Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, May 13th 2013
InuYasha the Movie
Blu-Ray - The Complete Collection
In the first of these four movies, Inuyasha must defeat the son of a demon sealed away by his own father, while Kagome must contend with a potentially permanent separation from Inuyasha. In the second, Inuyasha and his ragtag team finally slay Naraku, but in so doing clear the way for evil moon-princess Kaguya to return to Earth. In the third, the reawakening of the most destructive and autonomous of Inuyasha's father's swords forces Inuyasha and his brother Sesshomaru to join forces in defeating it. In the fourth, Inuyasha returns to a mystical island he and Kikyo once visited to free the half-demon children imprisoned there and defeat the four demon-gods who are enslaving them.
There's definitely a pattern to the movies spawned by Rumiko Takahashi's long-running “feudal fairy tale.” Each one follows the same broad plot outline and even the same basic movie structure. They could almost be remakes of one another, or at the very least really similar variations on a theme. That probably has something to do with the conspicuous consistency of their production—they were produced with machinelike precision at yearlong intervals—along with their consistent authorship (each was written by Katsuyuki Sumisawa and directed by Toshiya Shinohara). But there's more to it than that. They adhere to formula, at least in part, simply because it's a decent formula: effective, entertaining, and flexible enough to create disparate charms for each film.
The basic story goes thus: Evil is released from some form of imprisonment; evil gathers power to itself; evil crosses Inu>yasha and company; evil gets destroyed by Inu>yasha and company. The evil always has some connection to Inu>yasha's past, always has small-fry subordinates for the secondary heroes to battle, always reaches the pinnacle of its power before the good guys can stop it, and is always crushed in the end by the combined powers of Inu>yasha and Kagome (or in the case of movie three, Inu>yasha and Sesshomaru). Structurally, each film begins with a big battle, during which it reintroduces the franchise's main players. It builds through several smaller battles to a spectacular final showdown. It concludes with a humorous “what comes after” montage during the end credits, followed by a short coda that usually ends with Kagome getting mad at Inu>yasha and telling him to “sit!”
As thoroughly and sometimes annoyingly predictable as that rigid formula can be, it has certain built-in advantages. Its clean, classical structure for instance. No matter how each film fares in terms of its villain or its emotional undercurrents, it can still rely on its established structure to give it an opening hook, a smoothly escalating conflict, a satisfyingly epic climax, and a gentle wind-down at the end. Regardless of their end worth, every film is guaranteed a certain base level of entertainment value.
The real value of the formula, though, isn't its stability, but the little bit of flexibility it allows itself. In each film the formula is wrapped around a different issue from the main franchise—Inu>yasha and Kagome's relationship in the first, Inu>yasha and Sesshomaru's rivalry in the third, and so on. And unlike most franchise films, Inuyasha's films have no qualms about bracing the big issues head-on, and even breaking a little new ground while they do. Which allows each movie to resonate in a different way with the franchise's fans, and to take on a slightly different flavor from its neighbors.
In terms of individual flavor, the first film is definitely the tastiest. Partly that's just because the formula hasn't gotten stale yet. Mostly, though, it's because the film's heart is that of the franchise at large: Inu>yasha and Kagome's kinda-maybe romance. The film offers up more Kagome/Inu>yasha goodness than a whole season of the TV show, especially when Kagome is buffaloed into returning to the present by Kikyo. Her return is cut off, and the film takes on a sad, snow-muffled lyricism that shamelessly exploits the pair's fairy-tale separation (the movie isn't called Affections Touching Across Time for nothing). The movie also benefits from its hissable villains, the weaker of which meet satisfyingly ignominious ends.
The second film is the closest to being a direct remake of the first, the only difference being its female villain and full incorporation of arch-villain Naraku into its plot. The film is quite clever and surprisingly logical about how it weaves Naraku into what is essentially a regurgitation of the first film's story. And Naraku's early “death” allows the movie to explore the ways Naraku has damaged the characters' lives, and how they might react to the end of their anti-Naraku quest, in sensitive and surprisingly touching ways. As with the first film, it is those quieter, more emotional passages that linger even after the concluding bombast has faded from memory.
The third film runs into trouble by trying to make dramatic hay with the dried-up remnants of Inu>yasha and Sesshomaru's brotherly bond. Cold, terminally inexpressive Sesshomaru is one of the franchise's least interesting characters, and his rivalry with Inu>yasha one of its least interesting relationships. The film does earn points for giving us a taste of what Inu>yasha's mother and father were like, and what they felt for each other. But when the script tries to milk uplift from the brothers joining of forces, it quickly curdles into cheese. The slop about how sons idolize their fathers and how fathers are goals that their sons strive for doesn't help a whit.
The final film continues the downward slide. It's the only one of the films that doesn't clearly center itself around one of the franchise's ongoing concerns. If you count the flashbacks to non-corpse Kikyo and the fight involving an evil Kikyo clone, you could make a case for the film being centered around Inu>yasha and Kikyo's tragic relationship, but that would be stretching things a bit given the brevity of their scenes together. The film is far more interested in the plight of its troop of adorable half-demon kids, which makes it a closer cousin to the heroes-help-new-characters filler films of series like Bleach and Naruto.
The first film sets the visual pattern for the later films by underplaying its visuals in the first half—sticking reasonably close to the quality level of the TV series—before pulling out the stops for the second half. The snow-wrapped modern-day interlude and the final spectacle atop a skyscraper-sized evil tree are both standouts, as are a couple of full-motion shots involving arrows. The later films lose the hand-drawn look of the first, substituting it with a more modern digital gloss, but retain the split in energy between their first and second halves. Generally the best of Sunrise's animation is kept for the second half, where it supports the big (often very big) supernatural action with gorgeous, destructive fluidity. Unfortunately, with the possible exception of more poetic parts of the second film, none of the films ever again summon anything as individually memorable as the highlights from the first film. That said, the franchise's rather grotesque imagination stays strong even when the movies are weak, delivering a wealth of impressively baroque scenery (especially within the twisted lairs of its villains) and freaky supernatural occurrences (the refleshing of a zombie samurai for instance).
Kaoru Wada's soaring medieval score is another constant, though it can range from full-bore action punctuation to jidai-geki-styled classical reserve within any given film. Whatever tack it's taking, however, it's always superb—an invaluable source of eerie atmosphere and stirring fanfare. It's one flaw is its fondness for repetition, but given how memorable the themes are, that's not much of a flaw. It isn't until you listen to a composer of Wada's quality that you realize just how forgettable most other scores are.
Viz's dub, on the other hand, definitely tends towards the forgettable. Except when its memorably bad. The first film was dubbed far enough back that it still retains traces of the early TV dub's awful old-timey affectations, mostly in the ye, thee, thou nonsense of elder priestess Kaede. The later movies don't have Kaede, so they lose any such trace. They do, however, retain the slight flatness and the overall lack of conviction peculiar to Viz dubs of the early-to-mid 2000s. The script is extremely conservative, to the point of aping the subtitles almost word-for word, which does nothing to further the natural flow of dialogue. It's a tolerable dub, but no match for the star-studded original.
Tolerable is a good word for this whole set. Sometimes it's highly enjoyable, especially during the effectively emotional portions of the first two films. And even after the third and fourth films start slipping into mush-laced mediocrity, it's never less than diverting. But as an overall experience, it's too formulaic and too repetitive to be more than merely tolerable entertainment. Skip the set, and settle for the DVD of Affections Touching Across Time. You'll get the same plot, better visuals, and none of the repetition.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ The first movie; most of the films are tied, at least emotionally, to the TV series' main story; fine visuals and a glorious soundtrack.
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