The Law of Ueki is but another title that would have been forever lost to the recesses of time with the demise of anime-giant Geneon. Fortunately Funimation has seen fit to rescue many such properties through a recent distribution agreement meaning Ueki can be enjoyed by North American audiences in all of its (massive) glory once more.
The plot is shonen in the strictest sense of the term- and is definitely quirky enough to set itself apart from a broad field of competitors (from the likes of Dragon Ball Z on up to Bleach).
The story goes something like this: Kosuke Ueki, a teen with a heart bigger than his brain, must battle other young "power-users" on behalf of his schoolteacher Mr. Kobayashi. This "Mr. K" as he’s known is one of 100 candidates vying to become the Celestial King, and to win that honor, his candidate (Ueki) must defeat everyone else's in one crazy but grand tournament. Whichever fighter wins gets a reward too: the "Talent of Blank," which can be any power he desires (hence the blank part of the name). However, using their powers on non-combatants will cause existing talents to disappear. Gradually, Ueki learns the ways of battle as he meets other rivals with strange powers that drag him across dimensions in one battle after another.
Pacing is fairly consistent, if on the slow side as one might expect in a 12-disc series. The ups and downs of the protagonists are typically resolved in each show, with a few story threads (see fights) taking a couple episodes to fully conclude. It’s pretty clear that the show’s creative staff clearly had an idea for the conclusion of the grand story arc when they set out to work on The Law of Ueki but left the minor details to sort themselves out as the story progressed. I say this because often times the entire tale seems to nearly conclude only to be rejuvenated by a character adding something to the effect of, “Oh I forgot to mention it before, but there are four more rounds of fighting after this one.”
It’s forgivable in this case because anyone seeking a masterwork of modern story telling is probably barking up the wrong tree with Ueki anyway. The show’s greatest strength comes in the form of a likeable, upbeat cast of heroes and their ensuing struggle to win a mystic tournament against insurmountable odds. Viewers can expect some of the craziest special abilities to ever grace an anime series (and that’s saying a lot); things like Ueki’s own ability to turn trash into trees or a kid who can turn bath towels into iron, another guy’s strength stems from spitting out poems (haikus to be exact), and another still can turn blueprints into the real thing.
Perhaps stranger than the powers is the motivations- characters are simply driven by the strangest things in Law. Take our buddy who can turn towels into iron for example: He wants to fight dozen upon dozen of grueling battles in effort to win the coveted “Talent of Blank” (any power he desires in the universe) so as to be able to dig a hot spring one day. Hmm, wouldn’t be a lot easier to simply buy a shovel (or better yet turn a towel into one) and skip the fighting altogether?
A majority of each episode focuses on what fans really want in a shonen series: fighting. In fact what makes Ueki stand out above the rest is that the formula for victory is typically quite complicated. So complex in fact that it often takes on the form of solving a mystery for fans watching along (don’t worry, the answer is revealed at the conclusion of each battle and sometimes requires a solid nine-minute explanation). This works surprisingly well because the rules of the tournament are only less complex than the strengths and weaknesses of any given character’s abilities. Limiting conditions, combos, and teamwork all play a role in each and every battle (especially later on) so expect at least as much strategy going into each round as sheer physical effort.
The dub track isn’t remarkable but holds up pretty well even against Funimation’s impeccable efforts of late (albeit overacted with a lot of shouting at times). Music is catchy and upbeat and the opening theme (which is used throughout) is quite appropriate.
Interestingly, this is the first Geneon/ Funimation collaboration that I’ve encountered thus far that actually retains all of the original Geneon trailer previews as opposed to replacing them with Funimation titles. Even the packaging retains Geneon’s full appearance (save for a tiny Funmation badge on the back).
My only real complaint to report is that who in the world thought it was a good idea not to bother putting numbers on each of the individual discs? This would be forgivable in a two or even four-disc collection but we’re talking twelve discs here! Sure they each depict a different character from the show, but the only way to sort things out should you happen to get them all mixed up is to study a tiny product code on each (12752 is disc 1, 12753 is 2 and so on up to 12764). Yikes!
In all The Law of Ueki is a solid shonen entry that is sure to impress fans of the genre with its unique characters, consistent rules, and truly one-of-a-kind special attacks. The strategic element is what really separates it from the rest however. Add in the fact that this set packs in 21 and a half hours of action and you have the formula for success. Just make sure to clear a big space on your shelf first.
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