It’s been a while, hasn’t it? For those of you not in the know, Ushio and Tora was something I wrote about on a seasonal capacity when I started this blog four years ago. I liked it so much that I bought the Blu-ray for it when it came out. I’ve been meaning to rewatch it eventually. Well, that happened recently. My dad and I checked out the dub of the show during our small amount of anime watching time and I was surprised by how good it was. Sentai Filmworks isn’t that well known for good dubs, so I’m glad they put a lot of effort into this one. Also, it was such a great time watching this show again because I missed it a lot. By rewatching it, my calling Ushio and Tora my favorite anime of 2015 and 2016 was still spot on. I never doubted myself, but it’s nice to see my thoughts and feelings from my first watch never left it. Going to pat myself on the back? Yeah, going to do it.
Warning and things. This post would spoil a lot of things that happen in Ushio and Tora (2016) from a broad strokes perspective. I am sharing a lot of how I see this anime structured and what the pay offs are without getting too details. If this sounds interesting to you, please continue. Otherwise, please check out this 90’s anime brought to 2015 and 2016 through Mappa and Voln’s hard work and heart.
Ushio and Tora starts where a lot of 90’s shonen battle anime start. Ushio Aotsuki is the son to a shrine priest. His family has owned a shrine for generations, so he’s the latest and youngest inheritor. One day before school and an argument with his father, Ushio Aotsuki wanders to the storage house and finds a basement he hasn’t found before. After breaking it open and climbing down, there lies a tiger demon pinned to a wall by a magical sphere called the Beast Sphear. The demon’s name is Tora whose been stuck there for over five hundred years. After some really cool 90’s comedy and demons swarming Ushio’s school and town, he has to free the Beast Sphere and the demon to save everyone else from the menace of the darkness of humanity itself, Hakumen no Mono.
Thus begins the trials of Ushio and Tora. A 39 episode adventure featuring some dumb high school kid who just got a spear and a responsibility that goes way beyond him and Tora, a demon that threatens to eat Ushio and other humans whenever he gets the chance. The two’s adventure takes place in 3 parts. The introduction, trials with demons and humans, and then the war. Of course, the introduction is the first part and centers itself on episodic adventures at Ushio’s school and city to establish the world of the show. Why? Because demons are everywhere, yo. Ushio and Tora find themselves working together to solve these cases of the super natural. Also, the show also establish a central cast. Ushio’s father, his childhood crush and tomboy tsundere Asako Nakamura, and the more feminine Mayuko Inoue. Of course, my favorite character is Huo. A guy who lost his family to a demon and is seeking revenge. If you watched the 90’s ova, this is that again. It’s fun stuff to be sure, but nothing really meaty yet.
As expected, the real adventure starts with the Ushio being tried by Human and Demon kind. This was where the show really grew into it’s own. Not just in terms of the story, but also establishing it’s main theme, empathy. One day, Ushio got tired and annoyed about his missing mother. He wanted to know more, so his father sent him on a road trip to Hokkaido in order to figure out the truth. As you would expect, Ushio runs into a lot of trouble on the way. On his episodic adventures through Japan, he runs into demons and humans in many different situations that show how he would put his life on the line to save anyone. Some episodes require action beats, especially the airplane episode, but others require Ushio showing off his empathy and helping everyone in front of him to the best of his abilities. That’s how the demons aligned with him. In fact, that’s how everyone lined up with him.
The human trials for the Beast Sphere were the second part of this arc. The Beast Spear is attached to the society that Ushio’s father is apart of. Before Ushio showed up, four different nominees were chosen to should handle the Beast Spear and eventually defeat the ultimate enemy, Hakumen no Mono. Too bad Ushio came in and ruined it for everyone. This was where Ushio showed his character strengths and we see what makes Ushio himself. His kindness, empathy, and his forcefulness cannot be matched by anyone. I mean come on, he was even able to make Tora, the demon that wanted to eat him and humanity, to become very tsundere and actually become a decent, reliable person. Will, that and Inoue introducing Tora to McDonalds burgers. Somehow those taste better then human flesh. Who knew? In all seriousness though, Ushio really is the kind of character to get everyone on the side. His cheerfulness in the face of danger and his soft charisma are nearly untouchable. Its softness that breaks eventually when fatigued. A lot of excellent build up happens to that moment.
