Director: Satoshi Nishimura, Series Composition: Kazuhiro Fujita, Toshiki Inoue Original Creator: Kazuhiro Fujita, Character Designer, Chief Animation Director: Tomoko Mori, Music: Eishi Segawa, Art Director: Tomoyuki Shimizu
Voice Actors: Tasuku Hatanaka (Ushio Aotsuki), Rikiya Koyama (Tora), Mikako Komatsu (Asako Nakamura) Kiyono Yasuno (Mayuko Inoue), Ai Kayano (Omamori-sama), Keiji Fujiwara (Shigure Aotsuki), Kiyono Yasuno (Mayuko Inoue), Maaya Sakamoto (Sumako Aotsuki), Mamoru Miyano (Giryou),
Studio: MAPPA, Studio VOLN,
Airing Date: July 03rd, 2015
The story begins at a Shinto temple run by a priest named Shigure Aotsuki (Keiji Fujiwara). He lives with his son, a middle-school student named Ushio (Tasuku Hatanaka). The two have your standard issue squabbling father-son relationship typically seen in shounen shows.
Shigure wants to make sure that Ushio learns the 500+ years of family history tied up in the shrine, especially because he’s leaving it in his son’s hands because he is going on a training trip which involves strolling around the Sea of Japan and tasting food delicacies (typical bad anime dad)…
Of course, Ushio thinks all of his father’s talk is all a load of nonsense, especially the story of an ancestor impaling a youkai on an altar stone with some so-called legendary Beast Spear, a weapon that can tear through darkness and allow two souls to meet. Fairy-tales and fantasy, right? Maybe not…
Shigure stumbles upon a hidden cellar which houses said dangerous youkai. Huge, orange, and with a massive mane and a mouth full of sharp teeth it looks like a wild tiger.
The youkai has been stuck against the altar stone down there for 500 years since only a human can remove the spear so naturally he’s pretty angry with Ushio and his anger attracts many other supernatural creatures to the premises. These creatures threaten two of Ushio’s friends, the tsundere Asako (Mikako Komatsu) and the more bashful Mayuko (Kiyono Yasuno)!
With two friends at risk, Ushio is forced to free the creature in the basement – whom he names “Tora” (Rikiya Koyama) which is Japanese for tiger – in return for his help in defeating the arriving army of spirits.
The two work together but Tora never tires in telling Ushio that he wishes to eat the boy but Ushio keeps him at bay with the Beast Spear. Whenever Ushio uses it the spirit of the ancestor who speared Tora takes over his body so Tora has a tough time trying to devour him. Instead Tora begins to haunt the boy and following him around in his everyday life, invisible to others but not Ushio…
It has been a while since I have written a first impression of an anime and it’s because I haven’t been inspired or had the time when I have been. I guess it says a lot about the quality of Ushio to Tora that I want to write again.
Perhaps I want to write about it because it feels like such a throwback to the anime I grew up with. Or maybe because I thought it was a lot of innocent fun!
The story starts very quickly with a lot of exposition done via a hilarious and brutal conversation between father and son. There’s no waiting to establish the set-up, this is shounen action from the get-go and there’s a lot of energy in the way the script rockets through the story, the voice actors deliver their lines, and the way everything is animated.
Ushio to Tora was written by Kazuhiro Fujita between 1990 and 96 and it was so good it won the Shogakukan manga award for shounen manga in 1992 before being adapted into multiple anime OVAs. To be honest, I had never heard of it until a friend in Japan recommended the manga to me a month before the new anime began airing.
This update comes from MAPPA, the team behind the rather fun fantasy adventure Shingeki no Bahamut Genesis and the rather badly written but very pretty teen terrorists in Tokyo tale Zankyou no Terror. Like those two shows it looks great, although in the case of Ushio to Tora you have to like the ‘90s anime aesthetic which it nails (helped a lot by the presence of those ‘90s OVAs, undoubtedly).
It feels like a lot of hand-drawn detail has gone into making it a fun watch. Locations are distinctive with places like Ushio’s shrine home having rocks and roof slates placed individually with care and the cobblestones have cracks in them.
I especially like how the character designs ensure everyone looks distinct. Indeed, the characters are relatively normal compared to the flood of long-limbed bishoujo or squidgy moe characters we have been inundated with thanks to genre-bait shows. It feels a lot like Tenchi Muyo at points or maybe half-way to Go Nagai’s works but without the sexualisation. The eyes, height, and musculature firmly defined and not over exaggerated.
And everybody in a shot looks like an individual instead of bland.
Even more fun are the character movements which combine the best in modern fluid animation with some great over expressions that wouldn’t look out of place in something like Dominion Tank Police.
The dramatic framing for scenes has been pretty excellent with some truly interesting shots thrown in to make things interesting and varied, keeping the pace fast.
A lot of this visual style is down to the quality of the creative team, most of whom are vets who have worked on many, many shows in a variety of positions on titles some stretching back to the ‘90s. Titles range from Black Lagoon, Mai Mai Miracle, Great Teacher Onizuka, Trigun and Gungrave.
The major dynamic for this show will be Ushio and Tora and the way they bond. It’s a classic tale of two opposites slowly gaining respect for each other and it’s clear to see the growing affection by the end of episode one no matter how much the two may scrap with each other for control.
So far, the two characters have battled low-level youkai and they all have an insect-like appearance commonly seen in anime but the action is still pretty fast and furious with Ushio and Tora learning new fighting techniques and how to work together at a rapid clip.
This central partnership is surely the beating heart of the show and for all of Ushio’s threats to eat Ushio we know the two will grow closer together, not least because there are bigger and far more dangerous youkai out there…
The story makes good use of the differences between the two characters, especially the 500 year gap. Tora is amazed by modern technology like televisions and tries to figure out the changes to Japan by accompanying Ushio to school and being fascinated by the history lesson.
Ushio puts up with this with as much good grace as he can muster – not much. He’s still a likeable character. Ancestral powers aside, he’s a normal school-boy (not a hint of perversion) who is good at sports and loves art even if he cannot draw and paint. He makes a nice lead character to follow.
Of course, the story-arc is a familiar one where animosity is slowly replaced with respect and friendship as the two find themselves unwilling allies in countless supernatural battles. Tora’s grudging respect was won by Ushio in episode two when he showed he’s willing to risk his life for others, especially his friends Mayuko and (the potential love interest) Asako.
Tora for his part adds a lot of comic relief with his constant amazement over technology and his swaggering and he also serves as a good way to deliver exposition since he knows more about ancient youkai than Ushio.
Overall, as a guy who discovered anime in the ‘90s I loved the look and I don’t care if it is out of fashion. Story-wise, so far it’s standard shounen fare. Indeed, I appreciate it for being a straight take on a supernatural adventure without the need to be clever or meta in the way so many modern shows are. If it takes on the monster of the week formula, I’d be happy to keep coming back and seeing more action.