Oftentimes, there are anime that aren’t the most popular and tend to fly under the radar. With dozens of fresh shows to dive into this fall, it can be difficult to choose. Some may opt for a weekend of new series binge-watching. Additionally, fans might carefully critique a few shows while sorting through premieres until they’ve found the new addiction. One such show that has also flown under the radar is INUYASHIKI: LAST HERO, which premiered on Amazon Strike early October. With the addition of several well-performing anime over the summer, Amazon is proving itself to be a quality streaming service. INUYASHIKI is a show that builds a superhero within a world that depicts the worst of humanity. But while the anime shows the worst humans, it also centers on one of the best.
What comes through especially strong in INUYASHIKI is an air of redemption contrasted with its pessimism. The series protagonist, Ichiro Inuyashiki, has to regain his humanity after strangely dying and getting a robotic body as a replacement. Considering he was already a great person, this creates a thematic question for the series. What does it mean to be human, and how do you regain humanity once you’ve lost it? Let’s analyze the first episode with this in mind!
Spoilers for the first episode of INUYASHIKI follow.
The Gentle Old Man
Ichiro is a simple and rather plain office worker. Despite his seemingly simple job, he works incredibly hard, something shown by the show as he purchases a new house for his family. He dislikes loans and saved up the full cost of the house to provide for his loved ones. His intense love and good deed aren’t enough for them as they mostly ignore him.
His wife barely even seems to have a connection to him. Even though he is middle-aged, Ichiro has the appearance of an old man and is quite frail. His wife looks comparatively young, coming off as more of an estranged daughter than a wife. Given the almost cold attitude she has toward him, I got the impression of an angsty teenager. It’s only nearly a quarter of the way through the episode that she refers to him as “honey”, creating a clash between their perceived relationship and their actual relationship.
Besides his wife, his kids are pretty awful too. In their case, they have some excuse since they’re just being teenagers, but it’s not nearly enough to justify their disrespect and rudeness. They complain about their new house just before making Ichiro do the bulk of the work moving their things. While he unpacks they all go out to dinner without a word to Ichiro. Overall, the beginning of the show is incredibly sad and builds a narrative of suffering for Ichiro, making me hope for him quite a bit.
A Visually Evil World
The detailed faces in INUYASHIKI only serve to reinforce how horrid most humans are. As if their actions weren’t enough, hoodlums in INUYASHIKI have faces that contort into ugly shapes. Every line of their jaw and scoffs comes through in full detail, and the expression really exhibits evil. In Ichiro’s case, we see a lot of his concern and sadness. Despite there being plenty of scenes lacking in meaningful dialogue, I felt completely aware of the scene. The facial expressions of every character are brought out, and no part of the anime felt hastily drawn just to fill a background. Part of why I had initially assumed his wife was his daughter was because of this same level of detail in his design. When some teenagers on a subway threaten to beat him, his face shows a sort of fear particular to a scared old man.
As he walks around and goes about his daily business, Ichiro continues to see more and more of humanity’s common evils. People harass each other in the street, yell, and berate others for almost no reason. All the while, we watch the pain build on Ichiro’s face until it manifests as a powerful, visual depression. While the amount of evil around Ichiro seems almost too ever-present, the message is quite clear: humans are trash, this guy is not. Anyone watching the first episode will feel incredibly sad just a few minutes in, and I found myself empathizing with Ichiro by way of his observations, grimacing at the world with him.
Just to make things even more depressing, Ichiro visits the doctor only to be told bluntly that he has terminal cancer. His doctor has no sympathy toward him at all and tells him quite casually that he only has months to live. From his family’s flippant feelings toward everything he does, Ichiro wonders if they’ll even care. He asks himself “if I told them, would they even cry?” This simple sequence was incredibly touching; behind this simple thought was a tidal wave of sadness and melancholy all in one. I literally almost shed a tear watching this dying man silently deliberate over whether his family would care that he was going to disappear.
In terms of emotional appeal in anime, this is incredibly rare, raw emotional content. Some might think it’s overdone, but that’s more a function of how strong it is. Even shojo anime (shows marketed toward girls and young women) tend to have emotional scenes tied to love, not pain. Those shows captivate fans with the subtle development of a romance or sadden them with a favorite character’s death.
The difference with INUYASHIKI is that this is a character that we’ve only known for 10 minutes, yet his pain exceeds the grief from a character present for several seasons in an anime. Adding to this departure from the standard, Ichiro cries pretty pathetically but runs to a place where no one can hear his sobs. Even as he reconciles his mortality, he makes an effort to not burden others. He doesn’t tell his family and instead finds comfort in hugging a dog that he saved from the street. Ironically, only a literal animal comforts Ichiro rather than the humans around him.
In comes the sci-fi element. Randomly, a UFO crashes down into Earth in the exact spot where Ichiro had run off to cry. We don’t get much clarification on the aliens themselves, but they do revive Ichiro and one other killed teenager. Having destroyed their human bodies, they get replacement ones made on the spot. His new body is robotic, however, and he gains a slew of robotic abilities after regaining consciousness.
Meanwhile, though, gang-violent teenagers start to attack a homeless man whose wife has just agreed to take him back. As with any hero story, Ichiro is given an immediate opportunity to use his power for good, and he puts his strange abilities on display to defeat the teens and even broadcast video evidence of their crimes all across the city. In another ironic twist, these inhuman powers let him save a life and act in a morally good way. It’s not a major leap to guess that the other guy who was killed in a manner similar to Ichiro will use his powers…less constructively.
For now, it seems the fragile looking old man has a body with no need for food or water. Also, it has unclear powers over nearby technology and lacks any part of his formal internals. He has no bones or organs anywhere in his entire body. He is decidedly inhuman but has just performed the most selfless act of humanity in the entire episode. This is the thematic irony under which INUYASHIKI operates. In order to regain his humanity, Ichiro uses inhuman powers and lives on in a robotic body. Even though his kindheartedness has already made him the most human of them all.
Hope for the Badasss Old Man
After just a single episode, I’m quite intrigued. I want to learn more about the development of this man who lost everything and wants to take it back. Particularly important to me is that this isn’t a typical shounen (shows marketed toward boys and young men) type protagonist. Usually, anime with superpowers will center around a teenage boy with strong ambition and will. INUYASHIKI is different in that the main character has already passed the best days of his natural life. Given that, it will be interesting to see how Ichiro furthers his relationship with his family.
Ultimately, it’s the paradox of being human in a robot body that seems to be the driving force of this series. The robot body is interesting in itself, as well. We’ve already seen that Ichiro can effortlessly handle a group of thugs armed with bats and firecrackers. Next, I want to see how he handles gunfights, explosives, or perhaps other robots. This series also drives on the hope for this sad man’s eventual happiness, and I expect they’ll deliver in the end. With deep themes and an incredible concept, INUYASHIKI is certain to grow into one of the best anime of the season.
Featured image from Amazon Strike.