By Maile Lehrer (2020)
Inuyasha is a wildly successful manga and anime series written and illustrated by artist Rumiko Takahashi. Takahashi has composed several popular manga series prior to Inuyasha, but none of her previous series seem to compare to the popularity of Inuyasha. Inuyasha is categorized as a manga series in the “Shonen” genre. The term “Shonen” is used to describe manga that is typically created to be consumed by teenage and pre-teenage boys. Shonen storylines typically feature a male lead with a character centered around combat and becoming stronger/defeating one’s enemy. (Eisenbeiss) However, the real demographic for watchers and readers of Inuyasha expand far past the targeted audience to make Inuyasha one of the most well-known works of manga an anime.
Inuyasha rose in popularity as another important aspect of anime culture did: conventions. Anime conventions have been around since the early 2000’s, but have gotten increasingly popular throughout the years (Metroconventions). Conventions are a place for anime fans to come together, socialize with one another, and attend events hosted by the convention, such as question and answer panels with directors, illustrators, or voice actors of anime, cosplay and dancing competitions, anime-writing workshops, etc. Inuyasha became popular at just the right time because conventions and meet-ups for anime fans became more frequent. The demand for Inuyasha-themed events, displays, and cosplays at conventions has only grown with the popularity of the series, creating a demand in which conventions such as Metrocon, an anime convention based out of Florida, fill.
In the Metrocon convention, the events surrounding Inuyasha focus not on the monsters of Inuyasha or the surface-level entertainment of its battle scenes, but rather focuses on the characters and the intimate relationships between the characters. One of the key aspects of the manga that sets Inuyasha apart from other Shonen series is its detailed romantic subplot between the two main protagonists, Inuyasha and Kagome, and two secondary characters, Kikyo and Koga, where Inuyasha and Kikyo have romantic history, but Inuyasha and Kagome have feelings for each other. Koga begins having feelings for Kagome as well, creating a strange web of love and relationships. (Fandom) This intricate web of romance brings the series out of the typical “Shonen” framework and into widespread popularity as evidenced by the ways in which Inuyasha is presented and shared at conventions such as Metrocon, specifically concerning Inuyasha voice actor panels, merchandise, and cosplay.
Inuyasha: Publication and Plot
Inuyasha, written by Rumiko Takahashi, was originally part of a “weekly Shonen” magazine, which was a Shonen magazine that featured weekly chapter-long manga installments from many different storylines. Inuyasha was one of these weekly installments from 1996 to 2008. Publisher Shogakukan collected the chapters and made them into volumes: fifty-six in total. The first volume came out in 1997, and the last was released in 2009 (Fandom). While Inuyasha is mostly about killing demons and monsters, many fans attribute its greatness to the characters and the character development, not to the monster-killing plotline it has.
Inuyasha’s main storyline centers around a magical object: a jewel with immense power called the Shikon No Tama. This jewel can be used to turn a half-demon into a full demon and can also grant the use immense power. Throughout the series, the reader learns that the jewel was originally protected by a priestess by the name of Kikyo. This priestess was alive during feudal Japan and protected this jewel against anyone who tried to take it and use it to become a full demon or to become more powerful. A half-demon named Inuyasha, half-man and half-dog demon came after Kikyo in pursuit of the jewel. However, the two unexpectedly fell in love. Meanwhile, an evil half-demon named Naraku seeks the jewel, so Naraku transforms into Inuyasha and attacks Kikyo, causing fatal wounds. Because Kikyo thinks that Inuyasha attacked her, she shot him in the heart with a magical arrow that forces him into a deep sleep. Kikyo dies from her wounds and asks that her body be buried along with the jewel.
