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 has a 2.0 release in English and a 2.0 in Japanese – I watched the disc in English for season 1 and then in Japanese for season 2 before giving it a second watch in English, there were no other issues regarding sound quality, echoing, synching with subtitles, etc – the quality is high overall, but you always wish for the 5.1 for what it could have been, because both languages are quite good quality in terms of performance and audio.
Similar with the audio, the video is set in full screen format via NTSC transfer to PAL format with the show combining animation and CGI – he video is set in 16:9 – 1.78:1 aspect ratio – with DVD releases nowadays the effect definitely seems grainier which is a shame as the colour and unique animation style (Shonen Jump style but pumped up) is vibrant but it does suffer a little due to the slight blurring when pausing the show. That said, the animation was great and with a lot of bright colours and outfits, the yokai designs and the way the animation changes from bright & colourful to gritty and dark transfers well onto the screen makes it a very unique and still pleasant watch on DVD format.
There was no packing for this test release.
The show covers 8 discs and the menu is pretty much standard each time – we have images of the characters with the season 1 theme tune playing in the background – characters on the right hand of the screen, episodes on the left (no Play All, you need to select the 1st episode) with the only other options being languages and/or extras. Very straight forward and is selectable quite fast but not Blu-Ray speed which some DVD releases have been able to do.
The only extras are basically the cleaning openings and endings, which over 8 discs is pretty disappointing.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Ushio and Tora is one of those series that has been around a lot longer than some newer fans may realise. The manga actually finished over 20 years ago and there were OVAs released in the early 90s (with then ADV Films even licensing it back in the day). Ironically the ‘new’ ADV films Sentai Filmworks licenced the re-release – now a 39 episode series back between 2015 and 2016. With its very unique drawing style and how technology has marched on, you wonder how this very shonen esque jump style show which is pre-One Piece, Naruto, Bleach, etc, would transition in newer times?
The answer? Not bad at all actually….
The plot is pretty much set throughout the series from the first episode – Ushio, a son of a temple owner who hobbies seem to be arguing and fighting with his son, and then leaving for ‘business’ every so often is on one of these pilgrimages when he finds in a store room, a large tiger like beat in orange who is held in place by a giant spear. The beast asks him to remove the spear, but he actually tells Ushio if he does, he will be released and eat him and all other humans. So hilariously, he says no as the beast turns from scary to comical in the space of 5 seconds. However, because of his yokai/beast aura, other yokai’s suddenly sense it and begin to head to his location, threatening his two friends (and most likely love interests) Asako and Mayuko. Ushio is forced to free him to deal with the yokai…which of course the beast immediately calls him an idiot because he is now free to roam…until it turns out Ushio is able to wield the spear, which is the only thing that can keep him in line. So the beast is forced to do his work, which begins their weird I hate you but I can’t live without you relationship, even names the beast Tora.
So the story begins with a monster of the day type show – basically Ushio and Tora forced to deal with other yokai, whilst Tora always threatens he will eat him or one of his friends, but something always stops him even when he is away from Ushio. One thing that isn’t obvious but becomes great as the series progresses is the fact all the characters of the day that Ushio saves, do become relevant and even important as the series progresses and more trouble comes about. Along with the two girls Asako (the hot-headed one who is pretty much has huge sexual tension with Ushio) and Mayuko (who also likes Ushio but also likes Asako, she seems to be the one who will let go and considering her role later in the series, may work out better), we have Ushio save a death-seeker named Reiko, an exorcist named Hyou who is after a yokai who killed his wife and daughter (thinks Tora is the one but later confirmed isn’t) and Saya, a descendant of a household who can see spirits – all these characters get involved in later events and battles (Hyou’s arc being the biggest one when he finally finds the yokai who killed his family) so anyone Ushio saves is more likely going to be more important than just a one-shot character.
The show for the most part is episodic in nature, and introduces various Japanese yokai, myths and creatures to the viewer which is especially interesting for a Western audience who may not be as familiar obviously as a Japanese audience. It revolved around them and Ushio/Tora rescuing them – there is a surprising amount of comedy slapstick between the two despite the constant threat Tora has which basically is a buddy-buddy relationship which neither side wants to admit to. Not helping is Mayuko seemingly actually having a crush on Tora (though this maybe due to her lineage and when you learn Tora used to be human, it makes more sense) and the slap-slap kiss dynamic between Ushio and Asako – which actually becomes quite deep and very sad in the latter half of the series when her memory goes…
The first big arc of the story happens around episode 7 when Ushio confronts his father when it is learned that his mother maybe actually alive. His dad Shigure is revealed to have a lot more backstory than just being the comical dad, being a priest of a secret sect who fights Yokai and was well aware of Tora’s existence (who normally people can’t see) and maybe even left them intentionally for Ushio to grow more powerful. His wife, Sumako, is hated by all yokai so Ushio goes to find her and meets up with the Kamaitachi siblings Raishin and Kagari, who are not fans of humans but also understand Ushio’s power and pretty much become his trainers/friends whilst he travels to find his mother. This is where the big bad is revealed (via a kappa, the one monster most people probably know ^^) of Hakumen no Mono – its presence is what draws yokai to Ushio due to his mother’s blood and Sumako is the one who protects the world from him by using her power to hold up Hakumen no Mono’s barrier. Ushio continues to grow as a character and as a fighter, with Tora admitting he’s worthy and at least isn’t bored around him. There are plenty of risks obviously Ushio has to get through (one particular good episode is when the 5 girls he has bonded with the most manage to snap him out of a monster self, along with Asako and Mayuko, we get Reiko, Saya and a girl named Yu who he saved during a plane crash and they do explain they have kept in touch).
