?

Log in

No account? Create an account
Idol Reflection Version 2.0
No Saviour - Miroku from Inuyasha: Sengoku O-Togi Zoushi 
22nd-May-2005 01:01 am
wild things, 5
It's still May 21 by Eastern Standard Time, so I'm not late. :)

Character: Miroku (Inuyasha: Sengoku O-Togi Zoushi)
Title: No Saviour
Author: hallowd
Spoilers: Bad spoilers for episodes 16, 17, 28, 31, 118 and 132/ manga volumes 6, 11, 12, 27 and 30. There's nothing too explicit plot-wise -- I have tried to express any major plot points as vaguely as possible. This essay will follow manga canon; anime/movie-only references will be noted separately.
Word Count: ~ 6,000

I apologise up front for creatively interpreting Buddhist philosophy in the context of a mythical Warring States Period. Also, please note that while this is a character essay, it does mention and discuss the Miroku and Sango pairing, since the pairing is intended by the series creator and thus a part of the canonical presentation of Miroku.
This essay contains some images. People on slow connections may have to be patient for a moment. Other notes follow the essay.



Glossary

The following Japanese terms will be used in this essay:

hanyou: half youkai, half human.
houshi: a low-ranked, wandering Buddhist monk, sometimes trained in combat for self-defence. The word used to mean "teacher of law", referring to a person who taught the law of Buddhism.
Kazaana: literally, "air rip", or "wind hole"; a black hole-like tear in Miroku's hand, kept sealed with a leather glove and a blessed rosary. It is the result of a hereditary curse in Miroku's family.
kitsune: literally, "fox"; refers to both the animal and the spirit counterpart of the animal in Japanese folklore. Kitsune are known as clever, shapechanging rascals.
miko: literally, "god-child"; a Shinto priestess or shrine maiden. In the Inuyasha series, miko possess the power to purify evil influences and taints, as well as to destroy youkai.
-sama: a respectful, even reverent name suffix; roughly translates to "lord/lady"
Shikon no tama: "The Jewel of the Four Souls": the sacred jewel around which much of the series' plot revolves.
tanuki: a mammal of the Canidae family, the tanuki resembles the raccoon in facial features. This Japanese raccoon-dog is associated with animal spirits in folklore; tanuki are thought to be benevolent, bumbling tricksters with a love for rice wine and wild parties.
youkai: a creature of magical nature, usually malevolent and inhuman. The closest English translation might be "demon", but, while descriptive, it fails to capture the nuances of the Japanese term, which is the reason I prefer the Japanese word.


No Saviour

Deconstructing the delinquent monk



A First Glimpse


In spring 2001, long before its fanbase had swelled into the enormous proportions of today, I discovered Takahashi Rumiko's Inuyasha, a fantasy manga set in a mythical version of mid-16th century Japan. There was a brave boy with dog ears and trust issues, a schoolgirl with a heart of gold and spunk to spare, a cheeky and lovable kitsune cub, and a fluid and catchy plot. I liked the story and the characters, and was intrigued from the get-go. Then I laid eyes on manga volume six and the character we first meet when he is raiding a samurai mansion under the pretext of an exorcism -- that was when I fell for Inuyasha hard and fast. There was this kindly smiling monk who went around scamming people, asking pretty girls to bear his child, and delivering some of the most acute observations to grace the series; and he stepped out of the page and pulled me along for the ride.

Therefore, Miroku is to blame for four years of fic writing, research and endless debates in the dark of the night with other captivated people.

Well, not precisely. There are, in addition, a bunch of other, equally riveting characters that keep me reading. But let us turn to considering the scoundrelly Buddhist with the cursed hand for a while.

Now, it may just be that I tend to keep away from most of the fandom craziness, but I don't think Miroku is either bashed or underappreciated. Nor does he seem to be a hated character. He is just taken for granted for much of the time. He is relegated to the role of the stock sidekick, the (not-so-)suave ladies' man, the corrupt monk with useful bits of knowledge, and left there. Oh, and he has that hell-hole in his hand, so let's give him some angst when we have a moment.

That is the image I'd like to crack, ladies and gentlemen. It cannot be denied that Miroku is one of the central characters, important to the plot, but Takahashi seldom goes more than skin deep with him. Glimpses into his psyche are all that we readers are granted, and in comparison, even Shippou gets more manga pages devoted to him. (Now there is an underappreciated member of the main group! But for the nonce, that is not our concern.) It is almost as if Miroku is characterised so superficially on purpose, but even the rare insights we do get into him suggest that there is so much more -- depths to him that never get explored to the fullest.

Miroku is neither the shallow lady-killer fanon often makes him out to be, nor, despite his name, a saint on a noble mission. Inuyasha is the growing-up story of its title protagonist, the hanyou Inuyasha, but the other characters have layers just as myriad, hurts and joys just as gripping, stories just as compelling as he does. Lurking beneath the perverted front are quirks and qualities that make Miroku one of the greatest sources of strength to his companions, as well as irrevocably human. There is a fullness to his character that is not readily apparent, given the lack of story material centered on him.

This humanity is, in the end, what made me want to break the surface and reach into the viscera beneath to see what this houshi is truly made of.