Many years later, a girl named Kagome lives in Tokyo near a historic shrine. On her fifteenth birthday, she climbs down a well in the shrine because she thought she heard her cat in the well. After climbing down the well, she discovers that she’s been transported back in time to feudal Japan. Here, she is attacked by a centipede-like monster and meets Inuyasha and Kikyo’s younger sister, Kaede. Kaede senses something familiar about Kagome, and, even more strangely, Inuyasha wakes up after being asleep for fifty years since Kikyo’s death. The readers eventually discover that Kagome is the reincarnation of Kikyo and that her scent is what caused Inuyasha to wake up, because he believed Kikyo had returned. It’s discovered that the jewel is hidden inside of Kagome’s body, and throughout the fight, gets knocked out of her. In order to win the fight against the monster, Kagome frees Inuyasha, who kills the giant centipede. Inuyasha then threatens to kill Kagome if she doesn’t give him the jewel, but Kaede acts quickly and finds a necklace of magical beads that will restrain Inuyasha at Kagome’s command. While this is happening, a crow half-demon steals the jewel, and Kagome shoots an arrow at the crow, missing the crow but hitting the jewel and shattering it into a thousand pieces. This begins the storyline of Inuyasha, where Kagome, the only one who can sense the jewel’s pieces, and Inuyasha, the only one who can fight off the monsters, go on an adventure to find and collect the pieces to the Shikon jewel.
Throughout the adventure, Kagome and Inuyasha meet a colorful cast of supporting characters, including characters that become important in the romantic subplot between Kagome and Inuyasha. As the two become close and begin to be romantically entwined, characters Kikyo and Koga are introduced to complicate the relationship. Throughout the adventure, the two protagonists stumble across Koga, who is a wolf half-demon who puts shards of the Shikon jewel into his arms and legs in order to be stronger. The characters meet Koga when Koga captures Kagome because he finds out she can sense shards of the Shikon jewel. After a few fights, Koga becomes an ally with Kagome and a rival to Inuyasha. Koga and Inuyasha are both canine demons, so they consistently attempt to out-do one another in a competition to be the “alpha” of the group. Koga begins to exhibit feelings towards Kagome and acts as a love rival to Inuyasha. Kagome changes Koga and shows him how to feel compassion. Before Kagome, Koga is apathetic towards the wellbeing of those he considers “weak”. However, Kagome begins to change him. While Koga falls for Kagome, Inuyasha does as well, and the two are rivals in love. At the end, however, Koga leaves Kagome’s group and Kagome does not go with him. Inuyasha wins Kagome’s heart eventually over Koga. Before the end, however, Kikyo is also reintroduced. Kikyo is brought back to life by a magic ogress and becomes part of Kagome’s group. Inuyasha becomes confused and conflicted because of the feelings he once had, and partially still does for Kikyo and the feelings he’s developing for Kagome. Inuyasha is caught between the past and the present as Kagome and Kikyo both attempt to get closer to him. The relationship between Kagome and Kikyo is less of a rivalry when compared to the relationship between Koga and Inuyasha, but there are still aspects of a “love triangle”. Kikyo dies again from the half-demon Naraku, and Inuyasha chooses Kagome. However, Inuyasha chooses Kagome not just because Kikyo is gone, but because he feels as if Kagome is part of him. The journey that he takes with Kagome is incredibly important, and changes the both of them. At the end of the story, Inuyasha tells Kagome that her destiny was not to be intertwined with the Shikon jewel, but to meet him, and his was to meet her. The plotline concludes with Kagome destroying the jewel and eventually marrying Inuyasha, who is happier with Kagome than he ever could be with any amount of power the Shikon jewel could have given him (Takahashi).
Inuyasha in the Age of the Internet
Inuyasha was made into an anime by Sunrise, a producer of anime. There were two installments of Inuyasha, the first one beginning in 2000 and ending in 2004, and the second: Inuyasha: the Final Act, beginning in 2009 and ending in 2010 (Fandom). Because of the rise of the internet, people and fans all over the world were able to watch and read Inuyasha. The internet became a place for these fans to congregate and talk about the story, plotline, and characters. Many forums popped up in regards to Inuyasha, such as inuyasha.fandom.com and other fan-based pages, and began gathering thousands of fans and participants. This online presence of anime fans began begging for a place that forum members could meet in real life. The existence of active online forums such as this planted the seed for the creation of anime conventions. Anime conventions happen all over the world.