There are episodes where they learn of the past (and how Mayuko is a descent from one of the first barrier keeper, Jie Mei) and how many successors wish to wield the beast spear, one being Kirio who is the most arrogant of them but also has a crush on Mayuko because of her resemblence to Jie Mei, and it leads to fights between most of the successors, various top-tier yokai (including the aforementioned fight with Hyou against the yokai who killed his family), some really tender moments involving Ushio crying when Asako loses her memory of him as do the others, Mayuko seeing what could happen if Tora returned to being human, and of course the climactic battle between Tora/Ushio and Hakumen no Mono when his mother nearly causes the worst when Ushio goes insane and breaks the Beast Spear…
It is quite the long series, and the episodic nature doesn’t help much when it comes to remembering everything that is going on. The long and short of it is that the plot is Ushio and Tora have to defeat Hakumen No Mono, so face several obstacles on the way, whether it is other yokai, other organisations trying to stop them or Tora debating whether to eat the tasty humans or go for the hamburgers Mayuko got him….
The good thing is as mentioned is that a lot of the character of the days do get to become more relevant because of the way Ushio has touched them, and Ushio himself is quite the likeable all-loving hero but also is something that grows as a fighter and as a human being. The relationship between him and Tora is one that is obviously they are friends but don’t want to admit it (the threat of Tora eating him is always there and reminding him and the audience every now and then), and Ushio’s relationships with everyone he knows also grows, whether it is his father, Asako, his mother and Tora himself.
Tora of course is the main draw, as a giant orange tiger like yokai (hence the name Tora obviously), his past is actually quite interesting of what he once was, and how he becomes to go against Hakumen no Mono – this also showcases the strange relationship he has with Mayuko – his intimidation combined with comic moments make him easily the most interesting, fun and memorable character in the franchise, which is both good and bad because with so many characters in it, his presence pretty much overshadows mostly everyone (even Ushio at times) – which is a problem of the show in general is that whilst the actual history and development of the main plot (Ushio finding his mother, learning about Hakumen No Mono) is actually well drawn out, the payoff is that the villain is pretty one-dimensional in the end and despite the excellent imagery and some great battles (especially with Hyou’s fight defending a mother struggling with her child), a lot of the stuff seems quite forgettable in the end. Seeing the girls who like Ushio for example to help him out is quite nice, but the only one who could actually help him out in battle was Saya and she was seemingly far more likeable but didn’t get enough development for people to think she had a chance with Ushio compared to the obvious choice Asako, who suffers from the dreaded tsundere character where she doesn’t know whether she could hit Ushio or hug him. Granted, she is nowhere near the worst for this in anime, but it is still a predictable character type and conclusion.
However, the stunning animation and colour and amount of love for this remake is obvious – despite having to compress the series into 39 episodes (long manga is long) it does get through the story as best as it can and add with the amount of designs for the monsters it is definitely worth the look. It is a high octane action show at heart, with lots of fighting and cool looking monsters, combined with the sometimes comic, sometimes serious dynamic between Ushio and Tora means that it is definitely worth going for the ride. Have some patience for it, because the ending is both a bit anti-climatic in terms of the villain, but surprisingly sad as well considering Ushio and Tora themselves.
Ushio and Tora sometimes is excellent, sometimes is not worth remembering – fortunately the former is more often the latter – whether people forgetting Ushio and his deeds (including his love interest) can tug your heart, or just Ushio bopping Tora over the head with the spear when he threatens to eat him can make you laugh, it is an all out race of action, drama, comedy and love throughout these episodes. The way it makes certain characters more involved later one is quite good for what appears to be a monster of the day/episodic series, and when the plot kicks in, it is quite intelligent and revealing. Whilst the actual big bad and antagonists are in the end pretty forgettable, the way it got to them isn’t – just the odd filler episode here and there prevents this from being amazing, but for the most part, definitely worth a watch.
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B-
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: D
Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: October 9th, 2017
Running Time: 600 minutes
Video Encoding: PAL
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Playstation 4, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.