Shelf Life Ushio & Tora
by Paul Jensen, Gabriella Ekens,
I recently discovered that one of my coworkers at my day job plays the Fate/Grand Order mobile game, and we've been bonding over our experiences with the game's fickle character gacha system. He left me seething with envy when he picked up Francis Drake, but I settled the score by getting Tamamo-no-Mae this week. I'm pretty sure everyone else at the office thinks we're insane. Welcome to Shelf Life.
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Ushio & Tora
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Flying Witch - Complete Collection BD, DVD, Limited Edition
Sentai - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $69.98|$59.98|$159.98
Currently cheapest at: $39.99 Amazon|$38.99 Right Stuf|$103.99 Right Stuf
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Shelf Life Reviews
Gabriella gets an overdose of 90s action anime this week, courtesy of Ushio & Tora. Sure, this manga adaptation actually aired pretty recently, but it has the look and feel of another decade.
U&T starts in a pretty typical fashion for this type of show. Ushio Aotsuki lives at a temple that's said to rest on the site where a terrible demon was defeated 500 years ago. This demon was sealed away using the Beast Spear, a cursed weapon specifically made for hunting yokai. Ushio didn't think this was real, until he stumbled upon the scene himself in a long-forgotten basement. Having waited so long for his chance, the yokai – soon to be named Tora – uses this opportunity to escape. However, Ushio is immediately chosen as the beast spear's new master, foiling Tora's chances for a permanent getaway. The two are now stuck together, with Tora aiming to kill Ushio in his moment of weakness, and Ushio trying to prevent the revived demon from getting up to any trouble. Over time, the two form an unexpected bond and embark on the quest destiny has set out for them, involving the Beast Spear's ancient origins as well as the most dangerous of all yokai, the Hakumen no Mono.
At first glance, this looks like a buddy cop take on the once-familiar genre of “unusually manly teen boy's adventures in fighting Japanese mythology creatures.” It's a very '90s style, to say the least. Nowadays, our shonen is slicker and cleaner, with fewer of the hard edges present throughout Ushio & Tora, both aesthetically and narratively. I have a lot of affection for this style – I used to watch Yu Yu Hakusho after school on Toonami back in the day – so I enjoyed Ushio & Tora as a recreation of that period in anime. Visually, it can't fully recreate the style of those old anime (you can't really go back to the way cel animation looks in a modern production), but it's a strong attempt to achieve a similar style with modern-day techniques. On the bright side, this show has the animation chops to achieve its world-ending action setpieces – something that wasn't always possible in those longer-running '90s series full of panned stills. This is especially important for realizing its monster designs, but I'll get into that later.
Narratively, Ushio & Tora is nothing to scoff at. While it's absolutely following all of its genre's old story beats, the plot is remarkably well structured. It builds up very well to its explosive conclusion, which integrates everything that happened in the previous arcs. Similar works often have an issue where their arcs are too disconnected, so they end up creating and then discarding interesting side characters along the way. Ushio & Tora thoroughly dodges that problem, tying all of its loose ends (even quite minor ones) into the final arc. The characters are also very likable. Ushio has a fairly basic hero personality, but the sheer depths of his sincerity and kindness earned a lot of affection from me over time. Tora goes through a similar process as the belligerent bad boy with a not-so-secret heart of gold. The side characters are all fun and get at least one standout moment to themselves. I particular like how this show treats its lady characters, for an old-school shonen. None of them veer too far from traditional archetypes, but they have an active role in the story and do participate in most of the world saving. Overall, it's simple material employed in an emotionally effective way.
Most notably, this show's monster designs are metal as all hell. This specific brand of '80s/'90s shounen has its roots in two genres: previous long-running adventure manga and yokai adventure stories, like those popularized by Shigeru Mizuki. This genre was dedicated to exploring the various creatures that populate Japanese mythology and folklore, realizing them as monsters that you might be able to see and hear in the modern world. Ushio & Tora and its peers extend this logic to their fighting-driven stories while maintaining an art style dominated by surreal and freaky beasties. It's super cool and comes together in a great way with a final battle against the towering, fox-bodied, bird-faced beast called the Hakumen no Mono. The Garo franchise (which is also a retro-flavored project courtesy of MAPPA) wishes that it had these sort of designs.
This review covers Sentai's regular release of the series. The show has a dub, which I found to be very listenable. This was mostly due to the strength of David Matranga's central performance as Ushio. He conveys the character's plucky charm well and demonstrates acting chops in the emotionally intense moments that the role occasionally requires. Brett Weaver makes for a jock-ish and jocular Tora, and most of the recurring side roles are also solid. My main issue is that they occasionally give one-off characters some sort of distractingly outlandish voice, but for the most part it was a good listen.
In the end, I very much enjoyed my time with Ushio & Tora. I was entertained the entire way through, which is an impressive feat considering its 39-episode runtime. I came out of the show with a strangely complete feeling of satisfaction – like I got everything that I wanted out of these characters and their story, but I'd still like to experience something similar soon. It might have just reawakened my affection for Yu Yu Hakusho-style anime. There aren't many anime like that, however, so I guess I'll have to make do with those strange modern takes on '90s OVAs that MAPPA seems so insistent on making. (Not that I'm complaining!) As a potent nostalgia bomb, Ushio & Tora will scratch – or perhaps awaken – a few itches in current anime fans who fondly remember another time.
That wraps up the review section for this week. Thanks for reading!
This week's shelves are from Ian:
"Thanks for doing Shelf Life, there several series that I own because they had escaped my notice but were featured on the column.
I got introduced to anime at college in 2013. I was bored one night and had Adult Swim on, and luckily enough what came on was the first episode of Inuyasha.(considering how many episodes that show has, it was a minor miracle) I thought it looked a little interesting, so I kept on watching. I also had a couple of friends who introduced me to things like Fists of the North Star, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, and Rurouni Kenshin.
The first anime DVD I ever purchased was Satoshi Kon's 'Perfect Blue'(purchased on a whim, I had no idea on how good it was). Once I got out of college I was able to put more money into the collection. I enjoy just about every genre, but I in particular enjoy a lot of the older shows such as 'Irresponsible Captain Tylor' or something out of the way like 'Alien 9' (the Madoka before Madoka) However my personal favorites are Princess Tutu, the Kara no Kyoukai the Garden of Sinners LE, Full Metal Panic, Aria, Serial Experiments Lain, and Baccano."
It's always great to hear about folks discovering new shows through Shelf Life. After all, that's why we're here! I love the collection, and now I feel the urge to rewatch my own copy of Irresponsible Captain Tylor. Thanks for sharing!
Want to show off your own collection of anime goodness? Send me your photos at [email protected]!
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