When I first saw the tweet announcing the return of Shaman King, I was — you know what, just read the tweet:
It was my favorite TV show as a preteen and built my fundamental interest in anime and manga, just like Batman: The Animated Series most likely influenced a new generation of comic book fans (I’m an X-Men guy). After the elation wore off, though, I decided to do what was natural — watch it on my laptop. And after an extensive search, I found only DVDs. Nothing else.
I’m getting a little ahead of myself here. Shaman King started as a shōnen manga in 1998, written and illustrated by Hiroyuki Takei. The series chronicled the tales of easygoing teen Yoh Asakura — and his spirit partner Amidamaru — as they train for, and later enter, the Shaman Fight, a “semi-millennial event that draws shamans from around the world to compete for the chance to become the Shaman King and the wielder of the omnipotent Great Spirit.” Along the way, he makes allies (mostly from enemies), lands himself in wild fights, and discovers his twin brother is the reincarnation of an ancestor (ah yes, the classic shōnen twist). The television show launched in 2001 in Japan and 2003 for most English speaking regions, going on for only 64 episodes.
An important aspect of the series was the blend of different cultural ideals on spiritualism. As a show built on the backbone of ghosts willing to work with humans as their guardians in a Pokémon fashion, no two spirits are the same. Yoh’s Amidamaru is a Japanese samurai, but his foe-turned-friend Tao Ren teamed with a Chinese military general. The Shaman Fight is overseen by Native Americans, who used mainly animal spirits and their ancestors as guardian ghosts. There was a group of fighters called the X-Laws that had archangels, showing a loose Christian influence. There was even necromancy representation, from the character Dr. Johann Faust VIII, who used his dead wife’s spirit and had a necrophilic vibe about him. The relationship between spirit and welder added background depth that took it from being very straightforward to giving everyone a bit of expression in even the simplest fashion.
In addition, Shaman King’s biggest sell was always the character development. This was the first show I remember where every character had a backstory that was explored, even if it was for just an episode. For example, Tao Ren was the exact opposite of the hero Yoh — angry and impatient, but smart. Originally an enemy, the two would later become tentative allies after Yoh and his compatriots traveled to Ren’s family home and discovered although he was rich, Ren had a broken family life. He was pushed and trained for excellence, to an extreme, by his father. Seeing his home and family life framed Ren’s personality and how his drive for greatness gave him a one track mind.
Alas, this is a 64-episode show for a reason — they couldn’t keep it going. Even though Takei ended the manga in 2004, the show diverged from the source material, without an ending in sight, and set its own natural endpoint. There was a manga revival in 2008 to give the series the ending he originally intended. Additionally, there were sequels and spin-offs, but no return to television until the recent announcement. Ideally, this is going to go the way of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, where the original show ended before the manga, and the sequel series fleshed out more of the canon.
Again, there is no legal online streaming option for this show, which is tragic. It is only 64 episodes, already translated, and no one has picked up the US rights for streaming distribution (yes, I checked). Honestly, the fact that there’s a reboot coming (hopefully landing on American streaming via Crunchyroll/HBOMax, Netflix, or Hulu with a dub), could lead to the service bringing back the original version.
Or, maybe in 2021, all I’ll get is this revived version with a fresh ending. I win either way — I get more Shaman King. In the meantime, I’m gonna use some resources to prepare for next year.