Thinking back on my personal history of anime, Law of Ueki was one of my first shounen series (the earliest being Bleach back when it was all plot and no filler). So I’ve found that revisiting this show after much more experience in the genre and far more episodes than I’d care to calculate has been an interesting experience.
It’s been twenty-five years since the current God came into power and now the time has come to select who will take over. The method of choice is the God selection battle where one hundred candidates each select a middle school student who will fight in their stead and give them a single heavenly power. Kousuke Ueki is a young boy with a strong sense of justice and has been chosen by Kobasen to represent him in the tournament. Law of Ueki follows this one boy and his ability to turn trash into trees as he progresses through the increasingly difficult rounds while attempting to protect his new friends, defeat his enemies, and preserve the justice he so heartily believes in.
As much as I enjoy and love this series, I can’t deny that it’s cliché-ridden from start to finish. To begin with, there’s Ueki himself: a young boy with an uber-strong resolve, a freakish amount of stamina and an unbelievable recovery rate. Despite being a bit dim, he is some kind of genius prodigy when it comes to levelling up and has the mysterious ability to change the lives of everyone he meets. Then the show foists upon us the good old standard of shovelling bucketfuls of teamwork, honour and friendship down everyone’s throats until they gag on its fluffiness. Throw in the shounentastic habit of yelling out your abilities/attacks every five minutes and about five billion emotional/heartbreaking flashbacks, and you’ve got yourself a big ol’ barrelful of stereotypes – hardly groundbreaking storytelling.
On top of the clichés, some plot points border on the ridiculous, such as the sadistic whip-wielding doctor who acts more like a yakuza boss with a big-arsed drill hidden under his car bonnet, or the Dogura Mansion battle fought atop a giant cake, complete with icing and strawberries – seriously, I couldn’t make this stuff up. It’s not just the narrative that strolls into the outlandish; the various abilities seen throughout would also win awards for being bloody weird. I’m pretty sure that if you asked a kid what superpower they would want, it wouldn’t be turning tomatoes into magma or transforming electricity into sugar (no, I didn’t get that last one the wrong way round, it’s just that strange). Still, the ludicrous side of Law of Ueki comprises a large part of its charm, especially since it’s quite interesting to see the sheer variety of attacks that spawn from seemingly lame abilities. While turning garbage into plant life seems like a useless battle technique, watching Ueki use various types of trees as bats, whips, a barrage of flying stakes and more certainly impresses.
While technically the shounen stereotypes, ridiculous story elements and various plot holes (it’s amazing how Sano can keep his steel rods stiff while holding his breath AND yammering on for minutes on end about whatever) should make this series a complete turn-off, it actually kind of works. The whole show is fun; there’s plenty of action, so many battles that I’ve actually lost count, and a good dose of comedy that helps keep the mood light. Law of Ueki also has fairly fast pacing; from the first episode the viewer gets thrust into the action without much of an introduction – not that this matters since you pick up information along the way. The battles themselves don’t last particularly long, and while there’s still plenty of standing around chatting mid-fight, few of the bouts span more than an episode so even the lamest of clashes won’t eat away at too much of your time.
Ahh, Studio Deen… I want to love you, I really do – you’ve produced some of my favourite series – but you make some truly naff-looking anime. Law of Ueki happens to be one of the company’s less-than-stellar productions. While there are the standard masses of still shots and action lines a-plenty, that isn’t anything out of the ordinary in a shounen anime. My main gripe comes with the sub-par animation. Tenko’s lip-syncing is terrible… actually strike that. Tenko’s lip-synching is non-existent. While making some giant, multi-fanged creature talk can’t be easy, I’m pretty sure that randomly having the beast open and close his mouth in a manner akin to a particularly gormless goldfish isn’t the optimal solution to this problem. The general movement isn’t all that hot either, often lacking in-between frames so the overall effect comes across as choppy and stilted. One scene in particular with Ueki and B.J. hip-hop dancing down the street looks particularly awkward and embarrassing (well, even more shameful than publicly body popping in the first place).
