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Yashahime: Where Did The Inuyasha Spin-Off Go Wrong?

  • by Alan Hobbs
  • 2 Months ago
  • Comments Off

Spin-offs and sequels of popular comic books, movies, and TV series are nothing new to Western audiences. American companies like Disney practically pioneered the concept with their never-ending supply of Direct-to-VHS/DVD/Streaming sequels and prequels that desperately attempt to ride the coattails of whatever the source material is. In this world, nothing is sacred. Not even Star Wars.

But for the longest time, it seemed like Japan was above such quick cash grab schemes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying anime was ever beyond reproach or didn’t stoop to some pretty low lows with shameless fan service and whatnot – but let’s keep it real, there wasn’t a Direct-to-DVD market for Japanese anime and sequels were rare outside of McDonalds-level brands like Doraemon and Pokemon. Some series might get a little farewell OVA thrown their way to wrap up loose ends and add some closure here and there, but that was about it.

Dragon Ball GT was a pioneer in anime spin-off series.

Over the years, however, an increasing number of spin-off/sequel series have come out of Japan – starting with Dragon Ball GT (and now, Dragon Ball Super) then going on down the line to the likes of Boruto. For better or worse, a lot of popular anime are continuing their stories beyond the scope of the original run and onto the next generation of characters who are usually offspring of the main cast.

And all of this is usually done with the blessing of the series’ creator, but not so much their direct creative involvement in writing the story; so, as you can imagine, the overall quality control of these spin-offs is generally not as tight as the originals they’re based upon.

The latest casualty of this troubling trend is the classic anime series Inuyasha, which has received its own sequel series called Yashahime: Princess Half-Demon late last year.

The central cast of Yashahime: Princess Half-Demon.

Yashahime was abruptly announced in May 2020, and even more abruptly thrust onto airwaves a mere five months later in October. There was little to no buildup to its release. Despite being one of the most popular anime franchises of the first decade of this century, Inuyasha was treated more like an afterthought with the announcement of its direct successor. It just kinda happened. Which was the first warning sign that this new series was not going to be anything to write home about.

Before going into the intricacies of where Yashahime has already gone wrong though, I should explain my background with the Inuyasha series. I am definitely a fan of the original run. In fact, one good thing about Yashahime is that it made me realize that I am far from alone in this. For one reason or another, Inuyasha has fallen to the wayside in anime communities over the years – but I’ve been relieved to find out I wasn’t the only one with fond memories of it, nor the only one who owes Inuyasha credit for getting me into anime in the first place.

Basically, I started watching Inuyasha as far back as 2003 on Adult Swim. I was a middle school student at the time, and Inuyasha struck a chord with my sisters and I. Before long, the anime itself wasn’t enough to fill my appetite. I started buying the manga volumes. And when that wasn’t enough, I looked into other works from series creator Rumiko Takahashi like Ranma 1/2, Mermaid Saga, Urusei Yatsura, and Maison Ikkoku. And when that wasn’t enough, I branched out to entirely new anime and manga series from other creators. Point being, Inuyasha was my gateway anime.

And even when the series began waning in popularity, I stuck by it. I watched all four of the movies – and I more or less enjoyed them all for what they were.

Inuyasha was one of the most popular anime in the world in the early 2000s.

So when Yashahime was announced, I was saddened but not surprised to hear that Rumiko Takahashi had limited creative control over the direction of the story, but I retained some cautious optimism upon learning that screenwriter Katsuyuki Sumisawa and other staff from the original series would mostly be in charge of the story. Sumisawa wrote the screenplay for all of the Inuyasha movies, which weren’t masterpieces by any stretch, but were nonetheless always faithful and respectful to the spirit of the Inuyasha manga and TV series.

I was under no illusions that Yashahime would adequately fill the shoes of its predecessor, nor was I expecting it to move the series forward in any meaningful way or to amaze me with any well-crafted narrative twists. All I expected was a middle-of-the-road, inoffensive but enjoyable comfort food of a series that respected the characters I loved so long ago and lightly add some extra trimmings onto the series lore without rocking the boat too much.

And in some ways that’s what you get with Yashahime. Except I don’t consider it middle-of-the-road. To me, middle-of-the-road means something is just ‘okay’. But Yashahime is not just ‘okay’. It’s actively bad. And if you’re a fan of Inuyasha, it’s certainly not inoffensive. Many of your favorite characters have been done dirty. Pivotal moments that could have (and should have) been something deep and special are rammed through with little to no finesse or care.

