Ushio to Tora (TV) Review — Retro Shonen Baby

Retro.

The word I’ve been hearing regarding the newest iteration of Ushio & Tora is that most people only paid attention to it because of its retro look and a good chunk of said people were turned off by how dated the story is. That is, if the monster-of-the-week format doesn’t turn them off first. I’m not going to lie, it’s sort of a lame and outdated concept to build a show around, but at least it ensures that there’ll be conflict every episode. Most anime don’t even have that nowadays, unless you count learning how to hold hands as acceptable conflict. And yet, for some strange reason, people willing chose to watch Dull-rarara over it. Hell, people are watching that shitty Utawarerumono sequel over it. I didn’t even know the original was an anime you were supposed to watch back in the day, but then again I didn’t keep up with current anime in 2006.

Not that Ushio & Tora’s age can be easily dismissed. The characterization and comedy are the most obvious factors when you take into account that the source material was written in the 80s and they’ve aged worse than whatever Ippo is doing to continue running after all these years. Almost three decades later and Ushio is still a very boring shonen stereotype who only fights because he wants to save people, even crying over dead grandmothers he knew for all of five minutes. And whilst Tora is generally fun due to his unpredictable nature, I will never find physical abuse funny and you’d have to be very genre blind to think for a second he’d really betray Ushio. Whilst their opposing philosophies do make for some fun interaction, a lot of humor I’d expect to see from Fullmetal Alchemist rears its ugly head on a semi-frequent basis. And Fullmetal Alchemist’s humor sucks balls.

Now I’ve said before in regards to DC’s output that the protagonists being lame can work if the antagonists and challenges they face are good, and I’d like to make an addendum that a good supporting cast can also work wonders to liven up a boring lead as well, as every Harry Potter movie can attest to. With that said, the supporting cast is decent for the most part, but it’s nice to see that the idea to have a large number of said cast is composed of teenage girls who have a tendency to get their clothes ripped is one cliche that hasn’t budged in thirty fucking years. I still find it strange that Ushio doesn’t have any human friends besides those two schoolgirls, but that sort of stops being a problem when you start to realize that more than half the episodic monsters have a taste for underage female flesh that can’t help but admire a boy who saves them with a giant spear. And the justification for why they’re in the story is pretty weak too. A little more than halfway through the story, Ushio gets turned in a rampaging beast that can only be saved by females who care for him by combing his hair (it makes sense in context). Fair enough, but I don’t see why that couldn’t have been accomplished with just the two girls he knows and have actual storyline significance after said event occurs.

It really would have helped the show’s pacing if they had just been excluded entirely, that’s for sure. Now Ushio & Tora is a manga series that’s over thirty volumes long and Mappa could only afford 39 episodes to tell the complete story, so they had to cut more corners than FMA: Brotherhood did in order to get to the stuff we hadn’t seen before. Of course, just like Brotherhood, the cutting was very apparent during its first thirteen episodes with several of the episodic stories feeling like they should have been an hour long and some of the messages to get diluted in response. Some of the stories like the one regarding the evil father in the mansion and the white-haired chick were fine examinations of humanity’s dark side, but for every one that worked, there’d be one with hackneyed writing. The absolute nadir of the experience for me was the episode with the sickle mongooses, which was two episodes long in the original OVA series and I didn’t really enjoy because the whole conflict was based heavily around a cliched environmental message. And whilst I applaud rushing through that lame arc as fast as possible, at least the message had buildup when it was first brought to TV and more importantly, it had actual animation.

And the animation can be embarrassingly bad. It – along with everything else for that matter – gets more consistent once the second half starts and the show gets into the meaty parts of the manga. But as is usual for Mappa anime, they tend to devote the most time and care to the important parts of their shows whilst the less important parts end up being Deen-level embarrassments. That’s fine when you’re at the parts when it’s good and enjoying the show using its potential to its fullest, but it tends to make the weaker parts even more sluggish than they need to be. Unfortunately, said weak parts make up a not-so-insignificant portion of Ushio & Tora’s setup phase, and whilst it never sinks to Arslan levels of incompetent, it really wasn’t worth introducing that many characters who barely have any storyline significance even if they’re likable as a whole. Don’t think I didn’t notice that the male background characters from the OVAs didn’t make it into the series.

I know I’m devoting a lot of time seeming to hate on Ushio & Tora, but I really don’t. There’s a lot you have to swallow to get into it of course, but the show’s storytelling chops do a fine job at making the experience worthwhile. It’s an anime about humanity’s dark side, which I generally enjoy as a concept, and whilst the way it explores said dark side through the demons from Inuyasha is nothing new, it’s generally executed well enough to feel fresh. The shonen action genre more often than not treats the subject matter as an accessory for its fight scenes, so to see stuff like Ushio & Tora and Tokyo Ghoul (first season only) do the reverse is something I highly support, especially in regards to having the genre get out of that style-as-substance mindset that it’s never gonna fully escape from as long as the Blu-ray sales have control over the market.

What really sells Ushio & Tora’s story is the moral ambiguity surrounding our simplistically good protagonists. It really was refreshing to learn that all the demons that attack Ushio live in fear of a much bigger demon ala the plot twist regarding the dragons in How to Train Your Dragon, but Ushio & Tora goes a step further in regards to explaining why said demon is fearful and why he wasn’t destroyed back when there was a golden opportunity to do so. And the humans who fight the demons aren’t exactly innocent either. Whilst the last arc is a bit of a cliche, it was refreshing to see science in a narrative that is mostly mythological-driven along with it being used to hurt and help both sides in a way that actually has consequences you can’t just brush aside. And although the unambiguously evil youkai outnumber the unambiguously evil humans even if you discount the fact that the big bad belongs to the former, the show does a good job at playing both sides even if it never really goes below heavy-handed in terms of whatever message it wants to convey. It’s a pity the action never really lives up to the standards of Mappa’s previous action-heavy anime even when it is given actual animation, but it’s still pretty intense when it needs to be. However, the number of times Ushio loses and has to get bailed out by his flying tiger that he can somehow put in place despite said tiger being much stronger than the monsters who beat the crap out of him is kind of off-putting and really puts in my mind an action-ized version of Calvin and Hobbes.

So as long as you’re not allergic to old-school shonen, I’m giving Ushio & Tora my recommendation for its dark storytelling, likable characters, hit-and-miss action, and the fact that you don’t need to watch over a hundred episodes to get into the good stuff. And hopefully when its last cour airs next season, I can give it an even stronger one. Let’s see if this epic conclusion is really as epic as old-school fans say, or if it’s a Final Fantasy VI-like product of its time.

Minor Quips

  • Yeah yeah, I know that the new Deen show actually looks decent. And no, I’m not going to watch a rakugo show.
  • I wonder if the new Garo got its animation budget up with its second half? *Takes a look at the latest episode* Nope.

3 responses to “Ushio to Tora (TV) Review — Retro Shonen Baby

  1. I absolutely love this show, the jokes Ushio and Tora had got me attached to this show even more. I’d like to see a second season with them actually fighting and ending this war once and for all.

  2. I like when anime episodes don’t overstay their welcome, but some episodes of Ushio and Tora were too rushed/could have been split into two episodes or even cut since most of the rushed episodes weren’t really relevant to the story. That said, it’s still a solid show overall (darkness of humanity and all) and I’m looking forward to the second season. Hopefully the second season has better animation

    Also, I really liked the OP, though I’m pretty sure you don’t like metal

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