Ushio and Tora (1992)
Young Ushio never believed his father's oft repeated story of the monster imprisoned under their ancestral temple, that is until he falls through the sealed trapdoor that drops him right in front of a very angry, very hungry, but fortunately very imprisoned monster. The monster asks Ushio to remove the Beast Spear that binds him, but makes the conversational error of threatening to eat Ushio upon being freed. Since Ushio isn't an idiot, he scrambles out of the cellar and reseals it. Unfortunately, since Ushio broke the original seals, the monster's evil aura is released, and begins attracting other monsters.
When said monsters begin attacking his two nearby female friends, Ushio seems to have no other choice then to try to get the monster who caused all of this to help him out. Upon the removal of the Beast Spear, the monster immediately tries to eat Ushio, but the Beast Spear has a mind of its own that makes the wielder stronger, and causes Ushio to grow what seems to be a metric ton of hair. With the powers of the Beast Spear keeping the monster in check, Ushio uses him to quickly dispatch the things attracted by the monster, whom Ushio names Tora, since he looks like a tiger (Tora being the Japanese word for tiger).
But there are still plenty of monsters in the world, and Ushio's definitely going to have his hands full, unless of course Tora ever actually gets the chance to eat said puny human, in which case he won't have much to worry about, besides the obvious.
Ushio and Tora stands out for me as a concept that sounds amazingly cheap and contrived when you read about it, but manages to blow you away in just about every way. I must say I was rather skeptical about what sounded like a supernatural buddy comedy. The fact that it's an older title didn't exactly allay my fears much.
With all of my former misgivings out of the way though, this is a great show. The focus of the anime is on the relationship between Ushio and Tora, just as it should be since that's the name of the anime. However, while they do take center stage quite a bit, I found myself deeply enjoying the other seemingly less important characters. His girlfriend (although she will adamantly deny that, as her father can attest after numerous collisions with a frying pan) Asako adds a lot of depth to what might otherwise be a mindless gore series (more on that later), and the rest of the cast is well developed to a T. No cardboard cut outs here, my friends! Tora is the most interesting character, what with his constant (failed) attempts at devouring any human he can find, his learning about how the world has changed in the few hundred years he's been imprisoned (he even seems to enjoy tagging along with Ushio to school, invisible of course, which as you can guess causes problems), and his eventual change of heart about the human's he's forced to, ugh, help.
The comedy aspect of the show is well handled, although it tends to mostly lean towards slapstick. Asako proves herself to be very handy with a frying pan, as well as her fists, but unlike a lot of shows, it's set up so it actually is funny, as opposed to groan inducing. Also in this category are Tora's attempts to eat Ushio when he's not looking or asleep, which normally results in the Beast Spear stepping in and whacking poor Tora across the face itself. That's not to say that there isn't any clever banter going on, just that most of the humor is of a physical nature. Oh, and while on the subject, included on the DVD collection I got were 3 CD (comically deformed) features, as well as the dub outtakes section. Anyway, the CD features weren't just an afterthought the director threw onto it: they are all great standalone bits. The first one is the weakest of the three, not very memorable at all. The second one is definitely one of the cutest things I have seen in a long time, and has Tora taking care of a lost kitten. Tora in an apron is a must see! Anyway, the third one was by far the most hilarious, making it into a silent film where all of the characters from the show ended up chasing Tora for a crime he didn't commit. Saburo's one line in that feature made me laugh for a long time afterward.
Still, it's not all fun and games. The one misgiving I had about this series was the insane amount of gore in it. Perhaps the creators had a few gallons of red paint left over from a previous project, but whatever the reason it bordered on the gratuitous level, and is definitely not for the weak of heart at times. That said, the action was all well done, consistently entertaining, and animated superbly. While on the subject of animation, despite the fact that this is an older series, the animation and artwork are particularly nice, and what you would expect from a good OAV series. I watched the English dub, and found that everyone gave a great performance, with the possible exception of the Gamin, who in my opinion didn't do all that hot. Brett Weaver (who you may remember as Nabeshin in Excel Saga) more then makes up for this with his spectacular work with Tora, fleshing out the character in a splendid manner.
Ushio and Tora is an awesome series that lets plot take a back seat to character development to great effect. Unlike many anime, it doesn't end in a confused mess, preferring to leave everything open ended and to the imagination of the viewer.
Personally, I don't think there was any way they could have planned that better.
An excellent show that excels in so many ways. The only things keeping it from a five star rating are a slight lack of originality plotwise (not that this really hurts the anime much) and the out-of-place buckets of blood. — Stephen D Grant
Recommended Audience: There are plenty of innocent people being beheaded or just generally slaughtered, not to mention the monsters that tend to get ripped to shreds, I'm afraid R is as low as I can go. There isn't much fan service though, if that helps....
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Ushio and Tora (1992) © 1992 Fujita Kazuhiro / Shogakukan / Toho / Toshiba EMI / OB Kikaku
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