On anime convention in particular, Metrocon, is located in Tampa, Florida. Metrocon, like many other conventions, was created in 2003 after the owners of a popular website/fan forum, Animemetro.com, decided to create a convention for members of the website to meet up. The convention started small: the venue was in a single Crowne Plaza Hotel and featured just a fraction of the events, activities, and displays as it does today. Metrocon quickly grew and had to move venues in just 2 years due to the demand of more space and more events. Throughout the years, it’s only gotten bigger, and the convention even had to extend from a 3-day convention to a 4-day convention in 2015 (Metroconventions). The reason Metrocon and conventions like Metrocon continue to grow is because fanbases for popular anime and manga continue to grow exponentially. Although no anime has its own convention completely dedicated to it alone, many popular anime and manga series are well-represented in conventions such as Metrocon. One such anime, which grew to popularity around the same time that Metrocon did, is Inuyasha.
Conventions, although originally created for fans by fans, are somewhat expensive. Metrocon 2016 had an at-door rate of $85 for all four days of convention, or $30-35 for specific days, meaning that many people who go to conventions such as this are dedicated fans rather than casual viewers. To discover what creates such dedicated fans of Inuyasha, one only has to look to the source of anime/manga conventions: forums and online blogs. Metrocon was created because there was an online presence that created demand for a fan meet-up and celebration. Conventions cannot and would not exist outside of the online anime community and presence. (Metroconventions) Because of this, much of what is prevalent at the convention scene was dictated by what is prevalent in online discussions, forums, and fan works.
By looking at Inuyasha threads on online forums, it’s clear that characterization and the romantic relationships between the characters is what makes the dedicated fans of Inuyasha dedicated (Goodreads). A forum user explained that they “like the combination of humour, romance, action, and adventure, [they] love the characters” (Zelda Universe). Comments such as these are among the most common, and discourse within threads talking about Inuyasha commonly resort to arguments over which couples of Inuyasha are better than others, and which characters should’ve ended up with who. According to the online Inuyasha presence, the romance of Inuyasha is an incredibly crucial aspect of the manga/anime because of the way it develops the characters. (Quora) Because conventions are so tightly correlated with the online anime community, whatever the community demands, the conventions deliver.
Voice Actor Panels
Fans of manga and anime tend to want to meet the people who create the content they enjoy. Because anime is all animated and there are no real, visible actors for fans to connect to, many fans turn to the illustrators and voice actors of anime as celebrities. Part of the activities on the Metrocon 2016 schedule was a panel featuring English Inuyasha voice actors. Professional actor Richard Ian Cox, voice of the protagonist Inuyasha, and Kirby Morrow, voice of secondary character Hiroku were guests at this particular convention and held a Q and A panel, where fans could ask questions and have their questions answered. Although the guests were just voice actors of the characters, they have had the unique experience of almost becoming those characters. One question asked to the actors was about ad-libbing and whether or not it was difficult to “ad-lib” in places that needed or called for improvisation in the script. The guests responded similarly, saying that it wasn’t difficult at all to improvise because they knew the characters so intimately.
Not only are these actors the voices for the characters they play, but they also represent the characters in a realistic sense. These voice actors seem to be such a reliable source that fans feel comfortable asking them about what their characters think or would think about (x) situation. During the panel, the voice actors seemed to act like their characters. Cox and Morrow would often provide tangential banter about things their characters did in-universe as if it were relevant in the real world. People who watched the panel commented on how they seemed to represent their characters even though they are presenting to the panel as themselves. This means that many people ask questions they’d like to ask the characters themselves, specifically about the romance of Kagome and Inuyasha. One such question was asking Richard Cox: “Which one, Kagome or Kikyo?” to which he said, immediately “BOTH!” This is extremely indicative of an answer his character would give. When asked about their “favorites” (as in favorite characters and scenes), all of the answers given by the two voice actors were tied back to the romance subplot. It was rumored that Koga’s voice actor, Scott McNeil, was supposed to be at the event, but couldn’t come. When Richard was asked “How do you feel about Koga not being here?” he responded, “I’m totally fine with Koga not being here… he wears a fur diaper.” This answer was seemingly in response to how Richard’s character, Inuyasha would feel about Koga, who acts as his main romantic rival in the series. Throughout the panel, small quips are made regarding the relationships of the characters, and only one of the questions asked or answered was about the fighting in Inuyasha, which is considered to be a big part of the show’s content.
