Yashahime: Ruinations of a Perplexing Sequel

It’s a Saturday morning in March of 2022, and this writer has finished watching the 48th and final episode of Yashahime: Princess Half-Demon, the final episode of a once-impossible-to-imagine project that came to fruition a year and a half prior, a project that serves as both a spinoff and sequel to this writer’s favorite anime and manga series, Inuyasha. Having weaved and roamed through its very bumpy trajectory every Saturday morning for 48 non-consecutive weeks across a span of 17 months, having seen the story develop between characters old and new, and having witnessed the final battle play out and the day be saved against the forces of a very stubborn evil, all that this writer was left to say was the following:

“…that’s it?”

Yashahime was a series that was announced with modest fanfare from those within the fan community, and exhumed excitement from this writer in particular because, as was thought back in May 2020 when the series announced, what could go wrong? It’s a sequel series that serves as a spinoff with new characters and, more specifically, characters that are the children of the main cast, how could it go wrong? Well, some will gladly point out what went wrong in great detail, but in this writer’s case there is an argument to say that it was less an issue of things going wrong, per se, but more of an issue of a story that just wasn’t fully realized. But before we get to that element, we have to lay out the foundation for what this series actually is, and then we can pick apart its shortcomings.

The first episode is just a new Inuyasha episode, 10 years after TFA’s finale.

On paper, it’s a very solid “tried and true” idea for a series, picking up long after where 2010’s Inuyasha: The Final Act left off with an addition of a new younger cast of characters who, along the way, team up to discover more about themselves while also trying to put an end to a perilous evil plot that threatens the world as we know it. Tried and true to the core, but simple enough to not feel like it’s going out of its way to do too much. And those new younger characters just so happen to be descendants of a storied bloodline – Moroha, Setsuna, and Towa. So let’s talk about Moroha first, the best girl of the show.

Moroha (voiced by Morgan Berry) is the daughter of our leads of the original series, Kagome and Inuyasha, making her the best girl by default, and carrying with her plenty of traits and powers from her parents. But when her parents get involved in a perilous fight involving Kirinmaru, our big bad of the series – more on him later – they have no choice but to send her away to live on while they are sent into the pocket dimension known as the grave of Inuyasha’s father by his brother, Sesshomaru. For their “own good,” of course. Don’t worry, things would get better later on. Though a curious element about her was that, after “the incident” occurred, Moroha was sent off to live with Koga, the leader of the Wolf Demon Tribe from the original series, and his wife Ayame – yes, she’s still a wonderful character – in the stead of her parents; sadly, this was only mentioned and shown one time before never being mentioned again, except in the manga – more on that in a little bit.

Lawful neutral, neutral good, and chaotic stupid.

As for the other two girls, the daughters of Sesshomaru – as the show would say several times over its span – would go through a different path in their lives. From a bit of happenstance, Towa (Erica Mendez) finds herself whisked away to modern-day Tokyo, while her twin sister Setsuna (Kira Buckland) is stuck behind in the feudal era with a case of lost memory, unaware of who her family is. Thanks to an awakening of a demonic being simply known as the Root Head, a portal would open up between the feudal and modern eras, with both Setsuna and Moroha emerging on the other side to find Towa – an adopted member of the Higurashi family with Sota, Kagome’s brother, taking her in as his daughter alongside his wife Moe and their young daughter Mei. Naturally, Sota isn’t surprised at all over any of this because he’s dealt with the wibbly-wobbly time nonsense once before with his sister. It does take some time for Setsuna to warm up to Towa and Moroha, thanks to a convenient case of forgotten memory due in part to an entity known as the Dream Butterfly that keeps absorbing her dreams and rendering her a perpetual insomniac. As for the whereabouts of those dreams and memories, they’re being used as energy to maintain the life force of a woman stuck in the fabled Tree of Ages – their mother. She’ll be discussed further later.

