Yashahime: Princess Half-Demon
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 14 of
Yashahime: Princess Half-Demon ?
“The One Behind the Forest Fire” is the kind of episode that a reviewer never hopes for and always dreads, because on its face it isn't vastly different from every other episode of Yashahime: flat, poorly structured, and kind of boring. This chapter in particular, though, hides an insidious layer of wrongness that was enough to have me howling and ranting in equal measure. Whether this total breakdown of narrative function and meaning is due to ineptitude or indifference on the part of Yashahime's creative team, I don't know. All I know is that my seething disdain for this episode can be boiled down to a single line, spoken by Towa, from the end of the episode:
“As for me, I think I'm done walking around with this.”
The “this” that she is referring to is her smartphone, and in order to unpack every awful implication of this stupid, stupid line, we're going to have to establish a whole lot of context. Hold on to your Pocky sticks and crack open the intoxicating beverage of your choice, friends and neighbors, because this is going to be the spiciest of Yashahime hot takes.
Okay, so the episode starts off with Setsuna freaking out over the supposed witchery of Towa's smartphone, which is really Yashahime's way of trying to establish the most cockamamie theme imaginable for the horrors to come. Before all of that arrives, though, the basic premise of the bit just doesn't make sense. Towa even points out that Setsuna and Moroha should have seen her using the phone many a time both during their stay in the Present Day and while she's been fiddling around with it in the Feudal Era. So, there is neither precedent nor reason for Setsuna, the cool and collected one, to suddenly go, “Eeek! A witchcraft! Burn it!” We even saw Setsuna interacting with Towa and Moroha while they were using the goddamn phone to listen to Towa's music back during that cat-demon priest episode!
Then again, even if we did live in the alternate universe where Yashahime bothered with being consistent enough to pull off a lame “Future technology is scary to us ignorant yokels from the past!” joke, that wouldn't make any sense either, because how in the hell is Towa still able to use her phone after spending, I don't know, at least a few weeks in the Feudal Era? Unless her backpack is just filled to the brim with portable USB chargers, that thing would have been dead ages ago, especially if she's been using it for taking pictures and listening to music with her Bluetooth® Air Pods™. What else could she even have been using it for?
This all just setup for the final, sick punchline, too; the actual story of the episode involves the so-called “Beautiful Village Girl Tamano”, who has taken refuge with Riku and Jyubei, and whose flashback takes up fully half of the episode's runtime. You see, this is a story all about how Tamano's life got flip-turned upside-down, and she'd like to take a minute for the Yashahime girls to sit right there and listen to all about how a bunch of the older men in her village started creeping on her and demanding her hand in marriage the moment she turned thirteen. Don't worry, endorsing the feudal practice of marrying off child-brides is not one of Yashahime's many sins this week, and the perverts from the village are stymied when Tamano refuses their advances, and her agency as a literal child that shouldn't be married to anyone is respected by everyone.
Wait, never mind, that isn't what happens at all, because the Evil Mountain God Homura spirits her away to his gilded cage in the night to be his bride. This is the same demon from the title who was responsible for the forest fire that separated Towa and Setsuna all of those years ago, but if you were thinking that Tamano's strange and sad story was going to be somehow linked to the plot of the show we've been watching for months now, well, you maybe haven't been paying attention. I'll spare you the suspense and just get the single flashback to the forest fire out of the way now: Sesshomaru and the mysterious demon known as Zero enlisted Homura's help to burn the forest down. That's it.
Outside of what we already learned from the title of the episode, the only new scrap of information that we get is that Sesshomaru was not only aware of the fire that got this whole mess started in the first place, but he was also in cahoots all along! Since we still have no real idea of why anyone is doing anything in Yashahime, though, that revelation means nothing. It could be an important clue! It could be a pointless red herring! Who knows!? Until Sesshomaru and the rest of the InuYasha crew are actually included in the story, though, this detail is just another breadcrumb among a sea of them. And I cannot stress enough how none of this has anything to do with the fact that this poor girl, who was just minding her own damn business on that mountain, got kidnapped by a pedophile demon and forced to watch multiple men horribly burned alive simply for making eye-contact with her.
I won't lie, the scenes of Homura just immolating dudes left and right is what had me laughing harder than any anime has made me laugh in a long time, and even though that clearly isn't the show's intent, our heroes apparently agree, because the minute Tamano finishes her tale by explaining that she had to flee for her life into the frozen winter, the gang starts smiling like a bunch of idiots and making sitcom jokes about Tamano's imprisonment. “I have to admit, I totally get Homura being jealous!” cracks Jyubei, and everyone chortles along with the banter while Tamano just has to sit there, listening to these sociopaths make water-cooler conversation out of the time that a lecherous demon monster kidnapped her and locked her in a cell so that he could presumably rape her. Then, Moroha makes the mind-boggling comment that Towa must understand what it is like to be possessive of things, and Towa utters a line that literally forced me to pause the episode and shout obscenities at the screen for a full minute. To paraphrase: “So the way Homura treated Tamano…is kind of like me and my smartphone? Like an addiction?”
