Types of Magic Used in Inu Yasha (Spoilers)

See also: Inu Yasha review.

The quality of a fantasy story depends to a large extent on how well the author has designed the fantasy universe. In the best stories even magic follows consistent rules, even though these are rarely spelled out in detail.

In a 167-episode television series like Inu Yasha it is only natural that some inconsistencies would creep in. (Does Kagome need a shikon shard to use the Well, or doesn’t she? Does time really pass at the same rate on both sides?) Still for the most part the rules of the fantasy do seem consistent and well thought-out. These notes represent my attempt to figure them out.

ki (breath/spirit/life force). This is the same word as the Chinese qi and has pretty much the same meaning as the Indian prana. (It is also pretty close to the original meaning of the Latin spiritus). Martial artists are trained to control their ki by means of breathing exercises. This is what allows them (at least in the movies) to run up walls or leap up and rotate in slow motion, dispatching their enemies with well-aimed kicks.

Miroku uses these techniques to some extent, but the real masters are Sango and Kohaku.

youki (translated as “demonic aura” or “ghostly wind”). This is the special form of ki possessed by youkai, which gives them their supernatural powers. Youki permeates a youkai’s body even after it dies, allowing powerful magic weapons to be made from a youkai’s bones.

jyaki (“evil energy”). This is the distinctive ki of a youkai who has turned to evil. The bones of an evil youkai can be used to make especially powerful weapons, but such weapons are cursed and will tend to destroy their owners. However the youkai taijiya know how to neutralize the jyaki in youkai bones and routinely make weapons from them.

shouki (“miasma”). A mephitic magical poison in either gas or liquid form. Generated by exceptionally malicious and powerful youkai.

houriki and reiryoku (“spiritual power”). These provide the power of “clerical” magic users such as Kikyou, Kaede, Kagome and Miroku. “Houriki” is used by Buddhist clerics and “reiryoku” by Shinto clerics, but in practice the two seem pretty much interchangeable, though the techniques differ slightly. (Examples of interchangeability: Miroku and Kaede can combine their powers to create a stronger barrier; Kagome can use Miroku’s paper charms to perform exorcisms.)

Oddly, spiritual power does not seem to be something that one can obtain through piety and virtue. (Miroku is not very virtuous; Kagome is not particularly religious; Kikyou has lost her faith along with everything else.) Instead the power seems to come from the innate strength of one’s tamashii or soul.

Spiritual powers include the following:

  • Psychic sensitivity. Clerics can sense the presence of youki and jyaki. (Many youkai can also do this.)
  • Purification/exorcism spells. The primary weapons in a cleric’s arsenal. These can neutralize or destroy youki, jyaki and shouki, and potentially kill a youkai. Usually these are delivered though a physical medium such as an arrow, a paper charm, or even a handful of salt. Very powerful purification spells can be delivered though the cleric’s own body, but this is debilitating and potentially fatal to the spell-caster.
  • Sealing spells. Advanced techniques that can bind or imprison a youkai without killing it.
  • Barriers. An advanced technique that can block magical or physical attacks. This requires intense concentration and cannot be maintained very long. (Kikyou can create much stronger and more stable barriers, but she may be using onmyoudou to enhance her powers.)

onmyoudou is an esoteric system of occult studies associated with the legendary tenth century wizard Abe no Seimei. Advanced practitioners are supposed to be able to create and control shikigami, magical servants made from paper. These techniques were taught at the mysterious temple where Kikyou studied. Since Naraku can create “demon puppets” that resemble shikigami, it is possible that he has access to a debased form of this knowledge.

shikon (as in shikon no tama, the “Jewel of the Four Souls”) is a Shinto doctrine that the human soul is comprised of four spirits which must be kept in balance if one is to lead a virtuous life. There are:

  1. Aramitama. Courage or “the spirit that rules with authority.'”
  2. Nigimitama. Friendship or “the spirit that brings harmony.”
  3. Kushimitama. Wisdom or “the spirit that causes transformations.”
  4. Sakimitama. Love or “the spirit that imparts blessings.”

According to an allegory spelled out in episode 95, Inuyasha represents Courage, Shippou represents Friendship, Miroku represents Wisdom and Sango represents Love, while Kagome represents the necessary balance between these spirits.

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