May 22, 2014

Rumiko Takahashi's Accepting Era

Rumiko Takahashi’s InuYasha is a manga and anime set during the Sengoku Era of Japan, from roughly 1467 until 1573 (some of you history buffs might know this also as The Warring States period), written from 1996-2008. This is interesting from the standpoint of the history, in that Rumiko did this purposely so she could explore more violent ideas and themes in the safer space of history rather than the present. Secondly, it is once again interesting to view the concepts of acceptance in this manga/show that is made for children.

One concept is that the majority of her characters aren't hyper sexualized. In fact, she has many depictions of strong and courageous women. The main character, Kagome, stumbles into the past era through a magical well, and does not have much experience or anything in fighting or anything of the sort. After finding out she was the reincarnation of a priestess that lived at the time, she took up the quest of traveling with InuYasha and company to recover the jewel that the main villain, Naraku, stole. Through every episode she became stronger as a character and more able to stand up for herself and what she thought was right.  Another main character, Sango, comes from a family of demon hunters who are predominantly male. After Naraku, had killed her family and kidnapped her brother, she stopped at nothing to fight her way along to defeat Naraku.

Takahashi's notes on Kagome
Just as the women are not thrust into stereotypical gender roles, they are also not drawn in a way where they are made out to be sexual objects. The worst of the objectification is
the passes made by the monk, Miroku, at various women, but more often than not he gets a stern slap to the face as a result. One of the most impressive things to evidence this, however, is a picture taken from an art book on how to draw Kagome. There is a small note that says “No matter how rough the action, please do not show her underwear.” I can think of many other anime that would jump at that kind of chance to have that small bit of “fan-service” included, but Takahashi doesn’t allow it, and that is honorable.

A stylized drawing of Jakotsu by Hibiki Bagawa
The more important concept though is that there is a strong acceptance of homosexual characters. I recently watched through the anime for a second time and came across the “Band of Seven Brothers/Shichinintai” story arc. What is notable about this is the character of Jakotsu that is introduced. Jakotsu is a man who fights along with the Shichinintai, though he is not exactly presented as such. Much like Yumichika in the Bleach series, Jakotsu is portrayed as a feminized man and also acts the part. He makes several comments about the “sexy Monk” and how he wants to steal InuYasha’s ears because they’re “cute”. During their battles, he often tries to flirt with InuYasha. Despite these unwanted advances, InuYasha doesn’t call him out or make any kind of slurs, he only tells him to shut up and get back to the fight.

     In addition to these sorts of sexual advances, he also uses very feminine language. Since I’m a student of Japanese language, I re-watched this in Japanese. In Japanese, there are specific sets of pronouns and formations of sentences that distinguish gender. Instead of Jakotsu using the neutral “watashi” or more masculine “boku/ore”, he uses “atashi” instead. “Atashi” is generally reserved for those women speaking very humbly and is something you’d be sure to encounter in older literature, and less so (but still) used today.

Forms of "I" (Most masculine--Most feminine)
俺 (おれ/ORE)     僕 (ぼく/BOKU)     私 (わたし/WATASHI)     あたし/ATASHI

     All in all, this series is very accepting and affirming of the idea of woman-as-strong and homosexual populations. This is notable not only because of the kind of society Japan was and is, but also for the time in which InuYasha started—1998 was a bit before there was an overarching push for equal rights. 
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