Shaman King: Ren Tao is Cringe

In a world ripe with cringey antagonists, there is an individual that stands out from the rest of the cringe mold…

All jokes aside, I just want to say that I realize that dynamic antagonists with compelling, convincing motives are hard to come by. Not going to act like I know how to write them, but I don’t feel like that negates my own capacity for critiquing fictional works that I consume during my free time. With this being said, I recognize the need for characters like Ren Tao, but I still found myself cringing at everything that he said during the most recent episode of Shaman King. If you guys are following the show this season and are caught up, I’m sure that you’ll know what I’m talking about. At least I’d hope so.

I knew that when Ren showed up briefly at the end of the pilot that I was going to be in for some eye-rolling. I can’t tell if it was due to the tropeyness of his character or just his general aura, but I didn’t hesitate to consider him as one of the numerous characters of cringe that one stumbles upon constantly throughout anime (and fiction, in general). He insists on calling human beings “vermin who must be exterminated” merely for the sake of driving a car that “pollutes the atmosphere and obscures the stars.” His other compulsions develop and reveal the bulk of his own philosophy and outlook on life. A good villain is able to see the gray areas of life, but Ren fails to do so.

At any rate, I think it’s clear that Ren won’t be a major antagonist. He seems like a character whose faulty ways will easily be shattered when the hero humbles him–thus, shattering Ren’s own faulty convictions. I’m sure that within a few episodes, he will begin to recognize where he errs and will begin the trek toward realizing his full potential as an individual who exacts authentic justice. I look forward to seeing his development as a character and the changes in his relationship with others.

Having just finished the second episode of Shaman King, I’d have to say that I’m enjoying it so far. It’s not really up in the running when it comes to my favorite seasonals, but I do like it enough to continue watching. I’m not familiar with the source material at all, so I can’t say how faithful or worthy this new adaptation is. Based off the multiple attempts to animate the acclaimed manga, it seems that this one is the Shaman King adaptation to end all Shaman King adaptations. I’m hoping that this one will put the complaints to bed for those that are faithful fans of the series.

Although this may seem like it is a run-of-the-mill shounen, I don’t think this is a reason to necessarily overlook it. There are plenty of things about the show that make it stand out from the mold. Yoh Asakura’s personality is reminiscent of some of my favorite characters. Toward the end of this second episode, Yoh had a flashback to his childhood where he was doing his shaman training with his grandfather. The dialogue helped lay out some of the groundwork for the themes that will be developed later on throughout the show.

In the aforementioned scene, Grandpappy Asakura chastises his grandson for his lackadaisical approach and outlook on life. Upon hearing that Yoh’s ultimate desire for his life and future is to “Listen to my favorite music, relax, and live in comfort and convenience,” he goes x-games mode on his grandson…

Yoh’s aims for his own life is by no means outstanding. He doesn’t have big dreams, no hopes of “making something of his life.” He’s just a kid that wants to chill and be at peace. He’s a genuine character and seems like someone who’d be easy to get along with. Yet, simultaneously, he seems like an individual that may prefer to keep to himself and his own devices.

Yoh was born into circumstances that make his ideal life nearly impossible. He is destined to fill a role that no else actually can. Whenever I see characters initiated into situations like this (e.g. Kento Nanami, Wolfgang Grimmer, etc.), it demonstrates to me the power that storytelling is able to wield. No one chooses their own life’s circumstances, but everyone does have personal aims or desires. We all have things that we wish [or wish not] to do. This second episode illustrated this inner struggle of Yoh’s. I’m looking forward to seeing more of it. I don’t have all that much exposure to him as a character, so time will tell whether or not this feeling of mine holds true.

So far, I am enjoying the dynamic between Yoh and Manta. If Doctor Watson was a bothersome little fart of a child, this show would be giving me a lot of Sherlock-Watson vibes. As brutally troublesome as Manta can be, I do kind of like him. Although it may not be all that appealing for the broad scope of the audience, I am fond of the narrative’s point of view coming from him. An essential aspect of Manta’s character is the role of comedic relief. His VA does a good job at capturing his little-man syndrome and exuding the annoying [and endearing] parts of his personality. I like seeing things from his perspective.

The animation is really clean. It may not exactly stand out all that much, but it definitely isn’t bland. The fights aren’t the most exciting, but they do look good. There hasn’t really been any blatant instances of sakuga, which is a bit disappointing. Maybe we will get to see some as the show progresses. Time will tell.

I found Yoh’s grandfather’s expounding on human nature to be the most interesting part of the show so far. It had more emotional depth than anything else that I’d encountered thus far throughout Shaman King. The cloud of mystery that surrounds “God” was interesting. This conversation seemed to be laying the groundwork for a pivotal plot point. It illustrates and stands as a reminder for the hero’s journey to self-realization as the chosen one (i.e. Shaman King). Looking forward to seeing this play out.

If anyone complains about Shaman King being “just another shounen,” I probably won’t speak up because it really does seem that way. This shouldn’t be completely unexpected, as this is a work that has been around for quite some time. It’s only been a couple episodes though, so I feel like it is a bit too early to discredit it completely. Regardless, I’m sure that the anime has an audience.

As for me, I’m going to be sticking with it for now. Gonna try to see how the rest of it unfolds.

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