A Man of Buddha

For the dead, there is neither good nor evil. All that remains is the mercy of Buddha.
-- Miroku, in manga volume six

Sorry, but despite appearances, I never want to lose.
-- Miroku, in manga volume six


At first sight, Miroku is far cry from the humble ideal of a Buddhist monk. He is confident in his own abilities and does not hesitate to make it known; he will sit among a flock of fawning teahouse girls and openly deplore that not one of them is alluring enough. Upon completing an exorcism, he loots the mansion for all it is worth and escapes in a cart drawn by the lord's own horses. Miroku has so much confidence in his own opinions that he sometimes veers into outright arrogance.

Yet, in contrast to this rascally manner, he is genuinely compassionate towards the needy and the suffering. He performs last rites for opponents who just tried to decimate the group, and shares his rice balls with a hungry child. Inept as he may be when it comes to the rules of intimate affairs (not one-night stands, but actual human relationships), the Buddha's teachings of universal mercy direct his life. Therefore, he hunts and kills youkai because it is part of his mission. Youkai thrive on the dark emotions of the human heart, and one goal of a follower of Buddha is to purge himself of these negative emotions.

What I am going to discuss next deviates slightly from a) established series canon, which does not dwell on this issue at all, and b) from Buddhist philosophy in the real world. I plead the fact that while based off real history, the milieu of Inuyasha still is a supernatural one. In the world of the series, spiritual powers have real effects, and magical creatures exist.

Even though Miroku's spiritual abilities -- exorcising youkai, raising barriers and purifying evil influences -- are known by the term houriki (literally, "power of Buddha"), they are not bestowed by any greater entity. While no sect of Japanese Buddhism is a religion without gods like the original form of Buddhism, the esoteric powers of the monks come from rigorous training. Instead of an external source, knowledge and ability stem from within a person. Miroku can be as delinquent as he likes -- it will affect his karma, but not his spiritual powers, as long as he is able to stay mentally centered.

Karma, the moral law of cause and effect, is one of the concepts Buddhism borrowed from Hinduism. It is the way in which a person's deeds echo forward, both into his later life and subsequent incarnations. Thus, the vices Miroku practises in this life will determine the manner in which his soul is reincarnated, but they will not cause him to "fall out of favour" with any divine entity.

If anything would thwart his abilities, it would be internal doubt and darkness, causing him to lose focus -- which would then translate into an inability to invoke his mental strength to create a desired effect. I wished to emphasise this distinction, given the predilection of the Western mindset towards the idea that to be granted divine power, a follower must prove himself worthy of his deity. In Buddhism, the same set of values simply does not apply.

I keep seeing Miroku's official age listed as either 18 or 19 years. However, according to The Inu-Yasha Companion, Takahashi herself lists it as 18 years in the Inuyasha guide, Inuyasha Okuki Gaiden. Either way, this makes him an adult by a few years (the age of majority in Warring States era Japan was 15), as well as several years older than the rest of Inuyasha's band of companions. This difference reveals itself from time to time in his displays of superior knowledge and maturity, which set him slightly apart from Inuyasha, Kagome and Sango, the sad-eyed youkai huntress who joins the group some time after Miroku. (On the other hand, Miroku can also horse around with the best of them while the others look on with utter "And what planet are you on?" expressions.)

As canon tells us, Miroku's mission in life has been laid out for him since he was very young. 50 years prior to the starting point of the series, his grandfather, the houshi Miyatsu (name taken from the second Inuyasha movie) battled the powerful and cunning youkai Naraku, who laid a curse upon Miyatsu. Naraku pierced Miyatsu's right hand through his sealing scroll, creating a black hole in his palm that will suck up everything in its path -- the Kazaana.

The result of the curse is the prospect that every (male) child of Miyatsu's lineage will carry the Kazaana until either Naraku is defeated or his family disappears from the face of the earth. Miroku has carried the curse from his childhood: he appears about five or six years old in the flashback to his father's death, in which the air void begins to open in his own palm. Thus, Miroku's obligation is twofold, for he must either kill Naraku to save his own life or ensure that he leaves a son to complete the task. The latter quest does not remain unfulfilled for any lack of trying, that much is certain: Miroku pops his infamous question, "Will you bear my child?" to about every attractive woman he meets.

Hence, the Kazaana drastically shortens his life span, as it did to his father and grandfather, its previous bearers, so every year is precious. Until joining the other characters who form the core group of Inuyasha, most of Miroku's life was probably spent either in preparation of or on the quest to destroy Naraku. He became a monk out of the same duty that governs his whole life: the training of a houshi would not only help him in his quest, but he would also follow in the footsteps of his ancestors, thus continuing the family calling.

Despite his young age, Miroku has already come further on his quest than either his father or grandfather. He has found comrades to help him, and they have actually faced Naraku multiple times. His conduct may be less than holy much of the time, but Miroku's name has already proved an omen in that regard: "Miroku" is the Japanese form of the Sanskrit name "Maitreya", the Buddha of the Future. Maitreya, the Laughing Buddha, whose name means "the loving one", is revered by some Buddhist sects (particularly in the Himalayan regions, but he is known in Japan as well) as a Messianic figure who will bring a new world of harmony. It is a pet theory of mine that Miroku was named after this holy figure in the hope that he would finally end his family's curse.

Named after a Buddhist saviour, gleefully embracing the vice of lechery, boasting martial prowess that allowed him to hold his own against Inuyasha (not a mean feat, that), Miroku is a bundle of paradoxical traits, some of which I will discuss further in this essay. First of all, I would address the skills and qualities that make him a worthy part of our small band of travellers.


