A Modern Day Homage to 90s Shounen Anime
Shounen anime, that is anime chocked full of crazy action, humor and emphasis on the power of the bonds of friends/friendship. I can think of quite a few examples: Naruto, Bleach, Dragon Ball, Full Metal Alchemist, One Piece. All of these embody the qualities of shounen anime, and they do it well (at least in my opinion). But, with that said, I recently came across an amazing anime that was adapted from a manga written by Fujita Kazuhiro in the early to mid 90s. What is it? Why, it is none other than Ushio to Tora, or Ushio and Tora for us English speakers!
In the series we follow a young man by the name of Aotsuki Ushio, wo happens to be the son of a priest. This allows him to see the supernatural beings of the world, called yokai (monsters). These monsters plague the world, terrorizing humans to no end. There are some that show little to no discrimination in regards to whether they attack humans or other yokai. It is the job of the priests to exorcise these monsters to keep the humans safe. And in a world full of said monsters, you can imagine the priests tasked with the purification of these creatures stay quite busy.
Enter Ushio, who's father is one of the head priests, and as such is frequently away from Ushio for long lengths of time. This results in him being left to his own devices for the most part, with his father showing up every now then to drop little nuggets of wisdom and advice...and the occasional fight
The plot picks up when Ushio's frequently absentee father informs him not to go into their cellar and as a young child, he does the exact opposite. This is where he meets a fairly large yokai, sealed by some sort of weapon. The weapon is none other than the legendary "Beast Spear," a weapon forged over 500 years ago solely to kill yokai.
The thing is, Ushio was told not to go into the cellar for a reason, because when he opened the door to the cellar, all of the amassed energy from the yokai was released, and began to attract lesser yokai to him and the spear. So Ushio must make a choice: release the yokai and wield the Beast Spear or allow his friends, and the others of the world to suffer and ultimately perish by the hands of the attracted yokai.
Being the kind of guy he is, Ushio decides that he needs the Beast Spear. So, in order to get it, he questions Tora about his intentions should be unsealed. This leads to one of the first of many comical interactions between the two. Tora reveals that once he is free, he will eat Ushio first, and then he'd go on to terrorize the world like he'd done before he was sealed by the Spear. This results in another comical back and forth between the two.
They eventually come to an understanding, and Ushio frees Tora, wielding the Spear to dispose of the yokai that were attracted. And so, once all the yokai are killed, Tora promises our young hero that he would haunt him until he was unable to wield the Spear. Once that time came, he would eat Ushio. And thus began the tense relationship of Ushio and Tora.
I can easily say that their relationship is one of the best things about this show. They begin at odds with one another, enemies even (since Tora wants to, you know EAT Ushio). But as time goes on, and more and more yokai are attracted to the Beast Spear and its wielder, Tora has no choice but to fight alongside the human he yearns to eat, least he lose his chance to eat the boy himself. Their unlikely and tumultuous alliance is one of the strong points of the show, as when they fight together, they are nigh unbeatable. Their prowess as a team is a great thing to see, but the only problem is, they hate each other and are constantly at one another's throats.
This relationship is so unlike the other relationships Ushio shares with to other characters it's refreshing. And that brings me to my next topic: the characters. The characters are diverse, realistic (as realistic as amine characters can be at least), and relatable. They don't come across as one-note, which tends to happen quiet a bit in anime. Sure, we have the main character who always looks to help those he can, never gives up, and has an uncanny way of drawing people to him; we have the childhood friend, who is a possible love interest alongside other romantic interests that sprout up; rivals that show up to challenge our protagonist; and we have the overarching threat to Ushio, the big bad of the show. But, even with that cliché lineup, Ushio to Tora does a swell job of developing these characters into ones we can root for, hate and sympathize with. Backstory and focus is given to most of, if not all the supporting characters that are mainstays in the show, and what you learn about these characters help to round them out wonderfully.
Even the big bad, a frighteningly powerful yokai, Hakumen no Mono, is done well. And he is a big bad indeed! Born of negative emotions and ill intent, Hakumen is the personification of evil, and is the reason that the Beast Spear was created in the first place. It exists solely to defeat Hakumen and the threat he poses to humanity as a whole.
Hakumen's desire is to destroy whatever he can, humans and yokai alike. He amasses power by spreading fear of him/her(?) throughout the lands. This fear then becomes his power, which is immense to say the least. Though in order to do as he pleases he must get through the Beast Spear, or in other words, the duo of Ushio and Tora.
The duo goes through many ups and downs, numerous failures and triumphs, and encounter countless obstacles. The story of Ushio and Tora plays out naturally, allowing for the natural progression of the characters' growth, and there is character development aplenty throughout the show. Even with all the characters presented in the show, all roads lead to an ultimate showdown between Hakumen and the Beast Spear. It is an enjoyable ride all the way to the end, and I definitely recommend the show for both seasoned anime watchers and casual/beginner viewers.
P.S. Just know, that there is crying the show. And I mean a lot of crying!