This review is spoiler free. 500 There really is nothing like a great manga from Weekly Shonen Jump. When thinking of the famous Jump series there are many titles that spring into mind. You have Dragon Ball Fist of the North Star Jojos Bizarre Adventure One Piece Slam Dunk I could go on. Jump has given us so many manga that stay with us for years even decades. One Jump title that I felt has always been lurking in the back of my mind would be Shaman King. When it was announced a new anime for it would be releasing in the spring of 2021 there was a big response from anime fans. You had fans of the manga and the original anime adaptation express their excitement at the chance to see it come back but then you had a wave of people asking wait what even is that. I have always known of it but never watched the anime or read the manga prior to this announcement. Once I completed it last year I realized this was something special that had been waiting too long to be read and I felt a twinge of regret for not doing so earlier. You may be wondering why Im specifically reviewing the kanzenban edition and thats because this is the version the new anime will be following and the true vision that the mangaka Hiroyuki Takei had for the story. The manga had its original run in Jump from 1998 to 2004 and was unfortunately cancelled due to Takei reaching a point of fatigue leaving the manga with a thrown together conclusion he was not proud of. Later the series was reprinted in this kanzenban edition where Takei was able to correct and alter things he was dissatisfied with in the first print as well as give the readers the ending he always aimed to create. If you are to read the series for yourself please do yourself the favor of seeking out the kanzenban so that you can experience the complete story as Takei intended. 500 Our story begins with a middle schooler named Manta Oyamada coming home from cram school. Once he realizes hes running late he decides to take a shortcut through a cemetery where he meets our protagonist Yoh Asakura. Upon befriending Manta Yoh reveals himself to be a shaman a person capable of binding this world with the next as he puts it. He can communicate with the dead and allows them to possess his body to utilize their powers. As events unfold he reveals that he is going to participate in the great Shaman Fight an international event held once every 500 years and become the next Shaman King. The Shaman King is a divine figure who is granted access to the Great Spirit and has the ability to reshape the world as they see fit. Throughout the story Yoh gains many friends that stand alongside him in his quest as well as many enemies set to throw it off course. The further we go we discover there is more to this situation than meets the eye with many twists and revelations that culminate in a climax that left me breathless. 500 Takei has said that he chose to base a manga around shamans because he felt it was something nobody had really done before and to serve as an outlet for exploring culture. One of the most fascinating things about the manga for me was seeing how he pulled characters from various places and tied their respective beliefs and customs into the narrative. A problem I can sometimes have in these big shonen stories is when its all still focused squarely on Japan even though it feels like it should be something larger and more encompassing. With this series that issue never comes up. You have characters from Japan China the United States England Germany Mexico and so many more parts of the world. The inclusivity of this many nations made the Shaman Fight feel as grand as it was supposed to be. And when it comes to basing the story around shamanism I do agree with Takei that it felt like a subject I had not seen a shonen manga attempt. The way that these spiritual practices connect to the action and fights within the manga are nothing short of inspired. Sometimes in battle shonen I feel like the battle system is disconnected from the plot I have experienced a few where it feels like the way characters fight is not working to enhance any kind of messages the mangaka wants to make. But this is an example of someone creating a system where it is deeply connected to the story and themes at hand. The way different cultures approach death and contact with the afterlife is an essential piece to the manga and their presence heightens a statement at the core of the story that spiritual strength will overcome adversity. What we have here is a manga that manages to tell a story as big as its premise implies while also maintaining a battle system that isnt stapled on for arbitrary reasons. It all feels unified and works together to create something that stands out from other shonen manga. 500 One of the areas that Shaman King excels in would be the large cast of characters. Yoh is a somewhat lazy and laid back person who not only stands out from other Jump protagonists of his era he stands out compared to those in Jump right now. He isnt a high strung nerd like Izuku or a loudmouth like Asta Yohs cool headedness and easy going demeanor feel fresh. Given he was ostracized for his ability to sense spirits and didnt have a living friend until meeting Manta it says a lot about Yoh that he maintained an optimistic perspective on life even if he later admits to not completely understanding people. His signature catchphrase everything will work out is a sentiment that reflects both his slacker tendencies as well as his ability to think positive under pressure. Takei has said he was the most difficult character to create due to the criteria Jump often employs but I feel all the effort he put into making him paid off beautifully. Another character who still feels unique among the various shonen leads would be Anna Kyoyama. She is a powerful young itako a female spiritual medium in Japanese culture and Yohs fianc. The very fact that she was introduced as already betrothed to Yoh was really different from what shonen manga tend to do. It isnt uncommon for the leading lady to be the male protagonists love interest but telling your audience out the gate that these characters are engaged and seeing the way it influences their dynamic felt wonderful. Even though theyre both middle schoolers there is a sense of maturity to their relationship. We dont have one of those idiot boy woos the tsundere whos too good for him romances instead we have two characters that made a deep impact on each other that drives them throughout the manga. His reasons for wanting to be Shaman King are often stated to be living an easy life but a major motivation for Yohs decision was a desire to help Anna when they first met. This had a profound effect on Anna leading to her developing feelings for him and committing herself to helping him reach his goal. She is a very steely and driven girl who will enact whatever intense training she can think of to help Yoh succeed. She isnt the type of female character who gets angry at the protagonist for spending more time training than he does with her and she isnt the passive girl who stands around while the boys do everything. She is laser focused on making him Shaman King to the point where many of the other characters are stunned by the lengths she will go to. Her proactive character was a marvelous addition and made her one of the more interesting Jump heroines that Ive seen. 500 Naturally the villain in your story should be as strong as your hero and Shaman King definitely