Smooth Talk and Sealing Charms

The tongue is more to be feared than the sword.
-- Japanese proverb


For me, one of the charms of the Inuyasha series is that every character in the main group fills a niche. They all have their unique talents, which allow their rag-tag company to conquer enemies far beyond any single character's ability to handle. When it comes to Miroku, his main strengths are his command of the arts of esoteric Buddhism, and his quick mind and silver tongue. He will happily con local nobles into setting the party up for the night by promising to exorcise the pesky youkai on the premises -- more often than not, an imaginary one. In addition -- or in contrast -- to these scams, he frequently acts as the mediator and spokesperson for the group; both are roles that he shares with Kagome. It is easy to see why both these jobs would fall to Miroku: for all his "corrupt" nature, he is still a holy man and recognised as a figure of authority by the populace.

Miroku is also highly intelligent and perceptive. He will never barge head-on into a conflict if he can avoid it, and is usually aware of the larger picture in any given situation. For example, in manga volume nine, Miroku asks Inuyasha if he has considered the consequences of going through with his plans for the Shikon no tama. (Early in the story, Inuyasha's motivation for reassembling the sacred jewel is that he could use it to rid himself of his "weak" human half.)

    Quoted from Inuyasha - Sengoku O-Togi Zoushi: manga vol. 9, act 7:

    [Closeup of Miroku speaking, the with full-sized Jewel in the background.]
    Miroku: This is what I think. People who use the Shikon no Tama's evil powers conversely, loose [sic] their self...

    [Closeup of Inuyasha.]
    Inuyasha: Bah!

    [Inuyasha responds.]
    Inuyasha: I don't particularly remember saying that I wanted to become a nice Youkai or something.

    [Miroku continues to explain.]
    Miroku: However, you want to protect Kagome-sama. You want strength because of that as well. However...

    [Closeup side view of Miroku explaining, and behind him is a drawing of Kagome, with blood splattered around her.]
    Miroku: When you become a Youkai after using the Shikon no Tama... maybe you'll kill and eat Kagome-sama and Shippou.

Frazzled by Miroku's grave prediction, Inuyasha hotly deflects it, but he is nonetheless shaken by the possibility the monk depicts. Of course, Miroku then proceeds to tell an agitated Shippou that when/if Inuyasha turns full youkai, he will have run away well in advance... The moment is comical, but it illustrates Miroku's tendency towards analytical thinking, and a certain fatalism that colours his attitude. Unlike Inuyasha, who will fight tooth and nail even when all seems lost, Miroku takes what life throws at him with more of a "what will be, will be" approach. If he cannot see a way out (or even scramble for an unexpected solution), he resigns himself to accepting the course of things. It may be this detachment that also allows him to notice and sort the feelings of the people around him in a rational manner.

Although this may seem a contradiction, Miroku demonstrates a keen grasp of the emotions and spirits of others. He quickly notices the budding romantic tension between Inuyasha and Kagome, while the two of them vehemently deny that there is any. (A sure sign that the reverse is true, naturally, but that is the subject of another essay altogether.)

In volume 12, after a big fight with Naraku, Sango breaks into tears of relief upon realising that in spite of her betrayal, everyone understands and will be there for her. Inuyasha looks on, confused, and wonders why she is crying when everything is fine. It is Miroku who, with a bit of a long-suffering look, offers to explain the reason for her outburst. Much later on in the manga, he consoles and encourages a heartbroken Sango when it seems that saving Kohaku, her little brother, is going to be beyond her after all. In this regard, he seems an older brother figure to the group at large: someone who always knows what to say to clear things up.

Miroku's gift of empathy rarely extends to his own self: for all his sweet words, he can be amazingly clueless in those instances when it would really matter. An interesting explanation for his "cluelessness" is one frequently seen in fanon, and I can see it in series canon as well: he is deliberately keeping those he cares about -- namely Sango -- at bay by acting the unsensitive womaniser:

    Quoted from Inuyasha - Sengoku O-Togi Zoushi: manga vol. 21, act 9:

    [Sometime later, the group is walking along. Miroku has a large hand-print on his face, and Kagome is looking at him. Inuyasha is looking at Kagome, and Shippou is looking at Inuyasha. Up ahead, Sango is walking along with a sort of depressed melancholy look.]

    Miroku: But with that posture it was like she was asking to be touched...

    Kagome: Miroku-sama... Maybe you should learn a girl's heart before a woman's.

Here, he just ruined a tender moment by groping Sango as she turned away in embarrassment. Smooth move, Romeo, yes indeed. Even though Miroku understands people's moods, he is quite blind when he himself is involved. I would also say that initially, he has a hard time telling genuine affection from physical attraction, love from lust. However, as time goes on and the nature of their bond changes, the groping seems to become more of a way to maintain distance between him and Sango, as I suggested above.

Thus, we can conclude that Miroku does not start out as very wise on the topic of more intimate emotions. On the other hand, his education must have been extensive, at least judging by the amount of esoteric lore he is able to spout off the top of his head. We can only speculate upon his earlier years, since series canon gives us little to no information, but it is likely that he would have spent his childhood in a temple or monastery.

    Quoted from Hagakure Productions:

    In historical reality, Mushin would probably have taught Miroku language, writing, history, the classics of Japanese and Chinese writings, the words of Buddha, and (though this is rare) some degree of martial arts for self-defense. He would probably not have left the monastary [sic] to begin his wandering until he was much older, but considering the curse, Miroku beginning his quest against Naraku as a teenager is plausable [sic].