As for our villains of the series, the main one is Kirinmaru (Crispin Freeman), a big bad mother-blanker who wants ultimate power and vengeance against both Sesshomaru and Inuyasha’s father, as well as them both, because… typical villain things, really. The same goes for Zero (Carrie Keranen), Kirinmaru’s sister, who hasn’t gotten over the fact that she had a thing for Tōga, said father of the brothers, and he never reciprocated those feelings – mostly due to the fact that he had two wives and didn’t really feel the need to have a third. There’s also a twist with Kirinmaru, as he has a modern-era equivalent in Osamu Kirin, one of Towa’s school teachers, tying together with his feudal counterpart with a true evil set to crash into the earth in both eras: the Grim Comet. Again, more on that later.

Kirinmaru: aka “diet Naraku.”

This franchise is well known for its abundance of weapons and swords, and this entry is no slouch when it comes to its wild sword ideas. Towa has two swords in her arsenal, a treasured artifact known as the Kikujūmonji and the Zanseiken, a sword that channels demonic energy thanks to what I will politely describe as Tommy’s Dragonzord flute from Power Rangers. Yes, it makes sense in context. For Setsuna, to go along with her training amongst the demon slayers, including Kohaku, she first wields the Kanemitsu no Tomoe, a naginata that doubles as a vessel for her much more feral demonic energy, before obtaining the Yukari no Tachikiri, a much more powerful blade with the ability to sever bonds of fate – and yes, the red string of fate bit of folklore plays a giant part in this series. And for Moroha, she has a sword known as the Kurikaramaru to go along with a spiritual bow and arrow, both traits of her parents melded into one fantastic girl who truly deserved better than what this story had to offer her. Moroha also has a Swiss army knife on her at all times, which makes her a valuable asset in any situation, but just not when she uses her trusty rouge to awaken her more feral demonic energy – it only lasts a few moments before she’s wiped out, being a quarter-demon girl and all.

But speaking of this story, while it seemed like an easy layup to hit for a fandom that’s always growing due to the gateway status that Inuyasha has had since its US television premiere in 2002, Yashahime… well, to quote MVG from YouTube, mistakes were made.

Ruination #1: The Rainbow Pearls

What do you do when the Shikon Jewel, the main plot device of the original series, is gone and wiped off the face of the universe? It turns out that the black pearl that serves as the pocket dimension for the grave of Inuyasha’s father – you know, the one in his eye – wasn’t the only one made, and it’s all thanks to the power of absolute plot convenience. As mentioned earlier, Zero had a thing for Tōga, but when word broke out that he died in the opening scene of the third movie – and yes, that movie is now “anime canon” – she was heartbroken and channeled her various emotions into several pearls, the Rainbow Pearls, all carrying various levels of demon strength and energy to anyone who wields them. And while massive power-up items sound like a great plot device to last the rest of the series, they all end up serving as a goose chase for Zero and her ending arc, ultimately resulting in Towa fighting through the struggle and Setsuna coming in for the save to close an arc that really didn’t need that much time dedicated to it in the end, especially since the end result is her string of fate getting severed and yada yada yada.

Characters played by Carrie Keranen and Erica Mendez on opposing sides? That feels familiar.

Ruination #2: Subpar Villainy

Zero’s arc isn’t the only element of antagonism that had a lot of lack to it, because it can’t be matched to the grand underwhelming end result of Kirinmaru, coupled with his modern-era counterpart and his incarnation-of-sorts in Riku (Zack Aguilar), who also doubles as a love interest-of-sorts for Towa even though it goes absolutely nowhere. But to the matter at hand with Kirinmaru, when you have to follow up the masterful evil that is Naraku you have to either usurp the character or resign yourself to a lesser character. It was option number 2 that happened here, with Kirinmaru dealing with the typical villain traits and tropes of “I hate half-breeds and I hate your father and you and your children” and it just goes on and on with a giant element of self-worth and wanting to prove his strength and it just feels… lacking. Compared to Naraku, a living embodiment of evil who wanted to spread his vitriol and hatred and destroy every single being in his path, Kirinmaru just feels lost in his quest for affirmation, and that spreads to his young daughter Rion (Lisa Reimold) – we’ll get to her in the next section. As for Osamu Kirin, the modern era incarnation, when he is reintroduced in the second half of the series he ends up in the feudal era after the Grim Comet in the modern era has been defeated via the power of friendship and swords and whatnot, but it’s in the past where his true intentions are revealed: ULTIMATE POWER. It did not take long for that plan to be thwarted, though, and it happened in a very baffling way.

