Originally penned by Kazuhiro Fujita in 1990 and animated in 1992, this supernatural buddy comedy may be long in the tooth but it remains a entetaining show full of quirks wrapped in a cost friendly package.
What They Say
Ushio thinks that his father�s talk of an ancient ancestor impaling a demon on a temple altar stone with the legendary Beast Spear is nuts, but when he finds the monster in his own basement, Ushio has to take another look at the family legend! To save his friends and family from the invading spirits, Ushio is forced to release Tora from his captivity. But will the creature prove to be worse than the curse?
The audio included on the disc is rather simple with two 2.0 stereo tracks in Japanese and English. Both come in at 224kbps and sound pretty solid. Probably due to its age, there's very little directional movement to the sound and there's some minor differences between the Japanese and English dub. For example, the background music is more prominent in the Japanese track than it is in the English dub. The voices tend to dominate on the English side of things and overpower both the music and sound effects. Of course, this is a very early English dub for ADV Films so they weren't at the point where they really found their groove with their dubs (Correction:
The English dub was produced in 2003. I just really feels like an old ADV Films dub. My apologies. - SC). Either way, considering the age of the show, the audio here gets the job done with no problems. I believe dub fans will get a great kick out of Brett Weaver's performance as Tora in this one as well.
At the time of this review, Ushio & Tora is pushing seventeen years old. So, get any notion of truly high quality picture out of your head right now. Presented in it's 4:3 OAR, there's plenty of film grain and studder where it seems like they couldn't keep the darn thing still while filming to go around. Of course, being a fan of older anime shows, that's all part of the charm. As for the transfer itself, it's pretty darn decent for a low key show of this age. You'll see instances of shimmering with some of the fine lines on characters throughout the show, as well as some blocking in the darker colors. On the flipside, you'll find that the show tends to look really good with its broad range of colors on display throughout.
I had really low expectations going in but I was surprised that the transfer looks as good as it goes. It doesn't look great, or even what I could honestly call good. I'll just say it looks good enough. I will say that I am a little bit amused at ADV's bout of laziness with this release though. It opens up with the old ADV Films 10th Year Anniversary logo that's about six years old now. Then, while the first six episodes of the show have a title logo overlay that matches the one found on the box art, the last four episodes feature the previous logo seen on the VHS tapes. Oopsie!
The title is packaged in a standard sized DVD keepcase with one disc on either side of the case when opened. There's no insert included for the title and I chalk that up to the lack of room in the case. The cover is a shot of both of the title characters primed and ready for action as Ushio wields the Beast Spear while transformed on the back of Tora, his large feline looking demon "friend". The picture is set against a blue water-color background that looks like a raging sea.
On the back is the summary, a collection of small screen shots and another picture of the title characters. Personally, I'm not a fan of the new logo change because it makes the show look a little bit ordinary while the previous logo captured the show a bit better. One last thing of note, the disc art is pretty nice with it being another piece of art with the title characters, but split in half so each character shows up on each disc. Nice touch. Overall, it's an okay package for the title. A bit of a step down compared to it's better, early VHS covers of years past though.
The menu is a mixed bag of good, simple function and ear bleeding horror. The menu is simple enough; menus with a static background on each. Select your audio (subtitles are automatically paired with the Japanese language option), trailers and extras. It's quick and easy. However, every single time you select an option, the background song loops back to the start again and again and again. Now, I love the early 90s rock ballad "Brave Fighter" by Yasu as the show's intro for its first six episodes. It fits the tone of the show and the times the show was made in (1992). However, hearing the opening verse of the song every single time I make a selection in the menu makes me want to scream. I emplore companies to stop doing this. Please? It makes me dread having to use the menu which is just fine otherwise.
There are only two extras included with this release but both of them are worth watching. On the first disc there are a funny set of ADR outtakes which are always welcome and then on the second, there is the three episode set called Ushio and Tora: Comically Deformed Theater. Originally sold separately from the series, this three episode set has their own custom opening and ending sequences as well as a cute, short little story in each one. The characters are all cute, chubby super deformed versions of themselves getting into more light-hearted situations. The first sees Ushio entrust cleaning duties to a strange spirit, the second sees Tora taking care of a kitten while the third has the entire cast involved in a giant misunderstanding. The second episode is absolutely adorable as a tiny kitten just melts Tora's heart as he plays the part of parent. The episodes are cute, funny and really make me long for the days where Omake like this was almost everywhere.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Set in the early 90s version of modern Japan, Ushio and his father live on a shrine which they take care of while seeing to their everyday lives. Since he was young, his eccentric father has told Ushio the story of a samurai who battled a vicious demon who rampaged through the village and surrounding area. Armed only with the Beast Spear, they fought for many days and nights until finally, the samurai stuck a blow to the shoulder of the demon and pinned him against a rock. Five hundred years later, they are the ones who must tend to the shrine that was built upon that rock.
