Tuesday, October 22, 2013

DaWaRou Posts: Shaman King

Hey everyone! Guess what! IT'S OFFICIALLY BEEN A YEAR SINCE I STARTED WRITING FOR THIS WEBSITE! YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY! And I'm massively way below the number of posts I SHOULD have after writing for a year now. But with Halloween very much upon us in this lovely fall time of year, I've decided to do (surprise surprise) another series review! Ladies and Gentlemen, I'm John Cortez and this is my 26th post for...The Broken Infinite.

So with Supernatural/Fantasy themed series, there's a LOT to consider using and not using. Most manga and anime by extension will rarely focus on a single supernatural creature and will more often than not focus on many. The American live action series Supernatural is a prime example in that while it largely focuses on Demons and their fucking up the human world in later seasons, the show still follows a very monster of the week format, introducing a new monster or demon or supernatural entity almost every single episode. The series that do tend to focus more on a specific type of being are usually more romance orientated or horror oriented if you want to go that route and nine times out of ten, Vampires are often the creature of choice to focus on. What do Karin, Vampire Knight, and Tsukuyomi MoonPhase all have in common with Hellsing, Trinity Blood, and Blood+? They all focus on Vampires and their relationships with humans, some in a romantic sense, others...not so much. But one of the other super big things in the supernatural/fantasy genre is Ghosts. The afterlife is a very mysterious thing and practically EVERYONE has an idea or wants to know what happens when we all finally die. Series approach this in different ways. Series like Bleach, YuYu Hakusho and DragonBallZ all portray an afterlife and to an extent how it interacts with our world. But other series like what we'll be talking about today are directly built around the idea of live humans directly interacting with the deceased. Today's series is, among my personal favorites, Shaman King!
Yes Shaman King! The series that, I believe, officially put Hioyuki Takei on the map! I fucking love this series! I love it VERY VERY VERY MUCH! And now I'm going to talk about it!

The plot is this: Yoh Asakura is the most recent in a long line of Japanese Shaman, people who can not only see Ghosts and Spirits, but also interact with them. In series they're described as a link physical link between this world and the next and so they've got special powers that allow them to allow Ghosts and Spirits to possess them at will and utilize their abilities by acting as a fully mobile medium for the Ghost/Spirit in question. Yoh has recently moved from his family's home in Izumo to Tokyo, a big city full of wandering spirits to further his training and find himself a Guardian Spirit. Think of it in Pokemon terms and he's basically looking for a Ghost to be the Pikachu to his Ash Ketchum. On his first day at his new school he runs into the local midget, Manta Oyamada and after saving his ass in a cemetary after subsequently getting poor Manta jumped by the local gang, the two become friends because Manta can also see spirits, he just lacks the spiritual power to use them in the same way Yoh can. Yoh also recruits the Ghost of Amidamaru, a very powerful samurai as his Guardian Spirit and soon enters the Shaman King Tournament after receiving some harsh training from his no nonsense fiance Anna who is determined to make Yoh win the tournament so she can be Shaman Queen. Yoh himself has been wanting to enter the tournament for some time now so that he can achieve his goal of living a lazy and easy life. So what does the winner of this tournament win? Well, they basically get GOD as their Guardian Spirit and rule the world for 500 years. In addition to his after mentioned goal, Yoh also has a rather personal reason for winning the tournament. Every 500 years, his ancestor Hao, the very first Asakura, reincarnates into the Asakura line to win the tournament and this time, he's reincarnated as Yoh's, literal, evil twin. Yoh must now defeat his bother with the help of his trusted friends to save...effectively all of the regular humans from being whipped off the face of the earth by Hao and his followers.

The first thing that I must praise Shaman King for is it's OUTSTANDING art work. Like most manga, the character designs for Shaman King start off very rounded before becoming more angular like most anime and manga designs are. But for some reason, I just feel myself being very strongly loving this particular art style. Compare THIS
which was drawn at the very start of the series and was...I think the first full color splash page of the series, to THIS
which was drawn...at a later point in time which we shall not talk about. The context is already strange enough without my spoiling anything. In all honesty though, I really do just love Hiroyuki Takei's art style even if I can't pinpoint exactly WHY I love it so much. On the flip side is the anime which was animated in the early 2000's and...doesn't look all that great in all honesty but it doesn't look all that bad either. It DOES come off as looking rather...cheap though if I'm being perfectly honest. The music is actually really good though going all the way from the background tracks to the openings and endings to the character image songs. Among the cast are popular female seiyuu Megumi Hayashibara, Yui Horie, Nana Mizuki and Romi Paku! The English Dub was produced by 4Kids Entertainment, and to be perfectly honest it's a fine dub. I really like the Shaman King English dub, if for nothing else than pure honest effort and nostalgic value. That said though there was some definite dumbing down in the translation from Japanese to English but most of the dialogue is similar enough for anyone to grasp what's going on. Of particular note, since it wasn't something that 4Kids could very well hide, there was a very real and definite threat of death in this series, and it's made all the more clear whenever Hao is being...well Hao. At one point, Yoh goes to plead with Hao to NOT kill the plucky side characters as they've no chance against him and are frankly no threat to him. Hao's like "Imma kill em" so Yoh decides to take on the team himself as if he's going to kill them, both to show them that they can't handle Hao and to stall them until Hao is declared the winner of the match by default. It was a powerful episode...in a way for not only giving the reason as to WHY the plucky team was so determined to fight Hao and it serves to really let the audience know that Hao WILL NOT fuck around or throw a fight for ANYONE regardless of their overall threat level to him.

