When we say Shaman King pulls magic from all corners of the world, we aren’t exaggerating. Jean-Karlo and Steve tap into the first season of the new remake and get something far wilder than they imagined.
This film is streaming on Netflix
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Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.
Jean-Karlo, as a boomer Shaman King noob, I’m going to have a lot of questions for you in the ensuing column, but I think it’s best I begin with the most important one: which laws does this man’s pompadour follow? Because they certainly aren’t human ones.
They follow the laws of Friendship™, Effort™ and Victory™, Steve.
I know Nick² have covered the big, bombastic End of Evangelion, but this week had another nostalgia blast for us: Netflix‘s resurrection of that old phantom favorite, Shaman King. Discotek is doing us a solid and bringing back the 2001 original, but this is more Shaman King: Kai, a condensation of the original shonen classic. And I am so happy to see Ryu’s doofy pompadour back, lemme tell you.
I missed the boat back when the original was airing on cable, so I’m approaching this new series bereft of context or nostalgia. Tho it is funny, after I watched a few episodes of this, memories of commercials for the original bubbled back up to the forefront of my memory. Definitely something to say about how distinctive these character designs are, if they can lodge themselves in my brain despite never having watched or read this.
Now, there is a big asterisk to all this: a lot of Shaman King deals with interpretations/depictions of Native American culture that are fast and loose, to say the least. I still love this series, but I totally understand anyone who looks at The Patch and frowns. The Tlingit and Seminole people get namedropped at points, but I don’t know if Tlingit made totem pole bazookas. Also, I don’t know what a descendant of the Seminole is doing near Route 66 (the Seminole are from around Oklahoma and Florida). Shaman King‘s depictions of black people wasn’t much better; Chocolove being redesigned for this reboot was a massive sigh of relief for people. So I totally understand people who cannot with this series for cultural reasons.
Chocolove is…definitely a name for a character.
With that said, I do still want to give Shaman King credit for also opening the door to representation in other ways–Horohoro up there may be a hyper-stylized Ainu, but he’s still an Ainu, and there isn’t much manga outside of Golden Kamuy that have Ainu characters. And that’s what’s fun about Shaman King: its grab-bag approach towards the spirituality of various cultures does give readers the opportunity to appreciate characters of various backgrounds. It’s all fast and loose and about as accurate to the real-world practices as Digital Devil Saga is to Hinduism, but where else will you find “Bruce Lee as a Jiangshi with a pile bunker in his arm”?
I mean yeah, there’s something to be said about its questionable evocation of indigenous cultures being paired with so wide a net as to cover as many of them in the wildest shonen-fied way possible. It can be eyebrow-raising, sure, but it never came across as malicious in these 13 episodes I saw. And at the core of it, I like the conceit of injecting ghosts and ghouls into the usual Shonen Jump formula.
It’s imaginative stuff! The fun of meeting new characters is getting to see what new gimmick Takei pulled out of his hat.
Good job on making a newborn look like a gross potato with a face. Y’know, like an actual newborn.
To be fair, I don’t think most newborns pop out of the womb and summon a giant fire demon.
That’s the placenta, Steve.
Well you’re the Shaman King expert so I guess I have to defer to you.
Our actual story takes place in 1998. Young Manta (once “Monty” in the 4Kids dub) meets young Yoh Asakura in a graveyard. As it turns out, Yoh can see and speak to ghosts, which freaks Manta out.
Also, Manta has the “Koichi from Diamond Is Unbreakable“-thing where he’s 13 but for some reason two feet tall and has a big, round head. Hiroyuki Takei is very inspired when it comes to silhouettes.
C’mon, he’s the comic relief best friend in a shonen manga, he has no business working out at the library.
And that’s where Megumi Hayashibara comes in!
Ren being around Yoh leads to him breaking from his family’s ecofascist ways, leading to him going to settle his discrepancies with his father in mainland China, which becomes an entire arc later in the series. It’s great shonen stuff with a wild toku-inspired team of Jiangshi, lots of navel gazing about morality changing with the eras, and father and son taking those first steps to seeing eye-to-eye.
Truly an exemplary moral philosopher.
