Inuyasha is one of the most popular isekai series from the ‘00s and has a foothold in nearly every streaming app available today. The half-breed dog demon everyone knows and loves has a captivating storyline and a colorful cast of characters which makes for a truly engaging world. With an impressive 10 year run on Toonami’s Adult Swim block (2002-2012), and a revival on the platform merely six months after its first cancellation, Inuyasha cemented its place as a fixture in top anime from the ’00s. However, as I rewatch the series in 2020 I find myself fixated on a theme creator Rumiko Takahashi seamlessly weaved throughout the series: toxic masculinity.
Inuyasha, as a series, is a beautiful allegory for toxic masculinity. It is important to note that the manga started in the late ‘90s and the anime followed soon after, so some of the dialogue and themes of the show can still perpetuate the stereotypes. A good example of this would be the trope of the “lechor” where Miroku subjects the female characters to constantly flirting with them regardless of the woman’s interest. Inuyasha, the protagonist of the series, more than makes up for this as his turn from bitter, angry half-demon to strong-willed, tsundere hero coincides with his heartwarming toward Kagome and acceptance of who he was born to become.
Toxic masculinity is defined as suppressing emotions, maintaining an appearance of hardness, or violence as an indicator of power. These ways of thinking coincide with the ideologies that boys cannot express themselves freely; anything less than that makes them weak. Toxic masculinity is a rotten fruit normally born from a tree of insecurity, self-consciousness, and selfish desires. An over-reliance on the self and repressing how one feels lead to stress, anger issues, and depression.
For anyone who has seen Inuyasha, there is no better way to describe how the pointy-eared hero acted during the first five episodes than his behaviors were the epitome of toxic masculinity. He was brash, arrogant, and had a hatred for anyone who came within his path. Inuyasha was angry at Kikyo for (supposedly) betraying him. He hated himself for loving someone, especially a human. Most of all, Inuyasha was hurt for being vulnerable and hurting in the end.
When he was freed from the spell that kept him bound to a tree for 50 years in the first episode, Inuyasha turned his pain into self-reliance and turned his sorrow into anger at those who tried to care for him. Inuyasha immediately goes on the defensive, lashing out at surrounding villagers and attacking Kagome, the girl who saved him. When he recognizes Kikyo’s younger sister Kaede, he insults Kaede’s looks and how poorly she has aged over the past 50 years. His passive-aggressive attitude and disdain for humanity bothered the villagers and kept Kagome and Kaede, his only two comrades, at arm’s length.
Over the next six episodes, Inuyasha watched as Kagome, the show’s heroine, risked her life to help him and those around her. It came to a head as Kagome helped Inuyasha retrieve his dad’s sword in the face of imminent danger from Sesshomaru, Inuyasha’s brother.
Kagome was the first person to take the time to trust and understand Inuyasha since Kikyo broke his heart. The relationship between Kagome and Inuyasha was contentious at first due to Inuyasha’s anger and insecurity. Yet over time, Kagome’s resilience, strength, and kindness showed Inuyasha that there was no ulterior motive in her actions. Kagome just wanted the best for everyone around her, even Inuyasha.
Inuyasha’s walls came down because he was willing to see that people care when intentions are good. Inuyasha saw that the pain Kikyo caused does not mean Kagome will cause him that pain as well. He saw that his selfishness and anger were only hurting himself more. During episode seven, Inuyasha surprised Kagome by comforting her while she was crying. Telling her to stay back so he could protect her from Sesshomaru’s onslaught. It was at this point that the viewer sees Inuyasha think not only for himself but for the sake of Kagome as well. After the fight ends and Inuyasha and Kagome are safe, his once antagonistic manner turns into playful teasing toward Kagome.
Now, Inuyasha’s toxic masculinity was not Kagome’s responsibility to solve. Nor am I trying to imply that toxic masculinity can only be fixed by other people. But, Inuyasha showed us in its first seven episodes that even the most damaged, angry individuals can change if they find the proper motivation. The rest of Inuyasha deals with Inuyasha’s growth and transition from a toxically masculine character to a redeemable, loveable protagonist in a similar manner. While he still exhibits traits of toxic masculinity over the course of the show, viewers can watch him learn across each instance – often with a “sit boy” from Kagome.
Kagome was Inuyasha’s motivation, and because of her, he became one of the most recognizable, loveable protagonists of the ‘00s. And if Inuyasha can change, any man can find his motivation too. That is what Inuyasha means to me.
Inuyasha is a representation of men who grew up around when the show was released, in 2002, and was told to “rub some dirt in it” and “only girls cry.” Just like Inuyasha struggled with emotions and needed to maintain the “tough guy” routine, the era I grew up in taught me to do the same. I am fortunate to have patient friends and family who showed a path to empathy that allowed me to grow into the man I am today, just as Inuyasha is fortunate to have Kagome, Kaede, and the group of friends he makes throughout the rest of the show.
By the end of the series, Inuyasha is a poster child for how to be caring and empathetic without sacrificing who he is. Everyone has the power to do the same.