Ushio to Tora (OVA) Review — Natsume Yuujinchou With Blood

Let’s take a break from Winter anime to talk about an old classic.

As some of my readers may know, after my constant dismissal of non-Ghibli anime studios beyond “oh, they’re making something”, I’ve finally found an anime studio whose stuff I can get excited for: Studio Mappa. Well, “excited” might still be pushing things too far because it’s not like I love everything they make. Having said that, Hajime no Ippo I can at least respect given its legacy even if I don’t enjoy watching it, and despite Rage of Bahamut losing its way in the end due to the fact that it couldn’t fully escape its card game roots, it’s still a good standard regarding how to create substance from something mainly designed to be an advertisement for something I have no interest in. Not sure about Punchline yet, but at least it’s a visually interesting piece of crap at worst. Although seriously, you’d need to be blind, deaf, and living in a bomb shelter to avoid the fan rage that thing caused upon release. It’s like they never saw the premise and PV for that thing.

Well putting that aside, a little while ago, Mappa announced that one of their future projects would be an adaptation of an old classic manga and sometime around February, they revealed that the manga they’d be adapting would be Ushio to Tora – a title I’ve never heard of prior to the announcement, but quick research showed that it was long-running shonen series about a boy and his animal guardian. I also discovered that it was adapted into a series of OVAs in the early 90s and figured I might as well sample those for myself before I dive into the remake considering the little research I did indicated that it’d be to Mappa what Hunter x Hunter is to Madhouse, and we all know by now how I feel about Hunter x Hunter. Couldn’t find the original Japanese version, but the dub was tolerable enough – unlike the original Hunter x Hunter’s, which is so bad that I think people willingly drilled their ears after hearing it. So what’d I think of it? Well let’s get into what the series is about first.

Long story short, Ushio to Tora is basically Natsume’s Book of Friends as a shonen action series. It’s got the relationship between a normal kid who can kick demon ass and a talking cat who threatens the kid just as much as he saves him from danger just like Natsume, but instead of wanting to heal demon’s hearts (although there’s some of that in this series) they’re out to prevent ’em from eating people’s heads off. And of course, Ushio doesn’t have Natsume’s personality at all, acting more like every kid shonen hero out there from the bull-headed determination to his obliviousness to girls – not helped by the fact that his two childhood friends belong to the opposite sex, one of whom is a tsundere and that’s pretty much all you need to know and the other is basically that friend you talk to a lot and that can cause misunderstandings if you overdose on said discussions. But not having Natsume’s personality is a good thing in this show’s case, because I can’t see Natsume surviving Tora’s antics, let alone the demons that aren’t willing to compromise at all when it comes to snacking on human flesh.

The basic hook of the series is that after accidentally discovering the giant tiger in his basement, Ushio unleashes some kind of spell that attracts all sorts of demons to his area and in order to fight them, he must use a magic spear that turns him into an instant fighter and makes his hair grow long for some reason. However, since the spear was the only thing keeping Tora sealed, and since Tora is also a demon who feasts on humans, he has to keep the tiger in line and Tora isn’t exactly a nice guy to begin with. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything here when I say that the main appeal of the show is their relationship and how it grows from really grudging allies to slight less grudging allies, and I’m definitely not spoiling anything when I say that other than that, there’s nothing really all that special about these ten episodes that you couldn’t get from something like YuYu Hakusho or Inuyasha aside from the fact that there are some mass casualties in the real world.

Ushio to Tora, to put it lightly, is a big product of its time and unless you’re a huge fan of the shonen action genre or have nostalgia for the 90s, there’s not really much to get excited for here. Now since there’s only ten episodes, the series only covers the smaller arcs that make up the beginning of the manga without getting into anything real meaty; but even by those standards, the arcs themselves aren’t exactly the most engaging things, mostly consisting of basic monster-of-the-week stuff that introduces one or two new plot elements into the mix, but not much more than that. The last one sort of gets interesting due to its environmental agenda, but the fact that you need to resort to that lame method of instilling importance into your story doesn’t really speak well of the entire product. Seriously, was environmentalism as big in manga as it was for American films/cartoons back in the late 80s/early 90s? Was everyone just trying to copy Miyazaki during that period?

The humor is also pretty dated, being as basic shonen as it gets, with a mix of “I don’t really love him” humor from the tsundere childhood friend. Just about the only jokes that amused me was when Tora was interacting with humanity and getting screwed for it, and it wasn’t exactly comedy that would make the Brits smirk. In fact, that pretty much describes Tora in general. Like I said, he’s the only real interesting character and his relationship with Ushio is the only big draw the show has amongst all the other tepid cliches. But even that positive point is hampered by the fact that he’s not exactly Hobbes or even Nyanko-sensei in terms of personality. It’s really hard to describe his appeal in words beyond the basics I’ve already outlined, so all I can say is he’s similar to Hades from Disney’s version of Hercules in that he’s the one lone bright spot due to how amusing he is, but not enough to really carry the entire product.

Not that I’m saying the product isn’t fun, because it is. Kinda. Well, it’s passable at the very least. But passable ain’t good enough for me I’m afraid, and it doesn’t help that unless it’s really well-executed, the kind of product that Ushio to Tora is will never be able to really grab me. I’ll still be watching the remake because…well have you seen the rest of the Summer anime? It’s got to be better than 90% of them. And at the end of the day, I’m still really interested in seeing what Mappa does with the project. But unless they add something real meaty to the original material, it’ll probably just be something I watch once and forget over time. Assuming it doesn’t go longer than my patience will allow me to keep it on, that is. How many cours is that remake anyways? The original manga is over 33 volumes and given Mappa’s high hopes for the project, I’m afraid it’ll go on for a long LONG time.

PS: Keep in mind I can’t download from BakaBT.

2 responses to “Ushio to Tora (OVA) Review — Natsume Yuujinchou With Blood

  1. Thanks for writing about this! I’ve also been very interested in MAPPA’s remake of this. What gives you the impression that MAPPA has high hopes for this? Was there a comment/interview or something like that? I ask just because I wouldn’t know, and if it’s true that’s a very interesting piece of information.

    I agree, from the synopsis and your summary of the ovas it seems like nothing special and probably not as good as Yu Yu Hakusho. However in the hands of Mappa it has the potential to turn into something special. I mean look what they did for a card game! I’m optimistic because so far it seems like Mappa knows how to do stories pretty well (as opposed to a studio like Bones).

    • What gives you the impression that MAPPA has high hopes for this?

      I was exaggerating.

      I mean look what they did for a card game!

      I remember the fact that it was based on a card game dragging the show down in the second half.

      as opposed to a studio like Bones

      Yeah, Bones and I haven’t been on good terms lately.