While better than the animation, Law of Ueki’s visual design still doesn’t impress all that much. The bold, simplistic facial features and bright colour palette complement the wacky plot well, but the characters themselves tend to look quite ugly at times.
I must say that I do have quite the soft spot for this anime’s soundtrack. Tada Akifumi cleverly utilises variations on a central melody to effectively convey different moods. The main theme consists of full orchestral epicness with plenty of rousing brass tones to really heighten the triumphant feel of whatever scene it accompanies. Then a slower string-based adaptation creates a more melancholy atmosphere, especially with its deep cello solo towards the beginning, whereas a final take on this tune uses steel drums to generate a more relaxed and laid-back ambience for those between-battle breaks. Along with a variety of other symphonic tracks, Law of Ueki’s background music performs suitably well, although it can get a little cheesy at times.
Law of Ueki’s voice actors provide sufficient performances throughout the series. Though Romi Park’s Ueki sounds almost identical to her Edward Elric, she does a good job of capturing the young boy’s clueless nature and determination to succeed. Tomoko Kawakami manages to successfully convey Mori’s brash and inherently irritating personality – though my intense dislike for the character does make me want to claw my ears off every time she yells something on screen.
Mori is one of the most irritating creatures I’ve had the misfortune to watch on screen. Her main role involves stalking Ueki wherever he goes, berating him for not taking anything seriously enough, and standing around stating the bleeding obvious like the audience is too thick to notice that different coloured bubbles do different things. Of course, she does serve one other purpose: she stands around and yells “Uekiiiiiiiii” at the top of her gratingly irritating lungs a lot – much like Orihime and her incessant yelping of “Kurosaki-kuuuun” in Bleach. Well done Mori, you are officially a waste of space.
Aside from the turquoise-haired tart, Law of Ueki’s characters don’t really attempt to break the mold (though kudos to mangaka Tsubasa Fukichi for naming two of his characters Wanko and B.J – that certainly brings a smile to my face every time someone calls out to them. The entire cast remains pretty standard from start to finish. Our main protagonists range from ridiculously powerful to extremely bloody useless, while representing the ultimately likeable and comedic underdogs of the tournament. Meanwhile, the legions of antagonists fall into two categories: misguided youngsters whose lives change at meeting Ueki, or cruel/vicious/power-mad asshats who are just waiting for that satisfying – yet inevitable – smackdown.
I’ll give Law of Ueki its due, it does attempt to give pretty much everyone some kind of backstory; however, this is also means that even the really minor characters who only appear for an episode or two end up with their own dull little flashbacks. Anyone remember the guy who loved running, and his touching past? No, didn’t think so, because he’s a one-shot antagonist that plays very little part in the grand scheme of things, and to be honest, no one really cares.
I’d love to give this show a much higher score based purely on my own enjoyment – I’ve now watched it twice and found myself completely sucked in on both occasions – but it does have its faults. Law of Ueki is kind of like the Pot Noodle of the anime world; you know it’s kind of crap with its dehydrated vegetables (overused clichés) and Soya “chicken” bits (bland animation), but you still wolf it down regardless and love every sloppy second of it – even when you’re cleaning the spots off your glasses where that last noodle flicked up in your face.
There's an adage that one man's trash is another man's treasure; but for Kosuke Ueki, one man's trash is another man's... tree?! Junior high school teacher Mr. K is in the running for the title of Celestial King. Candidates must select a junior high school student to endow powers upon, and then the students might fight each other mercilessly. The victorious student's benefactor will become the new Celestial King! Kosuke was Mr. K's choice, and for his power, he chose the ability to turn trash into trees. Furthermore, if he uses his abilities to harm others, he will lose one of his natural talents. Now, Kosuke must battle a variety of other power users to help Mr. K win it all, all while keeping his talents intact!
While I like a variety of different genres, if you give me comedy or slice of life, I'm bound to be happy – and if it's dark humour, all the better! I'll review whatever takes my fancy at the time, and whether you agree or disagree with my opinions, feel free to drop me a line.