Reviewby Theron Martin, Jan 16th 2013
InuYasha: The Final Act
Blu-Ray - Set 1
Picking up right where the first series left off, Hakudoshi is still scheming with Kagura and Goryomaru to defeat Naraku and win their freedoms, but Naraku is wise to their scheme and proves to have little tolerance for rebellion. Meanwhile, Inuyasha and Sesshomaru both independently seek to acquire and master new powers for their heirloom swords: Inuyasha aims for a dragon-scaled effect which can allow him to absorb demonic powers, while Sesshomaru seeks to master the Meido Zangetsuha, a technique that opens a portal to the Underworld. Kikyo and Koga also make their final plays to defeat Naraku, Kohaku joins Sesshomaru's party, Kagome struggles both with upcoming high school entrance exams and her relationships with Kikyo and Inuyasha, Miroku and Sango deepen their commitment to one another, and Shippo gets tested.
Whether or not InuYasha deserves to be considered a “gateway” or “landmark” title remains debatable, but it was indisputably one of the biggest, best-known, and most successful anime titles of the early-to-mid-2000s in the American market. The end of its run (September 2004 in Japan and October 2006 in the U.S.), after 167 episodes and four movies, left innumerable viewers clamoring angrily since the series ended abruptly, without resolving any of the major long-term (or even immediate!) plot lines, and with a somewhat flippant address to the audience by lead heroine Kagome. Unlike with most series, though, the clamoring for a proper resolution lingered and remained loud enough that in late 2009 Sunrise produced this 26-episode capstone series to give the franchise the proper ending that it deserved. Based on its first 13 episodes, The Final Act is not only headed in the right direction but also successfully revives the careful blending of elements that made the original series such a hit in the first place.
Regarded as a family series in Japan, InuYasha successfully appealed to both male and female audiences of all ages, partly because it took the rare approach of blending a fantasy-based shonen action format with a degree of character drama and romantic entanglements more typically found in fare aimed at female audiences. That blend was then flavored with frequent touches of humor and occasional mild horror elements to create a series that could carry a very dark and somber tone but never let it become overwhelming, allowed its characters to advance but rarely without cost, and kept matters of the heart near but never at the expense of flashy action. All of that is still evident in the first half of The Final Act, to the point that those who once considered (or still consider) themselves fans should find sitting down to watch these episodes akin to donning one's favorite pair of slippers. Koga and InuYasha still trade insults as they scrap over Kagome and who gets to off Naraku, Miroku still hits on women even though he has Sango, Sango still worries about Kohaku, and Kagome still frets over how she feels about InuYasha and Kikyo's past relationship. There are still occasional visits back to Kagome's time as she struggles to prepare for upcoming high school entrance tests, still opportunities for Shippo to prove himself as a user of fox magic, and still further opportunities for both InuYasha and Sesshomaru to add and/or discover and master additional powers for their blades. And yes, Naraku is still up to his devious tricks and elaborate ploys to gather the final shards of the Shikon Jewel, keep it corrupted, generally make himself powerful, and screw over the heroes wherever possible. And of course there are both new and old baddies to be defeated, too.
However, this is not the endless parade of such elements that much of the second half of the original TV series settled into. Storylines and character arcs do advance, and even in these first 13 episodes some of those are brought to definitive resolutions. Several prominent, longtime characters – even including a couple who date back to the earliest season of the series – either die or otherwise step (presumably permanently) out of the picture, and usually with results that are either very satisfying or very sad and sometimes both. The Shikon Jewel is close enough to completion that the end for it is finally in sight, as is the likely method for ultimately defeating Naraku, and the bond between Sango and Miroku strengthens. Sesshomaru's feelings about Rin also take a step forward, revealing an aspect to him that we haven't seen before and which is implied to play into other issues, too. Not all of this is handled as smoothly as it could be, and some of this flirts with melodrama just like the series always has, but the good parts definitely outweigh the mediocre ones.
Sunrise's artistic effort definitely shows the passage of five years since the original series, as this is the sharpest that the artistry has ever looked. This cannot just be attributed to The Final Act being the first installment of the franchise to be available on Blu-Ray, either, as the contrast distinctly shows when these episodes flash back to early in the original series. (Clearly the producers just used recycled footage.) New character designs are consistent in style with established ones, and action scenes have a similar feel to those seen in the original series, too, albeit with a touch more CG enhancements. As with the original series, fan service is nonexistent but sometimes-bloody graphic violence abounds. And yes, Kagome still has not wised up and opted for something more practical than her school uniform when traveling in the past.
Kaoru Wada, who did the musical score for all previous entries in the franchise, is back again for this one, with similar results. All of the core themes which made the heavy, dramatic, orchestrated score of the first TV series so effective return for another round here, as do the infusion of some traditional Japanese notes. Humorous moments get the same ol' touch, too. A new, peppy Do as Infinity number gets each episode off to an appropriate start, while this run of episodes uses two different closers: the first, “With You” by AAA, is a dance beat-paced semi-hip-hop song which is replaced in episode 10 with “Diamond” by alan, which has a very similar sound and feel to “My Will,” the original closer for the first series.
The Japanese dub returns nearly its entire principal cast, with Jaken being the most prominent replacement. The English dub saw significantly more turn-over, though Ocean Group did a remarkably good job of recasting roles with voice actors who sound very similar to the originals. The biggest change is Kira Tozer, an anime newcomer with a background in voicing North American cartoons, taking over the role of Kagome (Moneca Stori has apparently retired from voice acting); while the slight changes in inflection take a bit of getting used to, after a while one has to listen carefully to notice any difference. Michael Daingerfield (Johann Trinity in Mobile Suit Gundam 00) is an even closer fit for Sesshomaru, while Kaede is a more pronounced difference in a much more limited role and Kohaku now has his third different voice. Returning voice actors step back into their roles without missing a beat, helping to remind viewers why this was one of the better anime dubs of the mid-2000s.
Viz Media is releasing these half-series sets on both DVD and Blu-Ray; only the latter was available for review. The episodes are spread across two discs, with the second one also including some production art, storyboards, Japanese trailers, and the translated credits. (The original Japanese-text closers are used here.) The Blu-Ray transfer is a good one, leaving no obvious flaws and richly bringing out both the colors used and the dramatic sound.
As a whole, the first part of The Final Act does not do anything fresh or spectacular, but it does enough to be entertaining on multiple fronts. Anyone who at least muddled through most of the original series should give it a try.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ Retains everything that made the original series entertaining, improves artistry, resolves and/or advances several characters and lesser story arcs.
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