His learning is apparent in many scenes throughout the series. When he, Inuyasha and Kaede visit Onigumo's cave, he is the first to recognise the charred spot on the cave floor as a place where a youkai emitted a great burst of evil power. Later on, in the cave of the Shikon no tama, Miroku explains about the balance of the four souls. In an admittedly somewhat silly filler episode of the anime, 78, he recognises the bear youkai as a vengeful ghost. Whenever knowledge is called for, Miroku is the one to answer.

The other fruit of Miroku's training, his spiritual powers are an often crucial asset to the group, too. Even though Kagome is a remarkably powerful miko, her powers are still neither fully developed, nor has she had any formal training. Therefore, it can safely be said that Miroku is the sole member of the group in full command of his spiritual abilities. His training allows him to withstand demonic auras and influences beyond the capabilities of a normal human. When need arises, he also wields his shakujou (monk's staff) with skill and efficiency. Ironically enough, his most deadly weapon is the curse that he bears.


Captive of His Curse

We are no more than candles burning in the wind.
-- Japanese proverb


One cannot really discuss Miroku without discussing the Kazaana. It is a double-edged sword, and one he is certain to fall on one day, unless Naraku is destroyed, and soon.

The Kazaana is Miroku's most formidable weapon. He needs only to unwrap the sealing rosary from his hand, and everything nearby is sucked into the hole in his palm. (I am not really sure how much mass an object would need to have to be able to resist the pull, but to give you an idea, he has sucked horses, rocks the height of a man, and a good portion of an enormous ogre into the air void.) The Kazaana allows Miroku, still a mortal man even for his monk's training, to battle the more powerful of youkai on equal -- or at least, less suicidal -- terms.

To call the Kazaana Miroku's Achilles' heel is a flawed analogy, but it does serve a purpose. Given the group's usual opponents, Miroku's greatest strength can swiftly turn into his greatest hindrance, seeing as the the evil power of the youkai he sucks in can adversely affect him. After disposing of a horde of demonic ink paintings (in manga volume 6), he collapses in a heap and tells Kagome that handling that much evil influence "really takes something out of one". The air void can also be cut by a youkai claw, which widens the hole and thus hastens his death. Moreover, Miroku is susceptible to anything poisonous sucked into the air rip. The Saimyoushou, the venomous hell wasps that Naraku uses as his spies and couriers, are Naraku's favourite way of foiling Miroku's attempts to use the Kazaana.

In short, the air void is a death trap with secondary benefits. It can be used to devastating effect, but the risks far outweigh its advantages.

Miroku also sometimes refers to his other great weakness as a curse: that would be his uncontrollable urge to chase after anything female. (This trait seems to be passed down the generations in his family, too.) The times he has been lured into a trap by a youkai disguised as a lovely lady are numerous, and he never seems to learn. In spite of that we hear his laments on how his hand always finds its way to Sango's behind, it is indisputable that he gets immense enjoyment out of his antics. In Miroku's case, the punishment is always well worth the offence.

It does put a damper on his evolving relationship with Sango, though: she is shy, short-tempered and slow to trust, and Miroku's behaviour does little to lower any of her reservations. Quite early on, he starts professing his feelings for Sango -- often accompanied by grand gestures like pressing her hand to his face, a much more significant action to the physically reserved Japanese than to us Westerners -- while still hitting on every other girl to come into his field of vision. In this light, Sango's hesitance and bouts of anger with regard to Miroku are more than understandable. He does mature beyond this somewhat two-faced behaviour, though, as their relationship becomes more and more established. This is a point to which I will return in the following sections.


Smiling at Death

To endure what is unendurable is true endurance.
-- Japanese proverb


Miroku has all the reason in the world to spend his days bemoaning his fate, but happily he does not. Best as he can, he meets his threatening demise with his head held high. This unfaltering, albeit stoic optimism is one of his most positive traits, and I will admit that it is a quality that endears him to me among all the over-angsty manga heroes.

There is a story arc in manga volume 11 in which the Kazaana is damaged by a mantis youkai. Miroku leaves the group to seek a cure, but Naraku sends a mass of youkai to destroy him while he is alone and weak. Fortunately for Miroku, the others track him down. They come to his rescue just before things go to hell in a handbasket, much to Miroku's surprise -- a sentiment that is followed by a determination to fight with them despite his injuries, as well as relief as the full impact of their actions sinks in. Once the youkai are slain and the torn air rip finally treated, the group sits at Miroku's bedside and discusses him:

    Quoted from Inuyasha - Sengoku O-Togi Zoushi: manga vol. 11, act 7:

    [Closeup of Sango looking a bit sad.]
    Sango: Houshi-sama... is strong in the mind, isn't he.

    [Closeup of Miroku.]
    Sango: All the time... he kept up a cheerful expression.

    [Closeup of Kagome.]
    Kagome: Yeah... [thinking] But most likely, he really found...

    [Long view of the ground around Miroku.]
    Kagome [thinking]: Everyday... hopelessly depressing...

