Friday, 18 September 2020

How I Became A Helena Wayne Huntress Fan Part 3

In the last two parts of my origin story as a Huntress fan, I talked about how Catwoman set the standard for the way I would invest in female characters growing up, and the female characters that ended up fitting that standard in my earlier fandoms. We now get to the first comic book character I invested in as an adolescent that not only followed the same standard Catwoman set all those years ago, but was also my real predecessor to Helena Wayne in more ways than one. 

We now get to the year 2002—the year Ashley Scott brought the Huntress to life on the TV screen, and the same year I became an anime and manga fan. We especially get to the female character that got me to buy my first manga, and thus began my comic book collecting hobby. We now get to talk about Kikyou (桔梗) from the popular Inuyasha (犬夜叉) franchise in Japan that also spawned a passionate fan following around the world.

Welcome to Part 3 of my origin story as a Helena Wayne Huntress fan!

2002

The first time I became aware of Kikyou was when I chanced upon the first episode of the Inuyasha anime on the telly. My first memory of Kikyou was her shooting the titular character with a bow and arrow and pinning him to a tree with one shot! That was quite the opening for a first episode, and she instantly got my attention! I immediately couldn't wait to learn more about her! Sadly, however, she died seconds later, and her soul reincarnated into a whole new character named Kagome Higurashi (日暮 かごめ) who then became the series protagonist. 

While I was really bummed out that the badass female archer died in the first episode she appeared in, I nonetheless decided to continue to follow the series. The episodes that followed did at least reveal some new details about the character's past that I found intriguing. It wasn't until I walked into a comic book store with a friend one day that I came across Kikyou's resurrection story in the manga section of the store. 

Flipping through the manga book, I realised this was the original source material and that the series creator was a woman named Rumiko Takahashi (高橋留美子). Since the anime adaptation was still on the 'Yura of the Hair' story arc, it was still long ways away from Kikyou's resurrection episodes. Since Kikyou was the only reason I was invested in the series in the first place, I decided not to wait for the anime adaptation to get to that story arc. I therefore bought the manga instead. What I learnt I about Kikyou's past and future made me a fan of her for life! But let's get to the year 2004 for more details!

2004

Given that Kikyou was a recurring character in the Inuyasha series, it literally took two years for me to learn all the important details of her character, even when I read the manga ahead of the anime. This was mostly due to her creator—Rumiko Takahashi—tending to reveal details of her past in random bits and pieces (as the story demanded), and never in any particular order. This was because as a storyteller, Takahashi tended to make up the story as she went along and never actually planned ahead. As such, she rarely knew herself what her characters would be doing next!

As you can imagine, streamlining Kikyou's past in order to follow her character development in the present storyline was a bit of a daunting task. Luckily, however, the anime streamlined all of her past history (as informed by the manga) into a one-hour TV special called 'Fateful Love Song Before We Met' (めぐり逢う前の運命恋歌), which aired in Japan in the spring of 2004. This was also the first episode I watched in the original Japanese language. This one-hour special was very helpful for better contextualising events in both the manga and anime, which only made me love the character even more! 

So what's so special about Kikyou that I'm devoting an entire post to her? This is a long story, so let's start at the beginning:

Kikyou was a young powerful miko (巫女) or female shaman from the Sengoku period of Japan (戦国時代: 1467-1615), who was also the guardian of the powerful Shikon no Tama (四魂の玉) or 'jewel of four souls.' As a miko, Kikyou trained from a very young age to master her spiritual power and archery skills, as she would later use these skills to exorcise youkai (妖怪), which are malevolent spirits. By age 17, Kikyou had built a strong reputation as a powerful miko who was greatly hated and feared by youkai and evil human beings alike. No evil being could get close to her without meeting the pointy end of her arrows, and being destroyed in the process. 

Personality-wise, Kikyou was aloof, but also very compassionate towards other people and maintained a calm and collected demeanour. She helped other people out of the kindness of her own heart and with no expectation of a reward. She therefore didn't struggle to protect her community from danger. It wasn't until she met a hanyou (半妖) named Inuyasha that she started to experience other emotions for the first time like romantic love and sexual attraction. 

