Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What I'm Watching: Ushio & Tora

I have been a fan of anime since I saw the edited version of the original Dragon Ball (not Z, that was a whole other series) back on YTV as a kid. I wasn't familiar with much out of Japan at the time, but something in the way Dragon Ball could be a comedy, action, adventure, and cartoon, all at the same time enthralled me. I have always loved stories about good against evil, but I'd never seen one done like this.

Then I soon enough found my way into series much like it, and realized Japan had been thriving on this for a long time. My interest grew and eventually I found more classics like Yu Yu Hakusho, Cowboy Bebop, and Trigun, among many, many others. I became a fan soon enough.

Cut to me as an adult many years later and I was feeling a bit jaded about it all.

Anime no longer began to appeal to me. It was now covered in nihilism and despair or slice of life series about nothing at all where nothing happens. No longer was it about good against evil, struggles against unstoppable foes, or likeable protagonists. Now it was about glorifying fetishes and empty-headed philosophy inspired by the never-quite-finished Neon Genesis Evangelion while being just as lazy about it. Anime was no longer made for people like me.

Then I heard that not only was a manga series being adapted to an anime, a common practice in Japan, but it was one made from 1990 to 1996, some of the best years for the action genre in anime and manga. It was also a series I'd never read before. A series that is still rather popular now in Japan nearly twenty years after ending. On top of that, it was being directed by the man behind my all time favorite anime, Trigun. The series was called Ushio & Tora, and it would run for 39 episodes, only adapting the main storyline from the manga.

So naturally, I had to give this a chance. And, boy, am I glad I did. The series is currently still running, but I can easily say, it was worth the quarter of a century wait for this.

Ushio & Tora is the story about a high-spirited kid named Ushio who is always eager to jump into the fray and help someone out, and a Youkai (a race of monster in Japan folklore sometimes translated as "Demon") named Tora who is a bit daft. The story begins as Ushio is cleaning out the basement at his family's Shinto shrine and finds a creature pinned to the wall by a spear. This spear is called the Beast Spear, and is a legendary weapon known for slaying evil all over the world over 500 years ago. Tora got into a fight with the previous wielder of the spear and was sealed away in the process.

Now, because Ushio had uncovered the hidden basement where Tora was hidden, evil monsters have been attracted to his hometown by the monster's powerful energy, and the two of them must band together to protect people from this new found threat.

But as Ushio and Tora begin to bond despite being polar opposites, we learn that there might be more to the world after all. You see, there are far worse terrors waiting in the world, and an evil just out of sight looking to devour every Youkai it can and to leave Humans in pure despair at the same time. And it will stop at nothing to achieve its goal.

That's right, Ushio & Tora is a world-shaking battle of good against evil.

But it's also a really good one. You see, Ushio is a good kid for a middle school student, always playing with kids, hanging out with the guys, and treating elders (that aren't his father . . . you'll see) with respect. But he's also a kid who makes mistakes and has to learn from them. Tora is the same, instead being far older and experienced, is enthralled with the modern inventions man has made in his absence. It is here that you can see that Tora is not the vicious killing machine he portrays himself as, but is actually a big kid just looking for a home to hang his hat . . . if he had one.

The Beast Spear gives Ushio incredible strength, enough to slay monsters, but also keeps Tora at bay as his prisoner. It also sharpens his instincts and grows his hair incredibly long. It's a lot for one middle school kid to deal with. But as the two of them are forced into rough situations together, Ushio begins to toughen up and Tor begins to understand more about the world he once hated so much.

The character dynamic is as solid as the buddy comedy is as the opposites play well off each other. There's also Ushio's dad who is a goofball with a strong sense of justice, Asako, Ushio's almost-girlfriend, who is as hard-headed as he is, and Mayuko, an eccentric girl who is responsible for Tora's hamburger addiction (long story), as well as a formed cast out of those Ushio and Tora end up helping along the way. It is an excellent example of how important family, friends, and community, are to our lives and how they are well worth protecting. Even with your life.

This show is the reason I became an anime fan in the first place.

And while manga has been pretty good these days (My Hero Academia, World Trigger, One-Punch Man, and Vinland Saga, just to name a few) there hasn't been much anime to rekindle that spark that anime had back in its glory days from the '80s through the '90s, even if there have been some good series since they haven't been much like Ushio & Tora.

Sure, there is violence and some nudity (always covered up, but its still implied nudity) but it is never over the top or in your face about it. It's more focused on the conflict between good and evil and how the good guys will finally come out on top.

I'm not sure if anyone's really watching Ushio & Tora, so I don't know if it will set off a trend to return to the classic style anime became known for around the world or if it will fall back into its bad old habits that is leading it into fetish obscurity, but if you are a fan of when anime was truly something to behold: a powerful expression of battles of ideals and souls, then you need to watch this show.

Anime is still a force to be to be reckoned with. No matter how obscured it may get, the light still shines through the darkness.

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