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The Once and Future Shaman King – This Week in Anime


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

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
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.

Me, I’m a huge fan of the original Shaman King. It was my favorite series in Shonen Jump, and I’m a tremendous fan of series creator Hiroyuki Takei‘s art. Hell, his work is so good, Stan Lee went to him to create the East-Meets-West Ultimo. I’d also argue that the old Shaman King is proof positive that 4Kids dubs weren’t bad, they just suffered from bad editing; not only was the casting solid, a lot of the old crew returned to their roles here.

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.

The one time 4Kids changed a character’s name that nobody objected to.
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.

I also don’t mind any story that begins with an attempted murder of Stewie Griffin.

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.

What isn’t normal is babies being reincarnated with living incarnations of an elemental aspect of reality. That, they don’t cover in doula school.

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.
And while we’re on the subject of difficult deliveries, my heart goes out to Manta’s mom. Can’t say Takei had ergonomics in mind when he was designing this kid’s noggin.

Maybe his head is big because of that dictionary he lugs around?

C’mon, he’s the comic relief best friend in a shonen manga, he has no business working out at the library.

At any rate, Manta’s dictionary teaches Manta that Yoh is a shaman. More importantly, Yoh is training up for the Shaman Fight in Tokyo, a tournament where Shaman from all over the globe compete for the right to become the Shaman King. Being King involves you becoming the partner to The Great Spirit, source of all souls in the world, so this is a big deal. Yoh takes it very seriously.

This is why Yoh kinda rules imho. In any other version of this story, he’d be a hot-headed upstart with big dreams. Here, though, my dude just wants to get the fighting out of the way so he can chillax with his favorite beats.

The in-universe excuse is that Yoh keeps a clear head so as to best hear and commune with spirits, but the fact is that Yoh is a deeply empathetic kid who cares with all his heart. He just also knows that getting bent out of shape just leads to rash decisions. It’s definitely a unique personality for a shonen protagonist.
And that’s where Megumi Hayashibara comes in!

Anna is here to stop Yoh from fully realizing his lazy weedlord potential. And forget centuries-old reincarnation grudges; that there is probably the real tragedy of Shaman King.

Anna is a rare case of being the actual partner for the protagonist of a shonen series, and not just a love interest. Anna and Yoh are dating, and come hell or high water Anna will push her boyfriend to become the Shaman King.

They’re not just dating; they’re betrothed and they live together in a big house on their own. And I think they’re like 13. But also ghosts are real and strong and their friends, so who cares about any of that?

I’m getting ahead of myself, but Shaman King has one of the most blatant fade-to-blacks with Anna and Yoh as you could put into a Shonen Jump series, and later in the manga they establish that Anna is pregnant. Now, the set-up for this is actually quite touching: Anna may be strict with Yoh, but she deeply understands his carefree nature is coming from a place of empathy and not detachment, and she worries about Yoh’s survival more than anyone else might. Later in the series, she takes her mask off around Yoh. And it’s very touching, but also these are 13-year-old kids and its wild that Yoh has more of a body count than Monkey D. Luffy, Ichigo Kurosaki, Light Yamagi and Gon Freecs combined.

Shaman King is deffo a lot wilder than I expected, to say the least. Though honestly, none of the stuff it pulls in this first season quite reaches the acme that is Manta getting vice gripped by a pair of haunted hairy tanuki testicles.

And we haven’t even touched upon the other characters! Like Ren! Renamed “Lenny” in the 4Kids dub, Tao Ren is a Chinese shaman from a long line of Taoists. He’s the Blue to Yoh’s Red, thinking that friendship between Shaman and their guardian ghosts is impossible. He also comes from a family of misanthropes, though Yoh helps him out with that one.

Aw I love this little ecofascist edgelord.

Ren’s family is the best. His sister, Tao Jun, is a regular heartthrob, and she and her Jiangshi partner Lee Pyron (Lee Bailong in the 4Kids dub) make a mean impression whenever they’re around.

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.

Yeah, despite how much Ren cares about the environment, turns out the Tao patriarch sure does love committing crimes against nature. Just slap some snakes on a cadaver and call it a bodyguard. Or alternatively, infuse a jiangshi with the most powerful animal of all: Gun.

The show glosses over how the Tao family has a history of killing people in order to turn them into Jiangshi (Pyron was “made” for Jun as a birthday present, for crying out loud) by handwaving it with “times change, morals change, it’s important to keep up with the changing times”, and I kinda don’t like that. Like… Jun is clearly 16-ish. You still killed your Bruce Lee knockoff sometime during the Clinton administration, Bush Sr at most. I don’t think you’re making quite the point you want to make, Tao family.