If Kagome is right, then Miroku's cheery face is just a mask to cover overwhelming anxiety. To further explore this potential chink in his armour, let us turn to the Inuyasha anime for a moment. In the anime, we get a few more glimpses into Miroku's thoughts than in the manga. One of my favourite anime-only scenes (which I really think holds true to Takahashi's manga portrayal of Miroku, too) takes place in episode 42. Miroku is talking to Koharu, a young girl he met three years ago when passing through her village. She has developed a bad crush on him, and has waited for him to return for her. Miroku cannot bring Koharu with him, but he ends up sharing some of his inner turmoil with her -- it is not easy to discern whether he is trying to bring solace to her, himself or them both here.

    Quoted from a fansub of episode 42:

    Miroku: "Living is something everyone feels uneasy about. In my right hand is a hole that will suck in anything. One day, this hole will consume my own body, as well. To face life boldly is a difficult thing. Overcoming fear is a pretty tough task."

He is holding her as he speaks, and Koharu realises than even though Miroku's words are encouraging, he is trembling as he utters them. For all his apparent calm, Miroku is no stranger to fear, doubt and weakness, and we can only guess at the depth of each.

What matters most, however, is that he has resolved to fight Naraku:

    Quoted from Inuyasha - Sengoku O-Togi Zoushi: manga vol. 6, act 6:

    [Closeup of Miroku clenching his fist.]
    Miroku: Unless I vanquish Naraku... in several years time, I myself will be swallowed up, won't I.

    [View of Kagome looking a little shocked.]

    [Kagome edges a little closer to Miroku.]
    Kagome: Meaning... you'll die?
    Miroku: Yes.

    [View of the sky.]
    Miroku: Should that happen, I don't mind. If that is to be my destiny...

    [Closeup of Miroku making a point.]
    Miroku: However... there's no way I'm going to leave Naraku alone.

From his very introduction (the excerpt is from the scene where Miroku tells Inuyasha, Kagome and Shippou about Naraku and his curse), Miroku displays impressive willpower in the face of his fate. To the casual observer, he comes off as a gentle, if standoffish young man with a roguish streak. He will gladly travel with Inuyasha and the others, but when trouble comes knocking in the form of a torn Kazaana, he leaves them behind to go to his foster father's temple for help. (I have referred to this story arc a lot, since it is one of the rare Miroku-centric ones in the series.) Evidently, he protects his inner thoughts and feelings behind a smile -- and a grope, should an opportunity arise -- preferring to put up a happy front. He has no trouble all but throwing his life away to keep his friends safe from harm, but he practically never speaks of himself, even to those he considers his closest comrades.

What Miroku is doing is protecting both himself and the others from too deep attachments. After all, with death haunting his every step, the ground is not exactly fertile for long-term relationships. But as the group grows closer together, even Miroku's personal walls are being chipped away little by little. We know from Mushin's assessment that Miroku has less than a year to live, and yet we have not seen Miroku taking any precautions by, say, siring an heir and making arrangements for the child's upbringing. He seems to have great faith in the determination of his friends to bring down Naraku before his time runs out.

Another reason for this naturally is Sango; his relationship with her is one of the areas where the changes and growth of Miroku's character are most prominent. It is for Sango that he lowers his perpetually cheerful mask; it is to her that he humbly admits he is sorry for always making things hard for her. But, as he so defiantly declares to Kagura in Mount Hakurei while Sango lies unconscious and they are surrounded by a horde of youkai (in manga volume 27), he would gladly die for her. Even more importantly, he wants to share a future with her. If I am allowed to let my pairing bias to the fore for one sentence of this essay, then let it be this one: in manga volume 30, he proposes to Sango, and this promise of marriage, the culmination of their bond, really is a milestone marking the long way Miroku has come in emotional maturity during the series. He still cannot keep his eyes off a beautiful girl, but his womanising tendencies definitely lessen as their relationship progresses.


What the Hand Cannot Grasp, Is Right Here

When the character of a man is not clear to you, look at his friends.
-- Japanese proverb


One of the enduring themes of Inuyasha is the age-old message, "You're not alone." This theme applies to all the main characters in some way: Inuyasha is an outcast; Shippou is an orphan; Kagome is a time-lost stranger in the feudal era; Sango's family and friends died tragically. For all we know, Miroku has been trying to vanquish Naraku on his own for most of his adult life. Teaming up with Inuyasha, Kagome and Shippou is a pivotal moment in his life: he now has companions to help him in his quest, and gradually they become much more than fellow fighters to him.

After the Mount Hakurei storyline (manga volumes 24-29), in which Naraku returns after a stretch of hiding, more dangerous and deceitful than ever, Miroku says to his friends that if they are to win against Naraku, their hearts must be as one from now on. This statement is a powerful testimony to the height of his regard for the group, given his tendency to play lone wolf at times.

Beside the main group, I have also looked at other important characters in Miroku's life, both friend and foe.

Inuyasha-tachi


Inuyasha: Inuyasha and Miroku were off to a bit of a rocky start, since Inuyasha obviously thought Miroku was barging onto his turf and stealing his moments of glory (not to mention the hard-won Shikon shards). Miroku sees the decent young man underneath the bluster fairly early on, though, and ultimately it does not take long to turn Inuyasha around.

