Daveosaurus (southerndave) wrote,

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For aeb: Demonology 101

I'm feeling a bit weird writing this because I don't actually know all that much about the series concerned, having only watched its first season; and that I'm not only new to the series but to the entire genre concerned.

Another thing contributing to the difficulty of writing this is how to explain it so that someone who hasn't seen any of the show can watch a random episode on broadcast TV (over in the United States where it actually gets shown, that is) and not have to ask too many questions afterwards, even though the episode watched may take place at a much later point in the series than I have watched... all the while without "spoiling" too many important surprises about the series.

And lastly I have friends who are much more knowledgeable on this subject than I (waves to meganbmoore and silver_677) and who will no doubt derive some quiet amusement from my limited understanding of the series under discussion. This statement should be treated as an open invitation to add information about characters I've missed out / forgotten / haven't got as far as their introductions in the series yet.

* * *

First there's a few things about the series that aren't "usual" as far as the television shows I grew up with go (particularly the American ones I watched). Some of the most notable ones are:

- It's a cartoon, but it's not a children's show. It's made in Japan where the concept of "animated television" is not necessarily a subset of the concept of "children's television". It may be a bit scary for younger viewers: the show contains violence; characters are injured and bleed; much of the action is set in a lawless, feudal era and there is much of what censors nowadays like to call "grotesque imagery". Hieronymous Bosch would probably have had fun with some of the images here.

- It's based on a Japanese comic book (repeat the statement in the second sentence of the previous paragraph, subtituting "comic books" and "children's literature" for the concepts in quotes). I haven't read the comic books myself, although I have an English translation of the first book on order at my local comic shop.

- Many of the characters are referred to as demons. This gives a bit of a misleading impression as to the personality of the characters concerned. It's not a case of them being demons-and-therefore-bad as would be the case in Western popular culture. If it helps, think of them more as spirits - nature spirits comparable with those in classical mythology. Or as the witches in "The Wizard of Oz": some good, some evil.

- Some of the visual conventions of anime (a Japanese word meaning animated films in general, but which has been applied in English to a particular Japanese genre of animation in much the same as the Samoan word lavalava, meaning clothing, has been applied in English to a particular Samoan garment) may look "cute" to Western viewers. This is rather deceptive as there isn't really a great lot of "cute" in the plot itself.

- Some of the spelling may vary depending on how I remember it as I've seen multiple spellings of many of the character names. Part of this is because Japanese isn't written in Roman letters ("Romaji" in Japanese) and there isn't a set rule of transliterating them. For example, the capital of Japan is written as "Tokyo" in English but as "Toukiyou" in Japanese... this is because (going by my memories of high school Japanese, circa 1981) while long vowels are indicated (in Japanese words, not ones borrowed from other languages, and in the basic syllabic writing system, not the much more complicated "Kanji" which represent ideas rather than syllables) by the character for the vowel being written after the character for the syllable, when the letter "o" is lengthened this is done by the character for "u", instead of either of the characters for "o" (yes, there are two of them. It's a long story). When a syllable including a consonant followed by the letter "y" is written, this is done by writing the syllable for {the consonant followed by the letter "i"}, then the syllable for "ya", "yu" or "yo"; so for example "kyo" is written "{ki} {yo}". On a related subject, some letters in Japanese are not written as they are spelt in any of the ways of rendering the language into English, particularly a sibilant "h" sound (e.g. a character name, Hiten, sounds like "Shten" in the Japanese soundtrack) and a nasal "g" sound, similar to the "g" in Samoan (e.g. the "go" of the name "Kagome" and the "ngo" of the name "Sango" don't sound all that different). (If intheologus has made it this far he is welcome to correct me on the phonological (or whatever) terminology). (If I've got things hopelessly mixed up here, blame twenty-plus years of lack of practice at the language).

- Lastly I'd better warn that I tend to have a rather disrespectful way of thinking about things I enjoy, and that this often shows in how I write about them. For example even though I may consider that a certain character is as camp as a tent full of Scouts doesn't mean I don't think he's a good villain.

* * *

Now that I've got through all this boring preliminary waffle a bit about the series itself.

The episodes themselves are easy to watch in just about any order with a bit of basic background info. Practically all the episodes are either self-contained (or the first in a short storyline), or have a thorough recap at the beginning. Most of the stories in the first season aren't particularly challenging... a lot of the time they're to do with a monster that needs to be rendered inert somehow.

What I've been really enjoying about the series so far are the personalities and interactions of the characters who do the monster-clobbering. As the show goes on the viewer learns more about them. Most of them have some sort of catastrophe in their past; of the group of main characters who have banded together, the group as a whole is all most of them have left. There is much about the characters here that I'm not going into, mainly because I haven't got that far in the series yet...

Kagome is the main character in the series. She's a contemporary Japanese teenage schoolgirl who has found herself able to travel into the past by means of a time warp located in a well at her home - an historic shrine somewhere on the outskirts of Tokyo. She lives with her mother (remarkably well-adjusted), her grandfather (well-meaning but rather erratic), her little brother (thoroughly normal) and a cat. Her frequent absences from the present day are explained by her grandfather as being caused by wildly implausible illnesses, which her friends seem to believe for some reason. One of said friends is Hojo, the pleasantly dopey Boy-Next-Door, and his appearances so far seem to indicate that Kagome thinks he's "cute". This fairly much rounds up the present-day cast.