So what's there to like about this series? Well, basically everything. Shaman King is an old enough shonen series to really get away with the long running tournament arc type set up while still doing new and interesting things DURING that arc and having entire arcs within that arc. The Shaman King Tournament is where most of the memorable cast comes into play as well as introduces everyone's desires and motivations for wanting to win and the lengths they'll go to to achieve those goals. Of course Hao stands out as one of the most "evil" of the characters in both methods and motivations but we also get the X-Laws, a group of Shamans who've united in their pursuit to kill Hao and, just like Hao, they're completely willing to kill anyone who gets in their way or to be more brutally honest, anyone who doesn't want to join them which is just like Hao. And they're supposed to be the good guys because they've all suffered horribly at the hands of Hao and they're just and righteous because they ANGELS as their Guardian Spirits and...and they dress in all white so you know that they're supposed to be good. They also unfailingly follow the orders of a little girl who spends all her time in a medieval torture device. And even then, morality is never the name of the game because any particular point of view can be sympathetic and just when framed the right way...as Shaman King does so very often and very well. The next thing that the series does really well is character development. Like other shonen series, in Shaman King the moment Yoh defeats someone they're likely to become best friends and this extends to a very large part of the supporting cast. Ren, Horohoro, Ryu, Faust, and Lyserg to an extent all start off as "antagonists" or basically just opponents who want or need to defeat Yoh in order to move on to the next round. Ren in particular has some of the best character development as is I think usual for characters that start off as villain antagonists. And then we get right back to Hao and his followers and the X-Laws and they're all compelling characters, even if their actions are framed in an objectively negative light. More to the point OF the characters themselves, not a single one is wasted or useless. While not all of them contribute to the overall plot, they're still entertaining and enjoyable which is exactly what good characters should be. The action scenes are well drawn along with practically everything else and the emotional scenes make you feel exactly the way you should feel, happy, sad, angry or any other emotion a particular scene is going for. The comedy is excellent. Most of the jokes work and even the ones that are kind of lame are...halfway decent in their own way. While it's slow to start, Shaman King does very quickly settle into what it wants to be.

The negatives are few but still important to take note of. In particular the series suffers from two very glaring flaws. Those being it's opening and ending. The series is very confused throughout the entirety of it's first volume. It's not quite sure what kind of story it wants to be because it starts off kind of like Pokemon where Yoh is hellbent on getting as many Ghosts as he can to join him and he starts solving the problems of the living or the dead one at a time. THEN Ren comes into the series and shit gets a WHOLE lot more serious REAL QUICK. It was never NOT serious but...side adventures with Ghosts to almost getting murdered by another Shaman are VERY different things. At least Ren was...kind of foreshadowed and the series is called Shaman King so it's kind of begging the question of who is it or who is it going to be. The other BIG BIG BIG problem with the series is it's ending. The anime goes for a very InuYasha style "Eventually we'll get to something offscreen" kind of bullshit that most anime/manga fans hate and then the manga goes and does the same thing by making some bizarre Sleeping Beauty analogy using Hao and Yoh's group. Takei realized that this is NOT the proper way to end the series and thus Shaman King Kangzen Bang was created to give the series a proper ending. Wanna know what the problem with that is? You can't get it in America unless you're willing to read manga online in which case...you can do just that. I honestly don't see WHY Viz didn't licence it as it wouldn't have hurt their sales one bit but whatever.

In conclusion, Shaman King, while by no means a perfect creation, is still a very popular and beloved one. It took a tournament arc, based an entire series around it and it really stands out as a "classic" shonen manga to me for many reasons. One, it's memorable as hell. You don't finish a series like Shaman King and then forget you ever even read it to begin with. It's something that stays with you for most of, if not, your entire life. Another thing, it's written well. The characters, while they're not the most original by a long shot, are still fun and enjoyable and wonderfully written. If there's one character you don't like, there should be five others that float your boat just fine. And finally, it's got a perfect reason for having its characters all fight it out to be the very best Shaman in the world, which makes it's Tournament arc completely justified. While that might not make it a classic to some of you, it definitely stands out as one to me. I'm John Cortez and here's hoping for another great year with even MORE blog posts!

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