Ushio to Tora – 14

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As we begin UtT’s second cour, Ushio is finally in Hokkaido, but his hardships are far from over: not only is Hakumen no Mono sending thousands of little minnions out to grab the spear, there are others—humans—who want the spear too, and not because they’re greedy or evil, but simply because they think it’s their birthright…and they’ll be damned if some denim-wearing snot-nosed punk kid is going to butt in line for it.

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He meets the first of these “rightful successors” as HnM’s minions start to coalesce into a larger beast. Her name is Sekimori Hinowa of the Kouhamei sect, and her game is to take possession of the Beast Spear. Very tall, very tough, and sporting a very no-nonsense outfit and haircut, she actually makes some pretty good points about Ushio’s ownership thus far. His lack of training has caused him a lot more trouble and collateral damage than would have occurred were he able to properly “hear” the spear.

So Sekimori snatches it away, and when Ushio refuses her offer to hit her in frustration, she hits himOH NO SHE DIDN’T! But her comeuppance is swift; the Beast Spear won’t answer her call; it ignores her completely, and what would have been an easy beast to slay starts wailing on her.

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Proving he’s neither one to hit a girl nor to stand by and let even someone who wronged him get killed, Ushio launches himself between Sekimori and the monster. When it tries to take her as a hostage with its tentacles, he fires his spear, slashing them to bits, along with her prim-and-proper clothes, in one of UtT’s more amusing executions of fanservice. The beast, for it’s part, is disgusting sinister in its design.

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To put a cherry on top of our Sekimori Schadenfreude Sundae, when Ushio is in a tight spot for saving her, Tora blasts in to free him so he can regain his handle on the spear and do his thing, slicing the monster in half and such. In the aftermath, a rather chastened and rebuked (but not ready to admit it) Sekimori accepts Ushio’s ownership of the spear and his “bizarre youkai” companion…for now. Mizuki Nana (Ange in Cross Ange) provides the right amount of superiority and bitchiness to the character, and UtT once again introduces a dynamic, interesting new character in no time at all.

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With that, Ushio continues his journey to Asahikawa, and has time to reflect on why the spear chose him when there were more capable people training their bodies and minds their entire lives for the privilege. While wondering if he’s really worthy, it seems to respond, but in a familar, barely-disguised voice of Tora lurking behind him. Hey, it was worth a try!

Then the second member of the Kouhamei sect, Akiba Nagare, shows up (on a boss motorcycle), only he’s more interested in Tora than Ushio, and when Tora challenges him, they dance in lightning and fire. Only unlike the usual youkai, Akiba is up to the task, having researched Tora for years and knowing how to counter his moves.

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It isn’t long before Akiba literally has Tora nailed to the wall, and he wants to know what Tora’s game is; why he hasn’t eaten Ushio but actually saved him and other humans. He’s convinced it must be some kind of dastardly scheme hatched by a 2000-year-old monster from China.

But after proving he can be a monster if pushed hard enough (tearing all four of his limbs off, crawling around on his hair like a spider, and kicking Akiba’s ass), Tora tells Akiba anyway: he doesn’t really know why he hasn’t eaten Ushio…but he knows he’s never bored when he’s around him. In that regard, Tora really has started to understand the human heart—not just to exploit them for nefarious purposes, but to coexist and protect them.

And with the remnants of the beast they dispersed earlier possessing the tour bus Ushio is on, Ushio’s going to need Tora’s help yet again.

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Ushio to Tora – 13

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Ushio gets a much-needed breather at the bread shop of the old man he saved from the youkai, but the youkai hordes are still out there, and once they find him, he’s thrown right back into a battle where the youkai have all the numbers, and Beast Spear or no, Ushio is getting worn down. Enter Kagari and Raishin, who are not only there to help him, but are willing to die by his side.

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The kamaitachi are nothing if not loyal to those who helped and empathized with their plight. I find myself liking them more and more. Yet even with them around, the youkai keep coming. It’s ultimately Tora who saves the three of them from the hordes, deciding not to sit on the sidelines after all. Sure, that puts him in Hitotsuki’s crosshairs, but he couldn’t care less; in fact, he wouldn’t mind fighting his old associate, for no other reason that he keeps calling him Nagatobimaru!

