Ushio and Tora: TV season 1 (2015)
Episode 1 also reviewed here:
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2015
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26 episodes
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10 January 2017
ushio tora
I quite enjoyed the 1992 OVAs, but their most memorable thing was the "Boogie Woogie Monster" music video and I didn't keep the discs. They never felt to me as if they mattered. Monsters of the week, comedy bickering, etc. The original manga, though, has 33 volumes and much more drama. That's captured much more faithfully in this new TV series, which ran for two seasons and 39 episodes. There will still be a lot they've had to leave out, but at last we have a story. It's meatier. It's going somewhere. There's a big bad (Hakumen no Mono) and a sense that the show's going somewhere, despite its default format of a monster-of-the-week.
I'll describe the set-up. Ushio is a fourteen-year-old boy with a lazy, irresponsible single father (known about) and a fire-breathing demon trapped in his cellar (not known about). The latter's been pinned to the wall down there for 500 years, has a terrible personality and loves eating people. Let's call him "Tora". Tora's not the world's brightest demon, e.g. promising to eat Ushio even as he's trying to order Ushio to release him, but he can summon lightning and he has prehensile hair as big as a car. You'd need frighteningly powerful magic to slow Tora down for even a few seconds, let alone half a millennium, but that's exactly what Ushio now has in the form of the Beast Spear. Tora + Ushio = dinner. Tora + Ushio + Beast Spear = a schoolboy who can flatten almost anything supernatural, plus a grumpy orange ball of muscle, attitude and teeth who's only hanging around so that he can ambush Ushio and eat him.
Tora will object violently to any suggestion that he's Ushio's sidekick and never stops pointing out that his only interest in humans is culinary. However our two heroes soon become a close, if volatile, partnership, with Tora shredding any number of slavering horrors because he doesn't want anyone else eating Ushio before he can. They're definitely not friends. They both keep insisting so, loudly. However these testosterone-fuelled denials aren't fooling anyone else.
This is funny. Tora isn't even pretending to be a good guy and will become even more abusive than usual if you accuse him of being nice. He'll call everyone an idiot and no more than dinner on legs. This is particularly amusing when Ushio's friend Mayuko ignores his rudeness, buys him presents and treats him as a big lovable cuddle bug.
Also, in fairness, Tora is adorable. Can a savage ultra-violent grumpy bastard be adorable? Well, he is. He knows nothing of the modern world, is easily distracted (hamburgers!) and is a massive ham. Tora can be funny with such unlikely partners as a bus (ep.12).
Meanwhile Ushio isn't exactly intellectual, but you can trust him to do the right thing without hesitation (and probably at top volume). His best friends are two girls: Asako and Mayuko. There's some romance potential there, but it's clearly going to stay unfulfilled for a few years yet. There's also no real fanservice. (The manga-faithful art style is a bit on the rough side, in a way that's pleasingly retro for a 21st century show. Ushio has a box nose and caterpillar eyebrows.)
The storyline's straightforward and wholehearted. There are lots of demons. Some are nice and some really aren't. Hakumen no Mono is the worst of them, so bad that the world might end if it ever got free. He's the kind of mythos-defining big bad whose existence reshapes the universe, with religious orders and dodgy scientific institutes having been founded just to defeat him. Some of these people have been at it for centuries.
There's also a hair thing going on. Just look at the art. Tora has monster hair, but so does Ushio when he's possessed by the Beast Spear. It's even part of the plot. Hair is how you calm down a spear-possessed maniac (girls comb him!), hair was integral in its forging and Tora's hair has powers of its own.
This isn't a complicated show, but I mean that in a positive way. It's solid, engaging adventure. The show knows exactly what it's doing. Ushio's good-hearted and likeable, if sometimes a bit short-tempered. Tora's a hoot. The girls are important and certainly not being sidelined, despite not having combat superpowers like everyone else, instead getting opportunities to be awesome. The baddies are powerful and the show's taking them seriously. Episodes can be emotional, exciting or funny. If I had to score this show out of ten, I'd give it an eight. It's quite a high eight.
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