Anime has no shortage of dark fantasy series. From adult-oriented isekai to classics like Berserk, it’s one of the best mediums to explore the genre. Ishura (now streaming on Hulu) is an interesting specimen as it combines elements of several series to make an expertly-crafted adventure that pulls no punches. From an inventive setting to several intriguing decisions made to help it stand out from the pack, Ishura may be one of the biggest sleeper hits of the year for jaded anime fans looking for something new that moves them, even if it is a bleak portrait of a land ravaged by evil.
ISHURA: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: In a seemingly idyllic but ancient landscape, what looks to be an earthquake breaks out. Buildings shake, bringing people to their knees. In minutes, one area is reduced to rubble as it raises up to form something of a tower that overlooks the city in an ominous manner. It’s unclear what has happened here, but it certainly doesn’t seem like a good thing.
The Gist: For years, the people of a mystical world lived under the rule of a strange “demon king.” After the king was felled, a series of demigods took over the world in his stead: a master fencer, a lancer, a wizard, and an assassin. If it sounds like a party in your Dungeons & Dragons game, you wouldn’t be far off. They’re all vying for the title of “True Hero” as they battle it out to eliminate dangerous enemies and settle conflicts across the land. Ishura explores, as the official synopsis states, “the battle to determine the mightiest of the mighty beings,” based on a light novel series by Keiso and Kureta.
But the first episode doesn’t reveal all of this in a way that you’d expect. Yuno the Distant Talon (Reina Ueda), as she’s called, is an unassuming girl with brown hair who lives in Nagan Labyrinth City, a town full of scholars and explorers. It was built from the center of the Great Labyrinth of Kiyazuna, the Demon King.
It seems that mechanical beasts (robots, essentially) called golems have been coming out of the Great Labyrinth, which seems to have been what sprouted from the ground at the beginning of the episode. The townsfolk believe it has a seemingly unlimited amount of secrets and relics inside.
They also believe the Demon King is dead, which turns out to be untrue. After Yuno and a friend start to walk home together from school one day, another earthquake-like event happened that immediately found Yuno watching Lucelles being dismembered by a robot and eventually pulverized as other robots descend upon the city. This time, the entire thing goes up in flames as even more robots flood the area, with Yuno just barely getting away from immediate danger.
Faced with the death and chaos in front of her, Yuno was left to try and understand why, even though the Demon King was gone, the destruction continued to happen. Armed with only a power that helped her use essentially “killing words,” she does her best to hold her own with these powers, but is eventually overtaken by the golems.
When all seems lost, a hero cuts through the golems surrounding Yuno, who reveals himself as an expert swordsman. He’s the complete opposite of what you’d expect based on the climate of this magical world, brash and sure of himself, carrying a chipped practice sword. Yuno believes the world is doomed based on the Great Labyrinth, apparently a golem itself, but the man who arrived to help her is sure he can handle just about anything that comes his way, indicating he’s a visitor to the world named Soujirou the Willow-Sword (Yuki Kaiji). Together, the pair teach each other about the ways of the incredibly dark world and the threats contained within.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? It’s a bit difficult to pin down what this series will remind you of, since it adopts so many different story beats and take a unique approach to relating its story. One video game that will come to mind is certainly NieR Automata, which feels like it could certainly exist in Ishura‘s world. However, it will also bring anime like Berserk or Goblin Slayer to mind in tone alone, with its ultra-violent scenes and gore seen throughout.
Our Take: Ishura is a wild ride, especially when it comes to its first episode. It doesn’t ascribe to fantasy norms, finds who you might believe as a main character with her limbs ripped off in the first 10 minutes, and a magical hierarchy of fantasy wizards, rogues, and the like deemed the only ones who can keep a terrifying “Demon King” at bay. But on the flip side, it’s riddled with robots and golems, and a dark landscape that feels lifted from another series.
In a word, it feels fresh in a way that wards off that old, staid feeling so many isekai and fantasy anime have. In some scenes, it feels nearly alien, with words and concepts that don’t see immediate explanation as well as characters that receive little introduction. All of this works to weave a mysterious web you immediately want to know more about, especially as the golems clash with the series’ apparent setting. It’s violent in ways that so many other series skip out on, borrowing concepts with high fantasy stories, and adding a dash of mystique to make you a little uncomfortable. All of these things combine to make an absolutely fantastic first episode.
Sex and Skin: None to be found here, but if violence bothers you, you won’t want to sit by for the blood and gore found throughout this first episode alone.
Parting Shot: Yuno and Soujirou team up on a quest to go to a destination Yuno has indicated is important to solving the issues plaguing Nagan Labyrinth City, or what’s left of it. A montage of Soujirou felling multiple golems and his expertise with the beast is shown as the pair continue to travel as the announcer labels the mysterious Soujirou as Soujirou the Willow-Sword for the first time.
Sleeper Star: Though Yuno is hardly a minor character, one might overlook the care put into making her sound believably stressed and traumatized, which voice actress Reina Ueda does without a single issue. She speaks with a strained voice that’s as disturbing as the land she comes from, the belief and hopelessness having completely taken over. Ueda embodies this with cool comfort, giving vulnerability when necessary.
Most Pilot-y Line: “The true Demon King is dead. Now, the two of us can dream of a future filled with glory,” Yuno thinks to herself as her friend rests her head on her shoulder moments before being slaughtered. That was absolutely not to be the case.
Our Call: STREAM IT. This grim fantasy will have you on the edge of your seat during the entirety of its first episode, from the unexpected slaughter of newly-introduced characters to the inventive way it plays with the traditional isekai trappings. There’s a reason it only airs once a week, and that’s because it’s so tantalizing you’ll keep coming back for more without hesitation.
Brittany Vincent (@MolotovCupcake) has been covering video games and tech for over a decade for publications like G4, Popular Science, Playboy, Variety, IGN, GamesRadar, Polygon, Kotaku, Maxim, GameSpot, and more. When she’s not writing or gaming, she’s collecting retro consoles and tech.