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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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09/10/2005 Archived Entry: "Anime review: Swords of an Honorable Ruler, Inuyasha Movie 3"

Inuyasha: Swords of an Honorable Ruler
Based on the manga by Rumiko Takahashi
English Language Version produced by VIZ, 2005

Review by Kelly S. Taylor

Inuyasha fans, rejoice! The third Inuyasha movie, Swords on an Honorable Ruler, is everything U.S. viewers hope for in a movie based on a television series, but so seldom get. Rather than being a strange new creation loosely based on the original, Swords of an Honorable Ruler is a supercharged mega-episode. You get some new information about the characters you love. Exciting things happen. All production elements are prettied up and prancing around in their Sunday best.

Pardon me while I rant, but why the hell is the satisfying transfer of a show from the small screen to the big screen so rare in the U.S.? Are budding directors required to take a "Fans: Why You Must Learn to Hate Them" seminar? Why do directors seem to say to themselves, "Great! I've got a huge built-in audience of television viewers for my "My Three Sons" movie. This is my perfect opportunity do the "Sons and Lovers" adaptation I've always wanted to do!"? Why do production staff meetings seem to begin with comments like, "Okay, the original was a romantic comedy, so the two things we want to avoid most in our new version are romance and comedy"?

Well, the Japanese anime industry -- kooky, simple people they are -- is still under the odd impression that all you need to do to make a movie based on a successful TV show is to write a longer script and spend more money. Weird. Weird. Weird.

Swords of an Honorable Ruler focuses on the rivalry between Inuyasha and his older half-brother Sesshomaru. I'm glad that the writers chose to focus on conflict instead of his pursuit of the demon Naraku as the previous two movies did. I don't have anything against Naraku, I just find Sesshomaru more interesting -- and not just because it looks like he's wearing a boa. Okay, okay, I know it's not a boa. It's mane-type thing... I think. Then again, it could just be a furry boa... an evil furry demonic boa. Sesshomaru has the kind of cool it would take to pull something like that off.

For me, having Sesshomaru as main antagonist is a superior choice in terms of plot. Naraku has this frustrating, Wo Fat on Hawaii Five-O type thing going on. Just when you think he's dead, it turns out that either the demon they killed wasn't really Naraku, or Naraku simply gets over being dead like it was a bad cold.

Since Sesshomaru is an important continuing character, pitting Inuyasha against his older brother forces the writers to be a little more clever than usual. Instead of just figuring out how Inuyasha can win the fight, they have to figure out how he can not win the fight and still get out of it alive. Sesshomaru is older, stronger and more experienced than Inuyasha. And Sesshomaru does hate Inuyasha. Every morning when he gets up and looks at his "Things to Do" list, "Kill Inuyasha" is always in the top five... probably right after "Brush Mane/Tail/Boa." (How does he keep it so clean and fluffy?) Therefore each time they meet, something unexpected has to happen. Either someone (usually Kagome) has to interfere, some new plot twist must intervene, or some line of thought must motivate one brother to refrain from killing the other.

Motivation is the second element that makes Sesshomaru more the more interesting antagonist for me. Naraku is an absolute villain. He was a mean human being who became a super-mean demon. The more we find out about him, the more we find out that he is motivated by pure meanness. There is no hope for redemption for Naraku. To resolve his storyline, he must be utterly destroyed. Beautiful, powerful, yet tragically flawed Sesshomaru, though, is a whole different kettle of puppy chow. He has many characteristics that seem to settle him squarely in the villain category. He is a demon. He wants to cause harm to our protagonist. However, unlike Naraku, Sesshomaru has complex, multi-layered motivations for his actions. Admittedly, some of these spring from some pretty evil impulses, but then again, he is a demon. They're all about the evil, you know.

I say that he has complex motivations, but that conclusion is based on guesswork and interpretation. In contrast to Inuyasha and his endlessly chatty companions, Sesshomaru is marvelously silent. One must glean his motivations from his action and puzzle out the contradictions between what he says and what he does. He says he has nothing but contempt and loathing for human beings, but he has by this point in the story adopted a young human girl named Rin. Although he says he protects no one, he protects Rin. Although he says he hates Inuyasha and will kill him, he at times seems to act out of a desire to protect Inuyasha. Sometimes in the midst of trying to kill him, Sesshomaru will scold Inuyasha in an almost fond, brotherly way.

Swords of an Honorable Ruler explores the roots of this ongoing sibling rivalry. We get to see Inuyasha and Sesshomaru's father for the first time. The presence of the Great Dog Demon really brings out the Oedipal aspects of the conflict between the brothers. It's Freud played out with really, really big, phallic swords to aide the interpretationally-challenged. The two half-brothers neatly split an Oedipus Complex. Sesshomaru talks about his desire to kill his father so he can become a successful adult. Both Rin (Sesshomaru's ward) and Kagome (Inuyasha's semi-girlfriend who is an incarnation of Kikyo, Inuyasha's former girlfriend) are clearly linked to Inuyasha's mother, Izayoi. There's even a hint that the two girls may be reincarnations of Izayoi. Add on the visual of all those really, really big and important swords and... Well, like I said, Freud's making overtime on this one. If he were alive, I'd bet he'd be taking clips from this film with him on all the "Good Morning" shows on his next book tour. It's that Oedipal.

All joking aside, the psychological depth of the conflict between the brothers raises the story above the level of a mere beat-'em-up action flick. The brothers fight at least in part because each challenges the other's self-concept. They see each other as a reflection of what each might have been or might yet become. When the brothers fight, they battle not only to defeat an enemy but aspects of themselves that make them an imperfect likeness their father's greatness.

As I indicated earlier, the artwork has received a fresh coat of pretty. Character design is not altered but coloring is subtler than the made-for-TV version and the overall graphics have been enhanced. There's an extra level of detail in landscapes and architecture. Computer-generated clouds waft from explosions and demonic disturbances. CGI crowds march through a few scenes. Although not as impressive as they must have been on the big screen, these augmentations add an extra level of oomph to the visuals.

My only real complaint is that the DVD is disappointingly light on extras. There's an image gallery (of course), Japanese and English trailers, and advertisements for the Inuyasha card game, video game, and manga. The only thing of any value is the option called "Special Footage." After I got over the disappointment of realizing this was not a collection of new animation, I was happy to go through this well-chosen collection of clips from the series reviewing important events in Inuyasha and Sesshomaru's tempestuous relationship. I would recommend watching this footage as a warm-up for the movie.

In short, Inuyasha: Swords of an Honorable Ruler is absolute must-see for fans of the series. All the other cool kids will laugh at you if you don't. And although Swords of an Honorable Ruler is late in the continuity of the series, the writers have provided sufficient glossing so that a newcomer to the series who's been wondering what all the fuss is about "that dogboy cartoon" can understand and enjoy the film. Even if you're just a psychology major looking for a way to explain Freudian theory to middle-schoolers, this film has something to offer everyone. Go buy or rent it today!

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