When his Kazaana is damaged in volume 11, Miroku runs off, gets attacked by youkai, and then tries to use the torn air rip to save the day. Inuyasha forcibly seals the Kazaana and proclaims to Miroku that if he ever pulls such a stupid stunt again, he will break the monk's arm with his own hands. Sounds like brotherly bonding to me, in Inuyasha's inescapably blunt style. Miroku grows to be a close comrade-in-arms to Inuyasha, and is sometimes seen advising the hanyou on the finer points of life, emotions, and treating the ladies. He also keeps telling Inuyasha that he will not allow the hanyou to become a full youkai by using the Shikon no tama: he does this out of worry and fear for both Inuyasha and his other friends, not simply because another rampant youkai is the last thing the war-ravaged country needs. It is Inuyasha himself that Miroku cares about, here. Even though Inuyasha brushes the monk off, Miroku's words seem to stay with him and influence his stance later on (among other factors, of course).

Kagome: They first meet when Miroku kidnaps Kagome for her Shikon shards. Despite this, Kagome stops Inuyasha from fighting Miroku when she sees his concern for the bystanders of the battle and concludes that he is not a bad guy. Miroku is quite taken with Kagome's beauty, and flirts with her unabashedly until -- rather soon -- it dawns on him that Inuyasha and Kagome harbour some mutual tender feelings, however in denial they may still be. After that, he withdraws his advances, respecting their relationship (for most of the time, anyway).

Miroku calls Kagome with the honorary name suffix -sama, probably in recognition of her extraordinary miko abilities. She uses -sama when addressing him, too; this most evidently indicates both that she wants to keep a bit of distance between them and that she respects and values him as a comrade. Kagome rolls her eyes at Miroku's lechery like everyone else, but she is also the first to scold him for leaving when he sneaks away from them. Miroku, in turn, welcomes Kagome's warm-hearted attitude towards him and the rest of the group.

Shippou: When Kagome's arms are occupied, Shippou is most often seen leaping onto Miroku's shoulder. The monk is a part of Shippou's surrogate family and the little fox spirit worries about Miroku with the rest of them. However, he also frequently -- and cannily -- critiques the monk's conduct towards the ladyfolk, particularly Sango. Fortunately, Miroku takes Shippou's remarks and antics with far better grace than Inuyasha, and gladly plays the part of the shoulder to perch on.

Sango: Now here is something more of a conundrum. From the moment Sango joins the group, Miroku is unable to keep his hands off her. For a few volumes, he gropes her endlessly, and she smacks him silly for it just as endlessly. His treatment of her does change over time: He never asks her to bear his heir, unlike all the other pretty girls (including Kagome), although she increasingly becomes the sole target of his groping. He protects her from harm in battle, even though as a warrior she is easily his equal. He expresses happiness at having her worry about him. All in all, their relationship matures over the course of the series. Sango, in spite of herself, beings to fall for the lecherous monk -- the sight of him hitting on a random village girl is enough to send her into a towering temper.

Miroku and Sango are the "second banana romance" of Inuyasha: their relationship blossoms quietly beside the InuyashaxKagome dynamic. Miroku himself describes Sango and his feelings for her as "a special girl to me, unlike any other". She is a deeply wounded, mournful girl who is yet not without a fiery temper; he is a worldly, smooth-spoken young man who tries to face life boldly despite the dark fate hanging over him. It takes time and trust to bridge the gaps between them.

Beyond any romantic feelings, these two complement each other during times of crisis. Inuyasha and Kagome are a tightly knit team: I dare say a similar bond grows between Miroku and Sango. In battle, they form and execute joint strategies with only a few hurried words passed between them -- an impossibility were they not familiar and comfortable with one another's moves, as well as able to trust the other's split-second decisions. Their kinship shows outside of combat situations, too: they often trade dry opinions on Inuyasha's romantic mess-ups with Kagome, or discuss the latest strange happenings that have drawn the group to a village. Sango's pragmatism keeps Miroku grounded, or at least hinders his wilder flights of fancy (mostly pertaining to conquering pretty ladies), whereas Miroku lifts Sango up when she threatens to drown in her own darkness.

(I have a MirokuxSango essay due for ship_manifesto, which is why I will not go into more detail here. Stay tuned for that.)

Other Friends


Mushin: Mushin is an aging Buddhist monk with a deep love for sake, and also Miroku's foster father, who raised Miroku after the Kazaana consumed his father. According to Miroku, he learned all his bad habits from Mushin. Mushin treats Miroku with a sort of gruff affection, and is not afraid to joke at the expense of the younger man. Miroku respects Mushin as his elder and father figure; however, he will not hold back when he thinks the old monk is in need of some upbraiding.

Hachiemon (Hachi): Hachi the tanuki is Miroku's old friend, helper and partner in crime. They have a mutually profitable business relationship: Hachi transports Miroku from place to place and acts as a diversion in the monk's scams, and Miroku pays him back in good coin -- or tree leaves disguised as money, if the tanuki's attention slips. Hachi is a bit of a coward, but ultimately well-meaning and loyal to Miroku. The monk, for his part, will whack the tanuki good when Hachi tries to weasel out of a job, but seems appreciative of him all the same.

Nemesis


Naraku: To say that Naraku is at the crux of Miroku's life is no understatement. His destruction is, after all, the key to Miroku's continued existence, and Miroku takes his task with the uttermost gravity. In the second movie, when he thinks he has finally come face to face with the real Naraku, he extends what could be described as a formal greeting to his opponent. "I have been waiting," he says, using a very polite speech pattern, as if to a worthy foe. (That the Naraku in question turns out to be fake is beside the point.)

More than a hated nemesis, Naraku is Miroku's generational obligation. Given the import the Japanese place on personal and family honour, it is a matter of life and death in more than the literal sense. Miroku must defeat Naraku so that his children do not have to live in fear of a terrible, untimely death -- and also so that the name of his family will be free from the stain of the curse.