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Ushio finds himself deposited before a large traditional Japanese estate wreathed in fog, and he is welcomed to come in, calm down, sit, and listen. The Zashiki Warashi is there, along with the leader of the youkai who have been attacking him; Hitotsuki’s long-nosed boss. He tells Ushio a little more about who her mother is, and the nine-tailed Hakumen no Mono she protects from the youkai with a powerful barrier, as her predecessors have done for the last thousand years. What the youkai boss can’t tell Ushio is why, but he suspects Ushio can ask her himself when he finds her.

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Ushio also learns the reason the boss is being so nice to him: he’s the old man he saved in the forest, who he hung out with at the bread shop. Like Kagari and Raishin, if one is kind to youkai, chances are they’ll be kind to you as well; they’re not wholly evil or anti-human under all circumstances.

As for Hitotsuki, the boss is miffed for him disobeying orders, but allows him to duel Tora to decide whether he gets to have his way. As I said, Tora is fine fighting him, considering they have history, but twists himself in knots explaining to Ushio that he’s not doing this for his sake (even though he really kinda is.)

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At first Hitotsuki mops the floor with Tora, slapping him around and biting him with his many serpent-head digits and goring him with his giant horn. But Tora eventually takes the gloves off, breaths fire on his opponent, then zaps him and smacks him around until he’s declared the winner (though Tora doesn’t kill him, again showing his new, slightly softer side). The boss shows his true form—a magnificent Tengu—and promises Ushio none of his youkai will harm him ever again, as per the terms of the duel.

With that, Kagari patches up Tora (I like the deference the kamaitachi now show to who is essentially their “senpai”), and he and Ushio head into the misty woods on the next leg of their eventful journey to find Ushio’s mom. Turns out it will take a lot more than bumping into an old acquaintance like Hitotsuki to break his complex bond with Ushio.

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Ushio to Tora – 12

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No Gate or Food Wars for Hannah tonight, as every other Summer show seems to want to take a week off at some point in its run, but at least I’ve got Ushio to Tora, which after this week has just one final episode until its second cour. And while there was a pretty good amount of action and fighting this week, there was also a lot of standing around talking and infodumping, indicating this was an episode to pause, take stock, and bring Ushio and Tora up to speed as to the youkai situation.

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And here is that situation: the youkai are pissed. They know who Ushio is, and more importantly whose son he is, and while we still don’t know a whole lot about what his mother has done (or continues to do), it’s enough to unite a whole mess of low-to-mid-level youkai into a marauding confederacy of sorts. If they can’t hurt his mom, they’ll sure as hell try to hurt him. Thing is, it doesn’t seem like they really can. They have the numbers, but like Tora, none of them can stand up against the power of the Beast Spear, which acts on its own to save Ushio when he’s bum-rushed.

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He gets away from the crowd and comes upon a swamp where a helpful kappa (who doesn’t share the youkais’ vendetta) heals his wounds and tells/sings him the story of Hakumen no Mono, a monster who wanted to do away with all other monsters and have all of humanity to itself to torment. Meanwhile, Tora is separated from Ushio and ends up getting the lowdown from his old youkai pal Hitotsuki, while the kamaitachi, now firm friends of Ushio, if not other humans, refuse to join the youkai lynch mob.

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It could well be that the power Ushio’s mom wields, and has apparently inherited as the lastest “tasked woman”, is a blight to youkai and a threat to the yin-yang balance of the universe. But this episode only goes so far in revealing who and what she really is, even to Ushio, who till the end thinks the welcoming committee is being a bit rough on him. But these are ancient monsters he’s dealing with, who have no qualms about hurting a woman who hurt them but can’t hurt her back by hurting her son.

As for Tora, Hitotsuki tells him he’s free to join in the hunt, but otherwise had better stay on the sidelines. Tora, for his part, seems to acknowledge he’s gone a bit soft, lacking the cruelty for humans he once possessed. He says he possesses Ushio so that he can one day kill and eat, but he has nothing to show for it, except an increasingly dull edge. I’d say he’s due for some kind of fresh betrayal of Ushio, but there’s the persistent issue of that Beast Spear, and the fear of 500 more years trapped in a cellar. So we’ll see which side he ends up on.

