Ushio to Tora – 01 (First Impressions)

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What is it: A story about a kid who forms an uneasy alliance with a demon to protect his friends.

To Aotsuki Ushio’s annoyance, his priest father is always going off about a legendary demon spear stashed somewhere on the temple grounds. While his dad’s away, he stumbles upon the spear in a hidden basement, along with a captive demon whose side it’s lodged into. 

Ushio deems the demon too dangerous and untrustworthy to release, but by encountering him, he’s released its demonic aura, which draws masses of demons from all over the area to the temple. When Ushio’s friends Nakamura Asako and Inoue Mayuko are endangered, Ushio grudgingly removes he spear.

The demon is about to betray him when he shows him he’s able to wield said spear like the legendary samurai 500 years ago. Ushio and the demon work together to destroy all the demons, saving Asako and Mayuko, and names his new demon ally “Tora”, vowing they’ll continue working together to defeat demons.

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Why should you watch? After Rokka no Yuusha, a far more conventionally-designed and animated show, the shift to the rougher, rawer, more cartoonish style of Ushio to Tora was a bit…jarring. I mean, look a this kid’s face…it’s ridiculous! But I’ll tellya, the style really grew on me quickly. There’s something simultaneously silly and tough about Ushio’s design, and his range of expressions really liven things up.

His two cute girl friends, one “tomboyish”, one “girly” also hold up well as complements to both Ushio’s looks and personality, and are backed by solid seiyu (Komatsu Mikako, who’s in everything this Summer, and Yasuno Kiyono, who also voiced Katou Megumi in Saekano). This trio’s dynamic is familiar, but well-rendered and warm in nature.

I also got a great kick out of all the banter between various pairings of characters, most of whom have no patience for each other. From Ushio and his Dad, to Ushio and Ayako, to Ushio and Tora, the back-and-forth dialogue was vibrant, peppy, and more often than not, hilarious when combined with the jacked-up animation.

That speaks to perhaps the best aspect of U&T: it’s sense of humor. While there are times when things get all dark, gloomy, and serious, the show can change gears on a dime, balancing the gravitas with levity and in many cases, side-splitting reactions and exchanges.

Other items: Tora reminded me at times of Hobbes (id-ego dynamic), Garfield (he likes to eat) Tigger (eating humans is what he does best), and even Charlie Brown (arm stripes). Also, the sign on Ushio’s door warning his dad to keep out, next to another sign by his dad saying he doesn’t want to go in, imbecile!, was a nice little detail.

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Why shouldn’t you watch? The art style, which melds a coarse throwback style, painterly and simplified figures, and some CGI creepy-crawlies, isn’t for everyone, though it’s well-grounded in anime history. If you can’t get over the stylistic hump in this first episode, I doubt the show will endear itself to you moving forward.

There was also a lot of obvious monologue and exposition, though the legend of the spear was made overly repetitive for comedic effect. It’s also not for you if you’re not into a classic shounen tale of a kid with a really severe face who yells a lot to draw out his power, nor a fan of “shouty argument” comedy.

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The Verdict: None of the demerits I attempted to list about this show were of any consequence; I loved this episode to death. It was a bold, brash, impish piece that got better looking as I got used to it, and managed to successfully balance life-and-death stakes with effective, buoyant comedy. I hope down the road I won’t have to choose between this and the bigger, more polished Rokka no Yuusha, because after watching the very different first efforts of each, I’d really rather keep both.

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Rokka no Yuusha – 01 (First Impressions)

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What is it: A sweeping fantasy epic about the rise and gathering of of the “Braves of the Six Flowers”, six warriors chosen by the Goddess of Fate to save the world from the reawakened Demon God and its fiends. The first we meet is self-(and oft)-proclaimed “strongest man in the world” Adlet Mayer, who crashes a sacred ceremony between two lesser warriors and embarrasses them and the entire institution.

For this, he is imprisoned, but he makes a friend of a pretty maid who visits him in his cell, and they chat about the Braves. Adlet spends many weeks in a cage, but when the signs of the Demon God awakening filling the sky, the mark of the Braves appears on his hand.

He is then sprung by jail by the maid, who is really the Nashetania, the princess of Piena, who has also been chosen as one of the Braves. She and Adlet mount horses at strike out into the world to rendezvous with the the other four.

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Why should you watch? If, like me, you’re a big fan of the whole concept of RPGs like FF, which follows a relatively set but time-tested formula from game to game, evoloving with technology of the time (I’ve played FF for NES all the way up to PS3, and looking forward to FFXV for PS4) and switching up its character types, settings, and battle systems. Up until recently there were no direct sequels, as if each FF was really the “final” of its kind.

But the first FF wasn’t the final one as it was believed to be by its creators, nor will FF ever really disappear, despite all the missteps the studio may have taken throughout the years, because fantasy is elemental and eternal. Going back to the carved stones of the Epic of Gilgamesh, they have always been both a tale of how we came to be and an escape from where and who we are.

