Shaman King was a great introduction to the shounen genre… to all 6 year old boys. Back when it aired to most countries’ televisions, there weren’t many good action or adventure animated series. It was very captivating with its colors and monster designs and it seemed like it would have a very epic story full of plot twists and stuff. And guess what, it ended up having none of the above. It is still considered a very good show by thousands of people today but if you pay attention almost all of them will be saying that only because of childhood nostalgia and not because the show is actually good. Try to show this anime to later kids who grew up with Naruto or One Piece and you will get nothing but apathy. Go further than back, to people like me who grew with Dragonball or Hokuto no Ken, and you will get grandpa loathing of the sort of “Pf, kids these days don’t know what good cartoons are. When I was a boy we killed dinosaurs with our bare hands, used dice and boards to kill monsters in dungeons, and television had good action anime.”
The show is animated by Xebec, and anyone with some experience in these sorts of things easily knows that there is no such thing as a good anime made by that studio. Their budgets are small, and their directors are lazy. And indeed, 5 minutes into the first episode and you already encounter major drawbacks. Just look at the character drawing complexity, the coloring layers and the fluent animation … You can’t see them? No surprise since THEY DON’T EXIST! Animation is like an endangered species in this show. And not because it’s old, they just had no budget to make stuff move. Thus you mostly get static people with flapping mouths, in a show that is supposed to be fighting tournament. Is beef their favorite food? I assume it is, since their motions are so jerky. Each battle consists of 80% people standing frozen and TALKING-TALKING-TALKING before finally exchanging a few energy beams or shaman clashes and it’s all over. If you expect exciting battles, you are looking at the wrong place.
And then it’s the character figures, which have some really dull and stupid designs. Sometimes I couldn’t even tell if a character is a boy or a girl. Some of them look like aliens or goblins. One of the comic reliefs is a midget whose head is bigger than the rest of his body. Some hairstyles are spiky enough to poke someone’s eye out from a meter away, just by turning their heads. Hell man, how much hair spray do they use to keep it so poky? I guess they dive in glue and that is the reason they look like statues in the whole show. Thank goodness their mouths are immune to this or there wouldn’t be anything moving at all. And thank goodness the spirits are incorporeal and thus immune too so during the action scenes they move a bit better.
So yeah, most of the action is done by spirits, who swing weapons and spells of all sorts and manage to be somewhat interesting. Sadly even there you barely get any decent fights. Most don’t last for more than 30 seconds of ACTUAL fighting; if you remove all the talking that is what it’s left. As for the visual effects, they are mostly cheap monochromatic computer generated flashes. Such money savers those buggers! Easy to produce too; even little kids can make them in Photoshop.
If the visuals have something interesting, those would be the occasional spooky or gore scenes. They are underplayed and they are mostly censoring the blood compared to the manga version, but at some points you get someone’s belly opened up and his heart removed while still beating. Plus you get some really sick character designs, such as a little girl titled Iron Maiden who wears a chastity belt. Don’t ask me why she needs to wear it; this show is occasionally sick in its imagery. Not that sick makes it a better show though.
The soundtrack is sung by a girl and it’s pop so it sucks… Ok, actually it is more than that; it has no memorable tunes. I don’t remember them so they were nothing much to remember. As for the dialogues… well ok, don’t go expecting a masterpiece of literature; it is more or less “My spirit is stronger than yours and let’s fight to prove it” or “friendship is magic” for 80% of the duration. YAWN!
The best way to describe SK’s story is to think it’s like Yugioh with ghosts instead of cards. You have tournaments, you have weirdly dressed kids with superpowers, you have monsters, you have world threats, and everything is resolved by talking in battles. Insert a ton of “friendship is the most powerful thing in the universe” themes ala Tia, a super bad guy that everyone must team against, and you have yourself the usual stuff as always… No wait, you don’t. But more on that later.
It seems like it’s going to be complicating and exciting at first, having hundreds of people with all sorts of spirits going for the grand price of becoming the Shaman King, but the plot is simply not there. Most of the episodes are either pointless fillers or spars with unimportant secondary characters who have little to no purpose in the plot. You will literally be waiting for dozens of episodes for something to happen, and when it does it’s going to be all “What, it’s over already?”
And to think that you would at least get a decent closure if you showed patience? You don’t! 64 episodes of fillers, snail slow plot, endless talking, and you are rewarded with an open ending. Nobody becomes the Shaman King, ok? And even the tournament is canceled; imagine that! An applause for the creators’ brilliance please! This of course happened because the anime caught up with the manga and wrapped things up in a sloppy way. The manga is finished now but this does not excuse what they did to its adaptation.
You can blame the director too if you like. Although Mizushima Seiji has produced some interesting in themes shows over the years (Dai-Guard, Oh! Edo Rocket, Gundam 00, UN-GO) he managed to ruin them all with loose plot and inconsistencies. And that included even the first version of FMA, which is clearly inferior compared to the newer one.
Let’s skip all the unnecessary parts and go straight to the point. It’s a shounen, so all the personalities can be described in two lines at the most. Nobody is original or for the same reason memorable. There is no character development for almost everybody, and the major ones only get a few crumbs of that. Some have very tragic and violent backdrops, but because of the loose plot and the open ending, all that are going to waste. There are hundreds of characters, yet besides the major three teams, the rest are all unimportant. And of course women are useless, just there as platonic girlfriends and emotional support.
The protagonist is somewhat unconventional for a shonen lead, since he is not a screaming idiot but an easy going boy who wants a carefree life and acts cool or like he doesn’t care much about what others have to say to him. He even has a wife! Other than that, his behavior is not that different from the norm, since he still wants to make friends and protect selflessly all those close to him, even if becoming the Shaman King is supposed to be a pretty selfish goal that means trampling all others to get there. Kinda contradicts his goal in a way.
Oh, and as usual don’t go asking how parents and the police are allowing 8 year olds traveling alone and trashing every place they go to with ghosts and nobody seems to mind. Not even the Ghostbusters.
SK is not a good anime. It never was and the several problems I mentioned prove that beyond doubt. Its fame comes purely from kids who watched that and not something better. Not recommended, not even for the curious or the nostalgic ones.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 3/10
General Artwork 1/2 (typical)
Character Figures 0/2 (ugly)
Backgrounds 1/2 (basic)
Animation 0/2 (close to none)
Visual Effects 1/2 (cheap)
SOUND SECTION: 5/10
Voice Acting 1/3 (corny and silly)
Music Themes 2/4 (typical)
Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess)
STORY SECTION: 2/10
Premise 1/2 (typical)
Pacing 0/2 (slow as hell)
Complexity 1/2 (not much)
Plausibility 0/2 (none)
Conclusion 0/2 (doesn’t exist)
CHARACTER SECTION: 2/10
Presence 0/2 (stupid or dull)
Personality 1/2 (basic)
Backdrop 1/2 (generic and simplistic but it’s there)
Development 0/2 (close to zero)
Catharsis 0/2 (doesn’t exist)
VALUE SECTION: 3/10
Historical Value 1/3 (still remembered by the nostalgic ones)
Rewatchability 0/3 (none because of the terrible pacing)
Memorability 2/4 (it occasionally has some creepy ideas but does nothing with them)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 1/10
Art 0/1 (looks lazy)
Sound 0/2 (sounds meh)
Story 0/3 (feels generic)
Characters 1/4 (some have hints of interest but the pacing ruins everything)