As a being that is half-youkai and half-human, Inuyasha wanted the Shikon no Tama for himself because he wanted to use the jewel's power to erase his human half and transform himself into a full youkai. Though he intended to fight Kikyou for the jewel, he also had no interest in killing her. During confrontations with Kikyou, she always pinned him to a tree with her arrows, but also avoided killing him like she did many other youkai. This naturally confused him. He eventually lost interest in the jewel and became more interested in Kikyou herself to the point where he began to follow her wherever she went. 

Kikyou eventually noticed his frequent presence and decided to invite him to converse with her, this time without pinning him to a tree with her arrows like in previous encounters. She revealed to him for the first time that as a miko she had to hide so much of herself to avoid revealing any weaknesses her enemies could use against her. He then became aware of Kikyou's profound loneliness and ended up befriending her. 

The friendship between Inuyasha and Kikyou eventually developed into a romantic relationship. This triggered Kikyou's sexual awakening and she became more emotionally vulnerable. This effectively caused her spiritual powers to weaken as her powers could only be maintained by keeping herself pure, which is important in the Shinto religion. 

Once Kikyou started noticing she was no longer able to do her job as a miko with her declining spiritual powers, she realised she had to make an important decision: become an ordinary woman so she could keep her romantic partner, or lose the romantic partner in order to regain her spiritual strength as a miko. Kikyou chose the former since having a romantic partner produced feelings of happiness for her. This was when Kikyou proposed that Inuyasha use the power of the Shikon no Tama to become human.

Kikyou rationalised that if Inuyasha used the power of the jewel to become human, the jewel could be purified and likely vanish because the intent would be pure rather than malicious. Without the jewel maintaining a stronghold on her life, this would relieve Kikyou of her responsibilities as a miko. Wanting to spend the rest of his life with Kikyou, Inuyasha agreed to her proposal. Sadly, things didn't go as planned.

Unbeknownst to both Inuyasha and Kikyou, an injured thief named Onigumo (鬼蜘蛛)—whom Kikyou had been nursing to health—had developed an unhealthy attachment to Kikyou and wanted her for himself. He therefore gave his soul to youkai in exchange for a new body that would restore his mobility, and he became a hanyou named Naraku (奈落). When he learnt of Kikyou's plan to use the Shikon no Tama to turn her romantic partner human and relieve herself of her responsibilities to the jewel, he decided to do something about that.

On the day Inuyasha and Kikyou had chosen to execute their plan, Naraku disguised himself as Inuyasha and attacked Kikyou, fatally wounding her. He made Kikyou believe her lover had tricked her into effortlessly surrendering the Shikon no Tama to him and he could fulfil his original plan to become a full youkai. Naraku then disguised himself as Kikyou to attack Inuyasha, making him believe Kikyou was just using him and had no intention of surrendering the jewel to him. This upset him, and he attacked Kikyou's village in retaliation, and stole the jewel in the process. This then led the mortally wounded Kikyou to pin Inuyasha to the tree with her arrow as we saw at the start of the series. 

With seconds to live, Kikyou had instructed her younger sister Kaede (楓) to burn the Shikon no Tama with her body so that it would be purged from the world forever. Kikyou's body was thus cremated with the Shikon no Tama in hand, effectively removing it from the world. This would not be the last we would see of Kikyou, though.

Five hundred years after her death, Kikyou's soul reincarnated as Kagome Higurashi in 20th century Japan with the Shikon no Tama residing inside her body. One day that Kagome went to get her cat out of the family shrine, a youkai that resided inside the shrine's well revived and brought Kagome back to the Sengoku period, effectively trapping her 500 years in the past. In trying to find her way back home to the present, Kagome encountered Inuyasha, who was still bound to the tree Kikyou had imprisoned him to prior to her death.

In the Sengoku period, 50 years had passed since Kikyou died. With Kagome's arrival, she not only brought the Shikon no Tama back to Kikyou's time, but she also revived Inuyasha from Kikyou's spell. In the fight for the Shikon no Tama, Kagome had accidentally shattered the jewel into hundreds of pieces that scattered throughout Japan. Despite being Kikyou's reincarnation, Kagome had a radically different personality from Kikyou and had none of Kikyou's archery skills, let alone Kikyou's mastery of her spiritual power. Kagome was then forced to learn these skills through trial and error, and had to team up with Inuyasha to collect all of the jewel shards and reconstruct the jewel.

