Previously, Yoh and his friends ran into Lyserg Diethel, a shaman detective from London who was looking for allies to get revenge on Hao. It escalated into a series of battles where Yoh finally put his foot down made Lyserg come to his senses. After making up for the mess he caused, Yoh's friends eventually accepted Lyserg to the group.
In my review, I was largely disappointed with how the fight was animated. There wasn't much pizazz despite the amount of tension the battle had. It was a bit of a shame considering how the episode before was well put-together. How will Episode 15 fare?
This episode adapts Chapters 90 through 94 from the manga. It covers two major plot points: Anna learning about Hao Asakura's history and Horohoro's side story.
The episode continues right where Ep. 14 left off. Yohmei Asakura tells Anna about how 1000 years ago, Hao became the great Onmyoji (a diviner) through mastering the five elements of the pentagram (fire, lightning, water, wind, and earth). He worked for governments who sought his divinations, but eventually he decided to destroy mankind and make a shaman-only kingdom. The Asakura family stopped him, but because he is a master shaman, he mastered full control over his spirit even after death. This allowed him reincarnate twice, the first time into the Patch Tribe to steal the Spirit of Fire and the second time in the current era.
Picture of the original Hao Asakura.
Yohmei tells Anna that Yoh needs her help to defeat Hao, though Tamao who is eavesdropping protests about how unfair it is for Yoh to be put into this David vs. Goliath situation. However, Anna sets her straight, reiterating her utmost confidence in her fiancée. Before the two girls set off, Yohmei tells Anna to deliver the Cho-Senjiryakketsu, an ancient book of Hao's teachings, to Yoh. However, he warned that the book is guarded by two lethal Shikigamis, Zenki and Goki, in case anyone dared to open it. In comedic timing, Tamao accidentally broke the seal and released the two demons. As Zenki and Goki were about to harm Ponchi and Conchi, Anna quickly learned some of the texts and easily tamed the Shikigami. Then, the two girls go on their merry way to America.
Anna uses her itako abilities and the techniques she quickly learned from Hao's texts to stop the Shikigami demons.
As that happened, Hao's forehead starts bleeding from the blowback of his broken spell which greatly startles one of his followers. While surprised at the sudden development, he is also very eager of what's to come.
Meanwhile, Yoh and his friends are trying to find Patch Village at the top of the Rockies to no avail. When they ask Lyserg why his dowsing can't find the village, he explains that he can only sense people's ki and Morphin's detection range is only a mile radius. As he formally introduces his spirit, Ryu and Horohoro fawn over how cute she is, though this upsets the latter's spirit, Kororo. The group decides to settle at Duringo while Horohoro continues to search for Patch Village on his snowboard. He slides off a cliff thinking that Kororo is integrated into his snowboard, but realizes that she's gone before he falls and goes unconscious for 3 days.
Horohoro falls several meters as he realizes Kororo is not integrated in his snowboard to soften the fall.
He wakes up in a cabin of a park ranger named Bluebell. Thanking her for rescuing him, he takes his leave, but Bluebell warns him about a bear named Apollo who's very hostile to humans. They sit down where Bluebell talks about how when she was young, she and her dad found Apollo after the bear got shot by a shotgun. She became a park ranger to protect Apollo from hunters and stop people from harming nature. However, Horohoro points out at the limitations of her plan, noting that humans, too, are part of nature and "survival of the fittest" is absolute. This upsets Bluebell before she cools down and tells Horohoro that Apollo is none of his concern and she will drive him to Duringo the next day.
A young Bluebell and her father with Apollo.
But Horohoro has other ideas as he dons his cool black battle outfit and finds Apollo to have some small talk. Bluebell drives after him worried that Apollo will kill him. He reveals his background as an Ainu tribesman and shaman to Bluebell and how his people are very connected to nature. That said, Horohoro's talk with Apollo seemingly doesn't go well as the bear pummels him. Bluebell tries to intervene, but Horohoro tells her that her intervention will only upset Apollo more. He reveals that the human scent she left on Apollo had the other bears reject him and her good deeds actually made his life worse.
Horohoro dons his battle outfit.
