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I am in the process of watching a really good Chinese live action series based on InuYasha, by Takahashi Rumiko. Huge Spoilers and Ruminations through episode 6 follow in this and Part 2:I've always had a soft spot for Inuyasha. I watched it with my daughter for some time, and she subsequently named our kittens Kagome and Nekoyasha (I had nothing to do with that, I swear >_> ). Anyway, this series is very loosely based on Inuyasha as filtered through Chinese mythology, but the basic elements are there.In addition, this whole show is Extremely Relevant to the Interests of a number of people on my flist, even leaving aside InuYasha. I'll touch on those things as I get to them, but in particular for those of us (and you know who you are >_>) who like period pieces, beautiful costumes, wuxia, chicks with swords, men with swords, chicks who fight swords with fans, wire work, really cool special effects, sorcery, good vs evil, and all sorts of lovely and id-provoking stuff, this is a Huge Rec from me!Ding Yao, Our HeroineWe first meet Kagome Ding Yao as she's in the process of failing to defend her college thesis (she falls asleep during the oral defense). She's the daughter of a prominent archaeologist, who has recently made the discovery of a lifetime: the fabled city of Nan Yue, an ancient kingdom that seems to have vanished around 3,500 hundred years ago. A treasure recovered from the site, the Wheel of Nine Stars, is the catalyst which sets the events of the series in motion.The Wheel of Nine Stars was a device used the the priestesses of Nan Yue to foretell the future, but it is also more than that, as Ding Yao discovers when a good luck charm from Nan Yue given to her by her father triggers the Wheel and sends her spinning into the past.The first episode essentially sets up the character of Ding Yao (or Yao Yao to her friends). She's an interesting contrast to Kagome. Kagome is supposed to be a Yamato Nadeshiko type of character, while Ding Yao is depicted as being somewhat... facile. She doesn't seem to take much seriously (she falls asleep during the oral defense of her thesis), she's intent on finding a boyfriend/ husband over just about anything else (she wishes on her good luck charm that Heaven would send her a cute boyfriend), and venal (when she's sucked into the past she gathers up various items-- which belong to the King of Nan Yue, who has shown her nothing but the greatest kindness-- that will be priceless antiques in the future). So, unlike Kagome, she has a number of very significant character flaws. But then again, much like Kagome, she is intelligent and can think on her feet, has a kind heart and comes to the aid of others, even at risk to herself. Another interesting contrast is that Ding Yao is not at all girly-girl, where Kagome definitely has a predilection for that.Ding Yao is sent to the kingdom of Nan Yue (which I saw translated somewhere as South Vietnam). The king, Rong Di, saves her from being beheaded, as she materializes in a sacred tomb/sanctuary, where it is forbidden for anyone but the High Priestess of Nan Yue to visit. The former High Priestess, Kikyo Xian Yue, has been dead for twenty years.This is where the story takes a turn for the mythological. It turns out that Xian Yue and her sister Kaede Mo Yin are former goddesses (Bao Xi and Teng She, respectively) who aided Nüwa, the Chinese creation goddess, in creating and protecting mankind, both from the demons which resented them, and from the heavenly Emperor himself. Xian Yue loved the kingdom of Nan Yue so much that she took a vow to Wu Nan to avoid romantic entanglements, meaning her death as well as ruin to Nan Yue if she did. She acted as the High Priestess for many years until Rong Di became obsessed fell madly in love with her.So, basically, Xian Yue is Kikyo, with some added baggage. But her sister, Mo Yin, is a bit of a different story.The Painted Face of Moral AmbiguityBehold the Painted Face of Moral Ambiguity. I have noticed that any woman in this series who wears obvious makeup is a naughty girl in some way. At any rate, while superficially like Kaede (a priestess in her own right, who takes over the care and nurture of her people after the head priestess is killed), Mo Yin has a major grudge against her sister, and thus against Ding Yao, by default. For one, she is obsessed madly in love with, the king, Rong Di. And she especially has a major grudge since the arrival of her sister's apparent reincarnation stirs up matter that have remained unstirred for twenty years. Unlike Kaede, Mo Yin is ambitious and desperate. It is interesting that both she and Rong Di commit terrible wrongs against people they supposedly