Dear readers, I hope you understand why this moment floored me as much as it did, with its superhuman level of tone-deaf, lazy, gross stupidity. I hope you understand that a thirteen-year-old girl getting kidnapped by a pedophile mountain clown and locked in a dungeon to be abused in God-knows-what sort of ways is not — not in any way conceivable way that a sane or rational person would entertain for even a second — the same thing as being on your smartphone too much. Nevermind the fact that they are stuck in the goddamned Feudal Era, and we've seen Towa use her phone maybe once or twice ever. Here, for perhaps the fifth or sixth time (but not the last!), I was forced to ask: “What does any of this crap have to do with the freaking forest fire that the episode is apparently supposed to be about!?”
Well, I already told you that part. The girls go to fight Homura — and Moroha gets comically sidelined for much of the fight because I guess that's just the running joke that Yashahime is going to stick with — and they learn that Homura just so happens to be the demon that separated them with that forest fire. Cue the flashback; then the girls unleash some of their demon powers on Homura, and so on and so forth. Eventually, Riku comes back with Tamano, and this is where I thought for one stomach-churning second that Tamano might be somehow forced to reunite with Homura for the sake of her new “friends”, but Yashahime thankfully sidesteps tacitly supporting the emotional and (presumably) physical abuse of this child by having Tamano instead reject Homura so hard that he burns himself alive and dies.
This is where I need a pause to make sure that everyone knows that I am well aware of what Yashahime is trying to say, about the insecurity and weakness of character that comes from being a possessive, jealous, and cosmically pathetic man. I am also well aware that the show never explicitly frames Homura's possessiveness as being motivated by sexual desire (though the creepy grab-ass ghost hands of the other suitors that Tamano has rejected make that subtext very clear. And yes, I know that people got married younger in the bad old days, etc. I get it. Homura is a bad guy, he got his come-uppance in a vaguely ironic and self-destructive manner, Tamano gets to go free, the girls have gotten a valuable new clue about their past, etc. All's well that ends well.
Except, no. All isn't well. Tamano, for one, is just going to go back to that mountain to get leered at by men old enough to be her grandfather, and what new skills or knowledge has she gained to ward off those unwelcome advancements? To just say “No!” even harder? And the girls haven't learned anything of importance at all about their past, either, because the detail about Sesshomaru and Zero's involvement in the fire is something that I'm pretty sure never gets communicated to Towa or Setsuna. All they learn is that this creepy pedo demon tried to burn them alive when they were four, and now he's dead.
Riku is acting sketch-as-hell this week, too, but that's more information that is only meant for us, the viewers, so the girls don't know to be more wary of his motivations. And again, the monster-of-the-week burned up into ash, so Moroha continues to make exactly zero progress in her goal to buy off her debt (a goal that she would know is likely fruitless if she were clued in on Riku's sketchiness, but nope, that's waiting for a big reveal…eventually). So, I ask for a final time: “What the hell was all of this for? What did anyone learn or gain from the events of this episode?”
Oh wait. I know. Having borne witness to Tamano's harrowing tale of abuse, imprisonment, and survival, Towa gazes down at that pesky smartphone of hers — a phone that is actually extremely useful as a camera and music player, and with a seemingly infinite battery capacity to boot — and utters those fateful words: “As for me, I think I'm done walking around with this.”
Yes, truly, if there was one moral of this story that should stick with all of the young girls who are just now discovering the universe of InuYasha, this is the one right here. Remember, kids: “If you're ever getting victimized or groomed by older men that would exploit or even assault you, then…you're probably spending too much time on that smartphone social media TikTok gizmo, you danged Zoomer!” With all of that, there is only one possible score I could give this, the worst episode of the series to date, and one of the worst things I've seen in an awfully long time. In the immortal words of That One Guy from Billy Madison:
Odds and Ends
• The new OP and ED for this 2nd cour are fine. I'm also hearing from my wife that some members of the InuYasha fandom have been speculating about potential clues scattered throughout the new OP and this episode that Towa and Setsuna's mother might be Kagura the wind sorceress, instead of Rin. I'm not experienced enough in YashaVerse lore to catch these things myself, so feel free to sound off (respectfully!) in the comments if there are any other references or bits of foreshadowing that have you leaning one way or the other in the Rin Vs. Kagura Baby Mama Drama debate.
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