Taking old anime and rebooting them for current anime viewers has not been done before. Many reasons are that the visual quality of the old anime shows, for the most part, have not aged well, especially trying to view a stream of one that is of low quality and bad subtitles. One big example is Space Battleship Yamato 2199 in 2013, regarded by many as a suitable remake of the classic space opera from 1974. Here we have Ushio to Tora, a reboot of a 1992 10 episode OVA based on a 6 year long manga in 1990. I was not aware of their existence, but suffice to say, this reboot has succeeded in peaking my interest in the series.
One thing that came to mind right when I watched the first episode was the unique art direction on the characters. It was not something that I saw that often in the past few years. Not that it looks completely different from your current art style, it actually is a mishmash of elements from new styles of Japanese animation and old ones as old as the 90s. The faces look rough around the edges to emulate the older aesthetics of character designs and with the fluidity of a good enough animation budget that was not present in most cases at that era. It is a welcoming edition to the year of 2015 where the art direction in most of the shows that year were nothing unique.
How the show is presented in terms of story is a little hit or miss in many cases. At first it becomes your classic fight a monster each episode anime until it gets into a big climatic arc near the middle and 2nd half. The first arcs are fine by themselves to let us get to know our two protagonists, Ushio and Tora, and see how their relationship starts out and see it gradually grow as well as give some good individual stories, the one involving Omamori-sama being the highlight of the bunch. I enjoyed the first big arc involving the girls helping out Ushio from his own torments because it actually gave the supporting cast some humanity to them than just the one character that Ushio saves in that particular episode.
However, the plot kinda lost me afterwards with the addition of the time travel plot involving a princess of the ancient times in how they present it in a rushed manner. Had they made it longer to develop them further for me to garner sympathy for the princess character and feel the anguish of one character in particular, without spoiling anything, I think it could have been great. From then on it just starts to get stale after a while, the last couple of episodes especially feels out of place in how short-lived and underwhelming it felt with bland villains with cliched intentions. It isn’t something that I would call terrible by any measure, but again I feel like, had they slowed the pace a little in the 2nd half, it could have worked better in the long run.
As much as the plot does not live up near the end, Ushio to Tora makes up for this with a great cast of characters. I found Ushio and Tora likable in their charm and chemistry together as two opposite personalities working together at odds with their intentions; Ushio’s to save the people he loves from evil and Tora to one day eat him when doesn’t notice. There are points where it might seem a bit silly, but Ushio to Tora is, by and large, a silly show in some cases. Mostly due to the character of Tora who often has really hilarious animation quirks that morphs him from this terrifying looking monster to a chibi looking caricature with big cartoony eyes. Many might find this to be a bit conflicting, but for the most part the show does balances out the comedy and serious moments well enough that it doesn’t feel distracting. Again, seeing both of these lovely characters bicker at each other is always a comedic splendor and makes them the best duo of the year.
The supporting cast has its fair share of great characters, and at worst they are average. The female characters, as I’ve mentioned before, have some characterization as far as supporting casts go and do actually do things to further the character progression of Ushio than just be catalysts for one plot arc and nothing else. The villains, however, are nothing special and forgettable as a result. It’s either their intentions are predictable or they don’t come across as intimidating. Not counting the monsters that Ushio and Tora fight, just the villains that have a stated goal to harm the protagonists. Especially the ones in the last arc where they felt like they were ripped straight off of another anime involving bad scientists. Nothing that is straight up awful, but nothing that will be looked at with admiration.
A good sleeper hit is what I would say Ushio to Tora fits with my thoughts. Though it does not gravitate any higher than your typical shounen anime involving supernatural elements, it didn’t need to. It fit all of the elements that make shounen anime a good treat to see while you leave it in the background every once in a while after you finished watching it. It aims to please the eyes and ears and that is how most shounen anime succeed in being good, but not great. Life isn’t perfect, as they say.