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Ushio to Tora – 11

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Ushio to Tora takes yet another detour in Ushio’s journey to Hokkaido to find out more about her mother, but this was a very worthwhile one, checking in on Asako and Mayuko, who miss him. Asako misses him more, and is sighing all the time. All her girlfriends and Mayuko no why, though she won’t come out and admit it.

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Meanwhile, Ushio is back with the kamaitachi siblings, and happens to see an alarmed Asako crying out Mayuko’s name in a mirror formed by a still pond. When he tells Kagari and Raishin what he’s seen, they take him to a youkai who specializes in mirror portals so he can go rescue them. Before they’re in trouble, Mayuko gets Asako to kinda-sorta admit she misses Ushio, recalling the story of how Ushio rescued a handicraft project the two girls worked on from a wild dog and carried Asako home.

Asako, of course already remembers this memory well, having recently dreamed of it. Mayuko’s assertion is that Ushio will come back, just as he always does. I’ll just remark at how adorable Asako and Mayuko are, both in younger-kid flashback mode and wistful reminiscing mode.

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It’s not all peaches and cream though, as an deranged, woman-loving youkai emerges from Mayuko’s antique mirror and lunges at Asako. Mayuko puts her body in the way, and she gets glomped up. But it isn’t long before Ushio and Tora show up (thanks to another mirror, which is awfully darned convenient, but who cares!). Asako tags along on their journey into the mirror demon’s mirror world, and wrest a naked, passed-out Mayuko from his clutches, all in less time than it takes for water to come to a boil.

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Again, Asako finds herself being carried by a scratched up Ushio, realizing it’s him with the spear and long hair, as it was the last time in the belly of that giant youkai a few weeks back. Yet again, the girls are so woozy and disoriented, they seem to dismiss the events merely as strange dreams they had. That doesn’t mean those dreams were reflective of their real affection for Ushio and Tora; it just means that when the time comes for sleepover girl talk, they’re too embarrassed to mention their “dreams” to each other!

Overall, a very warm and cute episode that underscores how close these three characters are and makes it very clear why they care for each other so much. Even in an episode where the girls get saved by the guys once again, Mayuko showed her own heroic side by stepping between Asako and the youkai, while Asako showed guts by following Ushio into the mirror to save Mayuko. I was also just missing Asako and Mayuko, so this episode was just what I needed!

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Ushio to Tora – 10

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Another week, another supernatural task-of-the-week for the titular Ushio and Tora. This time, while bathing in a healing hot spring, they encounter a beautiful white-haired girl whom they accidentally startle away. That girl, Saya, is the latest in a long line of white-haired women who have served as intermediary between the wealthy and powerful Takatori family and their “household god”, in truth a zashiki warashi being held against her will.

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Saya is very sickly and frail, and prone to fainting spells, which is how Ushio meets her next: saving her from one of anime’s patented Killer Vehicles. Saya is prone to overapologizing, and when Ushio learns the reason why—a life of being used as little more than a tool to keep her shithead father and grandmother rich and comfy— he’s very pissed off and wants to do something to help.

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It just so happens that Omamori-sama, the captive zashiki warashi, had been expecting a lad with a spear since Saya’s dad was young, warning him when such a lad arrived, it would mean the end of his prosperity and good fortune and the beginning of his ruin. Omamori is also sick of watching white-haired woman after woman life and die “consoling” her, and would prefer at this point to die herself when the barrier is broken rather than continue this vicious cycle. Saya brought Ushio and Tora to talk about freeing her, but she’s obviously against Omamori dying.

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As Tora (once a captive himself) surprises Omamori with his relative kindness and loyalty to his human by opening a temporary tear in the barrier, Omamori convinces Saya to seek a better life than the one she has; aiming higher than being a servant her lazy cheat relatives. The barrier breaks, the househould literally crumbles, and Omamori floats away in a gorgeous ethereal way.

Saya and her family now have nothing, and it will be tough going, but at least she’s now free to live her life and explore heretofore untapped strength and ability…like the ability to stop reflexively apologizing and tell Ushio an idiot when he flirts with her! I’m a little disappointed Saya and Omamori don’t accompany Ushio and Tora on their quest, but the whole point after all is for them to stand on their own two feet. Maybe they’ll show up again down the road.

