One of these grouped titles was Shaman King.
The anime series didn’t debut proper in America until yet another bastardized “Fox Box” 4Kids dub (soon, we’ll discuss folks like 4Kids turning somewhat mature themes into incoherent messes) in 2003. I found it a year or so earlier through my local import store, a spot at the Reisterstown Road Plaza called Power Gamer. I mean, after I stumbled across fansubs of the series at this same spot, I knew I had to see the series play out on the screen. It was only right.
Shaman King dealt with a teenage shaman (duh) who wanted to bring peace to spirits and kick some serious butt in the process. Said teen, Yoh Asakura, had a lot of swag. I mean, the brother was introduced as being headstrong but also with DJ-like headphones and a sword. He was kind of like Goku, but without the hyper overpowered abilities at times. Notice I said “at times,” because there are times where Yoh went OD on his powers. This IS a shonen series, after all.
Yoh and his BFF Manta (more so Yoh) battled against other shaman throughout the world and befriended then. This motley crew included a Black guy, Chocolove, who was kind of stereotypical (when you hear his entire backstory, you’ll see what I mean). But, even with the stereotypes, he was more of a fleshed-out character than he could’ve been.
Yoh and his crew, which also included old rivals and a romantic interest, went to battle in a shaman tournament against a bunch of OTHER shaman, that quickly devolved into Big Evil(s) trying to eradicate humanity. This last arc was bonkers, including betrayals, permadeath, and a misunderstood-but-still-bat-turd-dark villain. It was a mix of Ghostbusters meets Soul Eater meets DBZ meets My Hero Academia. Where the series shone, for me, wasn’t the fight of the week of the earlier episodes.
No, where Shaman King connected with me was the fact that it fully embraced other cultures, and did so without ever completely devolving into straight-up appropriation (Chocolove included). Additionally, even minor characters had some sort of backstory or motivation. In other words, everything felt intentional and realistic, hence my MHA comparison. Manta never felt like an annoying, powerless sidekick. Yoh had to learn to harness his powers. Yoh’s mentors, while well-meaning, never really had everything figured out themselves. Plus, there was an overarching theme of beating Yoh as a sign of respect for what he was, not just because he was the strongest. These are shonen anime traits, sure. But, the way that they were executed was unlike anything I saw from its contemporaries.
Shaman King seemingly gets overshadowed because it debuted in America around the same time as Naruto and had less volumes and episodes than the Naruto franchise. That’s a fair point in some ways. Plus, the ending of the Shaman King anime felt rushed. It was a concise and within-the-realm-of-the-series ending, but it felt a bit rushed and forced. If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean. However, it’s still a series that’s through and through worth the hours you’ll put in. The characters evolve and you’ll find yourself connecting with them, even on a level of “I remember when I was that young and stupid.”
Until next time, this is your purveyor of the new and the nostalgic who critiques it from a POC POV, SOTB, saying “stay nerdy, my friends.”