For something extremely drawn out, like Dragon Ball, sure—cut the fat. But Shaman King was way shorter, and we miss a lot of the finer details. In the original, Amidamaru has a lot of reasons for not wanting to be Yoh’s partner at first. It takes a little doing on Yoh’s behalf for Amidamaru to shake off his doubts and team up with him.
Likewise, Best Boy™ “Wooden Sword” Ryu suffers from the truncation a lot.
So maybe Ryu’s arc feels a little more organic with some additional time and space afforded. Here, though, I felt like I was going insane because this weird guy just kept popping his giant pompadour into each episode with seemingly no rhyme or reason.
Ryu is like the Leorio or Kuwabara of the series; in a world with so many bombastic characters, he’s there to be the normal guy who wanders into the series and makes do with the desire to do right and a lot of heart. Also, he fulfills the “anime delinquent” requirement of being in his teens and looking twice that age.
He’s in his TEENS??
And I love a good Character Development Haircut as much as the next anime fan. Here, though, I think I might’ve finally found where my mental and emotional boundaries are.
He sure exists, but I can say that the early parts of Shaman King just don’t give him much to do, especially with how sped up the reboot is. So for now he’s just a hothead with ice powers.
Again, it’s nice of Takei to introduce an Ainu character in a shonen manga. I know that the Ainu struggle for recognition in Japan (I recall Okami has Ainu-adjacent characters via the Oina people). And while Horohoro is a very “anime” take on the Ainu, as opposed to Golden Kamuy, the show underlines his connection with nature and how much the destruction of natural environments threatens the Ainu way of life.
Also holy shit this episode goes places.
There’s a scene later in the series where the characters have to figure out how to survive being dropped out of The Patch’s traditionally hand-crafted jet; I was sad to see they cut out Faust’s solution entirely (getting high on morphine and sewing up his splattered body once he hits the ground).
Or in this case, makes an incision.
There’s a lot I could say about him and the other characters, but the anime hasn’t touched on a lot of it. But being a longtime fan of Shaman King, watching the new dub was such a delight. In a beautiful twist, a good number of the original 4Kids cast was brought back to reprise their old roles! Amidamaru, Ren and Ryu have new actors, sadly, so we miss out on Ryu’s hilarious Spanish accent courtesy of Sean “Hi, I’m Goku!” Schemmel. But DC Douglas’s Elvis-esque take on Ryu fits him fine. Laura Stahl is great at making Ren the little shit he’s meant to be, and Kaiji Tang makes Amidamaru the loveable big guy he is.
Most importantly, Dan Green was pulled out of retirement long enough to voice both Silva and Lee Pyron—and my girl Lisa Ortiz reprised her role as Tao Jun. This doesn’t just make me happy because Lisa Ortiz is phenomenal and still knows the Dragon Slave incantation, she’s Puerto Rican too! It’s a blast to hear her again.
The final arc in this first cour (read: the last two episodes) cover Yoh and the gang being dropped in America and having to find The Patch’s village. Lilirara, a descendant of the Seminole people, tries to stop them because The Patch killed her people 500 years ago.
As it turns out, The Patch isn’t evil; an evil shaman named Hao reincarnated as a Patch tribesman to steal their Spirit of Fire. He’s been reborn in the current Shaman Fight, and he wants to make a world where Shaman rule with an iron fist.
I sure wonder why he looks like Yoh.
Tho given how the show has been paced so far, that might take all of one episode.
I am deeply happy that this Shaman King reboot exists. Chocolove being redesigned is practically worth the price of admission alone. Lessons in racial sensitivity aside, this is a very creative shonen series with a loveable cast of freaks that just begs you to enjoy it. I hate not knowing when the next cour will drop because the next few arcs promise to be a lot of fun, even if I know they’ll be massively truncated.
Not gonna lie, I went into Shaman King fairly skeptical, but there were enough surprises and charming moments to last me through the chunk of episodes we got. Now, I’m not exactly chomping at the bit for more, but I guess I’ll see how I feel when the next bit graces us. And at the very least, now I have some grasp on why there’s so much fondness for the series.