Shaman King Episodes 26-52 – Review

As Shaman King enters into the back half of this reboot, the show enters into a seemingly hopeless battle on two fronts. The first being Yoh trying to find a way to put a stop to Hao’s ambitions, as stopping him with force becomes less and less of a viable option. The second, unfortunately, is this show’s battle against itself, as this adaptation continues to be plagued with questionable decisions that drag it down from its full potential. While that first battle ends up being a struggle that mostly pays off, that second one ends up being a lot more of a losing battle, and nearly begs the question of if this reboot can even really justify its own existence.

Before we talk about that though, we might as well talk about the good. While the series has been consistently thoughtful about how it approaches the nature of violence and the greater strength of empathy as its core themes, those ideas get explored even deeper in these later episodes. One mini-arc features a pair of twins named Redseb and Seyram who are out for revenge against Joco for the death of their father in his previous life as a gang leader. Although their attempt at revenge is understandably justified, they also come to realize that they were a little too naive about how that desire for revenge could trap them in a cycle of violence they weren’t ready for, as there’s nothing really stopping Yoh or the others from avenging Joco in retaliation, and Joco himself has become a very different person than the man who killed their father. With that idea in mind, it’s interesting that at the end of that whole ordeal, rather than committing a grand act of sacrifice to save the kids when things go haywire, Joco’s atonement instead comes in helping the twins to smile again. While it is maybe a bit too clean of a way to handle a topic like that, the attempt is still pretty impressive, and it does help make for some good payoff to what was previously frustrating about Joco’s backstory.

Speaking of payoff, if there was one part of this revival I was looking forward to besides the ending, it was the Mt. Osore arc, and for all the problems this show has had with pacing, this part of the story is kept intact. This arc goes into how Yoh and Anna first got betrothed to each other, and got entangled with a spirit named Matamune that was Hao’s former servant, before being forced to take his life in one of the previous Shaman Fights. What makes this arc so interesting is how it manages to re-contextualize Yoh and Anna’s relationship in a way that is surprisingly romantic for an ex-Shonen Jump thing, as we discover that Yoh is more attracted to Anna’s headstrong personality than he’s let on previously, and his whole goal of wanting to create a world where people can live carefree partially came from his desire to help Anna after she was isolated from the world for her powers. In turn, his willingness to stick with her despite the danger she poses helps her to open her heart towards having faith in others again, and paints a clearer picture of why someone like her would become so devoted to him to begin with. That relationship also ends up tying into one of Shaman King‘s biggest messages: that faith in others is the purest form of love, and that said faith is the most important thing to have in order to connect with them and resolve conflict. It’s a pretty powerful statement to make, and the series reinforces its commitment to this idea with the revelation that Hao has a similar mind-reading power to what Anna once had, and how his lack of faith, and detachment from other people, has made him the jaded sociopath he is now.

This of course leads into Yoh’s final confrontation with Hao, and how that whole thing gets resolved. As mentioned before, the back half of the series put itself in a bit of a seemingly odd position in establishing that Yoh and the gang literally have no way of actually defeating Hao in a fight, much less stopping him from winning the tournament, as he’s simply too strong for all of them to handle, even together. While the initial solution presented to this problem is a long and convoluted plan to kill Hao right before he becomes the Shaman King, Yoh’s actual solution to this dilemma is a lot more non-violent, as he accepts the idea that Hao is going to win no matter what he does, and instead wants to ensure humanity’s new god isn’t a tyrant by opening Hao’s heart and convincing him to care about other people. It’s a pretty crazy way to resolve things both in and outside of the context of the story, given that Hao’s not exactly remorseful for any of his actions up to that point, but it’s less about Hao being “redeemed” through learning empathy and more that if even someone as detached and cynical as him can begin to love people, than maybe people really can come to understand each other and humanity is worth saving after all. On the surface this seems like a pretty happy ending, but while Yoh and the others might have convinced Hao to hold off on exterminating humanity for a while and let humans figure things out (and they even do the typical shonen epilogue of having kids and moving on with their lives), they are also forced to accept the reality that despite their best efforts, they haven’t been able to make any meaningful difference in the world, and acknowledge that Hao may one day make good on his promise to destroy humanity after all. It is simultaneously the most optimism, and the most cynical way that Hiroyuki Takei could have ended Shaman King While staying true to its themes about pacifism and how pointless fighting can be, and while I can definitely see this ending not sitting well with a lot of people, I respect that Takei stuck to his guns enough to let an ending as messy and controversial as This one exist, and I’m glad the anime retained most of what made it so powerful.