Ushio and Tora’s third part or the last cour of the show itself is a huge war. Hakumen no Mono vs EVERYONE. Hakumen’s presence has always been a part of the series at large. For instance, the beast spear was created solely just to kill Hakumen from dark, inhuman magic magic. He’s even given side characters soft nudges to break people, ruin the beast spear’s chance of survival, and sent his minions when he could to cause terror, but the last cour is where he really goes all out. It also starts with him completely erasing the memories of Ushio and Tora from everyone he encountered in the first cour. Believe me when I say that’s only the start of where Hakumen’s horror appears, but that’s a lot considering that the demons and humans have to work together to fight and Ushio was the only person connecting the two. Eventually after everything he’s going through to this point, Ushio attacked Hakumen with only darkness in his heart and completely loss. That happens in shonen battle anime sometimes, but this is from the early 90’s. That’s ground breaking for this genre of self assured people.
But yeah, as you would really expect, Ushio gains his composure again and the memories they forgot do return to humans and demons alike resulting in a united front against Hakumen no Mono from everyone. The positivity of the world itself challenges Hakumen and his evil and it straining everyone as hard as they can go. Do you know what the best part is? Everyone in the cast contributes to the fight because even a small thing like cheering up people around you can weaken him. Hakumen relies on fear to thrive, so kindness and warmth weaken his abilities. Of course, that’s the minimum someone can do. Creating barriers, fighting Hakumen’s many armies, and finally approaching Hakumen no Mono directly go a few more miles then that, but all good deeds are able to put evil down in some way. That shows how great and scary Hakumen and his many tails and minions are. One of the best finales of an anime I’ve watched against one of the best villains I’ve ever seen.
Ushio and Tora’s story is like what would happen if something like Naruto or something was adapted 20+ years after the manga was finished. The anime didn’t just have no filler to it, but I feel like the staff behind it chose the most important parts of the manga and put those pieces into a complete and well structured manner so everything flows from one area to another. There are a few hiccups here from pacing or obvious lack of content where there was here and there, but I think the package as a whole works incredibly well. Everything is developed well enough, the narrative flows decently from one point to another, and the messages that the story was trying to say got said pretty well. For something that could have been over a hundred episodes down to 39, that’s pretty good.
Lastly before getting anywhere else, a special mention to the women in this show. Not just Asako and Mayuko, but every single character he met on his journey and the many magical women holding back Hakumen no Mono from the world for generations. A joke can be made that Ushio and Tora could be a psudeo harem anime because each younger female has more then a normal attachment to Ushio, but it’s obvious that Asako was always Ushio’s love interest. No, there was never a doubt. Anyway though, Ushio and Tora didn’t allow many of these girls to go into the front lines because most of them aren’t battle hardened, but normal humans. Still, they’ve literally done everything else from providing the positivity in Japan to opening the gates of hell to finally support the war effort through providing barriers. They’ve even saved Ushio when his demon self over took over his body. That means everything. To them and the world at large against chaos.
For all it’s good writing and story telling, Ushio and Tora’s visuals are far from the best honestly. Yes, its art and characters designs are very 90’s with updated colors and animation techniques to make the show feel more modern. That’s very true. There are even a great many creative demon designs to come along with it all here. Unfortunately, the animation here didn’t really amount to the same level of the highest animation quality from even the 90’s. No seriously, watch Yu Yu Hakusho. Ushio and Tora and Yu Yu are very similar to each other in terms of story and art, but Yu Yu’s animation breaks out from the 90’s and still looks great today. Ushio and Tora uses a lot of still frames, solid direction, and good sound design to let you know what happens. Very Chihayafuru like in that which, which works fine. I just feel like I missed out on a lot of action spectacle.
Even with that lack of quality animation quality, almost everything in Ushio and Tora hits home from me. I loved seeing Ushio and Tora’s relationship grow as they struggle from one event to the next with their fighting spirit and empathetic natures in full display. Yes, even Tora. The poor Tsundere monster. I also feel like the side characters, even the ones with the smallest amount of screen time, somehow developed alongside them. With the solid story and best villain that I’ve seen in an anime in a long time named Hakumen no Mono on top of everything, I can’t help but putting this anime on the solid level here. Still the best anime of 2016 to me no matter what anyone says to me. If you like seeing some unique battle shonen that you haven’t watched yet, here you are. Ushio and Tora. A solid anime series.