That was a journey back in time, in more ways than one.
OP: “Mazeru na Kiken (混ぜるな危険)” by Kinniku Shoujo Tai
You’d be forgiven if you thought the premise for Ushio and Tora sounded like a cross between Inuyasha and Nurarihyon no Mago, but the fact is that Fujita Kazuhiro’s manga predates them both by a wide margin (it ran in Shounen Sunday from 1990 to 1996). It was a work both extremely popular and influential – it won the Shogakukan Award for shounen in 1992, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the elements of this series that show up in later work don’t do so coincidentally. In it’s day, Ushio to Tora was a big deal.
That said, I sincerely doubt that and list of properties likeliest to be adapted in 2015 would not have included Ushio and Tora. It had an OVA in 1993, but that’s it – and the name hasn’t exactly been on everyone’s lips since the start of the 21st Century. We do sometimes get adaptations that seem inexplicable, and sometimes they even succeed commercially – I’m not expecting the latter here, but who knows – and for both die-hard fans and the author himself (as well as bloggers like me) this show’s announcement was something of a lottery win.
It’s clear that MAPPA has decided to go full-bore old-school in adapting Ushio & Tora. When their parent studio adapted Kiseijuu, they kept the essence of the story while modestly updating the art and thematics. We may yet see a cell phone or Xbox crop up here, but the art at the very least is thoroughly loyal to the source material (and the age that birthed it). The series is going to run for three cours (with a break after the second), and Fujita-sensei is involved in the series planning. He’s expressed his desire to see the final arcs adapted, even if it means skipping some detail on the way – so expect to see an ending in-line with the manga’s when the show ends its run in Winter 2016.
The byline for this show is MAPPA, but the staff list looks like a Madhouse 20th reunion. It’s peppered with industry veterans like director Nishimura Satoshi (Hajime no Ippo, Trigun) and writer Inoue Toshiki. Many Madhouse staff through the Hunter X Hunter era are on-hand. In short, the genetics are unmistakable, and it’s evident in every frame of the premiere. Many shows try to do old-school, but UshiTora walks the walk – the character designs, the art, the music (both background and themes), and even the acting wouldn’t seem out of place in 1995. Anime veterans know that the medium was very different then, and I don’t know how well today’s audience is going to respond to a show so decidedly out-of-fashion in looks and tone. But it sure does take me back, in a good way.
The premise is classic (again, its familiarity a testament to how influential it was). Ushio Aotsuki (Hatanaka Tasuku) is the son of Fugen’in Temple, where he frequently brawls with his priest father Shigure (Fujiwara Keiji). Their relationship is vintage shounen, complete with a lot of shouting, punching and kicking – though the son giving as good as he gets is slightly unusual. Shigure beats his temple’s 500-year history fighting demons into his head, but clearly leaves out a few key details. Ushio is more concerned with art than demons (or sports, though he excels at them). Ushio has two female friends – tomboy Nakamura Asako (the very busy Komatsu Mikaku) and demure Inoue Mayuko (Yasuno Kiyono). Asako is openly tsundere for Ushio – Mayuko’s feelings are more opaque.
Things kick into high gear when Shigure goes off on a “training” trip to taste every delicacy from the Sea of Japan, and Usho finds a hidden trap door in the temple’s storage shed. Hidden in the cellar underneath is a demon (Koyama Rikiya) pinned to the wall by the Beast Spear – a cursed weapon Ushio’s father has told him about but never shown him. Only a human can remove it, which the demon suggests in no uncertain terms Ushio do – but his sales technique (“First, I’ll devour you”) could use some work. Ushio doesn’t fall for that, but when the release of the demon’s 500 years of pent-up miasma draws a huge flock of lesser demons into the vicinity, threatening Mayuko and Asako, Ushio and the demon – who he gives the name of “Tora” for obvious reasons – have no choice but to come to an uncomfortable arrangement.
Ushio and Tora wastes no time in jumping into its story, but to call the first episode the tip of the iceberg is a massive understatement – this is a massive story, with a complex mythology and vast stable of memorable characters. For me, this episode worked almost perfectly – there’s a bit of a whiplash effect at being jerked back in time stylistically, but once that wears off you realize the execution is absolutely spot-on. Fujuiwara and Koyama are just a taster of the cast of seiyuu legends who’ll be involved and they don’t disappoint, but Hatanaka is an interesting choice as Ushio – he’s a young relative unknown, though he sounds like the love child of Satoshi Hino and Kakihara Tetsuya. Ushio and Tora hinges on the relationship between the title characters, and I think Hatanaka and Koyma can pull it off. I certainly recognize this show isn’t going to suit everyone’s tastes, but if you like this style (which I certainly do) or are simply looking for a shounen refreshingly different from the current fashion, you could hardly do better.
ED: “HERO” by Sonar Pocket