A 70s-style white three-piece suit, spiked sideburns, and a pompadour for days, Ryunosuke Umemiya is the embodiment of questionable choices. And his questionable choices have forced us to confront one of our own: why are we rooting for a guy who kicked over a tombstone, beat up shrimpy high-schooler Manta, and willingly walks around with both a wooden sword and an entourage of small-time thugs?
From the very first episode of Shaman King (2021), we never thought we’d find ourselves in this situation, and we doubt you did either. So now, here we are, ready to break down how we got to this point, that is, championing Wooden Sword Ryu.
Chaos to Couture: The Pompadour and Fashion Choices
From the oversized purple collar and cuffs to the pseudo-gangster style of talking, to the wielding of a wooden sword for no apparent reason, everything about Ryu screams 'extra'. The highlight of his flamboyance is his foot-long pompadour which somehow has the uncanny ability to reflect his emotional state. Most people would maybe think twice about these fashion choices, but Ryu’s unshakeable confidence and unapologetic dedication to embracing himself can’t help but endear him to our hearts. Much in the way we question yet support people’s outfit choices at the Met Gala, we do the same for Ryu. His campiness makes him memorable and his attitude towards the same is downright delightful.
On a side note: Can you imagine Ryu at the Met Gala? At least we know he wouldn’t settle for a boring old tux.
Unlikely Allies: The Second Chance that Always Was
Common sense would suggest not befriending the bloodthirsty spirit who possessed and then tried to murder you. Exercising caution would suggest not involving yourself in a no-holds-barred deathmatch to become Shaman King when you have no shamanic experience. Does Ryu exercise caution or common sense? That would be a hard no. But these questionable decisions are what really make him all the more favourable in our eyes, and before you question our common sense, just hear us out!
While we don’t know much about Ryu’s lot in life, we do know it can’t have been easy. His longing for human connection and desire for a place to belong to all point at a lifetime of drifting around and never fitting in. These wishes, rather than embittering Ryu, have given him an impressive ability to empathise, second only to Yoh. And while this kind of bleeding heart does often bite the individual in question, it makes Ryu all the more likeable as he shakes it off and just keeps going. From forgiving Tokageroh and giving him new purpose as his Spirit Ally (above-mentioned bloodthirsty spirit) to joining the Shaman Fight to support Yoh and Anna’s cause in spite of having been beat up by both Yoh and Anna, to accepting Lyserg and holding a place for him on Team Funbari Onsen (and subsequently forgiving him) even though he chose the X-Laws, Ryu’s ability to forgive, empathise and remain unwaveringly loyal really shine through.
Giving his merry-band of misfits (read: gang) a place to belong, leaving behind his potential international exploits to help Manta reconcile with Yoh, Ryu is all about putting friendship first because he believes that his Best Place is only the best because of the Best People. This willingness to go the extra mile for his friends, like recklessly taking on Tao Yuan’s Gohukusetai to aid in Ren’s rescue, really highlights the heart of gold under that abrasive exterior.
Ryu somehow finds himself the unlikeliest allies, he makes yesterday’s enemies today’s friends (literally every single person has had beef with Ryu), and wholeheartedly fights for them with empathy, forgiveness, and unquestionable loyalty.
Really, how can we not root for someone like that?
The Search for the Best Place
When we first meet Ryu, he’s a big fish in the small pond of his gang. He goes from suspiciously hanging out in a graveyard to suspiciously hanging out in an abandoned bowling alley, to suspiciously vanishing at (that is, being forgotten at) the Asakura estate in Izumo, only to suspiciously return as a newly-minted shaman, eligible to participate in the Shaman Fight.
While all of this wandering around and getting beat up seems kind of random, we learn from the man himself that all he really wants out of life is his Best Place. A place where he and his merry band of misfits (again: gang) can feel like they fit in. After getting booted out of Best Place 1, the graveyard, by Amidamaru and Yoh, and then possessed by Tokageroh in Best Place 2, The Abandoned Bowling Alley, resulting in having to be rescued by Yoh, Ryu realises his affinity for spiritual energy and decides to embark on his own shamanistic journey. Why? Because he believes that his Best Place is with Yoh and Anna at the Funbari Onsen, and he wants to partake in the future Yoh dreams of making as Shaman King. He goes through the hellish Asakura training and enters the high-stakes Shaman Fights to both support his friend Yoh and his own dream. And if that doesn’t just warm the cockles of your heart, then we don’t know what will! Can we get a collective "aww"?
The Birth of Wooden Sword Ryu
When Ryu set off for Izumo with Manta, he set off on the first step of a new journey. After suffering under the tutelage of Yohmei Asakura, and a quick training montage and retrospective on his budding bromance with Tokageroh, Ryu emerges from his cocoon of small-time machismo as a campy, capable and powerful shaman. Ryu’s growth from a whining whelp who threw violent tantrums when things didn’t go his way (like the graveyard incident or when he realised Anna was betrothed to Yoh or.. you get the picture) to a competent and dependable ally with a seriously cool Oversoul (looking at you Tokageroh) is impressive. He levelled up his power and his personality into someone we can all respect and root for, like when he told Boris Tepes Dracula that the path of destruction would lead nowhere (oof, that’s some serious character growth).
Thus, Wooden Sword Ryu is a man who, at first glance, seems questionable. Questionable in motivation, in capability and most definitely in fashion. However, while questionable and often fraught with personal injury of both the physical and emotional kind, Ryu sticks with his convictions and they do pay off for him. Eventually.
This conviction along with loyalty and his forgiving nature is what earned Wooden Sword Ryu a place in our hearts. While we at Honey’s Anime sincerely wish Ryu luck in his quest for his Best Place, let us know in the comments what you think of our Dark Horse contender and if you’d like us to continue looking at Team Funbari Onsen and the rest of the Shaman Fight line up!