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Ushio to Tora – 09

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Last week’s Fusuma side-story is followed by another side-story on Ushio and Tora’s journey to Hokkaido, and the show continues to prove it’s imminently competant at entertaining standalone stories that are part and parcel of Ushio’s new role in the world as a keeper of balance.

This week’s tale involve a family of fox-like Kamaitachi youkai siblings, two of whom are trying to reign in their wild, murderous brother Juurou, whom we meet as he rips the roof off a Honda, lopping off the heads of its occupants in the process. Kagari and Raishin are the sensible, older siblings, who test Ushio then bring him to their home in the forest.

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They don’t mince a bunch of words: they want Ushio to kill Juurou, before he kills enough humans to incite a reaction that will wipe out all kamaitachi. That being said, it’s never clear whether these three are all that’s left of their kind. All we know is, Raishin and particularly Kagari are immensely proud youkai, and while they love their brother (Kagari lops Tora’s arm off when he speaks ill of him), killing humans without reason is wrong.

Of course, when Juurou shows up, looking every inch the troubled, rebellious baby brother, he gives his reasons: every time he and his siblings are settled and content, the humans come and build something, destroying their home in the process and making them flee. He’s sick of it, and he’s become consumed by hatred, both of humans and for himself for not being strong enough to stop them. All he can do is lash out indiscriminately, treating all humans as guilty.

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Ushio can’t let that stand, so he rushes Juurou, but runs into a spot of trouble when he’s FRIKKIN’ KILLED. The look on Tora’s face when he realizes Ushio has died, and the panic that seems to course through him until Kagari heals him, is more evidence that Ushio and Tora are Best Frenemies Forever. I also like how Ushio dies, if only temporarily, even in a side-story episode. His life is a lot more dangerous. Fortunately, he’s an extremely tough kid, and they come right back at Juurou before he can kill any more humans.

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Once Ushio has met Juurou, he can relate to the hatred of having something he loved taken away—in his case, a “dangerous” jungle gym that was dismantled after a kid fell off it. Ushio’s always been the kind of guy who learns lessons by falling off or into things, perhaps not entirely sensitive to the frailer youths around him. But I can imagine being his age and losing something that cool would be devastating, even if it’s not the same scale as the Kamaitachi losing multiple homes to human development.

The site of the still under-construction freeway becomes a battlefield, but a sequence of events, from Juurou tearing off a big side of a rocky cliff to a truck falling on Kagari and Raishin and its gas leaking out, to the construction workers accidentally igniting the fuel with his cigarette, the situation just grows more and more tense. But Ushio and Tora keep the rock and truck from crushing Juurou’s family, and even a few construction workers hear Ushio’s pleas for help and are able to lift the truck off the Kamaitachi.

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It’s a night that shows Juurou the better side of humans, and that morning Ushio vows to find him and his brother and sister a new place to live where they’ll be safe. Juurou says that would be great, but leaps out to attack Ushio anyway, getting stabbed through the heart with the Beast Spear in the process.

There’s no happy ending here for the family of Kamaitachi, as perhaps Juurou believed it was too late for him, after all the killing he did and pain he endured. But hearing Ushio simply acknowledge the magnitude of what humans did to him, and earnestly apologizing, helped Juurou die a marginally happy youkai.

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Ushio to Tora – 08

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Before he even boards his flight to Hokkaido (with a very excited Tora) to find out more about his mom, supernatural trouble seems to gravitate towards Ushio. Case in point: a bitter, grieving young woman named Yuu (an angsty Toyosaki Aki!) whose father was, according to his co-pilot Atsuzawa, killed by a monster in the air. Yuu blames Atsuzawa, because there’s no such thing as plane-wrecking sky monsters…right?

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Well, actually, there is; Tora calls is a Fusuma, and it stalks his plane as well. Before that, Ushio does a fine job both introducing himself to Yuu and offering a comforting hand during takeoff, admitting to her he’s scared of flying too. As for Tora, he’s having the time of his life. The the Fusuma attacks and all hell breaks loose.

The pilots are killed, so Atsuzawa must take the controls and try his damndest to save Yuu for his late comrade’s sake. Ushio prods Tora outside the plane to deal with the Fusuma, who is weak to fire, but Tora can’t breathe enough of it to kill the sky youkai, and neither lightning nor melee attacks have any effect.