Ruination #3: A Giant Evil Butterfree

Anyone up for a Dynamax battle?

If you can believe it, this show has a long-running motif to it involving an element called the Dream Butterfly, and said element ties into another big part of the series. It involves Setsuna, taking her memories and ruining her sleep schedule in the process, and if it were just that it would be fine. But no, the final arc of the series involves Osamu Kirin and Rion, who went from side character on board with de-eviling her father into evil-via-incubation in, and I kid you not, a giant evil butterfly via the Grim Comet. Now, there are folks who thought that the Shikon Jewel being the true evil big bad at the very end was a stupid idea, but it’s a stroke of genius compared to the three-episode final battle that this series put together, compared to a giant Butterfree going evil on everyone. Anyway, said final battle also had the original crew of characters from the series interact, albeit in a very minimal and equally underwhelming manner, which leads us to…

Ruination #4: Inuyasha Without Inuyasha

The first episode of this series being, ostensibly, an epilogue episode of Inuyasha in flashback form works great as an introductory hook for the series. What doesn’t work, though, is limiting the time with the original characters that long-time members have spent years growing to know for the rest of the series, only showing up in either flashback scenes or when deemed “necessary” for the story, save for one pivotal moment that will come up much later. Showing moments of Kagome and Inuyasha in flashback or stuck in the pocket dimension, and showing both Sango and Miroku – you know, the badass demon slayer and now-domesticated monk who have three children together – a handful of times in favor of lesser side characters with lesser development gives the impression that these characters are primarily here for nostalgia pops, instead of doing a more fruitful venture of building on the foundation of the series to see how much these characters have grown in, within the series’ canon, the 15-plus years since the end of The Final Act.

When you spend most of your early screen time in flashback form.

Yes, this is a series that is both a sequel and spinoff focusing on new characters, but if you’re going to introduce past characters you need to do a better job of integrating them into the larger story; this show does not do such a thing. To note, this series also had Moroha written to be away from her parents, with Kagome and Inuyasha being casted off into the pocket dimension – for FOURTEEN YEARS. One of the easiest plot threads that could have been crafted for the series is their domestic life as newlyweds and new parents, and it wasn’t even presented as an option with this story. To add, both Kagome and Inuyasha don’t return to being major characters in the series until episode 39, which is three-fourths of the way through the series, and most damning of all is that there is a reunion scene of the main four characters of the original series in episode 46 – meeting each other for the first time in 14 years. And it lasts all of 20 seconds with barely any exclaimed emotion on display. Once again, one of the easiest lay-ups to land, and it was an air ball of a moment. It seemed like there was more time needed to focus on Sesshomaru throughout the series, along with… well…

Ruination #5: The Conflicting Implication

Amongst all of the elements of this series that have been deemed polarizing, none is more polarizing than the mother of Towa and Setsuna. Her name hasn’t been mentioned throughout this piece, and that was done on purpose. So who is the mother, anyway?

