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Ushio Aotsuki is the grandson of a priest and guardian of an ancient temple, where (so he is told) the malevolent spirit Nagatobimaru (Lord Long-Flyer) has been imprisoned for centuries, impaled on the magical Spear of Beast. He discovers the old legends are true when he inadvertently releases the spirit. Invisible to others, Tora (as Ushio calls Nagatobimaru) claims he would dearly love to eat Ushio but cannot get close to him while Ushio hangs onto the spear. The second-sight provided by the spear allows Ushio to see a whole world of spirits living amid our own, and, in an unlikely team with Tora, he sets out busting ghosts in the neighborhood. These include a stone centipede in a school storeroom, sickle-carrying weasels, a group of flying heads, and floating clouds of bad vibes.
Combining a reluctant-buddies/unwelcome-guest plot with modern rewrites of Japanese Folk Tales, U&T; began as a 1990 Shonen Sunday manga by Kazuhiro Fujita, only parts of which are adapted here. Despite the obvious potential for a long-running TV series (the manga tops 30 volumes), U&T; stayed on video and fizzled out in the mid-1990s, while its inferior contemporary Tenchi Muyo! ripped off its premise before swapping the ghostbusting for interminable flirting. The show comes laden with arch observations on modern Japan in the style of Pompoko-the samurai-era Tora cannot eat today's people because they daub themselves with sickly perfumes; the sickle-weasels must disguise themselves as humans to survive; and a sea monster made of drowned souls is rendered invulnerable by modern pollution. As in Devil Hunter Yohko, new construction disturbs the ancient dead, while modern children are their inheritors and saviors-Ushio is the descendant of a warrior-mage, and his friend Mayuko the reincarnation of an exorcist. This anime also features some unexpected changes of tone-despite their antagonism, Ushio and Tora complement each other like signs of the Chinese zodiac (ushi/ox and tora/tiger), and it is Ushio who leaps to Tora's defense when he is pursued by talisman master Piao, a Cantonese exorcist who mistakenly believes Tora killed his family. Similarly, while Ushio spars constantly with local tomboy Asako, he is prepared to fight for her against Tsubura, the spirit of a water wheel who wishes to carry her away (this episode is the only one not taken directly from the manga). The series ends with a spoof episode, the C[omical] D[eforme] Theater, in which cartoon versions of the characters fight, sing songs, and eventually appear in their own zany silent movie. There was also an audio spin-off on the U&T; Original Album, which featured music "inspired by" the series from Seikima-II guitarist Ace Shimizu (see Humane Society).
A welcome antidote to the teen wish-fulfillment pap that dominated much of the anime market throughout the 1990s, U&T; is by turns funny, exciting, and reflective, distinguished by two separate translations, of which the U.S. version by ADV is the superior. LV