Remember reading Calvin and Hobbes as a kid? Well, imagine if Calvin was the descendant of an ancient samurai with supernatural powers. Now imagine Hobbes as a demon who wants to eat Calvin. That's the setup for Ushio to Tora, a new adaptation of Kazuhiro Fujita's long running manga from 1990. The series is a fun episodic adventure through yokai-ridden Japan. Before your nostalgia trip sends you running for your copy of Yukon Ho!, let's take a look at the characters that make this show so memorable.
Ushio is a middle school student and the son of a priest. He has never met his mother. His father, Shigure Aotsuki, raised him in their family's temple, which has been standing for generations. His father would always tell him the story of a demon who was living underneath the temple. One of Ushio's ancestors was a legendary samurai who came in possession of the Beast Spear and used it to trap this demon and keep him stagnant underground. The demon has remained this way for five hundred years.
After his father leaves for training purposes, Ushio is left in charge of the temple. His father warns him not to open the basement door because the demon is still down there. Ushio, not being one for superstition, ignores his father's orders. He discovers that his father was not lying. After discovering the demon, he sets him free in order to protect his friends. However, he retains possession of the Beast Spear and as long as he has it in possession, forcing the demon to obey his orders.
The Beast Spear was specially crafted by the finest weapon makers in China two thousand years ago. It was created specifically for the purpose of destroying demons. As its name implies, anyone who uses the Beast Spear temporarily becomes a "beast." This means that when using the spear in a fight, it will bring out their primal instincts. They will be completely fixated on killing the demon that is in front of them. When this happens to Ushio, he also changes in appearance. His hair grows long and his teeth and eyes change to resemble those of his samurai ancestor. Later in the series, the spear begins to act on its own when Ushio is injured.
Ushio is an illustrator and deeply passionate about art. In class, he prefers to draw pictures in his notebook instead of actually taking notes. He can babble on about his favorite artists for days on end. Despite his enthusiasm however, his artistic skills are a little lacking. His drawings are usually laughing material to whoever he shows them to. Others often comment on how they don't know what the subject he was trying to draw is. Ushio then usually overreacts and the scene plays out comically.
Despite his lack of artistic talent, Ushio is very athletic and excels at sports. Members of the soccer and basketball teams at his school often ask him to join them and to fill in if they are down a player. Much to their dismay, Ushio usually declines, instead preferring to draw. At one point, a member of the basketball team jokingly tells Ushio that he should stop wasting his athletic talent because he is not cut out for art.
Ushio is also self-sacrificing and caring towards others. In the second episode of the series, a demon turns several of his classmates to stone. The situation plays out that the only way to save his friends is to potentially sacrifice his own life. When he does this, Tora tells him that humans should value their own lives above anyone else's. Ushio responds by saying that he thinks Tora is wrong and will never fully understand his mentality.
Ushio is also one of the only people who can see Tora. After being set free, Tora uses his power to disguise himself to others. He does this so he can follow Ushio around in public without being noticed. I'd have to imagine a giant demon sitting on your classmate's shoulder would be pretty disruptive to the learning experience. However, if Ushio touches Tora with the Beast Spear, he becomes visible again.
Tora is Ushio's demon companion and is the epitome of a 90's anime beast. Ushio named him "Tora" because it means tiger, which is what Ushio thinks he looks like. Five hundred years ago, Tora and other yokai (Japanese spirits) roamed Japan. Tora would use his fire breath to destroy villages and kill people. The battle in which Tora fought Ushio's samurai ancestor lasted for five days. Eventually, the samurai was victorious and Tora lived in imprisonment until Ushio set him free.
Tora manipulated Ushio into setting him free. When Ushio opened the basement door, it allowed Tora to release his "demonic aura." This was used as a summons to all the lesser demons in the area. Ushio noticed these fish and insect-like monsters surrounding his friends and the nearby village before everyone else could. Tora then told Ushio that he would defeat the monsters he had summoned if Ushio set him free. Ushio had no choice but to agree.
The reason Ushio must constantly be wielding the Beast Spear is because of Tora's goal. When Ushio first encountered him in the basement, Ushio asked what he would do if set free. Tora responded that he would feast on humans and turn the world into hell. He wants to continue doing what the samurai prevented him from many years ago. Tora also tells Ushio that he will eat him first.
Being trapped underground for so long makes Tora a "fish out of water" character when he resurfaces. These types of characters are usually used for bad comedy in fiction. It's an archetype that is rarely done well, but Tora is an exception. At the start of one episode, Ushio is watching a samurai movie on TV. Tora, not knowing what TV is, destroys the television set thinking an actual samurai was in front of him. It's a really funny scene that shows that this series knows how to handle this type of character and humor well.
Despite his initial goal of destruction, Tora later begins to develop a sense of compassion towards Ushio. There are many times when Ushio is in danger and Tora will go out of his way to help him to safety. He says the reason he does this is because he won't let any other demon eat Ushio first. Not to mention, if Ushio dies, he won't be as tasty! At first you believe Tora when he says this, but as the series progresses you begin to see that it's just a front. He is helping Ushio because he considers him a friend. He just won't admit it because of his demonic status.
Shigure is Ushio's father and the head of the Fugen'in Temple. He raised Ushio as a single parent and told Ushio that his mother was dead. He is known to overreact to Ushio's antics, which is used for comedic impact in the show. He will yell at him, throw things at him, and hit him over the head. When he leaves for his trip in the first episode, he also angrily reminds Ushio not to eat his Chinese bun!