Horohoro tries to have a conversation with Apollo.
Horohoro states that although he lost Kororo, his pain is nothing compared to Apollo's and vows to get his spirit back to fulfill his dream of building a field of butterbur. Kororo, who has been eavesdropping the entire time, is very happy that her master has not sight of his goal. Realizing that Horohoro understands his feelings, Apollo stops being aggressive and becomes more friendly to the shaman. However, the good feelings abruptly end when a bunch of hunters shoot the bear dead.
The hunters discover that Bluebell is also present, so they try to flee, but Horohoro tells them to claim Apollo for food as he doesn't want Apollo's body to rot for nothing. However, the hunters don't want to as they say they just hunt as a hobby which greatly upsets Horohoro. He goes after the hunters who seemingly shoot him point blank. But thanks to his reunification with Kororo, he is able to block the bullets with his ice powers. He integrates Kororo into his ikupasuy and traps the hunters with his ice for Bluebell to arrest them.
Horohoro blocks the bullets with an armor of ice.
Horohoro traps the hunters with his ice abilities.
Back at the cabin, Bluebell consoles Horohoro for what happened and encourages him to fulfill his dream of becoming the shaman king and building a field of butterbur that no one can destroy. She tells him not to let Apollo's death discourage him before Horohoro replies with "But it's so sad".
Apollo's grave with Horohoro's black headband outside Bluebell's cabin.
After slightly disappointing me last week, Bridge studio manages to impress me a great bunch with Ep. 15. In fact, this may be my most favorite episode, thus far, as it is very well structured and emotional. As the adapted content was more narrative-oriented than action-oriented, it played to Bridge's strengths. The art, especially, during Horohoro's side story was very emotive and detail driven.
Anna's portion was executed decently. I really liked how when Yohmei summarized Hao's history, the anime did it through the traditional Japanese art style and as he laid it bare for Anna, it was under a very shadowy, melancholic atmosphere. However, the episode also contrasted the serious atmosphere with some good share of pretty comedic moments like how Tamao tried to eavesdrop without Yohmei and Anna knowing and being really bad at it or how she accidentally broke the seal of Cho-Senjiryakketsu and released the Shikigami.
Some of the traditional Japanese "paintings" used as Yohmei summarizes Hao's history.
That said, the star of the show was undeniably Horohoro. Throughout much of the anime, while he is a powerful shaman, he has sometimes been depicted as a comic relief character. However, under his sometimes goofy nature, he brings up some very good philosophical points. For instance, while he deeply respects nature and dislikes those who destroy it, he also acknowledges that humans are part of nature, too, and the strong inevitably prey on the weak.
The episode really tugs the heartstrings when Horohoro got through to Apollo only for the bear to die by the hunters' hands. From Horohoro wounds, you can tell that he's giving it his all to understand Apollo's feelings and it was very touching when they found mutual respect for each other when Apollo licked Horohoro's wounds. And then, the sudden gunshot was a major gut punch. I remember reading it on the manga and feeling as devastated as Horohoro. The anime captured the impacts and feelings just as well.
The whole sequence on how Horohoro deals with Apollo's death is arguably the most badass moment to date. It was chilling seeing him completely calm at first, not holding any grudges against the hunters and even telling them to don't let Apollo's corpse go to waste. And when he got really angry as he learned that the hunters only killed animals for fun, that sent down more chills. The soundtrack that played as he got up from the gunshots and trapped the hunters with his ice powers was extremely fitting. On top of that, the voice actor for Horohoro, Yuji Ueda, hit all of the emotions perfectly.
While the previous episode was a letdown, this week's episode was extremely well executed. With the content playing to Bridge's strengths, the studio leveraged its high quality drawings that had a lot of narrative (e.g. the traditional "paintings" of Hao) and emotive (e.g. Horohoro stopping the hunters) power. Even though Apollo and Bluebell only lasted one episode, their contribution to Horohoro's character development was immense and very emotional. Lastly, the music and voice acting throughout the episode was top notch.
Shaman King (2021) may be inconsistent from its very mediocre to its amazing moments. However, when it hits those highs, it is extremely high.