In the distant past, in a quiet mountain valley far from human lands, there was a spear. This spear, which pierced the darkness and drove away demons, was called the Beast Spear. The weapon remained hidden for 500 years until middle school student Ushio Aotsuki found it in his shed’s basement. See, Ushio’s home is Fugen’in Temple, and his father has told him stories of demons and the such for years. He never believed it until he found the spear…because the spear was pinning an infamously powerful demon to the wall of the cellar. The giant tiger-like beast tries to get Ushio to remove the spear and set him free, but he doesn’t do a great job since he outright states he’ll eat Ushio and everyone else as soon as he’s loose. Ushio winds up not having much choice in the matter when demons show up and attack his friends Asako Nakamura and Mayuko Inoue. He names the beast Tora, and thus begins the legendary adventures of this demon-fighting duo.
I’m not entirely sure where I want to start with Ushio and Tora. You see, I love shonen anime. More specifically, shonen adventure anime. Of course I would, since Dragon Ball Z and its kind were my main squeezes back in the day. I read Shonen Jump all the way from its third issue to its last. Hunter x Hunter is the best anime I’ve ever seen. When done right, there are few things better than a shonen series. The cast, the humor, the fights, the heart. Properly mix those components, and you’ve got a winner. Throw in the supernatural elements, and you’ve piqued my interest even more. That’s why I decided I’d watch this series when it finally ended. The synopsis always struck me as a manly Inuyasha, and I liked Inuyasha enough…until it was clear Naraku would come back to life more times than Jean Grey, but that’s fodder for another day. So, with all that, plus the added bonus of modernized ’90s anime art, Ushio and Tora sucked me in and didn’t let me go.
It has two seasons, totaling at 39 episodes. I watched it in two days. I didn’t think I’d knock this one that fast because the beginning suffers from the normal tropes of a lot of anime (intro hijinks). The first few episodes of Ushio and Tora are a far cry from the last few. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed the early episodes. They were funny, introduced some good supporting characters, and established that there were some real threats in this world. It just didn’t wow me like I was hoping. It’s not until Ushio begins his journey to find out what happened to his mom that the series really shows what it can do. Because man, does this show get heavy.
This show’s backstory is unreal. It has a very deep, interwoven mythology and history that I almost felt like I need to take notes on. The characters Ushio and Tora meet on their journey deal with personal and actual demons, and there’s always a different way to go about solving their problems. They don’t just punch until the problem goes away. Not all demons are evil, and not all humans are good. Also, damn near everything matters. I love when a series is seemingly episodic, but as the story goes, characters and plots from the past return to add more to the story and aid or impede the protagonists. No side character simply vanishes from the series. They all return at some point, and I was so happy to see that.
This is also one of the series that has a Big Bad and sticks with it until the very end. Many shonen adventure series are mainly sagas with each one having its own main villain. Ushio and Tora drops hints of a being called Hakumen no Mono early on, and this being winds up as the true villain of the whole thing. And wow, what a bad guy. Born in darkness and made of hatred, Hakumen no Mono is an immensely powerful demon who feeds on fear and, when finally revealed, is a global-level threat. Early images of him have some of the best drawn looks of cruelty I’ve ever seen.
Season one is really good, but it ends at a weird point (after one of those “scientists are heartless douchebags” stories). Some things seem to just happen without any decent foreshadowing, too, and it also doesn’t properly end. On its own, I’d give it an 8 or 8.5. The second season, though, is amazing. It starts running and does. Not. Stop. I would have hated waiting every week to watch the next episode. Also, the first season has a pretty great instance of past characters coming back to help Ushio and Tora in one of their stickier situations, but season two blows it away with one of the best Gondor Calls For Aid moments ever. I love everything about season two. I think, by itself, I’d say it’s a 9.5. Yeah, I got that hype about the whole thing. Put it all together in 39 episodes, and Ushio and Tora is an easy 9 for me.
I think it goes without saying, but you owe it to yourself to watch this if you’re a fan of shonen adventure shows. The cast is great and no one is wasted, the history of the world is surprisingly rich, the amount of heart in this show is ridiculous, the ultimate battle of good versus evil is on grand stage here, and the soundtrack is positively manly. I can see the art style putting some people off (even though it’s certainly my cup of tea), there are a few things that should’ve had more proper foreshadowing, and it does have a weak start. Ushio and Tora is worth it, though. I look forward to watching this one again.