It’s Rin. Yes, that stray girl from the original series that always traveled with Sesshomaru and Jaken. And yes, she and Sesshomaru hooked up and had two daughters. To note, this series also had to retcon this plot point at the start of the second season to intentionally state that Rin was 18 when it all happened. Note that I said “retcon” because if you look at the ages Rin was throughout the series, you’ll notice a discrepancy. And yet, somehow, someone at the Sunrise creative staff didn’t think of this implication until the second season. Whoops. Now, admittedly, there are two reactions to this entire situation, the romanticized shipper reaction who imagined it happening much later on in life, and the general reaction of “uh… did you all just pull an Usagi Drop?” And that’s never a good reaction to have. Also, Rin is sequestered off to the Sacred Tree with a curse that slowly eats her life away; she got better, though. The whole “they got better” thing happens a bit too much, though, considering both Setsuna and Towa have moments where it looks like they are dead… only to recover by the next episode. It’s like the Rui fight in Demon Slayer, one of the biggest and most bombastic shonen anime fights ever made, only to be scuffed off by the next episode. And in this case, it can be explained pretty simply.

Ruination #6: Caught in Creative Corners

It’s never easy to write a long-running shonen series with complete cohesion and an air-tight structure. Mistakes will be made, characters will fall by the wayside (remember Launch in Dragonball? Toriyama sure doesn’t), but at the end of the day it’s all about leading a plot line from point A to point B. In this series’ case, though, several moments had to get “character ex machina’d” in order to move past it, due in part to a simple fault from the creative process: the staff wrote themselves into a corner. Whether it was an uncertain exit strategy to finish a smaller plot line, namely how Zero was written off or Riku’s on-and-off character arc, or getting caught with details that had little follow up, like with Moroha’s mentor Yawaragi being present in one episode and then never being mentioned again, same with how she was sent to live with the Wolf Demon Tribe and with Koga and Ayame – you know, from the original series. The latter wasn’t mentioned when talking about Moroha simply because it may as well have never happened with how little follow-up there was to that established connection. That’s all not to say that Inuyasha never had its issues with its story, especially the anime adaptation with plenty of “character ex machina” moments to it, but it just feels more egregious in this series as it’s a shorter structure with less elements at play, which should mean less issues to be found. But the opposite happened, and that’s rather unfortunate.

There’s one more thing that can be seen as a bugging moment, as well, and it’s… odd.

Ruination #7: Kikyo is a Tree

That’s all there needs to be said. Kikyo is the incarnate spirit of the Tree of Ages because shut up.

At least Willow Johnson reprises as Kikyo. That’s a positive.

There has been plenty of bad said about this series so far (1600 words, give or take), but it’s not all bad. One of the best things that the series did actually relates to the English dub cast; when originally announced that the series was being dubbed, word spread that the studio handling it was Bang Zoom!, based out of California, which gave a bit of concern with the original series’ dub being produced from The Ocean Group in Vancouver, Canada, and the thought of the original cast being replaced was especially concerning. However, since this was in the dark ages and remote dub recording was a necessity, strings were pulled and they were able to get into contact with many of the original Canadian cast to have them reprise their roles, not missing a single beat even after nearly a decade away from the characters.

When you spend 1000 days training, your hair grows real long.

Blending in newer American talent with the veteran Canadian voices was the absolute best decision for the series’ dub, coupled with many of the US-based talent having grown up as fans of Inuyasha and watching the series back when it was first airing. Names like Erica Mendez, Kira Buckland, Aleks Le, Daman Mills, and many others were able to lend their voices to this series and franchise – as well as veteran talent based out of Los Angeles like Doug Erholtz, Wendee Lee, and Tony Oliver in smaller bit roles – alongside reprising voices, the most notable being the core original cast: Richard Ian Cox as Inuyasha, Kira Tozer as Kagome (her voice actress from The Final Act), Kelly Sheridan as Sango, Kirby Morrow as Miroku, Willow Johnson as the Kikyo spirit tree, and David Kaye returning as Sesshomaru – helped that he has been an LA talent for years, heard most weeks as the announcer on Last Week Tonight on HBO. Sadly, though, shortly after the first dub episode was released in November 2020, Kirby Morrow tragically passed away, citing a tenured history of depression and substance abuse as underlying factors of his passing at the age of 47; needing a new voice for the role, though, Ian James Corlett was casted to play Miroku for the rest of the series, a fellow Canadian voice actor who had a long established connection with Kirby Morrow earlier in their careers with Ranma 1/2 and the Canadian dub of Dragonball Z.