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The Fusuma is truly one of those sinister yet also immensely irritating bosses for whom only certain tactics will work. When Tora breaks it to Ushio that he needs to take a more active role with his Beast Spear, Yuu is eager to lend a helping hand, and Ushio actually shares the spear with her as they deliver a blow to Fusuma.

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Ushio then steps outside himself, trusting in and depending totally on Tora to keep him from flying off the plane to his death, and slashes all the Fusuma’s limbs off, separating him from the plane and allowing JASDF fighters to finish him off with the requisite amount of firepower, courtesy of a missile. But wouldn’t you know it; our boys still aren’t out of the woods, as the crippled plane’s rear landing gear won’t respond.

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It’s another job for Tora, whom Ushio basically goads into doing by saying it’s okay if he can’t lift a plane. Tora, throughout all of this, still doesn’t quite get why Ushio is so eager to save strangers like Yuu, but is protecting Ushio so he can someday eat him—having him die by other means won’t do. So he serves as the rear landing gear, the plane lands roughly but safely, and Yuu, Atsuzawa, and the rest of the passengers are safe and sound.

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Ushio wants to help out with the rest, but Yuu sends him off to take care of the important stuff he has to get to, and Tora also keeps him on task. The implication is that the cute, feathery-haired Yuu, who has now seen the monster who killed her father and helped to slay it, no longer blames Atsukawa, and will be just fine…though she wouldn’t mind seeing Ushio again. Bawwww…

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Ushio to Tora – 07

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When Umizatou mentioned that Ushio’s mother is still alive, Ushio obviously wanted to get the lowdown from his dad ASAP. After all, he’s been told all his life she wasn’t alive, and now that he’s grown up a lot more, wields the beast spear, is able to bend Tora to his will, and has slayed multiple high-level youkai, he believes he deserves the truth.

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However, his dad slinks away before he can get any, and from there we’re offered a look at what Aotsuki Shigure is typically up to when not chilling in the house: sealing youkai, saving lives, and conferring with a counsel of five elders who sit in a room made of light (seriously, doesn’t that light get annoying after, like, five minutes?).

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There, Sigure reports that the beast spear is out, in his son’s possession, and that the youkai Tora is haunting said son. The elders are taken aback by this news, certain that no mere child can wield the spear. Nevertheless, Shigure gets their leader, a female, to reluctantly allow him to personally test the competence of Ushio and Tora. If they fail the test, he’ll eliminate them both.

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That night, Shigure tells Ushio in a roundabout way (by pushing cash his way) that in order to learn about his mom, he’ll have to go on a journey to Hokkaido. Then he turns his staff on Tora and initiates the test. Ushio believes his dad is trying to kill Tora, but Tora realizes something else is going on. Things get more complicated when three monks from Shigure’s sect roll in to try to confiscate the Beast Spear.

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After Ushio came between his dad and Tora when they fought, it’s his dad and Tora who work together to fight off the monks. But Tora doesn’t kill them, explaining to Shigure that Ushio forbade him from killing or eating humans, and as long as Ushio has that spear, Tora will obey. So Ushio and Tora pass Shigure’s test, but Shigure may have made enemies of his sect by preventing them from doing their duty.

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But Shigure will deal with all that. For now, he wants Ushio to start that journey to learn more about his mom, with Tora in tow. I kinda wish Asako was going with them too (indeed, neither girl appears at all this week), but even without her I’m sure Ushio and Tora will provide ample entertainment and action in their traveling adventures to come.

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Ushio to Tora – 06

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U2T turns in yet another beautifully balanced blend of action, supernatural peril, comedy, drama, and even a little quiet romance in it’s beach episode. And hey, what do you know, the girls aren’t wearing string bikinis! They do run into an urchin who likes tossing sand on people’s stuff, and Ushio smacks him upside the head because it’s the kind of shit he hates, because he used to do it.

Meanwhile Tora is enjoying the ocean—the one thing in the world that hasn’t changed in 500 years!—and comes upon its guardian, Umizatou, who wants assistance dealing with an ayakashi, a kraken/leviathan/Monstro-like superbeast made from the souls of those lost at sea. Tora is game for a challenge, but Aya-tan is in a much higher weight class.