At first, Shigure seems like a harmless character that is only used for comic relief. However, this changes as the series progresses. After defeating an ayakashi, a different yokai tells Ushio that his mother is still alive. Ushio then returns to the temple to ask his father about this. Shigure tries to change the subject and ignore the situation. After he realizes Ushio will not stop prying for information, he gives Ushio travel money and tells him he will have to go search for her if he wants answers. This is the first time we see a new side to Shigure. This character has a dark past and has been involved in events you never would have expected at first glance.
The show has yet to dispel all of Shigure's mystery. It has however shown us that the legion of priests he belongs to has a purpose besides religion. They exist in part to collect information on and fight off yokai. Their organization is comparable to the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. In a climactic scene, a few members of the organization try to take the Beast Spear from Ushio. Shigure then teams up with Tora to fight off the priests and make sure the spear stays with his son.
Asako Nakamura is a childhood friend of Ushio's. She is a straight-A student and would be caught dead before cutting class. Other students always ask her for help with their school assignments because she is so knowledgeable. She agrees, not only because she enjoys helping people, but also because she enjoys the work itself.
Much like Ushio's father, Asako also has a tendency to overreact to Ushio's troublemaker antics. She yells at him and will pick verbal fights with him. This is also comparable to how Ushio and Shigure play off each other because Ushio and Asako's fights are used by the show for comedy.
However, when Asako gets mad at Ushio, it is usually to disguise her true feelings. Asako has a major schoolgirl crush on Ushio. She is too scared and nervous to confess this to him, even though it seems obvious that it is reciprocal. Whenever somebody jokingly hints at her feelings, she gets angry with them and claims that she doesn't feel that way. However, most people are able to see through this.
Asako began to develop her feelings after a memorable childhood experience. When they were still young, Asako and Ushio were playing by a river. Suddenly, a vicious dog appeared from nowhere. Asako was terrified and began to run away. Ushio jumped between Asako and the dog with a baseball bat. He was intending to fight off the dog if it tried to attack. The two managed to escape the situation safely. This revealed Ushio's caring ways to Asako for the first time and caused her to feel for him.
Mayuko is Asako's best friend. They have been so close since childhood and are always together. They like to throw slumber parties with each other, wherein they eat snack food and lounge around in their pajamas. However, Mayuko is much softer around the edges than Asako. She never gets mad at anybody and never yells. She is soft spoken, sweet, and tender.
Mayuko looks like a deceased woman named Hizaki Mikado. Hizaki Mikado trapped a five-floating-head yokai, known as Gamin, after finding him eating humans. Gamin was eventually set free and sought revenge upon Hizaki Mikado. Gamin mistook Mayuko for Hizaki because of their similar appearance and tried to attack her. Fortunately, when Ushio found out that the yokai were free, he predicted that they would mistake the two. He and Tora arrived just in time to fight off Gamin and save Mayuko.
Since Tora was involved with the fight against Gamin, it made it so Mayuko could see him. Tora initially tries to eat her, but Mayuko offers him a hamburger instead. Tora looks at it confused, having never seen one before. However, Mayuko's sweet personality persuaded him to eat the burger instead of her. And what do you know, it became his new favorite food! Throughout the series, he will continually ask Ushio to buy him hamburgers.
Reiko Hanyuu is the daughter of Ushio's favorite painter, Michio Hanyuu. One day, Ushio, Tora, Asako, and Mayuko were at an art gallery that had a display of Michio's works. When they looked at the last painting he ever made, Ushio pointed out that the subject of the painting was his daughter. The painting was mostly gray with Reiko donning a creepy face. It's like something out of a Junji Ito manga.
Ushio then finds out that Reiko goes to his school and asks her to model for one of his drawings. Reiko tries to ignore him. She has a dark demeanor and never smiles. It's clear that she doesn't like interacting with people.
They then find out that Reiko's mom ran off with one of Michio's students shortly before his passing. This caused Michio to die with an unfulfilled sense of hatred and rage. These feelings led Michio to turn into a demon after he died.
Every time a boy would get close to Reiko, the demon Michio would kill them. He wanted his daughter to join him in the afterlife, scared that she would run away from him like his wife. Reiko then blamed herself for the deaths of those boys. Her inward guilt led to severe depression and several suicide attempts.
At one point in the series, Asako and Reiko become friends, and in the process, the once dark Reiko remembers how to smile. But when Reiko realizes what would happen to Asako if they stayed friends, she quickly ended it.
However, Ushio and Tora eventually are able to put Michio's demon form to rest and have him pass to a peaceful afterlife. When this happens, Reiko is finally able to enjoy the happiness of her life and the gray painting turns to one of color.
Hyou the Exorcist
Hyou is a powerful exorcist who has dedicated his life to killing demons. He is a tough stoic antihero and one of the most interesting characters in the show. He fights with throwing knives that are attached to ropes made from the hair of women. If he sees a demon harming a child, he will kill it without second thought. If he sees a person harming a child, he will threaten them. He has the ability of temporary mind control, similar to a Jedi mind trick.
Hyou is from Guangzhou, China, where he was once a happy husband and father. However, Hyou had to travel away from home one day. When he returned, he saw that a demon had killed his wife and daughter and destroyed his home. He tried to stop the demon but it was too powerful for him and he ended up with a scar on his face. He knelt by their bodies crying. From that moment on, Hyou decided that his mission was to find the demon that killed his family and destroy it.
After searching for fifteen years, Hyou heard of Tora's resurfacing. He then traveled to Japan, thinking that Tora was the demon that killed his family. Ushio had to explain to Hyou that Tora is not the demon he was looking for. Afterward, Hyou decided to stay in Japan in the hopes that his demon is there.