"Shonen Onmyouji": It Exists to Make Other Anime Feel Better About Themselves
There are some series that are simply magical. The characters are wonderful, the plot is engaging, the animation is breathtaking, the music is addictive, and every single facet of the series is just one moment of super awesomeness after another.
And then there’s tripe like Shonen Onmyouji.
In ancient Japan, spirits and demons roam the streets. The only ones who can take them out are onmyoujis, Japanese priests who use their mystical powers to purify their surroundings. Nobody is greater at this than Abe no Seimei, a prodigy in every sense of the word. However, even Seimei ages, and he is soon about to retire. Luckily, he has a grandson, Abe no Masahiro, with grand magical powers within him. But because his powers have been shut down for most of his life, Masahiro has no skills whatsoever. Luckily, the kid is paired with Tohda, a shikigami with power over fire, who goes by two new aliases: his battle-ready form of Gurren, and his cute animal form of Mok-kun. Together, these two battle demon after demon while protecting the princess Akiko and all of Japan. But when an evil from the past rears its ugly head and threatens to destroy the world, can even Masahiro’s great power stop this great evil from claiming complete and utter victory?
Now, you might think that having two separate reviewers lambaste the series would be enough to indicate that the series sucks. But I guess not. So, I’m going to be original this time.
This series sucks. Seriously, don’t bother with it. There’s nothing in it that is worth anybody’s time.
The plot has two halves. The first arc deals with an evil tiger demon that is missing half of its neck, while the second concentrates on the main character development described above. But neither half is really all that interesting. The first half is especially bad, as none of the characters develop beyond a one-note schtick, the bad guys are about as generic as your average InuYasha filler episode, and the action itself is about as exciting as your average battle in Bakugan. It says a lot when that the very average prologue was enough to make me despise the show that followed, even before I’d seen it.
The characters themselves don’t help any. Masahiro is one of the blandest shonen heroes I’ve ever seen. He sets out to be an onmyouji for no real reason, he has no drive or goals to develop, and for some reason he keeps attending this onmyouji school even though he’s the only one in the entire school with any mystic powers whatsoever. Remind me again why this kid is attending school and being everyone’s butt monkey when he’s one of only two people (the other being his grandpa) who can actually fight the demons tearing up Japan. It’s like someone who should be attending Harvard decides instead to attend Miami (no offense to Miami) and then decides not to use the full extent of his talents.
Mok-kun isn’t any better. While he may get chuckle-worthy lines every once in a while, most of the time he just comes off as a whiny female dog without any of the charm of other animal mascots such as Pikachu from Pokémon, Agumon from Digimon, or Kero from Cardcaptor Sakura. He also tends to get even blander when turning into his attempting-to-be-badass Gurren form. The guy might have some personality if Steven Blum voiced him, but since he doesn’t, his paper-thin persona gets exposed for all to see. He doesn’t even have a cool attack to fall back on!
Most of the other supporting characters don’t do much either. Of all the Shikigami infesting the screen, only three or four do anything worthwhile, with one only appearing after two-thirds of the show is over with and three of them not even appearing at all until the final few minutes! Princess Akiko gets some nice screen time late in the series, but for most of the show she’s your standard aloof princess with all the characterization of a stick. She also just so happens to have a twin sister who isn’t even mentioned, let alone seen, until a certain event happens to separate her from the main character, Masahiro. Actually, a lot of the family in this show isn’t mentioned at all until the plot calls for it. Masahiro’s dad has some power, but doesn’t really do anything at all to support his son. Masahiro’s mom barely appears at all in the series and only gets two episodes with more than a few minutes screen time. Masahiro’s brothers contribute absolutely nothing to the plot whatsoever. His oldest brother appears in a whopping two episodes and does nothing but get his butt kicked while our hero does all the tough work, while the middle brother never even appears at all!
So, there’s gotta be something good about it, right? Well, Seimei has some amusing scenes as he weeps over Masahiro’s general ineptitude, but he can also back it up by transforming into his younger form and kicking more ass than the rest of the cast combined, which makes me wonder why the hell he’s sitting on his butt half the time instead of backing his grandson up. Then there’s the female ninja Kotane, who appears during the second half. She’s not the greatest kunoichi ever, and she won’t be appearing on any grand character lists or anything, not to mention she serves the not-as-idiotic-but-still-quite-stupid big bad of the second story arc. But she’s one of the better designs on the show, and a sexy girl ninja with superpowers is much more fun to watch than a bratty kid with no talent whatsoever. Even this gets wasted later on when she gets dispatched so easily by the antagonists that it’s a wonder the bad guys ever bothered to train her. At least her trainer wasn’t a generic tiger named Kiku. No matter how strong I was, no way I could ever say I served under a stupid cat that called itself Kiku.
Speaking of stupid demons, most of the demon designs in this show suck horribly. Many of them are just beefed up versions of regular animals, which is okay for a one-shot villain that the hero fights at the end of the episode, but as the main villain for the arc? No, just no. It doesn’t help that said tiger has a gaping hole in his neck where all his muscles are hanging out for all to see, so there’s a squick factor too. Most of the character designs don’t do any better, as most of them are as generic and forgettable as you can get, especially the Shikigami. Of all the designs, Suzaku’s is probably the best, but he doesn’t really get to do anything in the show, so it’s a waste of a character. Even if he did, though, the animators couldn’t even animate him attacking effectively. The show has a crappy color palette that can’t decide if it wants to be dark and gloomy or bright and cheery, and the animators use as few frames as possible to animate the fight sequences. I know Pokémon isn’t exactly the pinnacle of animation, but even that series has some well-animated fight scenes, while here every single battle is composed of limited frames coupled with generic CG. At least said CG makes things slightly better. I can only imagine how horrible the animation would have been in, say, 1993.
Now, you would think that Geneon would have gotten the LA talent pool to record the dub, or even Ocean Group up in Canada, but you’d be wrong. Nope, instead we get a cheap dub from Odex in Singapore of all places. Unfortunately, not one character gives a convincing English performance, and while Masahiro himself has one of the better voices, even his is stilted beyond belief and lacks any and all emotion to make the character worth caring about. I doubt even the combined awesomeness of Steven Blum and Crispin Freeman would have saved this show, but it would have at least made the dub slightly more interesting. The Japanese version is a bit better in this regard. Nobody is outright bad, though there isn’t a single voice from the Japanese track that I would actually call memorable. Not even the music stands out, as the opening and ending themes make me shift in my seat, while the background music sounds like somebody raided the stock music pool from the old Fox Kids’ block and copied the soundtracks used for the old X-Men and Spider-Man cartoons, only they didn’t do a good job at it.
Now, for some odd reason, FUNimation has decided to re-release this old Geneon title in a complete series set. What’s even odder is the lack of FUNi on the set. Geneon’s stuff is all over the spines of both the casing and the thinpaks themselves, while the menus and discs seem to be exact reprints of the original single releases. When you boot the disc up, the FUNi logo is nowhere to be seen while the Geneon logo materializes, and even the trailers included with each disc are of Geneon releases like Karin and the second season of Kyo Kara Maoh. Usually these FUNi re-releases replace everything with their own homemade stuff, but not this time. We even get the motionless, music-less menus from the original discs. As for actual extras, there are only textless songs and trailers, though I must say the cover art is actually well done and more interesting than the show itself.
Overall, if you were even considering getting Shonen Onmyouji, don’t. It’s not worth it. If you’re really itching for an old-time Japanese series, I recommend Rurouni Kenshin, Tactics, InuYasha, Ninja Scroll … Pretty much anything else in the genre.