The resurfacing of the Shikon no Tama in the Sengoku period caused all kinds of problems for Inuyasha and Kagome, especially when an evil sorceress decided to resurrect Kikyou using her remains and grave soil, unaware that she had already reincarnated. Intending to use Kikyou as a slave who would retrieve the jewel shards for her, the sorceress revived Kikyou by forcibly extracting her soul out of Kagome's body and bringing it back into Kikyou's new body. 

Things ended badly for the sorceress as she was not aware Kikyou had died with intense feelings of anger from feeling betrayed. Kikyou then proceeded to kill the sorceress for reviving her and then focused her attention on Inuyasha, whom she believed betrayed and murdered her. Inuyasha and Kikyou's reunion was quite violent, and Kikyou was only stopped when Kagome revived and reclaimed most of her soul back. From that point forward, Kikyou would be driven by her intense anger with no more fucks left to give, very similarly to Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman in Batman Returns.

Kikyou would eventually learn the truth about why she died, and would then focus her attention to destroying Naraku, her actual murderer. Though Kikyou eventually went back to being more like the person she was prior to her death, she was still not the same person as before. Post-resurrection was when we witnessed Kikyou's strategising skills and her ability to cause great harm to her enemies. We especially witnessed her ability to manipulate enemies and situations to her favour, which often made her a dangerous foe. Kikyou thrived on instilling fear in her enemies because it afforded her a level of control over them. As such, both her friends and enemies were never sure if they could fully trust because her actions and motivations were always ambiguous.

So now that I've talked at length about Kikyou as a character, how the heck does she relate to Helena Wayne in any capacity, given how very different her storyline is? As a character, I would say she has quite a lot in common with Helena Wayne, beginning with the fact she learned all of her skills at a young age, just like Helena did. She was also unable to strike a balance between her life as a miko and her desire to live her life as an ordinary woman, complete with a romantic partner. This is the same exact conflict Helena Wayne experiences after she becomes the Huntress and learns the hard way that she can't be both the Huntress and an ordinary woman with a romantic partner at the same time. 

As a miko, Kikyou has a lot of dangerous enemies, and having relationships and emotional attachments creates weaknesses that her enemies can exploit. This is the same exact conflict Helena Wayne experiences as the Huntress. The moment Helena Wayne's weaknesses are exploited, and she or the people she loves are harmed, Helena Wayne herself becomes dangerous foe, much in the same way as Kikyou does when she or anyone she loves is harmed.

Similar to Kikyou, Helena Wayne was also killed off by DC Comics (albeit as part of an event meant to reshape the DC Universe) before her potential as a character could be fully realised. Helena Wayne was then rebooted (reincarnated?) into a brand new character named Helena Bertinelli, who then became the main version of the Huntress. Despite being 'Helena Wayne reborn', however, Helena Bertinelli had very little in common with her predecessor. Instead, Helena Bertinelli is to Helena Wayne what Kagome Higurashi is to Kikyou: a character based off of the original character, but radically different in terms of character development and in the way she uses her skills.

When Helena Wayne was herself brought back into the mainstream DC continuity (albeit, not resurrected like Kikyou was), she was still not the same character she was prior, much like Kikyou. In the same way that Kikyou was brought back as an angrier, slightly less heroic version of herself who had no qualms about killing people if the situation necessitated it, the same was true of Helena Wayne when she was brought back post-Infinite Crisis and post-Flashpoint. Though I still loved Kikyou and Helena Wayne in their new 'post-resurrected' forms, I still yearned for the people they actually were before, and found myself constantly wishing they hadn't died.

While Kikyou's storyline in Inuyasha is radically different from that of Helena Wayne's in the DC Universe, she still set a lot of the standards that in many ways prepared me for my future as a Helena Wayne Huntress fan. It was never just the fact that Kikyou was another dark-haired woman who was a highly skilled archer, even though she also has that in common with Helena Wayne.

So now that I've introduced you to all of my predecessors to Helena Wayne—and especially the one who really set the stage for her—I'll now get to the part of my origin story you actually care about: the first DC Comic I ever bought that unwittingly introduced me to Helena Wayne! (At least a version of her.)

Be back here on my blog's 9th anniversary on 22 September for Part 4!

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