Even though this series has a litany of issues to its name in regards to its plot line and character motivations, and especially with its final arc resulting in a very deflating denouement, there is one major moment that even the most harshest of critics can say was handled as perfectly as can be: the reunion with Moroha and her parents in episodes 38 and 39. The tearful embrace from Kagome to her daughter was one thing, but bringing in Inuyasha for the next episode served to be even more of a giant ball of heartwarming fluff that, at this point in the series, was desperately needed. And it absolutely was done to perfection within the first 6 minutes of that episode, starting off with a bit of levity and awkwardness at first before progressing into a true reunion between a loving father and his once-lost daughter.

The #1 dad.

“Moroha… your mother and I talked about you every day, and about how one day we’d see you again. There was never a moment where you weren’t in our thoughts.”

It is a fantastic sequence for both this series and the larger story of the franchise as a whole, serving as depth for Moroha and her character arc in reuniting with her parents and also serving as an unintentional positive comparison with how Inuyasha treats his and Kagome’s daughter opposed to how Sesshomaru treats Towa and Setsuna – not well. At all. And despite how Sesshomaru was always presented throughout the series, being stoic and steadfast while maintaining a cold demeanor, there was minimal growth to be found from him outside of him growing more fond of Rin over time. That fondness barely passed over with Towa and Setsuna, opting for vague descriptions of “tough love” with little emotion being displayed. Now, compare that to how Inuyasha embraces Moroha, keeping her held tight against his frame and in his arms with Moroha breaking down into tears from the warmth of her father after 14 years of separation while Inuyasha is barely keeping his own composure. In that same scene, with Kagome wiping her own tears away at the sight of her husband and daughter together, Towa and Setsuna are watching everything unfold and Setsuna takes hold of her sister’s hand, crying much more to the embrace. Label it as a fan theory, if you must, but if those tears weren’t because of the emotion being shown then it could be absolutely theorized that Setsuna saw a father’s love being shown and found herself lamenting that she never had that same feeling or embrace from her father.

And that leads to the biggest ruination of this series, one that caused issues with the whole series from the very beginning.

Ruination #8: Sesshomaru… sucks. He REALLY sucks.

Fandom fascination aside, in terms of both domestic and western viewpoints, the Sesshomaru character is specifically crafted to be stoic and cold, in order to fit the role of a side antagonist – and later a side deuteragonist. But that doesn’t transfer over into being a strong primary focus, which is the biggest indictment of this series at the end of the day – the focus was on the wrong scenario and character. In other words, Sesshomaru is just not interesting enough to be a primary focus, due to the previously mentioned minimal growth of his series, yet most of the smaller monster-of-the-day villains always make it a point to mention him whenever they come across Setsuna and Towa, identifying them as his daughters and wanting to fight them because of their father’s transgressions, much like how Rin in the back end of the series makes it a point to mention that they are his daughters as if that should be a sense of pride. And it seemed to have stuck, with the final scene of the final episode showing Setsuna and Towa calling themselves as his daughters in a triumphant act to see the series out. It’s easy to say “well, of course they’d be proud to be his daughters,” but think of what he did for them for his own character arc throughout the series: barely anything and not enough.

Not the #1 dad.

For an example, go back to the moment of Moroha reuniting with her parents and how both Kagome and Inuyasha respond to her after seeing her for the first time in 14 years. They’re emotional, beside themselves, and above all else are absolutely happy to be back in her life, and to have her back in their lives as well. Compare that to the season one finale, after the three girls have their first fight with Kirinmaru, with Setsuna presumed dead and Towa unable to do anything to save her; at the very end, Sesshomaru arrives, hands Towa the broken Tenseiga (the healing sword, remember), and tells her – paraphrased, of course – to fix everything herself. No emotion, no fatherly greeting, nothing. The difference is night and day, and it shows just how much of a cold and stoic character Sesshomaru is – and how much of it he still is, even when Rin is inevitably saved and freed from her plot-convenient suspended animation and he barely shows any reaction and emotion.