Merchandise and Inuyasha
Panels are a large part of the reason why many people attend Metrocon, but there are a multitude of other aspects to the convention that have to do with Inuyasha. A large part of convention life for many is the merchandise they can purchase there. Many people, usually collectors, consider merchandise to be the main reason for going to a convention, as there convention-specific merchandise available, meaning that people can buy items at conventions that are otherwise not sold, which can go for extremely high prices to collectors online. On part of the convention floor, there is a large merchandise section where people put up booths and displays to sell anime merchandise, primarily action figures and clothing.
Another factor that goes into the choice of merchandise and the number of events seemingly dedicated to the romantic subplots of Inuyasha is the demographic of the expected consumer. Although Inuyasha is categorized as a Shonen manga, many don’t believe it can be wholeheartedly absorbed into the genre, meaning that the demographic that Inuyasha reached was not primarily boys around the age of fifteen, but a different audience. Usaco, featured author of website “Tokyo Otaku Mode” discusses the ways in which Rumiko Takahashi creates her own space within the Shonen drama by introducing other aspects, especially the romantic one. Usaco suggests that “Many fans have been attracted to the series because of the romance,” and the mix of romance with darker, more violent tropes of Shonen manga create a work that people of a wide demographic can appreciate. This helps explain why the romantic aspect of Inuyasha is so widely regarded within the convention scene.
At conventions, Inuyasha merchandise suggesting romance is especially popular, where many pieces of clothing are depicted with a couple of characters (usually Inuyasha and Kagome, but sometimes a lesser couple like Miroku and Sango), instead of just a singular character (Hot Topic). The choice of merchandise shows the impact that the romantic subplot had on the popularity of the series.
Many people consider “cosplay” to be the most significant part of a convention, and many go to conventions just to show off their cosplay or learn, in masterclasses that are frequently available during conventions, how to do cosplay (Shawn). For many Inuyasha fans, this is no different. “Cosplay” refers to a type of dress in which fans of any form of entertainment dress up like characters from whatever story or series they are a fan of. Cosplay is such a large part of the convention culture that one of Metrocon’s big events is a “costume contest” in which fans and convention-goers from all over the world come to Metrocon to show off their cosplays and compete in a competition to decide whose cosplay was the best, most realistic, and most well-put together. There are events dedicated to cosplay such as classes and costume dances that are put on by the convention, and a portion of the convention floor is dedicated to cosplay, featuring cosplay events and displays.
Metrocon’s costume contest allows people to present their costumes in pairs or groups rather than just individuals, which gives cosplayers the opportunity to collaborate and compete as teams or couples. While many Inuyasha cosplayers cosplay as individuals, many also cosplay in pairs, where one cosplayer will dress as Inuyasha and one as Kagome. Because so many people enjoy the romantic aspect of Inuyasha and other romantic anime couples, conventions are pushed to incorporate couples’ cosplays into their events.
Inuyasha is a popular manga and anime that has captured the attentions of people from all around the world. The fact that Inuyasha started as a Japanese manga and is now a staple of popular anime in America should speak to its success. Although Inuyasha is accused often of following some tropes of the Shonen genre, its popularity suggests that it is much more than a standard Shonen manga. Inuyasha introduces a stark combination of the supernatural, fight-based nature of many Shonen stories and a deep, romantic subplot that is welded into the story through every plot point. The romantic subplot is not a simple one and was clearly thought out by author Rumiko Takahashi. Because of the timely way the romantic subplot is introduced, it’s clear to see that the subplot was intended to be a major part of the Inuyasha story. This is reflected in the way that Inuyasha fans view the series and in the ways they interact with it. Dedicated fans cling to the characters and discuss the romantic subplot of those characters as a large part of the Inuyasha story. This discussion has shaped the way that anime conventions are structured and thus makes conventions a place where the deeper romantic subplot of Inuyasha is discussed and shared.
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