Plot: While Ushio is the son of a temple priest who warns him constantly about the presence of demons and monsters, he simply chooses to ignore all that talk and live his life as he chooses. After all, his father might believe in those old legends and tall tales, but he doesn’t. He might not believe in the yokai his father talks about, but soon he comes face to face with evidence that even he can’t dismiss. As he cleans up around the temple one night, Ushio discovers a room that houses a genuine yokai, a beastly demon known as Tora, because of his tiger-like appearance. Tora is imprisoned by a mystical weapon known as the Beast Spear, so he needs help to regain his freedom, though he promises to eat Ushio is he able to do so. This leads to Ushio ignoring Tora, but soon evil yokai descend upon the temple, forcing Ushio to choose between their wrath and the risk of letting Tora loose to defend him. If he does choose to free Tora, will he be eaten and if not, what will happen to this supernatural odd couple?
Entertainment Value: This review covers the 2015-16 version of Ushio & Tora, which ran for 39 total episodes. This series starts off as a kind of primer of yokai, with a new monster each episode and a more self contained approach. The first half or so of the show follows this formula, but I still recommend viewing them in order, as some exposition still creeps in. About halfway through however, the show shifts gears and begins a continuous storyline that leads to our epic finale. I know some people disliked the earlier episodes since they don’t feel that necessary to the larger arc, but I think they serve a valuable purpose. In those episodes, we are taken inside the world of the yokai and learn about various monsters, which in turn pays off down the line, when both humans and yokai face potential ruin. So getting to know the yokai is just as crucial as getting to know any other characters, since we need to invest in them to fully appreciate the bigger picture. If nothing else, it is just cool to explore all the various monsters and so even if those early episodes aren’t woven in perfectly to the larger arc, they are still a lot of fun to watch. I do prefer the later episodes overall, as they up the ante in terms of narrative and development, but I found the entire series to be worthwhile and well crafted anime.
Another positive to the early episodes is how great the fight scenes are, they’re reason enough to check out the show, if you’re a fan of action driven anime. The battles look fantastic and have a great kinetic, energetic feel that really makes them stand out, even against some of the better action oriented anime out there. As often happens, things feel a little repetitive if you binge episodes, but even so, the action scenes look excellent and add a lot to the series. While the action is fun, the real draw here is the story and the characters within the narrative. The series takes the time to flesh out and develop the characters, which makes the story much easier to fall into and of course, gets you more invested as things start to look dark. So I appreciated this attention to depth, as not all anime series take that approach, often leaning on broad archetypes. The visuals here are remarkable, with beautiful animation that is a pleasure to soak in, especially during those fight sequences. I recommend you seek this out in HD, if possible, as it really benefits from the added visual boost. While the shift in focus might throw some viewers off, I think it serves the show well, as it takes time to flesh out the lore before it bears down toward the final showdown. If you’re a fan of action driven anime, Ushio & Tora warrants a high recommendation.