Hope Never Dies


What we have here is a young man on a grim quest, entertaining himself with worldly pleasures on the side of pursuing enlightenment. He is astute and kind, but not without pride. He is no saviour of anyone, but a flawed soul striving for perhaps unattainable things. It may yet be that all his efforts have been in vain, and that he will die without accomplishing his driving goal.

But damn him if he lets doubt or despair deter him, or those he holds dear. In particular, to me, Miroku embodies another lucid theme in Inuyasha: hope. He is a refreshingly unangsty character, who is able to strike a balance between accepting the truths of life and holding hopes of a better tomorrow. In this regard, he resembles Kagome, who clearly is the heart of the group; perhaps, then, Miroku is the spine, quietly supporting them upright.

This may well be the most salient reason why I adore Miroku: he never knows when he will breathe his last, but until his last breath, he will stand strong.

We've arrived, and to prove it we're here.
-- Japanese proverb


References

Inuyasha - Sengoku O-Togi Zoushi (manga translations)
The Inu-Yasha Companion (cultural information)
Hagakure Productions (character information)
Buddhism Fundamentals (information on Buddhism)

All images scanned by me from either my copies of the manga or from merchandise I own.


Websites

Void of Restraint (A Miroku shrine, probably the best and most up-to-date one available)
Furyou Houshi (Another Miroku shrine)
Mayuge no Miroku, a mini shrine to Miroku's eyebrows (Just for giggles.)


Fanfiction

There is quite little good character-centric (as opposed to pairing-centric) fanfic about Miroku, but here are a few recommendations to get you started. These all sport portrayals of Miroku that I find interesting, compelling and built on the canonical presentation of the character. I have tried not to include any fics with blatant pairings (good luck finding a story without even hints of one...).

Spider Games by Sholio
One True Thing by Spectrum
Dante's Prayer by Klitch
Hope by Lady of Ithilien (adesso)
Dear Friends by KellyChan85 (haro)
In Good Company by Quirkyslayer (paynesgrey)
Barenaked Necessities by Aiffe (aiffe)

And because abarero is cool and sneaky like that, the drabble theme for this week (third week of May 2005) at iyfic_challenge was -- you guessed it -- Miroku. There were some lovely ficlets there, so go read those, too.


Author's Notes: Some of this information has been rephrased from my Inuyasha site, Round the Campfire.

I extend my heartfelt thanks to malonwic and haro for encouragement and fic recommendations, and to taifluff and prpl_pen for beta-reading and helpful comments. Special thanks go to kaerra, who tackled the second draft of this essay for a final overhaul, on short notice, in the middle of her gruelling work week. ::hugs Kaerra:: She is my hero. And any and all errors left are mine alone.

The subheader "Smiling at Death" was inspired by a quote from the Ridley Scott film Gladiator: "Death smiles at us all. All a man can do is smile back." The term "second banana romance" I learned from sangosama, and now I will never be rid of it.

Lastly, I'd like to dedicate this essay to a person who might never read it, but who has had so much invisible influence on my views on Miroku that he is a definite without whom: scribefigaro.


Gentle reader, thank you for your time and interest.

.
Comments 
21st-May-2005 05:21 pm (UTC)
Fabulous essay, Aino. It was witty and well-organized, and you certainly made your point. Probably it's just me and my lack of essay-writing experience, but I particularly like how you used the quotes.

For all he does, Miroku doesn't get nearly enough credit. And let's not forget all the Sango and Miroku scenes that basically go: *grope* "Hentai/Pervert!" *smack* (It's my private suspicion that ficcers consider Miroku to be Sango's personalized punching bag. Imagine the advertisement: "Will automatically start groping when sensing a need to vent anger.")

A little note here:

Therefore, it can safely be said that Miroku is the sole member of the group in full command of their spiritual abilities.

I think it should be "his," not "their."

You obviously spent a great deal of time on this, and it shows. Will be waiting for that Miroku/Sango essay. :]
23rd-May-2005 06:12 am (UTC)
Thank you for the kind words, and the correction -- all fixed now.

I have to say that the advertisement brought quite a few chuckles out of me. :D But that is a misconception I will have to tackle in my next essay.
21st-May-2005 06:25 pm (UTC)
Oh, this is excellent. The Buddhist material in particular is very good. I read the other day that Takahashi based the Inuyasha-tachi very loosely on Tripitaka's party in Journey to the West, which would make Miroku the womanizing Pigsy. If you haven't read it, you really should check it out-- there are some very interesting parallels, though I've only scratched the surface so far.
23rd-May-2005 06:09 am (UTC)
Thank you very much. And no, I wasn't aware of that. I'll definitely have to check out Journey to the West now, should go nicely with all the other Eastern classics I keep meaning to read.

And I'm happy you found the material on Buddhism adequate. I'm just weary of these misconceptions that Miroku's delinquency is somehow "ungodly", because it isn't. Hmph.

But thank you.
23rd-May-2005 08:08 am (UTC)
The bit where Tripitaka first uses "Sit!" the sutra chant on Monkey is particularly amusing.