lives up to that. Hao acts as the main antagonist to the series and he is fantastic. Without getting involved with the spoilers for him Ill just say that he is someone who gets more interesting the more you learn about him. You are initially pulled in with his enigmatic presence and with each new reveal the audience starts to see him in a different light. A key thing to his character that also left an impression on me was that I understood why he had this large following. In so many other manga some of which I am a fan you arent given much context for why a villain has so many henchmen and supporters. It sometimes is written as if they have these people at their back simply because its expected that the villain has followers or youre to assume they are just following the strong. But Hao is given this charisma and drive that makes me see why he has a cultlike support system at his disposal. Haos surprisingly relaxed personality creates a great contrast to his ruthless behavior that we see throughout the Shaman Fight and it makes him intriguing to observe. Hes become one of my favorite Jump villains whenever he appears he has my attention and I cant get enough. 500 The other members of the Shaman King cast are no slouch either. Manta despite not being a shaman proves to be an important figure throughout the manga. He serves as the narrator to the series and utilizes his intellect and familial wealth as assets for Yoh in his journey. I appreciate that he didnt gain some kind of magical ability outside being able to see spirits and still gets to be as involved in the manga as he was. Not to mention the comedic relief with him was a blast. I never got tired of him pulling out that giant book to share whatever information he has to offer. Someone else I was happy to see as a regular part of the cast was Tao Ren a Chinese boy who begins as an enemy to Yoh and develops into one of his most interesting companions. His pride and seriousness are some of his defining characteristics and while he frequently clashes with Yoh and his friends it is always clear at the end of the day where his loyalties are. His initial antagonistic role is something he breaks away from but it never gets erased by the narrative as his past choices and his toxic upbringing stay relevant during the Shaman Fight. I enjoyed this sometimes it can feel like once a character gets from Point A to Point B we never reflect on that starting point again but Takei was not about to let that happen. Another character I was very attached to is the Ainu shaman Horohoro. Ainu representation in anime and manga is not as common as one might expect and I definitely have not seen an Ainu character in a Jump manga before. So having him be a part of the main cast in itself is unique and seeing elements of the Ainu traditions woven into his combat style had my attention. My understanding of Ainu beliefs is that they have a very profound and complex relationship with nature and Takei used that to create some stand out fights with Horohoro. He relies on ice as a primary element and uses a snowboard he crafted giving him a sense of traditionalism meets modernization. Like with the other characters Horohoro carries a past one that he guards fiercely out of guilt and shame and it made for some truly moving moments. The way the back stories are handled in Shaman King felt so organic it didnt feel like something being crowbarred in for the sake of stirring drama. There are so many other members of the cast worth mentioning like Chocolove Faust Ryu Lyserg Jeanne Marco Silva I could keep going. All of my favorite Jump manga offer a large cast with memorable personalities and Shaman King is no exception. 600 Visually this is a manga I found incredibly striking and filled with a strong aesthetic sense. Takeis art is very graphic and crisp in a way that I feel other Jump mangaka were not doing at this time. He takes a considerable amount of inspiration from graffiti art western comics like Hellboy mecha anime and the works of Osamu Tezuka and Hirohiko Araki. All of these influences led to him developing an art style that I think has aged incredibly well. Some manga and anime from this era in my opinion have not held up through the years. But with Takei I believe his art still looks great in a modern context and I would never mistake it for someone elses work. While the earliest chapters look like they need some polishing they also show potential. As the manga progresses Takei comes into his own and presents a visual style thats appealing to me on all fronts. The art looks very clean and while its not a detailed manga its strengths lie in how stylized everything is. The characters look distinct and the designs on the spirits are downright amazing. Whether its the mecha designs for the Archangels Amidamarus sharp samurai look the Ren and Stimpy esque designs for Konchi and Ponchi the imposing Grand Elemental Spirits Elizas beauty or the adorable Kororo he was so inventive with his creations. The spirits come in a variety of looks while never feeling out of place with the rest of the manga. It all goes to show how well thought out Takeis visuals were to incorporate so many different ideas and still feel cohesive impressed me. 500 Shaman King is a manga that I wished I read sooner than I did but better late than never. At the time I am writing this review we are just one season away from the new anime airing and I am thrilled. Knowing I will experience it in a new medium featuring some of my favorite seiyuu is something I cant wait for. Takeis storytelling and artwork feel like they need to be told through animation. And while its great to know the original anime was good in its own right it is also my understanding that it eventually broke away from the source material and did its own thing. This is a case where remaking an anime is justified being able to see the story as Takei intended it to be matters and the fans have wanted something like this for a long time. Modern audiences may not know this but there was a time where Shaman King was so big that it was considered the greatest rival to One Piece. The manga in both the original edition and the kanzenban has sold tremendously with over 35 million copies in circulation and it has been featured in various popularity polls. Having read the kanzenban I can see why that is. The manga is fun with a plot that develops further into a grand epic and hosts a diverse and varied cast of characters. As someone who consumes a lot of battle shonen I can say this was something that stood out from the rest. Even though I can sense the places Takei drew inspiration from he still worked with those concepts to create something distinct to him. Its proof that someone can take an idea weve seen before and apply it to their work in a way that doesnt feel derivative. People can be quick to dismiss something because of something that feels familiar within it but I think that would be doing a great disservice to something like Shaman King. While its a shame that the original run was cut short the fact that he got to go back and correct these things has been a blessing. Not every mangaka can say they got the opportunity to change the things they didnt like about their work and then see that version get an anime for itself. In my opinion this version deserves to be remembered as one of the great classics from Jump and I am on the edge in anticipation to see it again.
90 /100
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