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Anime Review: The Law of Ueki

James Henley | 14 Jul 2009 15:00
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The Law of Ueki is the latest entry into the esteemed shonen genre of anime, where it is a time-honored tradition to outfit your cast of characters with the thinnest of paper-thin motivations, stock personalities, and an array of ridiculous powers before unleashing them into the wild. Here, they are given any/every flimsy excuse conceivable to engage one another in over-the-top battles in pursuit of something that may, or may not, vaguely resemble a storyline.

If that doesn't sound entirely dissimilar from the setup of the last arcade fighter you played, then you've already got a good grasp of how the genre typically works. To be fair, not all shonen series fall into that abominable mould but this review is about The Law of Ueki, which makes no effort to distinguish itself from the above description.

The basic premise behind the series is that the next Celestial King will be determined from among one hundred candidates via competition. Each candidate must choose a child from the human world to act as their proxy. The child will receive a power from their candidate - in the form of a "power to turn X into Y" formula - and must then proceed to beat down every other power user in the proceedings.

The protagonist and series namesake, Ueki, initially seems to be a likeable, sardonic, and relatively competent character that receives the power to turn trash into trees. As the story progresses, he technically remains competent but his intelligence completely evaporates. At least he puts on a good show whenever he fights, which is - to the benefit of the series - quite often, as he has to make up for the utter inability of his allies to accomplish anything without him.

The supporting cast - and, indeed, the entire cast of the series - is barely worth a mention. They almost universally run the range of bland to downright obnoxious, and the only two that appear to be intelligent and/or capable instead become a slapstick comedy duo the moment they join forces with Ueki.

In terms of audio, some of the characters were equally irritating to listen to regardless of what language I chose, but I wouldn't hesitate to say that nearly every character was grating in the dubbed version. You have been warned.

The meat of a shonen series is found in its fights, and The Law of Ueki had plenty of them. They were well animated, flashy, over-the-top, and would have been a lot of fun to watch if not for the constant narration. It seemed that, at any given point in time, somebody was determined to give a blow-for-blow account of everything that was happening between the combatants. This explanation wasn't reserved for the strangely complex moments, such as when Sano used magnetism to turn himself into a linear rail cannon. No, they also used it for basic physics, such as the deflection of a sphere with an angled sheet of metal. Every little thing received a full-blown verbal explanation from an onlooker. In case the viewer shared Ueki's sterling intellect, they were even kind enough to include diagrams on occasion.

When the Madden-esque narration wasn't damaging the sense of flow and pacing, there was the monologuing. Everybody that Ueki fought was determined to extol their philosophies, life stories, and the finer details of their powers - including their weaknesses - in what can only be described as a desperate bid at self-sabotage. In the event that people ran out of ideologies to espouse, they resorted to shouting the name of their power over and over again instead.

While the fights had the potential to be slick, hard-hitting eye candy - and they still pull off the occasional brilliant moment, such as Sano's aforementioned rail cannon - they are ultimately so riddled with unnecessary exposition as to be maddening exercises in poor pacing.

The moment I saw a whip-wielding doctor driving a car with a mounted drill, I knew this wasn't a series to take seriously, but if that's the case, it shouldn't have tried to present itself seriously either. Dramatic tension and political plots failed in light of inconsistent threat of danger and Ueki power leveling in the belly of a beast. No, really. Ueki went into a Celestial beast's stomach, where he was put through various trials and tests by other creatures that live inside, and he came out magically stronger. Repeatedly.

Nobody ever said the shonen genre was noted for intelligent writing and, after watching The Law of Ueki, I doubt anybody ever would.

Bottom Line: Bad writing, obnoxious characters, and a generally frustrating series that lasts for 51 episodes of pure pain and plays out like a bad arcade game. At least it has less filler than Naruto and less grunting than Dragonball Z.

Recommendation: Unless you're the hardest of hardcore lovers of the shonen genre, stay away. If fighters are your thing, you'd be better off watching an older classic like Yu Yu Hakusho than this.

James Henley would like the power to turn trash into trees if only to see what the Ueki DVDs would turn into.

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