Reviewby Theron Martin,
InuYasha: The Final Act
Blu-Ray - Set 2
Things are looking up for Naraku. One of his main enemies is apparently gone, another retired, and a third (Miroku) on a quicker path to Death's Door. Sure, he's lost a couple of longtime incarnations, but his newest one – Byakuya of the Dreams – is his best and most loyal one yet and the ones he lost were unreliable anyway. And besides, the Shikon Jewel is only one piece from being completed and he knows exactly where and how to get it. He even has Magutsuhi, the evil spirit of the Shikon Jewel, to harass and possess his foes and even Kikyo's final stunt to thwart him does not last for long.
For all of Naraku's trickery, manipulations, and propensity for trapping enemies in Catch-22 situations, though, underestimating his remaining foes proves costly. Sango's Hiraikotsu has been super-charged in the wake of its repairs, Inuyasha gains one final power for Tetsusaiga, Sesshomaru eventually earns a new and even more formidable sword to complement Tenseiga, and Kagome comes to realize that her full, true spiritual powers have always been restrained by a seal and her lack of realization of the significance of her own name. And when you've pissed off as many powerful individuals as Naraku has, and they ultimately all work together in a battle to the death to defeat you, even the full power of a completed Shikon Jewel may not be enough.
Of course, Naraku is not Kagome's only foe. She must also face the dreaded High School Entrance Exam.
The Final Act was made specifically to bring a nearly 200 episode franchise to a proper conclusion, and at that its final 13 episodes succeed beautifully. They deliver nearly everything that long-time fans of the franchise could possibly hope for, including wrapping up virtually all of its loose plot threads, bringing the matters of the Shikon Jewel and Naraku to definitive ends in suitably dramatic fashion, and devoting half of the final episode to providing a welcome look at What Comes After. Along the way this final run tosses in several neat little unexpected bonuses, too. If these episodes do not leave viewers fully satisfied, it is not for lack of effort. (Unless, of course, one is a major Myoga fan, as he has only a couple of brief appearances in these episodes. Koga only gets a cameo appearance, too.)
Of course, the old, familiar elements are still there. More power upgrades are in store, only this time around it is not just Inuyasha, Sesshomaru, and Naraku getting them; seeing Sango and Kagome also finally juicing up to the point where they are more credible threats to Naraku is a very welcome sight. Magutsuhi and Byakuya both make solid supporting antagonists as further additions from the Naraku incarnation tree. Of course there's still much lamenting over Kohaku's situation, more of Naraku's scheming designed to put characters in situations where they must choose between dying or giving up on harming Naraku and making morally questionable choices to survive/succeed, and more of Totosai showing up to discuss/deal with sword matters. And naturally we must have one final episode-long excursion back to the present day for Kagome to deal with pressing school-related issues, though seeing the writing finally acknowledge that Kagome cannot remain in middle school forever is a welcome development; too often the franchise has effectively ignored the passage of time in its storytelling.
However, the final 13 episodes do not succeed so well just because they effectively rehash popular, long-established elements. New twists also give these final episodes power and impact, such as finally revealing that Naraku was not inflicting all of those wicked schemes and manipulations on Inuyasha's team – instead of killing them outright – just for his jollies. No, as these episodes reveal, there is (and always has been) a specific purpose for his bastardry, one whose logic is quite sound if a bit risky in execution. Some late revelations about the nature of the Shikon Jewel also force a reevaluation of the general course of events over the entire franchise and show why Naraku, for all of his great power, was ultimately doomed to failure. The final episode also finally forces the choice that everyone has long been expecting and which both of the series leads have long been dreading: which world is the right one for a character split between two worlds? It is a classic dilemma, and the answer that the series applies to it is just as classical.
The action elements to the story are also just as pervasive as ever and no less thrilling than at any previous point, but another recurring strength of the franchise has been its more subtle psychological commentary, and that element is at its finest as the franchise draws to a conclusion. Perhaps moreso than any other major shonen action series, Inuyasha has always deeply examined the mix of strengths and frailties that reside within the human heart. The franchise has usually been at its best when showing how those can be manipulated for both good and ill and how they can define the direction in which the character goes in addition to defining the character. It shows how even the strongest characters are still slaves to their base weaknesses – yes, even Naraku – and how one's greatest strengths and weaknesses are often inextricably intertwined. Many other shonen franchises make some kind of “friends give me strength” declaration, but this one takes the far less common approach of implying (rather than saying) that forming close bonds, while it can make one vulnerable, also helps compensate for the weakness of each individual. This creates some great pathos and well-grounded character drama. The hard-won romances at the core of the franchise, and seeing them come to completion, certainly do not hurt, either.
The artistic effort in this half is most distinguished by the heaviest use of CG effects seen in the TV series parts of the franchise. Though rendered well, the exterior of Naraku's giant spider in the waning episodes is a little too obviously different from the rest of the animation, enough so that its presence looks abnormal in a way that was probably not intended. The other minor flaw – and this is a much more subjective one – is the ridiculous extreme that the series goes to in keeping Kagome in her school uniform; her wearing a scarf to keep warm in cold weather is simply not convincing when her legs are still bare up to mid-thigh. Otherwise the artistry loses none of the sharpness and vividness seen in the first half, though, again, the older flashback scenes are also too obviously from older animation.
The soundtrack does mix in a few newer themes, especially in the final episode, but mostly relies on the long-time stand-bys and uses them quite effectively. The Do as Infinity number used as the opener for the first half remains through episode 25; it is used as the closer instead for the final episode. Closer “Diamond” remains through episode 17 but is replaced for episodes 18-25 by "Tooi Michi no Saki de," a dance beat-themed J-pop sound by emerging Japanese pop star Ai Takekawa.
By this point in the series Kira Tozer has comfortably enough taken over the role of Kagome to achieve equal standing with Moneca Stori as the definitive English voice for the character. Other cast members continue the solid performances established previously and some great choices are made for new roles like Magutsuhi and especially the uncredited voice of the Shikon Jewel. The English script also continues to do a great job of finding the right balance between flow and faithfulness to the original script. If the English dub has a flaw, it's that Brenna O'Brien occasionally slips and makes Rin sound a little too old.
Viz Media's production of the Blu-Ray version (a DVD version is also available for $10 cheaper base price) matches what they did for the first volume, both for better and for worse. The transfer and Audio Production are still good ones, but subtitles are locked so that they can only be turned on and off via the Main Menu. Unlike Funimation releases with this problem, though, these releases actually sport an “English with subtitles” option. Certain other companies could also learn a bit from Viz when it comes to producing advertising trailers, as their Neon Alley “sneak peek” is one of the best such efforts to come along in quite a while. Extras include limited sets of production art and storyboards, original Japanese trailers, and the quaint notion that English production credits and translations of Japanese credits should only be included as an Extra. Curiously, neither volume offers the expected clean opener and closer.
Barring rereleases, this is the final part of the Inuyasha franchise to come out on American home video, but it also has the distinction of showing the franchise at its very best. Although the franchise has occasionally achieved this level of quality before in individual stories and arcs (“The Tragic Love Song of Destiny," which composed episodes 147-148 of the original series, immediately springs to mind), this may be the strongest 13-episode run in the entire franchise. There are definitely worse ways to sign off.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Interesting new revelations, satisfying resolves everything, musical score.
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