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Back on dry land, Asako chases down Tatsuya, the little kid Ushio smacked, having known a kid who lost his mom and acted out. He runs afoul of some toughs, but the badass Asako makes quick work of them (God, I love her) comforts Tatsuya, and fixes the toy phone his mom gave him. They then decide to go out in a boat…

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…Just when the ayakashi draws closer to the shore. He swallows up Tora, who tells Umizatou to summon Ushio, and then the ayakashi swallows up Asako and Tatsuya, boat and all. Interestingly, cell phone signals aren’t effected by the beast’s tough skin or ethereal barrier, and she gets in touch with Ushio, who tells her he’s on his way. Tatsuya is freaked out, but Asako is (quite understandably) scared too.

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Yet she teaches him an important lesson there: one can’t think about how scared they are when they’re scared. Fear is the mindkiller and all that, so even if she’s acting less scared than she is, she’s going to put on the act to keep hope alive. When things start attacking them, hope arrives in the form of Tora, who isn’t rescuing them out of the kindness of his heart per se, but only fears harsh reprisal if Ushio learns he let them die. I believe this is also the first time Tora talks directly to Asako, after interacting with Inoue last week (Inoue kinda gets this week off, but that’s okay).

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When Ushio finally arrives, the ayakashi proves a tough customer, and everyone ends up precariously dangling from it’s digestive wall and hanging on for dear life. When Asako passes out, it’s up to Tatsuya to forget about his fear long enough to climb down Ushio and Tora and grab hold of her before she’s sucked down into the stomach.

Ushio then tears a piece of his spear’s cloth, and the spear homes in on the ayakashi’s internal eye and stabs it. Thus weakened, Ushio and Tora (with the others in tow) combine spear and lightning to tear the ayakashi a new one, releasing a huge number of trapped souls in the process. It’s a great sequence, full of carefully-orchestrated chaos.

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The beast thus vanquished, Ushio, Asako and Mayuko head back home, having made friends with Tatsuya, who learned a lot from them (I continue to enjoy Ushio and Asako’s semi-flirtatious repartee). Ushio told him what Asako’s dad told him years ago, which is why one day he showed up looking from her perspective like he’d “grown up” a little bit: his mom is always watching, so not only shouldn’t he act out, but he shouldn’t ever feel scared or alone.

But what’s this? Umizatou knows the name Aotsuki Ushio, and apparently thinks his mom is still alive, and warns Tora to cut all ties with him as soon as possible. Is he merely talking youkai-to-youkai, and not understand the friendship growing, or will Ushio one day be unable to stop either himself, the Beast Spear, or both from whacking his increasingly loyal, empathetic tiger-like buddy?

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Ushio to Tora – 05

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It was only a matter of time before one of the characters from the OP we haven’t seen yet comes out of the woodwork, drawn out by Ushio and Tora’s very highly-televised appearance a couple weeks back, the fallout for which I’d been waiting for. This new character, Hyou the Exorcist, is probably the most interesting “monster”-of-the-week thus far, because he’s not merely pure evil, nor does he immediately target Ushio’s girlfriends. He’s a breath of horribly-scarred fresh air.

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Hyou gave up his name and his old life after his family, most of that life, was viciously murdered by a demon, so he trained his mind and body towards avenging them. Hyou could only have gotten the slightest glimpse of the demon in the dark that tragic night years ago (with his one non-blood-filled eye), but the fuzzy image on the TV is enough to convince him that Tora is the culprit.

When he comes to Japan to kill Tora, he inevitably meets Ushio, whom he trusts is not his enemy because he wields the Beast Spear. That being said, Ushio is immediately conflicted by the situation before him. He can either tell Hyou the truth—Tora has been locked in a cellar for 500 years and couldn’t possibly have killed his wife and daughter—or simply let Hyou kill him, so he doesn’t have to do it.

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Ushio decides on the latter, and Hyou begins to battle Tora fiercely while Ushio…washes dishes, not at all confident that the choice he made was the right one. At school the next day the girls immediately pick up on his quandary and the fact he’s not acting like himself. Mayuko imagining an imminent shouting match that doesn’t pan out is a nice way of showing how off he is.

