At one point, if asked, I would have said that I wasn’t much of a shounen fan (the action series type that tend to get long anime adaptations).
I didn’t get into anime until I was well past the targeted age group, and, of the major long-running shounen anime series the only one I liked was Bleach and only until I realized the author had no clue how to tell a good story. Obviously, there were shounen series I liked but I figured they were the aberrations. Then Hunter x Hunter came along and provided a most compelling argument as to why I was wrong about shounen series (as well as the perceived weakness of longer series).
Though my feelings towards shounen series thawed, Hunter x Hunter provided an unreachable mark that no shounen series could approach, much less, equal or best. Actually, I’m not sure if I’ll ever see another anime, of any genre or demographic, that will raise the bar any higher than Hunter x Hunter, but, 2016 finally saw the conclusion of a shounen series that is a true worthy shounen follow-up to Hunter x Hunter. That show is Ushio and Tora.
The age of the source material manga is one of the many noteworthy aspects to Ushio and Tora. If one didn’t know that Ushio and Tora’s manga started running in 1990, then, it’s likely one might conclude this anime was a particularly refreshing modern attempt to return to the roots of shounen, spurning the latest gewgaws of the action shounen genre and, instead, relying on a near-perfect execution of a good story to be so successful (as opposed to being a near-perfect execution of a good story that happens to be 25 years old).
Even a modern attempt at a story with an older feel, though, carries the implicate rejection of the more recent stories and will never fully succeed at trying to turn the clock back. (It should be noted that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing and can yield good results as well.) In the case of Ushio and Tora, there’s nothing it needs to block out because it came out before so many later series.
So, calling Ushio and Tora a simple anime because of it’s age is wrong. Yes, it doesn’t spend time being more clever than it’s peers or attempts to subvert or deconstruction anything; it just shows up to tell a story and it’s a pretty awesomely epic story. Actually, epic is a good word for this anime because it feels more like a epic poem that Homer might have constructed than just about any other shounen series I can think of.
(I realize the type of action shounen series that Ushio and Tora is part of started much earlier than 1990 but Ushio and Tora is the oldest example I’ve seen to date and it’s possible to see it as a clear predecessor of many more recent series.)
It should be said that, generally, I think it’s good that a genre will slowly evolve through time in response to new ideas and new inspirations that come from looking at things differently. However, the other side of this coin is how gimmicky and overtly complicated these newer works can feel when they feel the need to differentiate themselves from what came before and that’s less of a good thing. And it’s nice to get a chance to get a breeze of fresh air that an older series can bring to a genre.
There are several moments I could have chosen from the second season of Ushio and Tora to spotlight today. Since many of those moments tread into deep spoiler territory, I’ll pick the moment from the first episode of the second season when I realized how much trouble Ushio was probably going to have to go through to achieve a happy ending.
The scene in question was a beautiful little scene between Ushio and his female childhood friend where the pair (and they are such the obvious pair) seem to realize that their childhood bickering that has continued into their teenage years might be a symptom of deeper romantic feelings they have for each other. It was so perfect that my blood ran cold as the sure knowledge of something terribly dreadful was about to happen. And I was right; Hakumen no Mono is a truly evil villain.
I knew this was going to happen because I’ve seen this before, and, it is a testament to the quality of this anime that it could still make such an impact when I was expecting it.
So, here’s the moment from Ushio and Tora before it all falls apart.
For future reference, this is how one knows the story is about to go south for the main characters. The story is about 2/3rds done and there’s a scene or episode were everything in the world seems good and right. That’s the last bit of comfort our main characters will have until the conclusion, assuming there will be a happy ending.
Gakkougurashi! (School-Live!) was another recent example of this type of scene/episode. That pool episode that many people complained about being filler was that final moment of happiness for the characters before they had to face the final confrontation of the series and I remember being immensely sad as they played in the pool, like there was no zombie apocalypse going on, because I knew they were going to have to face an unknown amount of dreadful things before the end.