Content Warning: Racist caricatures of Black people (image included below).
What’s it about? On a rainy night a soon-to-be mom gives birth to twins; one, possessed by an evil spirit, vanished. The surviving twin, later named Asakura Yoh, can see spirits and aspires to become the Shaman King in the grand tournament that only takes place once every 500 years.
Shaman King is another hit Shonen Jump series that was completely lost on me during its heyday. Despite having never read or watched the series, its immense popularity means it’s been added to the list of shows that are fortunate enough to get a reboot. I’m usually a huge fan of shounen titles, and I generally try to give every show a fair chance until certain tropes in the genre ruin the storytelling aspect for me (topic for another day).
So what’s the verdict on this new adaptation? I’ll be honest with you, it’s boring and convoluted. A fast-paced premiere can be attention-grabbing and entertaining, but this episode felt like it was desperate to keep its audience around so they decided to throw an introductory narrative out the window in favor of just letting the plot happen. This show definitely feels like an early 2000s show, but instead of feeling nostalgic, I’m left wondering who all these characters are and why should I care.
Why should I care about Yoh wanting to become a Shaman King? Why should I listen to a Oyamada Manta whine throughout the whole episode? The whole aspect about spirits and humans being able to interact should be interesting because shows like Mushishi and Natsume’s Book of Friends did it so well, but this just felt so empty, rushing through material like it was a checklist or fancy revisit for fans already familiar with the material. Even the climatic action sequence didn’t feel all that impactful considering the fact it involved two spirits wanting to reconcile after 600 years of waiting for each other.
The body proportions of all the characters really bothered me and it often distracted me from the story since the heads are either so much smaller or bigger than their bodies without a consistent sense of stylization. The last gripe I have is the depiction of Black characters in the portrait montage when shamanism is being explained to the viewers. Even though it’s brief, the images of Black characters in the background art is uncomfortably reminiscent of racist caricatures often seen in the long history of anti-Black portrayals in media. While the show doesn’t linger on this for long it’s worth noting since the show improved the character design of one of its main Black characters to look like an actual character rather than remain with the original design.
I’m not sure if Shaman King fans liked the original 2001 anime ending and whether the manga is worth the read, but this first episode didn’t win me over on the hype. I want to hear from Shaman King fans, do you like this new adaptation? What made the series so great in the first place? Am I being too harsh again? Please share your comments down below.