Ushio Aotsuki's family has lived in the same Shinto temple for the last 500 years, supposedly guarding the tiger-demon that's trapped in its basement. Ushio always thought the legend was baloney. Hey, we all make mistakes. One day he falls through a sealed trapdoor and learns that the demon is real, understandably pissed off and keen to eat as many humans as possible, preferably starting with Ushio. It's called Tora. Fortunately it can't move while it's pinned down by a supernatural weapon called the Beast Spear that gives the wielder great strength and stupid hair... but guess what. Ushio's going to have to pull out the Beast Spear.
"Calvin and Hobbes on acid." That's the one-line description of Ushio and Tora, which is admittedly unhelpful but still quite funny. It's based on a 33-volume manga by Kazuhiro Fujita and features the misadventures of the two title characters, not to mention assorted other demons who generally don't live very long. Ushio and Tora may not like each other, but they kick a lot of arse together anyway. I'd expected this to be akin to those American "buddy-buddy" shows about mismatched characters overcoming their differences and learning to respect each other, yadda yadda... well, nope. There are undertones of that, but even in the last episode they're still violently attacking each other and Tora still wants to eat Ushio!
The art... uh, let's be kind and call it stylised. Less charitable souls might say "ugly". However the whole thing has a crude energy that serves it well, since Ushio and Tora isn't exactly a subtle show. It's loud, it's often funny and it's extremely violent, with lots of innocent people getting murdered and the demons responsible invariably getting ripped to shreds. Despite this, though, it feels like a children's series. It's pure shounen, on a par with Dragonball Z. There are admittedly two girls in the show and they're reasonably entertaining, but Ushio couldn't be less interested in boring stuff like girlfriends. He's commendably focused on bullying Tora and occasionally turning into Captain Caveman when demons show up and it's Beast Spear time.
Meanwhile Tora is extremely funny. He never stops trying to ambush and eat Ushio when the lad's asleep or has his back turned, but he's also baffled by how the world's changed since he last saw it. He can turn invisible and follow Ushio around. It's always fun to watch him react to things like school or samurai films on television. Tora too is a wonderful children's character, with that combination of power, innocence, comedy and a swaggering bad attitude.
I definitely enjoyed Ushio and Tora, but I ended up reselling the discs. The stories are random "monster of the week", although the Ushio-Tora relationship itself is amusing. The final two-parter in particular is quite powerful, but the series doesn't really go anywhere. It feels like the first chunk of a 26-episode run, although it's not. If only they'd toned down the blood and guts a little, it would never have occurred to anyone that this might be aimed at adults. It's fun, funny, energetic and likeable, but far from deep.
However there's a hidden gem: Ushio & Tora: Comically Deformed Theater. This is a further half-hour of silliness, divided into six mini-episodes that you're not meant to take seriously at all: Akaname, Brave Fighter, Mysterious Adventure, Idaten, Boogie-Woogie Monster and Tora & the Kitten. They're as random and insane as such video extras tend to be, sometimes falling flat and sometimes making you laugh out loud. Tora in an apron playing mummy to a kitten is surprisingly cute, while Boogie-Woogie Monster is everything it sounds like and more.
Ushio and Tora is very enjoyable. It just doesn't have the kind of depth that cries out for repeat watching, unless you happen to be ten years old. Of course if you are ten then your parents might be startled by the levels of violence on display, although needless to say you won't be. The cast isn't big, but it's sufficient for the story's needs. Even the two girls aren't cardboard cutouts. Asako Nakamura is a tomboy who's handy with a frying pan, while her friend Mayuko Inoue is more feminine. This is a fun show with full-blooded violence, lots of slapstick comedy and not a few laughs. Definitely worth watching once, although I make no promises about its rewatch value.