I also like how, not five seconds later, he pulls a handgun on his grandson.

Truly an exemplary moral philosopher.
I think this leads into a major flaw for this reboot: it’s crazy fast. Storylines that took two or even three episodes to resolve in the original show get truncated into just one episode here (it’s a 13-episode season). Like, early in the show, we have: Yoh and Amidamaru formally becoming partners, Amidamaru’s reputation being mended in the present day, and his old ghost-blacksmith-friend fulfilling an old promise and delivering Amidamaru’s trademark sword. This all took about 3 or 4 episodes in the old show. Here, it’s all shoved into, like, one and a half.

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.

Yeah even my Shaman virgin eyes thought things were moving kinda fast. So it was funny to then check the Wikipedia page for the original series and see that it covered the exact same material with literally twice the amount of the episodes.

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??

In the original series, his growth was much slower. He’s a rebel desperately searching for a cause and a place to belong (his “Happy Place”), and between his repeated encounters with Yoh and a possession from the evil bandit-ghost Tokageroh he awakens to his potential as a Shaman. This takes a while in the OG Shaman King, and you get used to Ryu being a background character up until Yoh goes on a training arc and Ryu ends up becoming partners with Tokageroh. Here, it all just… happens. And while Ryu and Tokageroh make for amazing partners, it’s a shame there isn’t any of that brief period where Ryu was still a little scared of him.

Sorry, I’m still hung up on the fact that he’s under 20. I genuinely thought he was just some kooky greaser relic, but if he consciously chose to dress and act like that…that changes everything.

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.

I guess we also have to talk about Horohoro. He’s there, too.

Gotta send at least a little respect towards anyone who shows up to a ghost swordfight with a snowboard.

Renamed “Trey Racer” in the 4Kids dub, Horohoro is an Ainu character whose main goal in becoming Shaman King is to make a massive field of butterbur plants so that the Koropokkuru spirits that his people worship have a place to live.

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.

It’s nice that Shaman King can have those moments of thoughtfulness and sensitivity, and then in the next breath ask questions like “what if the modern day descendant of Dr. Faust was Jamiroquai?”

Also holy shit this episode goes places.
As you can imagine, Faust’s appearances involved a lot of censorship both in the 4Kids version of the original anime and some versions of the manga. A shaman whose partner is the reanimated corpse of his murdered girlfriend, Faust is a creepy MD who vivisects Manta just to get under Yoh’s skin.

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).
Aw, you’re right, I would’ve loved to have seen that. But yeah, I also love how there’s ZERO preamble to him digging his scalpel into Manta. It just happens out of nowhere, and even though the anime doesn’t really show any blood or gore, it’s still super gnarly. Again, one of those moments where Shaman King breaks the mold and really makes an impression.

Or in this case, makes an incision.
Again, like with Horohoro, the early parts of Shaman King don’t really do much with Faust, and cutting out Operation Morphine Drop doesn’t do his character many favors.

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.

That’s pretty neat they got people to reprise their roles almost 20 years later. Since I don’t have any nostalgic anecdotes, here’s my one quip about the dub: I’m steadily making my way through Hunter x Hunter (dubbed) right now, so it was very funny when Hao showed up voiced by Erica Mendez here. I was like, wait, that’s Gon. But evil.

Ah yes. The plot.

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.

Eh, I’m sure it’s just a coincidence. And yeah, it’s really not so much an arc as it is very obviously the beginning of one, but that’s all the Netflix Gods have blessed us with so far. And in terms of cliffhangers, I suppose the prospect of Yoh and his friends having to Steel Ball Run their way across America makes for a pretty decent hook.
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.

The backbone of any good shonen series is the characters—give a reader just one loveable scamp to love, and they’re in. I’d rank Shaman King just under Yu-Yu Hakusho in terms of the strength of its cast. They’re not quite on the level of the veritable boy band that is Yusuke Urameshi and his pals, but they’re up there and for good reason. If you’re not sure about this series, give it a shot—and if you want more to tide you over, definitely look out for Discotek‘s release of the 2001 original anime. Much of the cast is still there and they’re just as hilarious 20 years ago as they were. You’ve got no reason not to 🎶 LOOK AROUND YOU, LOOK BEYOND, YOU COULD MAKE AN UNBREAKABLE BOND 🎶


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