love. They actually are the perfect match for each other, but Rong Di is obsessed with a dead woman, and later, with her incarnation.Part of the problem is that Xian Yue died because she felt romantic feelings, but not for her king, Rong Di (which he apparently assumed, we'll talk about him in a minute). She had fallen in love with a half-dragon young man named InuYasha Wen Tian, and in spite of her vows had decided to run off with him to the hills-- only to be betrayed by his theft of a priceless artifact, the Vase of Demon Subduing, of which she was the guardian. In exchange for this betrayal, she hunted him down, and in a major battle that left many humans dead, defeated and imprisoned him. This has obvious parallels with InuYasha, so I won't go into it in too much depth.Rong DiI find the treatment of love in this series to be interesting. I realize this is a series, and therefore it is going to be dramatic. And Chinese shows in particular kick that up a notch. Nevertheless, the love triangles between Rong Di, Wen Tian and Xian Yue/Ding Yao; and between Rong Di, Mo Yin and Xian Yue/Ding Yao are both epic and operatic. Rong Di especially is shown as being both fairly benevolent-- he is shown as being genuinely concerned about his people-- and quite arrogant. He refuses to take no to his demand that Xian Yue/Ding Yao marry him, and in fact is prepared to use force with Ding Yao to obtain her. His arrogance (which he conflates with his love) leads him to make errors of judgment and detrimentally affects his ability to be a proper king. I don't think that the message here is that Rong Di's love is his tragic flaw; I think it's that his love is not in fact love at all, but a selfish emotion that seeks only to please itself. Yes, he's king, and yes, in ancient China he was an absolute ruler, but since he flat-out states that he desires only to make Xian Yue/Ding Yao happy, it strikes an odd note. Especially since, as I noted, he planned to force Ding Yao to marry him despite her quite vocal protests. Nevertheless, he is also depicted as kind and thoughtful-- except for the huge blind spot of his affection for Xian Yue-- a blind spot that causes him to overlook someone who would quite possibly make him happy as well, and who would love him back. That someone also didn't make any silly oaths involving her romantic feelings, and she also-- unlike Xian Yue, at least at the end of her life-- holds the well-being of Nan Yue as a priority.Wen Tian -- those things on his head are horns.The contrast of that love is the slowly developing feelings between first Xian Yue and Wen Tian, and then between Ding Yao and Wen Tian. Rong Di literally fell in love with Xian Yue the instant he saw her, whereas both Xian Yue and Ding Yao's relationships with Wen Tian develop gradually and due to mutual esteem.And of course, there is the physical and emotional contrast between Rong Di and Wen Tian: one the elegant and suave king of the land, the other a poor and ragged outcast half-breed. One middle-aged (he has to be at least in his late thirties give nthe timeline), the other in the prime of his life. One laid-back and thoughtful; the other hot-headed and impulsive. It makes the whole issue of Rong Di falling to a coup de foudre even more intriguing because it is entirely out of character for him; while the emotionally volatile Wen Tian actually develops his affections for his lady over the course of time. And, of course, the contrast is even more striking because Wen Tian is of the highest birth as well-- his father was Cang Long, the King Because of Rong Di's decision to wed Ding Yao with or without her consent, she manages to flee the palace with the aid of Mo Yin's junior priestess/ apprentice (Ting Qin)-- much to the joy of Wei Liao, also known as Great General.Wei Liao is Rong Di's younger brother, and he has become increasingly concerned by Rong Di's infatuation with Ding Yao. It isn't just that she's brash, unmannerly and an unknown quantity-- it's also that Rong Di's leadership skills seem to fall in direct proportion to her presence. Simply put, he is a bad king when she is around-- to a certain extent he allows the business of leading the to fall to the wayside. As both a royal prince and a general, this naturally causes him a great deal of concern. He feels that Rong Di is placing his own desires ahead of what is best for the country, and in fact has been doing so for twenty years, since Xian Yue died. And so, when Ding Yao flees, rather than order his soldiers to capture her (as the king expects him to), he tells them to kill her on sight, and in a Hamlet-esque soliloquy explains to the absent Ding Yao that she must die for the Good of Nan Yue.Shi You Ming, have an semi-orgasmic