There was a time when I was just a lil’ kid, eager for adventure and magic in my life, but even more so for new episodes of my favorite show. I remember my walks to school on Friday morning, giddy with anticipation at returning and sitting myself in front of the TV, lights off, ready for new shenanigans with the Shaman King gang. It’s the childhood show I probably cherish the most (second only to Naruto, but that’s more because of sentimentality, not quality) and the one I’ve gone back to rewatch several times along the years. Hell, I still have the entire thing on my computer.
When people talk about childhood anime, the same titles get thrown around a lot, but I don’t think I’ve seen Shaman King mentioned at all. It kind of baffles me to see it be such a niche show considering how good it is, but perhaps its length and differences from the manga had something to do with it. Regardless, for those of us who grew up with it on our TV and actually watched it, it’s one of those shows that sticks with you for life and hits you with nostalgia when you expect it the least. Today, it’s my duty to tell you why you should give it a chance and go (re)watch it.
Shaman King tells the story of Yoh Asakura, a young shaman training to compete in a once-in-200-years tournament to become the next Shaman King.
Without further ado, here are GD’s 10 reasons why this show is the bomb:
1. The art style is awesome. It’s quirky and unique, but still maintains a sort of normalcy other shows choose to forgo. It’s not flashy unless it has to be (so, during fights and stuff), and it feels real enough that it sucks you in. The hairstyles can get a bit strange (looking at you, Rio), but we gotta keep in mind it’s still an anime, so that’s not too uncommon.
2. The theme song is a goddamn bop. I grew up with the dubbed version (dubbed in my mother tongue from English, that is), but on my subsequent rewatches I followed along with the original English dubbing. Funnily enough, I never watched it in Japanese, so I have no idea how different it is, but the English theme song is legendary. Play it anywhere back home and 20 years olds will lose their minds.
3. It knows how to take you along on the journey. We start the story with Morty, a tiny, completely human, completely normal kid who just so happens to end up seeing this weird-ass dude partying it up with spirits in a cemetery (Yoh pls). We’re taken into the story through the eyes of someone like us, our eyes and hearts opened to the spirit world through Morty as opposed to someone already familiar with it like Yoh, which I find very neat. It’s a small difference, but it’s very tangible in the way you relate and engage with the story.
4. From that, the plot escalation is so fun. From Yoh trying to build up his team by befriending Amidamaru, a troubled samurai ghost, to him meeting enemy after enemy and ending up bros with most of them (Trey, Tao Len, Rio, Faust), his training regime under Anna (his fiancée)’s watchful eye, the preliminary fights, the search for Dobi Village and first tangle with the series’ main villain, Zeke/Hao (who just so happens to look exactly like Yoh but more fabulous), all the stuff up to the final fight, everything’s just incredibly fun. Honestly, 64 episodes is nothing, you can watch them in one sitting. It’s very hard to stop to be honest.
5. The characters are so cool and complex, and most importantly, the female characters are cool and complex. Plagued by horrible or nonexistent character development from shows like Naruto, I’m a lot more appreciative when female characters are treated right, and Shaman King does them justice. Anna is perhaps the baddest of them all, almost as powerful as Yoh himself, enough so that she can totally kick even Zeke’s ass if she tries hard enough, but still allowed to be emotional and sensitive when Yoh and the gang are truly in danger. Jun is a total badass and a great obstacle for the group in the first half of the show, and her evolution from owner to friend for Lee Pai Long is beautiful to watch. Her relationship with Lenny is one of the highlights of the show as well, especially because Lenny’s shown to be very affectionate with her and really love, cherish, and trust his big sister with no shame (and he’s a total tsundere, so him loving her so openly is big!!). The Lily 5 are a diverse gang of ladies hell-bent on making trouble for the boys, and although they’re clearly not equipped to handle them, they still serve a function to the story and move the plot forward. There’s also Tammy, Pirika, Jeanne and others, and they’re all treated with respect, so 10/10 on that front.
6. It’s very diverse. You got your Japanese main characters, you got your Chinese main characters, you got your African American main characters, you got British, Icelandic, German, Greek, Native, you name it. The tournament is international, and most of it takes place in the American desert where people from all over the world gather to compete in the next stage, so it’s a perfect setting for diversity that’s not just there for the sake of being there. With that said, some designs might not be the best when it comes to non-Asian characters, but it’s not really my place to comment on that.
7. It’s the perfect mix of humor, darkness, and adventure. The jokes in this show are top notch (see: Rio’s travel songs, or anything coming out of Joco and Trey’s mouths), the fights are epic, there’s roadtrips and found families, trials and training, but also death and misery. Although s*** hits the fan in the latter half, I don’t think anything can top the absolute horror of Yoh’s first fight with Faust. Scarred for life because of that one…
8. There are no godly, exaggerated power-ups. Although Yoh does constantly show himself to get stronger, he doesn’t get ahead of the others, and he doesn’t get super ultra powerful by some godly intervention or luck or special DNA or whatever. He works hard for what he earns, he grows his power along with the rest of his team, and the only reason he sets himself apart from the others (slightly) is because he’s got strong will, a kind heart, and a wise mind. His personality and the fact that he so easily makes friends with people is what ultimately gives him the power he needs in the finale, and he would’ve never been able to do anything had he not had every single person whose hearts he touched right there with him. It’s a team effort here, folks! Also, Zeke’s power is totally believable considering he’s been around for as long as he has.
9. The stuff you take it from it is beautiful. Friendship, strength, optimism and hard work are all things you learn along the way, and growing up with that really does help shape you into a better person. The friendship aspect especially, considering how Yoh went from being scared of Rio to being his mentor, or how Lenny was initially the main villain but was helped by the rest of the guys to take down his abusive uncle, thus joining the good guys and becoming Yoh’s right-hand man, or even how Tokageroh initially possesses Rio only to end up being his guardian ghost. Not to mention friendship is literally what helps the gang win in the end. You know how kids learn by watching other people, right? Watching Yoh spread friendship and love all around like it’s his nature really does wonders for you, he doesn’t even have to say anything to be inspiring.
10. The lore behind it is really cool, from guardian spirits to mediums and necromancers. The fact that you’ve got such fantastical and historical elements used in such a modern setting (they’ve got phones, planes, TV, you name it) makes it that much more exciting. It’s our world, but More.
So there ya have it. Shaman King is a show I’ve treasured for as long as I can remember, and I continue to watch it even now, so there’s a hell of a lot more I could say, but I’ll stop here and let you start loving it for yourself.
One piece of good news is that it’s getting rebooted and will be returning to us in 2021! Now with more episodes and staying more loyal to the manga, I’m curious how this new iteration is going to be – they kept the art style and stuff, so it won’t feel too different, bless. This is the perfect time to go and watch the original, right? Prepare yourself for the new one. Trust me, it’s really worth it!
As always, thank you for reading, and see you next week!