What They Say:
Ushio always ignored his father’s crazy tales about the temple where they live. All that talk of restless souls and vicious monsters are nothing more than stories, right? However, Ushio quickly rethinks his position when he discovers a locked basement with an actual demon pinned to the wall by a spear! The tiger-striped demon threatens to eat Ushio if he doesn’t free him, so Ushio naturally chooses to ignore him. However, when the demon’s presence starts to attract others, Ushio is forced to remove the spear to save himself. To make a bad situation even worse, freeing the demon, Tora, also bonds Ushio to the cursed Beast Spear, sending him on a journey where unspeakable dangers await. The battle is only beginning for these unlikely partners!
The audio presentation for this series brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo along with the new English language adaptation, both of which are encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The series has a strong action component to it that runs throughout in a great way with a lot of directionality across the forward soundstage. Though it doesn’t have a huge impact in terms of bass at times where it needs it, the flow of it is spot on and you do get some great movement and the feel of the punches and other action effects in the bigger scenes. The music carries this along pretty well as it plays out as well and the end result are some pretty great moments where it resonates strong. Dialogue is well placed throughout and there’s some smooth moments with the way it factors into the action and there’s a good bit of fun with the more comedic elements, especially the banter between our two leads.
Originally airing in 2015 and 2016, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The thirty-nine episodes are spread across five discs with nine each on the first three, eight on the fourth, and the remainder on the fifth with the extras. Animated by MAPPA and Studio VOLN, the show has a really great look to it that captures the feeling of the original 1990’s designs blended with modern animation sensibilities. What this delivers is something that’s very dynamic and engaging with the designs of the characters and the way the interactions are conveyed. The show works some decent backgrounds but is more focused on the character animation and dynamic effects with the way they move and the energies of it all. It’s definitely a great looking show that hits a certain sweet spot for me and the transfer captures it all really well with solid colors, some deep black levels in places, and a very clean look that really brings this type of design to life in a big way for me.
The packaging design for this release comes in a slightly thicker than normal Blu-ray case where four of the five discs are on hinges and the fifth against the back interior wall. The front cover artwork uses a dark image that’s definitely evocative in all the right ways with Ushio in the foreground looking dark and powerful while Tora is in the background, blending into the shadows, but providing the flames and color to it all. It’s distinctive without being something we’ve seen a million times before and that earns it some pluses. The back cover gives us a clear section for the summary of the premise while the artwork gives us more Ushio along the left. The shots from the show are kind of murky and the breakdown of extras is clean but neither will be a huge selling point with the release. The production credits breaks out the rest of the information while the technical grid lists everything cleanly and clearly. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release works nicely where the layout is the same for each volume as is the background but we get new character artwork for each. This lets some of the non-main characters get some good display time but the big ones that you like are those such as the first volume with Ushio and Tora together in action mode. Set against the parchment/concrete style backdrop that gives it an older feeling with some weight, the character artwork is strong in color and detail to really sell it in a good way. The navigation is kept along the left with some nice black and red design elements to it where the text is in white that makes it very easy to read. Submenus load quickly and it looks great both as part of the main menu and as the pop-up menu during playback highlighting which episode you’re on.
Extras for this release are kept fairly simple as we get the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences as well as the original Japanese promotional videos
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the 33 volume manga series by Kazuhiro Fujita that ran from 1990 to 1996, Ushio & Tora is a thirty-nine episode anime series that aired in 2015 and 2016. Animated by MAPPA with Studio Voln, the series is one that many never expected because the manga ended so long ago and we had a ten episode OVA series that came out in the middle of it back in the early 1990’s, which was a lot of fun. This incarnation was a surprise because of all of that but also because it pretty faithfully adapts the entire work. There’s something to be said for taking a complete work from long ago and adapting it anew, because we get the older designs through modern animation techniques that breathes a whole new life into it. I had enjoyed the previous OVA series fairly well but there’s a lot to be said for getting this expansive and complete incarnation of it. We just don’t recommend marathoning it over the course of a couple of days like I did.
The premise for this series is definitely straightforward while adhering to a lot of the classic designs of stories from this period. THe show focuses on high school student Ushio, a fairly decent kid who doesn’t come across as great or bad but rather fairly normal. He’s the son of a temple priest that’s a good bit older than you’d expect while his mother died years ago, leaving it a very male kind of place and with the kind of back and forth that you’d expect. The show opens with Ushio’s father essentially heading off for a few days and reminding Ushio of his chores, which includes cleaning the storage shed. It’s here that things take on their bigger turn as while dealing with all the dusty items in there he discovers a not so secret door in the floor that he’s able to barely open considering how weighty the doors themselves are.
