. thing)
Even quicker, my opinion of the sound. The music is diverse and beautifully complex. One of the best parts of the show. Multiple opening and ending themes, background music all magical and perfectly suitable to the time period. Voice acting is always better in Japanese. English is very harsh on the ears, I strongly dislike it nowadays.
Very long review and I've only just scratched the surface. Inuyasha, as I see it, is a classic shounen. Its time in the limelight long passed when it made room for Naruto and Bleach to move in on the scene. For those of you who can take a long series and like the sound of this show, give it a shot. Perhaps google a list of filler episodes you might feel like skipping if this does tickle your fancy. Inuyasha does have something for everyone. From the action to the supernatural, to the romantic and the historical. Its a story hard to place and hard to review with a fair share of chaos and confusion. Its a mess, really. But its a big fun mess if you're willing to see it through.
As always, keep good humor in mind while watching. This show is bananas and it will make you want to throw objects at the screen from time to time.
For now, I tip my hat to Inuyasha. I thank it for showing me this world, showing me complexity and hilarity, and for showing me how flaws can be celebrated for their entertainment just as well as the parts that shine.