Inuyasha is the title character. His mother was a fairly normal fifteenth- or sixteenth-century Japanese woman, but his father was a big-shot Dog Demon. This has resulted in him being born with fangs and claws - and a pair of remarkably silly looking dog-ears on the top of his head. He's got a very abrasive personality, but this is probably less a result of him being half demon and more a result of him having had a particularly wretched existence over most of his life. Neither parent has been around - I don't recall seeing his father in the show, even in flashback, except as a skeleton by his tomb - and his half-brother despises him. But his greatest problem is Kagome, who is able to activate a necklace that crashes his face to the ground whenever she says "Sit!", which she says every time Inuyasha pisses her off. Barbara Woodhouse would have approved wholeheartedly.

Sesshomaru, said half-brother, is a full-blooded demon who hates Inuyasha's guts and would happily remove them and expose them to the fresh air. Despite being a bit of a demonic mediaeval Mr. Humphries, this particular Spock-eared, feather-boa-accessorized demon is a credible threat. The last I saw, he was particularly peeved that Daddy Demon had forgotten him in his will. Like all good villains, he has a toady: Jaken, who as the my choice of word would imply is a toad demon who tags along behind Sesshomaru, and who has all the personality and charm of a Queensland cane toad.

Kaede is an elderly (for certain values of "elderly" seeing as I work with fit active people older than she) human priestess with an eye-patch and (in the American dubbed version) a most irritating speech pattern. In the Japanese language version she sounds and acts not too differently from Granny Weatherwax of "Discworld" notoriety. She and Inuyasha have a bit of a history: her older sister, Kikyo, had a brief fling with big-ears back when both were much younger. It didn't end well: Kikyo shot Inuyasha through the heart (with a bow, as they didn't have Kalashnikovs back in the 1500s) and left him pinned to a tree for fifty years. She herself ended up pining for the fjords, but shortly into the series she Got Better.

Sango is the last of the major characters to appear in the first season. She's a bit of a Buffy the Demon Slayer, and her weapon of choice is a boomerang that would scare Rolf Harris. She's just seen her entire village - including her family - exterminated and is still very brittle. She has a cat, Kirara, who is actually a tame demon in civvies who occasionally reverts to his? her? its? natural form - which most of the time I've only seen in the opening credits of the show - a large, flying, cat-like creature able to carry three or four people on its back.

Miroku is a priest, for certain values of the variable "priest". He's also a con-man who has a bit of an Amazing Maurice racket going with a friendly demon (whose name I don't know and who hardly ever actually appears). He also has an eye for the women, but with little result: so far he's managed to get thumped by Kagome (after making her an indecent proposal) and clobbered by Sango (resulting from more of a misunderstanding than anything else). He's also got a vacuum cleaner attachment on one of his hands, which is quite handy for sucking up irritating villains. (Don't look at me like that. Where did I ever imply that everything in the series made sense?)

Shippo is an orphaned infant fox demon (whose father's pelt was last seen around a minor villain's waist) who tags around with the rest of the team. He's edgy enough to avoid being annoyingly "cute" most of the time, although in later life he probably became Basil Brush and spent years making Derek Fowlds' life a misery. Another short demon is Myoga, one of Inuyasha's father's old retainers and a flea demon (which may explain why he's hanging around with the dogs). He's got a habit of appearing when he isn't wanted and poking his proboscis where it doesn't belong, sort of like a small bloodsucking Gandalf.

Naraku seems to be a monkey demon who used to be human until he tricked a whole lot of minor demons into merging with him (or something like that). He's a creepier villain than Sesshomaru, although the latter is scarier to look at being a major fashion victim and all.

* * *

All the doom and gloom in the characters' lives doesn't mean that the series is too downbeat or depressing though. There's a lot of comedy, although it's more natural character interaction-based comedy than superficial joking. The comedy is also often physical, almost slapstick: Inuyasha thumps Shippo when he gets annoying; just about all the women thump Miroku when he says something he shouldn't; Kagome grinds Inuyasha's face into the dirt when she gets really mad; Sesshomaru kicks Jaken and everybody pinches and flicks Myoga when he tries to take a drink, with the usual result being the deflated flea demon spiralling to the ground like an untied balloon.

As for starting to watch the series... I don't know what sort of order they're playing the episodes in, whether the local TV guide lists the episode titles, or how far through the series any particular TV station has got... but a few good places to start include:

Episode 1: "The Girl Who Overcame Time... and the Boy Who Was Just Overcome". The start of the series but it doesn't get bogged down with introducing characters; the action starts right at the start and the characters are introduced throughout the series.
Episode 9: "Enter Shippo... Plus, the Amazing Thunder Brothers!". Part one of a two-part story introducing the character. This story is also quite a good introduction in that it is representative of many of the other stories.
Episode 12: "The Soul Piper and the Mischievous Little Soul". A self-contained ghost story which, unusually for the series, is set in the present (Inuyasha having travelled through time with Kagome). The Soul Piper itself seems like a character from a folk tale, and it's interesting to see Inuyasha trying to understand the modern world.
Episode 27: "The Lake of the Evil Water God". The last episode of the boxed set, this plays out much like a folk tale itself. It's also the only one of these four stories in which Sango and Miroku are present.

So that's enough waffle for today... Any questions are welcome, although I can't promise to be able to answer them (see disclaimers above).
Tags: anime: inuyasha
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