I found myself coming to this anime for a number of different reasons. I’d be lying it said some big part of it was due to it being denied to me for multiple months thanks to Netflix’s strange and staunch stance on how they put out their content. The wardens at the streaming site have decided it’s time for us to get a first taste of this series, which is what I’m covering here on this post today.
So yeah, I caught up with the first 13 episodes of the show available to me right now. A collection of episodes Netflix had called season 1 of Shaman King.
Based on the manga Hiroyuki Takei, Shaman King is a late 90s, early 2000s manga series that I feel like I absolutely should have heard about before this year. Especially considering the series got an original anime run from 2003 to 2005. This really feels like something that would have resonated with me.
From it’s pure style alone, it gives me powerful nostalgic pangs for the original Digimon anime, as well as the first season of Yu-Gi-Oh! Which makes perfect sense considering it was born of that same era of shonen anime. The character’s stick thin bodies, coupled with their giant heads and edgy, disinterested look to them screams of the early noughties to me.
Shaman King is a series that follows Yoh Asakura and his life goal to become the titular Shaman King, participating in what seems like a series long tournament arc in order to do so. Based on that description alone, this could easilyt sound just like a dozen other shonen anime out there. And that assessment wouldn’t be too far off the mark to be honest.
The gimmick that allows Shaman King to stand out amongst its peers is that the world is inhabited with Shaman: powerful mediums that connect the human world to the world of the supernatural. In this case, the supernatural all being focused on ghosts, the reanimated dead and the various elemental earth spirits of a number of world folklores.
Yoh, in his battles, specifically connects with the spirit of a long dead legendary Samurai called Amidamaru, after helping him resolve his unfinished business causing the honourable warrior to commit himself to Yoh and his cause. Along the way, Yoh encounters many wacky side characters who join him on his quest.
Amongst which is the even more diminutive than him Manta, his super strict trainer/fiancé Anna and the wacky delinquent with the heart of gold Wooden Sword Ryu. For all intents and purposes, this is a really generic setup, one I feel could easily interchange elements with so many other shonen of the same ilk and not change a think about it.
But despite this, the charm of this show is in the details. In this case it is the characters. Yoh feels kind of unique as a protagonist in that while he driven to be the best, he is also absurdly laid back and lazy. At the beginning of the series, his entire drive to be the Shaman King is that he can live an easy, carefree life after he has achieved his goal.
Of course, this comes with a powerful message of friendship being the answer to almost every problem he encounters and his bond with Amidamaru and the rest of his friends getting him through most problems he encounters in these first 13 episodes. At which point I would kind of make the almost dismissive point of this being your typical early 2000s kids anime.
Or I would say that if not for the strangely mature elements present in the show. Like I mentioned earlier, Yoh lives with his Fiance Anna. While you wouldn’t exactly describe their relationship as lovey dovey, it’s obvious that they do care for one another and both seem content that their arranged marriage is going to eventually happen.
It’s not something you usually see in this brand of anime in which the protagonist is either totally oblivious to the opposite sex, or a big old horn dog. Yoh is just chill, content. As he is about most things. It’s one of those things that feels odd specifically coming from this early 2000s era style anime.
Other than their relationship, the show deals with some pretty mature themes surrounding death. I mean, the show is about death in many ways. With characters being able to reanimate corpses or even unearth and control skeletons. The show isn’t shy about being pretty overt with how easily life can be snuffed out. And can do some pretty shocking things for a kid’s anime.
Like having a guy come to the realisation that he had been murdered and brought back as a zombie slave, or another character getting cut open with a scalpel and have his guts exposed by some insane doctor. I mean, you never see a drop of blood, but the very concept is much darker than anything I was ever expecting from this kind of show.
I guess, at the end of the day, it’s all strangely novel to me. I’m so used to shows that look and feel like this being censored into the ground by western distributors. Seeing a show like this using Japanese names, talking openly about death and violence and not really censoring anything is super odd to me. Especially considering I’m watching the Dub.
Thinking back at all the absurd lengths companies like 4kids went to in order to censor large parts of shows like Yu-Gi-Oh and One Piece, Shaman King is almost like going back and watching those series with fresh eyes, only how they were always meant to be be seen before the meddling of those pesky people protecting children from anything good.
I’ve enjoyed Shaman King, more for the sense of nostalgia watching it brought me than nesseserily the quality of the show itself. It’s a lot of fun, while not super remarkable in any real way. Although I am invested enough at this point that I want to see how it continues and how this adaption ends up. Considering the original anime ended up outpacing the source material and ended up having to invent its own ending.
Which is always strange to me that this was something that even happened back in the day.
Problem is, I’m going to have to wait some semi-arbitrary amount of time to watch the series again thanks to the way Netflix has chosen to air the series. It seems like I’ve finally found myself running foul of the dreaded “Netflix Jail” I’ve heard so many Youtubers talking about.
Despite this being an ongoing weekly anime in its native Japan, running for 52 episodes. Netflix have instead decided to chop the series up into 13 episode chunks and chuck them up on their platform every three months as separate “seasons”
I can see why someone eager to watch and keep up with the series as it comes out would be really frustrated to have to wait so long between the collection of episodes that, in their original airing format where never intended to be broken up this way. The funny irony is; had this been an ongoing series on Crunchyroll or something, I would have almost certainly fallen off of it. Or at least behind enough that catching up seems like too daunting a task.
Like that Digimon remake series.
Seeing 12 episodes there to have a go at has actually encouraged me to just carve some time aside and binge the whole series in a week or two. So at least in my case, the whole Netflix model seems to have worked… am I making myself the bad guy by admitting that here amongst my anime peers?
So eventually, I’ll probably return to this series when the next chunk of it comes out. It’s so weird. The idea of binging episodes I’ve missed on other platform seems like some unholy mission to me, but Netflix’s model, by pretty much doing the same thing has made the idea more attractive. I have no idea how they do it, but they’ve really gone and got their teeth into me just how they wanted.