And yeah, the bad priests of anime are a weird thing for Western readers to encounter. XD
21st-May-2005 09:16 pm (UTC)
Oooh, just fabulous! I love all the changes you made to it! ^_^ Thanks for explaining the karma part more fully--I see exactly what you were alluding to now. All the Buddhist background really adds a lot to my understanding of the character, and I know that in Japan, audiences will be much more familiar with that than most of we westerners are. So thank you so much for increasing my understanding of it! ^_^

And thank you for that very sweet endnote--I'm always happy to help, and doing this beta was a real treat. ^__^ *hugs you back*

Can't wait to see your MiroSan essay! And I might have to go check out those Miroku drabbles. God, knowing me I'll probably join that community too... just what I need, another writing community, where I can get farther behind on all my fics than before. Writing drabbles is so much fun! Hee hee.
23rd-May-2005 06:10 am (UTC)
You're welcome, sweetheart. And the essay wouldn't be half as good if not for all your fixes and pesky transitions, so there. X)

Oh yes, you must join us. You want to join us. You know you do. XD
24th-May-2005 04:48 pm (UTC)
Needless to say, I'm impressed by how concise your essay was. Miroku is so much more than just a groping monk with a hole in his hand, and you really made that clear. Not only did you point out his positive attributes as well as his faults, but you delved into topics that are rarely ever touched on when one thinks/writes about Miroku, like his Buddist beliefs and training. It's probably one of the most important aspects of what makes Miroku himself because he's constantly drawing on it without making a point of doing so. Does that make sense? Heh.

I'm going to echo what elranuial said, but the choice of quotes, both from the manga and the Japanese proverbs, were really impactful (is that a word?) and well placed. The layout flowed very nicely.

Personally Miroku has always been a favourite character of mine, so to read an essay like this made me a very happy person. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Great work, hun! ^^
17th-Jul-2005 09:27 pm (UTC)
I read it. So there. :o)

I need to remember to write, edit, spellcheck; not write, spellcheck, edit. Because that's really embarrassing.

Anyway, this is an absolutely amazing character study.

I watched some of Episode 132 again after reading this, and totally putting aside the pairing, that episode is really groundbreaking for Miroku. It's about the only time he leaves his feelings bare, and where he is very much unsure of himself. The artwork is really well done; he looks to be in actual pain at parts.

I sort of like exploring the theory that he meant to reject her outright, but halfway through turning her down, he just couldn't stomach it, and proposed to her instead.

The scene previous, where he holds the unconscious Sango, and Kagome tells him point-blank that the entire incident was his fault, he has this beautifully miserable expression.

He emotes more in five minutes of that episode than in any other.

Backing up a bit, one of the main problems with Miroku is that he was introduced as a scoundrel, and he tamed himself very quickly for no clear reason. He robs someone blind in his first episode, but never again does he attempt anything so blatant. Why? If he really had compulsion to steal he would probably attempt it even while staying with the group, and knowing they would not approve if they found out. Did he learn compassion so quickly? Or was traveling with others so new and interesting to him that he gave up his more time-consuming immoral pursuits? Or had he, after years of working alone, slowly degraded to this level of immorality, Miroku at his worst, and meeting the others, and finding people he really liked, quickly returned him to his rightful path?

The thing is, one of the central tenets of Mahayana is compassion, and I imagine Miroku having a lack of compassion would be absolutely damning to his spiritual abilities. I imagine that stealing stuff all the time would be a problem in this department. Though, it seems very clear he does not kill people, and doing so would show a complete lack of compassion.

I dunno. His spiritual powers can work however you want them to, I guess. Having them be totally faith and understanding-based would make sense, though it's hard to say how well he understands the eightfold path and the five truths if he follows them so incredibly loosely. On the other hand, not all Japanese sects pay much attention to such things, and it was very easy at that time to be a warrior-monk . . .

This is why I suck at essays. I write stream-of-consciousness too much.

. . . I made an icon . . . :o)
4th-Sep-2006 02:56 pm (UTC)
This was an amazing essay! Very enlightening in a few aspects and quite accurate (at least IMO) in others. I love Miroku to pieces, and when I first entered this fandom (not very long ago at all) I was really sort of let down that he really was taken for granted so much, and that he had not nearly as many fans as other, less major characters. Maybe I was just too used to being in an infinitely huge fandom before where you can find anything you look for; maybe I'm just not too savvy on where to look for specific Inuyasha stuff or groups. Either way, it's wonderful to know he does have other fans who happen to ponder about his personality and behaviour as much as I do, and who have the disposition and talent to write essays about him :)

So, did you ever get to write that Sango/Miroku essay at ship_manifesto after all? I can't help but ship them, and I'd absolutely love to read it.
5th-Sep-2006 07:18 am (UTC)
Thank you! It's really not meant to be The Truth About Miroku, just a fan's eye view of one of my favourite characters ever.

So, did you ever get to write that Sango/Miroku essay at ship_manifesto after all? I can't help but ship them, and I'd absolutely love to read it.

I'm sorry. Technically, I am still working on it, but I was hit with a badly timed bout of Real Life just around the deadline and never actually finished the essay. Maybe I should go back to it, as there seems to be interest. :)
22nd-Oct-2007 10:25 pm (UTC)
I don't know if you read comments from this anymore, but anyway, just wanted to say thank you for writting this. Also, I don't know if you follow the manga anymore, but Miroku had some major developments. I was wondering what you think about all the... "stuff" that had happen to him? (to not mention it out loud since it's HUGE spoilers)
This page was loaded May 20th 2019, 3:17 pm GMT.