Like any young boy with common sense, he believes it's all a load of fooey. So, while sent to clean out the shrine, he stumbles upon a trap door and comes face to face with a very mad demon who remains pinned against that rock. After a rather humorous discussion about why Ushio should let the demon loose so he could promptly eat the boy, Ushio plans to let the monster rot. From here, things begin to take a turn for the strange as when his two girl friends, Asako and Mayumi visit, Ushio starts to notice a strange gathering of demons around his house. Attracted by the power seaping out from the shrine that Ushio opened, he has no choice but to let the demon loose to destroy the gathering demons. Thankfully, before he is skewered, the Beast Spear transforms Ushio into a warrior more than capable enough to handle his own. From there, a truly strange buddy series begins as he dubs this demon Tora ("Lion").
Throughout these ten OVA episodes, these two will bicker, argue and fight with each other as their strange friendship forms. This is where the bulk of the show's comedy comes from. In the beginning, they are constantly at each other's throats as Tora pledges to kill Ushio as soon as he gets the chance to. As the show moves on, Tora starts taking an interest in how the world had evolved over the 500 years he had been stuck. He thinks the people in the television are real, he's very attentive in Ushio's classes and even goes out into the big city and experiences the joy of traffic, perfumes, clothing and more. Yeah, most of the comedy in the show is usually slapstick but I honestly couldn't help smiling throughout the show. Especially at some of Tora's expressions.
Ushio and Tora's friendship is also strengthened by battling many demons inspired from Japanese folklore throughout the show. Each episode features a sort of "monster of the week" type of format with the exception of a couple of two part episodes encompassing some of the bigger battles. The duo will take on all manner of "youkai" from a trio of kamaitachi to a family of disembodied heads seeking revenge. As they deal with the various situations that arise through their confrontations with these monsters, their trust in each other grows to their own surprise. Ushio sees that Tora isn't the heartless monster that he proclaims to be while Tora sees in Ushio a unique human who is willing to risk his life for others.
Two other characters play a nice little role in the series. Ushio's two girl friends, Mayuko and Asako. These two best friends find themselves caught up in some of the situations caused by the various demons in the show. Whether it's being captured by a stone samurai or the previously mentioned amusing family of disembodied heads who believe Mayuko is the one who imprisoned them or Asako finding herself in the stomach of a gigantic whale demon, these two end up becoming a reoccuring part of Ushio's adventures.
I personally found these two refreshing and a good change of pace to Ushio and tora's exchanges. Asako is a complete tomboy who works at her family's ramen restaurant. She has deep feelings for Ushio but just can't show (Ushio feels the same) which gets her teased relentlessly from her pervy father. Mayuko is Asako's best friend and a very good friend to Ushio. Often times, she plays the instigator between the two, trying to hook them up. She's just a sweet, simple girl who also has the ability to see Tora. She gains his favor because she introduces him to hamburgers which satisfies Tora's need to feed.
Aesthetically, Ushio and Tora is sort of a remnant of that rough, brash 80s style while many other shows transitioned into other styles in the 90s. Tokuhiro Matsubara's (Berserk, Slow Step and tons of Pokemon) character designs are sketchy and sort of ugly, which actually matches up quite well to the original manga. Not even the girls are really all that pleasing to look at. In contrast, there is an excellent use of color in the series as it ranges from deep blues and blacks to brighter colors including Tora's orange and red. In fact, Tora himself always seems to provide a big dose of color to any scene just because of his natural colors. Also for a supernatural action comedy, there are plenty of decapitations and bloodshed going on. In one moment Tora is comically bemoaning what humanity has become as he finds it difficult to find anyone suitable to eat in the city while it's citizens are being graphically killed by rampaging heads. It's just that type of show.
Ushio & Tora, at this point in time, seems like an acquired taste. It features a very rough style and is filled with bloody, gory fights, slapstick comedy and fun, quirky characters. Coming together, the show manages to be very watchable to this day. Especially for fans of anime from this time period. Ushio & Tora is a leftover from an age when the people creating this stuff just let their imagination fly and see where it led them. While it may look ugly and dated, this show is still quite entertaining. Just make sure you watch the sickening cute Omake to top it all off.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, ADR Outtakes, Comically Deformed Theater
Samsung PN50A400 50" Plasma HDTV, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver, Yamaha 5.1 Surround Sound Speakers, PlayStation 3 via HDMI.