Despite having plenty of episodes to build a coherent narrative, and despite having the excellent world Takahashi created decades ago to work off of, Yashahime haphazardly barrels through episode after episode wasting precious airtime that could be used on world and character-building, but is instead used on repetitive jokes and soulless battles with no climax. It could be argued that this is merely a continuation of the original series, as Inuyasha itself also was accused of having these same flaws, but with Yashahime these flaws are on steroids with little to none of the good aspects of Inuyasha to balance them out.

Say what you want about the original series, but it at least got emotional scenes right. The same can’t be said for Yashahime. It can throw away several episodes with no story progression or character development, and then randomly throw in something important that lasts for a minute, maybe three minutes if you’re lucky (usually regarding a character from the original Inuyasha who makes a brief appearance). It’s a cruel cocktease of a series.

And by the time it finally gives up any goods and lets you in on the whereabouts of Inuyasha, Sesshomaru, Miroku, Sango, and Kagome – it’s too late. My patience and goodwill already dried up. The writers should’ve just told us what the hell was going on upfront, instead of making us wait a dozen episodes acting like they were building up to some grand reveal that never materializes.

Yashahime tries to replicate that old Inuyasha magic. But does it try hard enough?

Yashahime is just in its first season, but acts and feels like it’s in a much later season where the writers have all gotten lazy, cynical, and uninspired. I mean, I could understand this kind of shoddy pacing and lack of passion if the show had been going on for 500 episodes, but this is the first season. Are they even trying? They’re phoning it in already? Lame.

Yashahime wants to have its cake and eat it, too. It wants to ride the coattails of Inuyasha, while pretending to be its own thing, but is too lazy to take any risks to truly become its own thing – so it ends up being nothing.

WARNING: Spoiler Alert Ahead

And there is no balance in this show. Inuyasha had a large cast of diverse characters. Even its core cast was at least five characters. Meanwhile, Yashahime‘s core cast only consists of three characters. All girls in the same age range. And the only one even remotely interesting is Moroha, the daughter of Inuyasha and Kagome. The other two, Towa and Setsuna, are twins from Sesshomaru and… Rin (just… don’t think about it too much).

Setsuna and Towa’s backstory held some promise, but Yashahime has failed to deliver the narrative goods so far.

Now, to be fair, Towa and Setsuna’s backstory started out interesting enough in the first couple of episodes. But as the season drags on, I’ve become less and less interested in them. Personality-wise they’re both about as interesting as cardboard. I guess we can give Setsuna some slack in this department as she’s kind of supposed to be all stoic and serious (ie: boring) for good reason. But Towa is just poorly written.

Unsurprisingly, being Inuyasha’s daughter, Moroha has the most spunk. Which is something this show desperately needs. Her antics are one of the few reasons I’ve been able to stick around as long as I have. But she’s not enough to carry this series on her own.

That said, one area the show shines is in the character designs. I may not be impressed with a lot of these characters from a story perspective, but as far as their art and design go, they are more than worthy entries in the Inuyasha series. They fit right in and are highly memorable based on their designs alone. Which should come as no surprise seeing as how they were designed by none other than Rumiko Takahashi herself. Clearly Takahashi still has the magic touch. Unfortunately, that’s apparently the only aspect of Yashahime she’s been directly involved with. If not for her official designs, the show would look and feel like nothing more than terrible fan fiction.

As it stands, Yashahime is the worst anime sequel series I’ve ever seen. Yes, even worse than Dragon Ball GT. I went into it with low expectations, thinking maybe it would be a fun and harmless novelty show, but it turned out to be a painful slap in the face of a slog of a show.

And the weird thing is, unlike other bad sequels/prequels/spin-offs, this one actually does feel like it lowers the status of the original and taints its legacy a bit. I usually live by the mantra that, regardless of how bad they are, remakes and sequels can never tarnish or take away from the magic of the originals they’re based upon. But Yashahime pushes that theory to its breaking point.

D’oh! Yashahime may have killed the Inuyasha franchise.

As previously stated, many of Yashahime‘s flaws are not unique. They’re flaws that many detractors have accused Inuyasha of having, but Inuyasha was still so good and disarmingly charming that it was easy for fans to overlook those flaws. Now, I’m not so sure. Now after watching Yashahime, when I look back on Inuyasha I ask myself… was it always this bad?

I mean, I know it wasn’t always this bad, but was there something inherently wrong with the original formula that allowed something as bad as Yashahime to be made in the first place? Whenever I complain about the lack of polish in Yashahime, I’m met with responses like “That’s how Inuyasha was!”, “That’s what we’ve been trying to tell you about Inuyasha for years!” “Of course it’s full of pointless filler, so was Inuyasha!”

And to be honest, I don’t have a good rebuttal. Inuyasha was kinda like that. Maybe I’ve always been looking at Inuyasha with rose-tinted nostalgia glasses. And it took a show as bad as Yashahime for me to come to that realization.

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