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Rokka no Yuusha understands this simple fact intrinsically, and attaches new trappings to well-traveled roads in its execution, in the best tradition of FF. The Meso-American fusion motif, with the Tenochtitlan-style capital, makes an immediate escapist impact, and as we move on to our cocky but capable protagonist Adlet carve his way through two of the best warriors in the land, his constant protestations of being the “strongest in the world” sound less and less like idle boasting.

That’s particularly true when we see what becomes of Adlet for stepping out of line and shitting all over the city’s traditions: he’s thrown into a big pit to rot. But far from despairing, Adlet simply uses the time to train and allow his wounds to heal, knowing he could escape at any time. And as I immediately knew the “maid” was actually Princess Nashetania (great name, BTW) I’m not entirely certain a part of Adlet didn’t know it too, judging by how he tells the maid to relay the message, and his lack of surprise when she shows up to free him.

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Why should you watch? Perhaps for the same reason I will be watching: If you’re annoyed, rather than comforted and excited, about the umpteenth execution of the epic fantasy formula. Also, while the show got off to a quick start with Adlet’s battle, things bog down quite a bit in the cell scene. The dialogue is natural at first, and I liked Nashetania’s fidgeting as Adlet talked about himself, but then things descended into pretty transparent infodump territory, though that’s just another familiar mark of this genre.

The Verdict: This second effort by studio Passione (the first being Rail Wars!, which Hannah quite liked) that we’ve seen is a strong entry in the epic fantasy genre, and gets off to a convincing start, immersing us in its lush setting, familiar yet intriguing mythology, and the sense of a grand adventurous journey commencing.

Its attention to detail in matters of combat, production, and costumes impressed mightily. And while Adlet’s a cocky bastard, he has an honorable goal, and Nashetania should be good for him (and vice versa). We’ve yet to meet most of Braves of the Six Flowers to meet, but I’m already sold.

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Shimoneta – 01 (First Impressions)

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Rundown: In a titular “boring world where the concept of dirty jokes doesn’t exist”, because they are forbidden by moral law, Okuma Tanukichi manages to transfer from one of the least moral to the most moral high school in the country, to be closer to his crush, StuCo President Nishikinomiya Anna.

His dreams of a pure high school life are dashed when he’s approached by the Vice President, Kajou Ayame, whose alter-ego “Blue Snow” (or “Blue in the Snow Field”) is a “decency terrorist”, who uses his feelings for Anna and her own high standing in the school to blackmail him into helping to found the “Anti-Societal Organization” or SOX with her.

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Analysis: Shimoneta[…] may have a ridiculously long title and a concept as high as a kite, but it quickly commits to and fully owns its silliness. Aside from a few choice pieces of sexy dialogue uttered by Blue Snow, most of the “dirty jokes” she whips up aren’t just tame, but awkwardly and often arbitrarily used, which makes perfect sense in the context of the show. Kajou Ayame may be a serial distributor of blue material, but she’s new to it too, and wields it with wild abandon and gusto.

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Okuma may actually be more well-versed than Ayame, due to his time spent at a school of lower moral fiber, which, in addition to his dirty joke terrorist father, makes him a natural target for Ayame’s gaze. And if you strip away the blue sheen, this show has some pretty dark and interesting undertones about an invasive, oppressive police state that leaves its youth so cripplingly ignorant to the act of reproduction, that a few moments of Ayame’s antics are able to “finish off” the vast majority of them at a school assembly.

The metaphor is tired, but apt: Ayame aims to break the dam and restore this boring world to a state of natural sexual freedom, and whether he likes it or not, Okuma and her are uniquely positioned to make meaningful change, and have a lot of fun in the process.

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Shimoneta’s dialogue—at once stuffed with bleeped bad words and hilarious euphemisms (and a whole lot of incorrect information about how babies are made)—crackles and pops as the wild Kajou darts across the screen, a human spectacle with a mask made from pantsu and a towel that threatens to fall off and reveal all.

President Anna and Treasurer Raiki serve as agents of the system and defenders of the oppressive and ultimately unnatural order, but interesting, neither seem like they’re hypocrites, making their battle against the front-line revolutionaries Ayame and Okuma more interesting than simply good-vs.-evil (that, and the fact Okuma deeply admires Anna).

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This is a battle between ignorance and knowledge, and Ayame is the Eve who has tasted of the fruit and works towards the creation of an exciting world where the concept of dirty jokes, among other things, does exist. Which sounds like the ingredients for a boisterous, refreshing comedy…but comedy tempered by the knowledge that hundreds of millions of people in the real world live under regimes that stifle free expression as “violations of the established order.”

I’m not sure the show will get that serious (the jaunty dance number at the end would seem to indicate not very), but the undertones are there, and they lend righteousness to Blue Snow’s crusade that rises this show above farce and dirty jokes for dirty jokes’ sake.

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