Anime Review: InuYasha Movie 4: Fire on the Mystic Island
Once upon a time, Horai Island was a peaceful land where humans and youkai (Japanese monsters, called “demons” in the dub) lived in harmony. To protect themselves and their hanyou (“half-demon”) children from less tolerant mainlanders, the people of Horai erected a magical barrier that made the island inaccessible from normal reality, only resurfacing, Brigadoon-like, once every fifty years. Unfortunately, during one of the brief access points, Horai was invaded and conquered by demons calling themselves “The Four War Gods.”
Fifty years ago, the hanyou known as Inuyasha and his then companion, the priestess Kikyo, stumbled across the island and had an inconclusive battle with the War Gods before the access ended. Now the barrier has lifted again, and one of the handful of hanyou children who have so far survived the War Gods’ cruel rule manages to escape temporarily. She promptly runs into Inuyasha and his new friends, who decide to do something about the situation.
This animated movie is based on the anime adaptation of Rumiko Takahashi’s shounen (boys’) manga, InuYasha. The manga is about a modern schoolgirl, Kagome, who travels through time to Japan’s Warring States era. There she runs into Inuyasha, the son of a powerful dog demon and a mortal woman. Despite some initial misunderstandings, Kagome joins Inuyasha in a quest for the pieces of the Jewel of Four Souls, which will allow the lad to become fully youkai or fully human (he says the former, but there are hints he might choose the latter.) Along the way, they gather a group of quirky companions, and a couple of people who show up often but never formally become their friends.
It’s somewhat of a tradition for animation companies in Japan that are producing a long-run TV series to also put out movie-length features timed for Golden Week (a series of national holidays that all come within a week in spring) or the summer break so kids and anime fans have something to go to movie theaters for. (And even other folks if the weather is bad.) These stories are generally self-contained; fans can tell approximately where in the series the story would fit in, but often there is no actual space for it to go, and they almost never affect the continuity of the main series (or are even mentioned in it!)
This one is a bit special as it came out during a hiatus between the main InuYasha series and the second one which adapted the final plotline from the manga. As such, it’s a bit of a farewell performance for those production people who didn’t get picked up for the later show.
For fans of the anime, this is a treat with all the favorite recurring characters (even if they have to be shoehorned in) and running gags. There’s exciting action, all the main characters get a cool moment, and the Four War Gods (based on the four directional gods) are hissable and powerful. There are also some parts with better animation than the TV show thanks to a higher budget.
For those coming in cold, however, this movie probably isn’t the place to start. For example, the story just assumes the viewer knows the elaborate backstories of Kikyo (now undead) and Sesshomaru (Inuyasha’s full-demon half-brother) and doesn’t explain them at all, which is likely to be baffling to the first-timer. (Especially as there is a second Kikyo running around for a while!) The War Gods don’t get much characterization beyond “like beating people up and resent being thwarted.”
While this is most assuredly a kids’ movie, sensitive parents should be aware that there is a certain amount of blood mixed in with the fantasy and slapstick violence, and there’s some non-graphic female nudity. Also, Miroku the fallen monk engages in some sexual harassment of professional demon hunter Sango, and this is played for laughs.
Recommended primarily to InuYasha fans who somehow missed it before; newcomers should try the first few volumes of the manga or the beginning of the TV anime instead.