What’s down here is a yokai named Tora that’s been sealed against the wall thanks to the Beast Spear embedded in its shoulder. Tora’s pretty straight here in trying to get out of his situation by having the spear removed, so much so that he can’t quite bring himself to not admit that he’ll eat up Ushio the minute that he gets out. Suffice to say, Tora’s a rough and gruff type of character that’s quite a bit older than the time that he’s spent down here but he’s also hungry and willing to do what it takes to get out. Circumstances with bad yokai out in the world allows this to happen but it’s because of Ushio’s lineage that when he takes the Beast Spear he channels the family line and has various abilities as necessary to handle the situation. It’s loosely defined but works well enough to establish that he can fight with and alongside yokai, handling his own but also obviously taking his own lumps along the way.
The show works a fairly standard approach in the first half dozen or so episodes as we get the pair dealing with the kind of uneasy partnership that you’d expect, especially with Tora looking at Ushio as a punk that’s keeping him from gobbling up lots of people. Tora, for his part, does have to adjust to how different the world is and the way that so many seem fairly unafraid of him when they do see him. The dynamic between the leading pair is obviously familiar and worn but the characters pull it off pretty well because it has the space to breathe and they’re not trying to cram a thirty-nine episode series into twelve. The adaptation gives us a good bit of time to know the two and their stories and interactions with each other while slowly introducing other character elements as well. This helps to avoid the new arrival in each episodes for the first half dozen episodes but it also blissfully avoids the whole harem thing. Yes, there are a couple of classmates that spends some time in the series and have key roles as it progresses (I loved the Tora and Mayuko almost get married episode) but that’s really the extent of it for the most part. This keeps it more “bro” focused in a way but there’s a really neat dynamic between Ushio and Tora that comes about because of the uneasy alliance and the way that when we do hit the end it feels like some truly justified closure after a solid larger arc of experience.
As you can guess, there are a fair number of various yokai to deal with early on and the looming threat of the Really Big Bad that comes into focus with Hakumen no Mono. This is something where as a whole it does work because it’s given the time to be told but it suffers if you marathon it becomes there’s just so much here. In smaller increments there’s a lot to like in the discovery of the various yokai and then Hakumen and then the understanding of the bigger picture as it relates to Ushio’s lineage and what sacrifices were made to keep him in place all these centuries. But also the reason why beyond Hakumen just being a nasty threat. This gives it a larger scale and the series works a lot of the supporting cast and organizations into events so that it feels nature. Admittedly, once things go as big as they do in the final arc it feels a good bit out of control but it’s representative of the way manga storytelling of this nature was done in the late 80’s and early 90’s and I can appreciate it even while being lad in some ways we’ve moved beyond the less than desirable aspects of it.
One area that really made this series sing for me is just its visual presentation. We’ve had a number of older manga adapted over the last few years and I love how the designs from then are given a new life here. They retain the elements that make them identifiable from their period of origin and adds a really slick layer over it that gives it that new life. It’s something that allows it to stand out well against everything else today and provide a nod to old school fans that see something familiar and nostalgic. This series in particular works really well because of the character designs and Tora specifically, particularly when they go to the wild takes with the expressiveness. The animation team here did a fantastic job in bringing this manga to life in a way that feels like it adheres to all the right things from where and when it came while giving it all the care and attention of a new production.
While I have fond memories of the previous OVA series for Ushio & Tora, this TV series is the definitive version. And it’s something that I love just in that we get production companies going back to long finished shows that never got a full treatment, or sometimes even a good treatment, and show them the love and care that they deserve. Ushio & Tora is a lot of content with this set and Sentai put it together really well with the bilingual presentation and a tight package for those that are space conscious. It’s definitely a huge deal getting all of it in one batch and while that may frustrate on the review side a bit it’s a great thing for fans that want it all right now. And with it so easy to sample or watch all of it online, we’re at a point where those that buy are buying what they’ve seen and what they want to own instead of bind buying, so even at a higher price point (but still cheaper than three sets of thirteen episodes we might have gotten otherwise) it’s a great deal. Definitely recommended for fans new and old to check out and enjoy as it gave me a blast of nostalgia but with strong modern production values.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Promos
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: August 29th, 2017
Running Time: 975 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.