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.
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.
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.
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.