Moment of Evil.This seems like a good time to mention a side story. Part of the mythology (although I am not sure if it is real mythology or mythology made up for the purpose of the series) is that the two sister goddesses, Bao Xi and Teng She, fought and defeated the Demon Lord Naraku Shi You Ming (also known as the Ghost Emperor). In an effort to combine his realm and the human realm, Shi You Ming had been attempting to subjugate and destroy the newly-made humans, and Bao Xi defeated him so handily with the help of the Vase of Demon Subduing that he didn't dare show his face as long as she was around. Xi Bao's desire to continue to protect humankind in general and Nan Yue in specific was part of her decision to defy the Emperor of Heaven and become the High Priestess of Nan Yue, leading to her and her sister's permanent exile from Heaven. When Ding Yao-- Xing Bao's reincarnation-- arrived on the scene in the past, there many portents and omens, and Shi You Ming decided to make another play for the Three Realms (Heaven, Earth and the Demon Realm). To do so, he calls upon the services of Kagura Fairy Hu Ji.Wei Liao and Hu Ji square off in an epic Sword vs Fan battle!In the meantime, Ding Yao attempts to reach the forbidden sanctuary where she materialized, believing that she can return to her own time if she can make the Wheel of Nine Stars spin in the opposite direction. She is almost there when she is flagged down by an old woman who asks her for her help, and demands the Vase of Demon Subjugation from Ding Yao, who is utterly bewildered by this ultimatum. When the old woman turns into a snake and begins chasing her to obtain the Vase, Fairy Hu Ji arrives in the nick of time to save Ding Yao from both the old woman and from Wei Liao and his soldiers. This leads to an epic fan and sword battle between Hu Ji and Wei Liao! Ding Yao takes the opportunity to escape into the temple/ sanctuary, while Hu Ji kicks Wei Liao's ass, but spares him because killing such a handsome man would cause her distress! (She is so awesome. >_>) She's also another female character with the Painted face of Moral Ambiguity. She is even more Morally Ambiguous because her makeup is much more pronounced than that of Mo Yin (although you can't see it very well in this picture). She leaves Wei Liao in a puff of fairy smoke (and with a feather floating down from her robe), and goes chasing after Ding Yao to retrieve the Vase for herself and Shi You Ming.The next series of events is directly parallel to InuYasha: Ding Yao frees the imprisoned half-dragon Wen Tian so that he'll protect her from theHave some more Hu JI, because she is Fabulous. snake demon old woman. He believes she is Xian Yue, but helps her nevertheless (perhaps so he can take his own revenge on her-- he believes that Xian Yue betrayed him and had him imprisoned; he's been in stasis for twenty years). In the ensuing scuffle with the snake demon and Hu Ji, the Vase is shattered into twelve Holy Pearls, and Wen Tian and Ding Yao resolve to find the Pearls (which Ding Yao can sense with her reincarnation priestess powers) to continue to protect the land of Nan Yue, because Earth is left entirely at the mercy of demonkind without it. The Vase can be reforged using the Holy Pearls and with instructions that are contained in the holy Scroll of Nu Wa (the creation goddess who originally made the Vase in the first place), which is guarded at a small village shrine. Wen Tian and Ding Yao decide to stop at the village and get the directions for reforging the Vase, because if they don't use the special procedure, the Vase's powers will be greatly limited.Shi You Ming is naturally delighted to hear of the Vase's destruction, and directs Hu Ji to recover the instructions for reforging it, and to raze the village and kill everyone in it. She does so, to the best of her ability. But.Fairy Hu Ji has a confrontation in the smoldering ruins of the village by a young white-haired dragon-- Sesshoumaru Wu Dao, oldest son of the King of the Dragons. He demands to know if what she has told the dragons is true, that Wen Tian, his younger brother, is still alive. She leaves in a puff of smoke with the Scroll and doesn't answer his question, but because she is interrupted at her task, unbeknownst to her, there is a survivor of the village and shrine's destruction. Sango Mu Lian, a shrine maiden and the daughter of the priest who was the guardian of Scroll of Nu Wa, is near death when she is rescued from the smoldering remains of her village by Wu Dao, who is a reluctant savior at best. He tells her who razed the village, leaves her some medicine that will help her recover in three days, and strides off in pursuit after Went Tian. This (Wen Tian's