Ushio Aotsuki one day finds a Tiger-like yōkai in the basement of his family shine stabbed through the shoulder by the powerful Beast Spear. The yōkai called Tora has been trapped in the basement for 500 years. Upon meeting Ushio, Tora asks him to remove the spear as only humans have the ability to. As a thank you gift for releasing him, Tora will then eat Ushio. Ushio and Tora are able to come to a comprise once the shine gets attacked, thanks to Tora’s aura leaking out from the basement and the fact that Tora is also hated in the yōkai world. After his release, Ushio and Tora set out to learn the truth behind the Beast Spear and to find a method of killing the yōkai, Hakumen no Mono, who is poised to destroy Japan in the near future. Meeting new friends, fighting new foes, seeing new sights, just your average day for a high school student.
Ushio & Tora is a 39 episode show which aired between July 2015 and June 2016, technically 2 seasons (1st at 26 episodes, 2nd at 13 episodes), produced by MAPPA (Garo, Terror in Resonance), and directed by Satoshi Nishimura (Trigun). Ushio & Tora is an adaptation of a manga which ran between 1990 and 1996, that also previously had an OVA series which ran throughout the same period. Ushio & Tora comes to us via Animatsu Entertainment in Blu-Ray Collector’s Edition form, with a DVD version to be released in 2018. On disc, extras include clean opening and ending videos, the original Japanese promotional videos and a coming soon from Sentai Filmworks.
Throughout the course of the show’s 39 episodes, Ushio & Tora is able to blend action and comedy together while still being able to progress the story in a meaningful manner, although there are times when I thought the pacing of the show felt a bit off, making it feel a bit slow on the odd occasion. This is mainly a problem in the early episodes of the 1st season. Ushio and Tora set out on a mission across Japan to learn the secrets of the powerful Beast Spear, the only known weapon which is powerful enough to kill Hakumen no Mono. Hakumen has appeared multiple times throughout history, and each time it appears, destruction is left in its wake. However, during its last appearance, Hakumen was almost defeated by a combined yōkai and human army, many years ago. After which, it embedded itself in the rock supporting Japan, forcing the combined army to back off. Despite being at each other’s throats most of the time, Ushio and Tora work well together as a team, and their relationship builds over time, to the point which they become inseparable. This allows them to combat many different threats, to themselves and their friends and civilians caught up in the mess.
I mentioned briefly before the pacing of the show, and how I felt it was slow. In the first season, the structure of the show has Ushio and Tora battling different kinds of yōkai each episode, with a few episodes overlapping; the issue is that some of these episodes, especially early on, don’t provide much value to the show, and from my point of view could be considered fillers. In the first episode, we get an in-detail explanation of the world and character background like Ushio’s and Tora’s and it alludes to Hakumen and the threat it poses to Japan. Other than that major plot elements aren’t touched on till episode 7, then not again till episode 12, from this point on the story starts to progress in a more meaningful manner. There are a couple of multiple episode arcs, but for the most part, I found the first half of season 1 to be quite slow. The show’s 2nd season is where it stands out the most. The 2nd season covers the fight between Ushio and Tora against Hakumen, along with the help of yōkai and the JSDF, but it is still able to cover some major plot points about the history of both Ushio and Tora.
As with most shows I watch, I watched the English dubbed version, which was created by Sentai Filmworks. I feel that Ushio & Tora is probably one of the best dubs they’ve produced over the last few years, with a wide range of cast members, including some recognisable names from Funimation dubs. Ushio Aotsuki is voiced by David Matranga (Wave in Akame Ga Kill). Ushio is a bit of a hot head and occasionally comes across as a bit of a jackass. However, towards the end of the series, he starts to tone down and becomes a bit more of a likeable character. Tora is voiced by Brett Weaver (Gunther in Attack on Titan), even though Tora repeatedly says he wants to eat Ushio and his friends, he does have a kind and caring side to him, especially when someone gives him hamburgers. Asako Nakamura, who is Ushio’s childhood friend and love interest, is voiced by Allison Sumrall (Miia in Monster Musume). Asako is very tomboyish and is always scolding Ushio whenever he messes up but is always the first one to help him when Tora isn’t around. Mayuko Inoue is a childhood friend of both Ushio and Asako, she is voiced by Luci Christian (Stella Vermillion in Chivalry of a Failed Knight), she also has feelings for Ushio, but knows that they both love each other, even if they won’t admit it, so she decides to support them both instead. She gets along well with Tora and is often able to defuse a situation by offering him food. Supporting cast members include John Swasey, Kira Vincent-Davis, David Wald, Brittney Karbowski and Emily Neves. Also, making a surprise appearance from Funimation are Ian Sinclair and Clifford Chapin. Credit is also due to Emily Neves, the writer for the show, for creating a great script.
Animation quality is another aspect where Ushio & Tora, stands out. The character designs of all the humans are all well thought out and you clearly see their emotions change to go along with the situation. What really impressed me the most was the designs of all the yōkai. Many different types of yōkai are used throughout the show, from small dog like appearances to a huge nine-tailed fox monster to a flying slime monster. The designs of all the yōkai are able to clearly represent the threat they pose to the characters. The season 1 opening theme is “Mazeru no Kiken” by Kinniku Shojo Tai which I didn’t really like, and found myself skipping each episode. “HERO” by Sonar Pocket and “Makeruna Chiisakimono yo” by Wakadanna are the ending themes for season 1. The 2nd season opening theme is “Shuugawari no Kiseki no Shinwa” by Kinniki Shojo Tai, this was a much better song than its first season counterpart. The ending theme is “Kessen Zen’ya” by Lunkhead. All in all, apart from the first opening theme I thought the soundtrack was good, and the OST played during action scenes was also on point.
Even with my criticism of the pacing of the episodes early on, Ushio & Tora is a great action series, which is able to blend good plot developments while still being able to have good action sequences. The interaction between the characters is also another point where Ushio & Tora stands out, all the characters play off each other really well, be it when they’re butting heads or are having a laugh with each other. With a good dub, a great soundtrack and an interesting story I highly recommend watching Ushio & Tora.