Unfortunately this is where the praise stops, because while the show does succeed in some areas, it is in spite of these adaptation’s choices rather than because of them. Pacing continues to be this reboot’s biggest problem, and while most of these episodes never feel quite as rushed as the first 13, there are still things like the arc with Joco that would have benefited from another episode or two to let its ideas sink in, and things start moving way too quickly during the final few episodes. The last arc of the series (which was around six volumes long in the manga) gets crammed into the final five episodes, forcing it to blitz through important fights like they’re cliff notes, and leading to situations like Ren and Horohoro’s respective bookends to Their character arcs happening back to back in the same episode, with one extra fight crammed into the final two minutes because the show is extremely pressed for time in fitting in the rest of the story. The anime is also at times ironically held back by the fact that it is attempting to be such a 1:1 adaptation of the manga, as there are several points where it fails to fully convey Takei’s ideas due to its middling production values. Given that the manga itself did get hit pretty hard with Shonen Jump Final Arc Syndrome in struggling to get to its ending, it is a little frustrating seeing the anime trying to cram in as much manga material as it can during its final episodes, whereas cutting out a couple of less important fights might’ve given it a little extra breathing room.

Having said that, there is one notable bit of material that was weirdly omitted from the anime entirely: Hao’s backstory, and the reason behind his disdain for humanity. This story actually wasn’t in the manga’s original run, but rather the re-release that was done when Takei was finally ready to come back and write the official ending, so given that this adaptation kind of slavishly follows what was in the manga’s first release rather than making use of some of the extra material that’s been made since then, it does sort of check out that it didn’t adapt that. The problem, however, is that Hao’s backstory is still vaguely mentioned since it ties into the ending, and the anime leaving that in while not actually bothering to adapt the backstory itself is a decision that is both baffling and arguably defeats the goal of this new adaptations being a good entry way for newcomers, as it’s hard to imagine anyone unfamiliar with the manga not feeling like something’s missing there.

The English dub Also sadly remains as rough as ever, with the quality of the performances largely feeling like they come down to the individual skills of the actors themselves, rather than the direction they’re being given. The core cast continues to sound the most consistent of the bunch, with Erica Mendez in particular doing a great job presenting both Hao’s outwardly aloof persona and how menacing he can be when he’s serious. Tara Sands Also does a pretty solid job portraying a younger and more emotionally distant Anna during the Mt. Osore arc, and Greg Chun does an excellent job as Matamune, contrasting between serving as a mentor figure for Yoh and being burdened with a heavy sense of regret for his past choices. Performances from the supporting cast, however, can be a lot more hit or miss, with Bernhard Forcher‘s performance as Luchist probably being the most consistently rough-sounding of the bunch, and even Eric Stuartwhose claim to fame was his hammy performances in Yu-Gi-Oh! and early Pokémon as Kaiba and James respectively, sounds weirdly stiff here as Marco, especially compared to his performance in the 4Kids dub of the 2001 Shaman King anime. The dub script also suffers a bit in this half of the show; While it is never unfaithful to the material, some of its attempts to punch up the dialogue for action scenes do come at the expense of losing some of the nuance when it comes to how the characters reflect on being forced to use violence to push ahead. The dub is pretty serviceable on the whole, but as someone who was both fond of the 4Kids dub of the first anime despite its hokiness, and likes dubs in general, it does kinda suck that it sounds more awkward overall than an edited dub From almost 20 years ago, and I feel like a lot of the actors here deserved better direction that what they got.

When it’s all said and done, I am still largely glad this reboot got made. Shaman King was a pretty cool shonen landmark in the early 2000s, and it deserved a second chance at telling its story. Especially since the first anime, while solid in its own right, was a pretty different beast from both this and the manga in the ideas that they represent. If this managed to get even a few new people to check out the series, then despite my issues with it, I’d say I’m glad it at least exists. Still, it’s kinda hard to ignore the reality that this reboot really had no business being only 52 episodes for how much of the manga exists, and the sacrifices made to condense the story into that runtime made for both a lackluster adaptation and a sometimes mediocre show . While this is still a pretty decent show on its own, it doesn’t quite stand out against some of the better-produced shonen adaptations in recent years. Time will tell if this adaptation makes as much of an impact as the first anime did, but for the time being, I’m not feeling too optimistic.

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