continued existence) cannot be allowed to stand!Wu Dao is quite fabulous, so I feel compelled to put up two pictures of him.In any case, the arrival of Wu Dao into the storyline brings more interesting themes into play.There are two sets of brothers in conflict, and, not coincidentally, two sets of kings with a huge problem on their hands in the form of their younger brothers.Wu Dao is the older son of Cang Long, the erstwhile King of the Dragons, and while he seems to be acting as the current king, he definitely feels that Wen Tian is a threat to the stability of his throne. He also has serious issues with Wen Tian's half-breed status, which he views as debased and an insult to the memory of their father. One wonders how threatened he actually feels about his kingship-- although it is clear he does feel threatened about that. Wen Tian is a loose cannon at best, disrupting the peace that Wu Dao has crafted over the last twenty years. Although it isn't specifically mentioned, Wu Dao seems to feel his hold on the throne is tenuous-- perhaps because of his youth? or perhaps because Cang Long did defile himself by falling in love and having a child with a human woman. I haven't watched far enough ahead to learn why specifically, although it is apparent that Wu Dao at least feels that his father's relationship was scandalous and disgusting. When he finally confronts Wen Tian for the first time after his release from his imprisonment (with the intention to kill him), the insults he levels at him refer to his heritage (about which he can do nothing), not his loyalty or his intentions.Rong Di in a Peaceful MomentIn contrast, Rong Di and Wei Liao begin the series with an amicable relationship. In fact, Wei Liao acts as the head of the armies of Nan Yue, and a privileged advisor of the king, both positions which he takes very seriously. Their relationship sours past the point of repair because of Rong Di's increasingly erratic behavior-- and his unfraternal actions to Wei Liao, which cause him to examine his place in the Big Scheme of Things as both a Royal Prince and as a General. Part of Rong Di's deficiency as a wise ruler is his failure to recognize that making one's popular war-leader younger brother angry and unhappy--in essence causing him to think he would make a better ruler than the legitimate king-- is a Very Bad Move.The interesting thing is that while Wu Dao considers his impoverished and despised half-breed brother an actual threat to his kingship, despite the fact that Wen Tian has essentially zero chance of overthrowing his full-blood older brother (and the legitimate heir to the throne). He has no support amongst the dragons (at least that has been revealed so far). It's all in Wu Dao's head, inflamed by his hatred and jealousy.In contrast, Rong Di apparently believes he can treat Wei Liao-- his only remaining family (just as Wen Tian is Wu Dao's only remaining family)-- poorly time after time, and have him continue to remain loyal. And in fact, he is loyal up until the point where Rong Di egregiously and willfully neglects the affairs of state to pursue his obsession with a dead woman, treating his brother unjustly and cruelly in the process. He seems to have no insight whatsoever that one can only be pushed so far before they snap-- and that even the most loyal of princes (which arguably Wei Liao starts off the series as) can under certain circumstances be convinced he could do a better job than the current ruler of running the country. It is yet another failure of Rong Di's leadership.The irony is that Wen Tian has no designs whatsoever on the leadership of the dragons, and in fact so swears on his father's grave while he is praying to the spirit of his father, and asks for his blessing. In contrast, Wei Liao, on the other hand, while also praying to the spirit of his father, explains that he needs to commit high treason for the good of the Nan Yue, and also asks for his blessing.There is a third king with a huge problem caused by his own arrogance and erratic behavior, and that is Shi You Ming, the Demon Lord/ Ghost Emperor. In fact, his relationship with his chief lieutenant, Hu Ji, is directly comparable to the relationship between Rong Di and Wei Liao, although there doesn't seem to be any familial relationship between Shi You Ming and Hu Ji. But the end result in both cases is that both kings undermine themselves with their most loyal and useful retainers, to the point where those retainers are driven to betrayal and treason. At least in Rong Di's case it is because the depths of his obsession is driving him mad; in Shi You Ming's case it is because he's Chaotic Stupid Evil, and that never ends well. The Evil Overlord list clearly didn't exist back then.