Setsuna and Towa are very well-developed and solid characters, in spite of the material both characters had to work with, but having them and their original character arcs being the main focus of the series and not Moroha, the girl who is the daughter of Kagome and Inuyasha – as in, the title character of the series Inuyasha – was a misstep that should have been given a second evaluation in the planning process, especially since the planning for this series reportedly dates back to 2017, which meant there was at least three years’ worth of planning to be had. Yet in the series, especially early in the series, Moroha feels more like a side character and not a major player – again, all despite who her parents are, being the two main characters of the entire original series. Perhaps there could have been a stronger hook had both Kagome and Inuyasha, as well as Moroha by extension, were made into being the A-plot focus, as opposed to being auxiliary players, but there is data to back up this theory from its Japanese TV ratings.

The demon slayers from long before Demon Slayer.

Its first season, airing from October 2020 to March 2021, delivered solid numbers in its Saturday 5:30pm timeslot (partnered with Detective Conan airing at 6:00pm on the same channel), averaging a 5.2% rating and peaking with 7.3% in its 13th episode (Miroku’s on-screen return), but after the first season and interest had started to tumble, its second season from October 2021 to March 2022 garnered a lower 4.3% average, with its peaks being two weeks of 5.0% in episodes 38 and 39 – the episodes where Moroha reunites with her parents. Perhaps there is some other data that could explain the spike and peak in viewership, but if there was a renewed interest from those two episodes that lead to the peak then a shift in focus should have been considered, as well as a change in direction for the series as a whole with more focus on other characters. Such is the case for the final issue with the series:

Ruination #9: Missed Opportunities Galore

The words that best describe this series, in simple terms, is “missed opportunity.” By keeping things laid out in a more traditional shonen adventure story with a linear path – characters are introduced, villains cause problems, big fight ensues, denouement – this keeps the scope of the story much more narrow and singular, only showing additional elements as cursory glances with barely enough time for viewers to grow an attachment. There could have been more focus on the guardianship of Koga and Ayame with Moroha, Kohaku with the demon slayers, Sango and Miroku’s extended family with Hisui and his two twin sisters, Towa when she was growing up with Kagome’s now-grown brother Sōta and his family, even more on Inuyasha and Kagome’s domestic life before and after Moroha was born. Small elements can always lead to a larger impact with a story connected to a vast overarching series such as this, and having those elements go unspoken leaves the series feeling more constrained and lesser as a result.

Thankfully, there is an alternate telling of this series in manga form, as Yashahime has a manga adaptation published on a monthly schedule (Viz will release the series starting in June) and penned by Takashi Shiina (the creator of Ghost Sweeper Mikami), with early reception from fans being more favorable toward it than the television anime thanks to more details being added in with the characters early on in the story of this series – all with approval from creator Rumiko Takahashi, of course. Ultimately, though, this series should be judged for what it is, not what it could have been, and what it ended up being, in the end, was a fine enough side series to continue the feudal fairy tale that many have grown up with and love, but there just wasn’t enough to be had in it that could leave fans, both long-term and newcomer, feeling wholly satisfied with the end result. And for a series like this, with a connection to a franchise going on for 26 years with a still-growing fandom thanks to its gateway status, it really needed to be more than what it ended up resulting in being.

But at least there’s always Moroha to serve as the light at the end of the tunnel. Bless her and her parents for blessing all of us with her grace and presence.

The saving grace of the whole show.

Yashahime: Princess Half-Demon is licensed and distributed by Viz Media, is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Viz, and is available to watch on demand in full on Crunchyroll and Hulu, with season 1 also available on Peacock (subtitled) and Adult Swim (dubbed). Season 1 previously aired on the Toonami block on Adult Swim, with season 2 yet to be aired as of the time of this writing.

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