Asako, showing how deep and strong their friendship goes, isn’t about to let him be. While Hyou is a great new introduction and his history is a sad one, but it’s the deepening of Asako’s character, who might feign dislike for Ushio most days but won’t hesitate to leap out and try to pull him out of his funk, that forms the emotional heart of the episode.

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That heart is fully bared as Asako follows Ushio home at sundown, keeping her distance at first, then rushing and attacking him, hoping he’ll lash out and snap out of whatever is going on with him. Ushio isn’t about to hit her, funk or no, but Asako’s passion, concern, love, and physical blows do shift Ushio from his stasis, and inspire him to right the wrong he made. Komatsu Mikako really pulls out all of the stops for the multi-dimensional Asako.

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Meanwhile, Hyou has been battling Tora for two days and two nights, and he’s on the brink of victory, which he believes will quell his boiling rage and give him peace. And it would have, had Ushio kept his mouth shut. But that ain’t how Ushio works. If it’s within his power to correct an injustice, he must act, much like the Road Runner must run on the road.

Tora may be an evil jackass sometimes, but he didn’t kill Hyou’s family, and killing him, or rather killing Ushio, who decides to protect him, will make Hyou a murderer, not an avenger. And that isn’t even the only reason Ushio is doing this. Not only did Tora save his life (and the lives of his friends), but if anyone is going to ultimately defeat Tora, it has to be Ushio. Just as Tora fights off others to preserve his prey for himself, Ushio fights off Hyou to preserve his.

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In keeping with shonen-style romances, Ushio doesn’t thank Asako face-to-face (meaning no blushing or near-kissing; though it’s a long show; who knows what the future holds). Instead, he thanks her by delivering a gigantic beauty of a watermelon that puts a big smile on Asako’s face, not just because she knows Ushio is feeling better and got over whatever was bothering him, but because she was the one able to help him out.

Ushio likely didn’t want to freak Asako out by appearing before her anyway, as his face is a swollen, scarred mess and he’s recovering from multiple stab wounds at home, all the marks of defending Tora. Tora performs his usual stalking maneuvers over the snoring Ushio (calling to mind Hobbes’ pouncing routine), but seeing those marks stays his paw, as does remembering how good Mayuko’s cheeseburgers tasted.

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Ushio to Tora – 04

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Ushio to Tora continues its run of Very Good-ness serving up meaty portions of unsettling supernatural baddies-of-the-week, the gradual forging of something resembling a friendship between the titular characters, and exciting action with high stakes laced with hearty comedy.

There’s something both frightening and funny about the giant floating heads called the Gamin-sama, not to mention the fact they’re released by the greed of developers for whom there are no sacred cows. Frightening because they tear humans to pieces like wild dogs; funny because, well, they’re giant floating heads with extremely expressive faces and voices.

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They’re out for the blood, flesh, and bones of the beautiful shamaness Hizaki Mikado, who sealed them in the Meiji era, according to an old man who pleaded with the construction teams not to lift up the “keystone” that kept the demons sealed. When Ushio gets a look at Hizaki, he finds she bears more than a slight resemblance to his old friend Inoue Mayuko.

Mayuko just happens to be on a shopping trip into the city on her own, which was a situation that immediately spelled dread. But her doomed trip crosses with Tora’s own excursion into the city, for the first time, where he’s flummoxed by glittery skyscrapers, annoying cars, and those magical transparent barriers known as windows. It’s a great fish-out-of-water situation for a youkai out of his time.

Best of all, Tora is in town to eat someone, so he’ll have the strength to kill Ushio once and for all. But the smells of perfume and hair products and the presence of “anti-youkai trinkets” (i.e., accessories) on their bodies nearly puts him off his lunch…until he finds the soft, clean, nice-smelling Mayuko (who conveniently told Asako she’s not one for accessories).

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Not only is it clever to make Ushio target the same food as the giant heads, thus bringing them together in conflict, but Ushio chooses her specifically because she’s a more traditional human that looks and smells like the humans he’s used to. Kinda like Hizaki Mikado, whom the heads mistake her for (we’ll see if in turns out they’re actually related).

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Regardless, Mayuko puts up a pretty good fight, in that she’s able to successfully run away and evade the Gamin (and her death) for a good long time; she’s partly fueled by primal fear, sure (who wouldn’t be) but there’s a toughness to her refusal to be glomped up, not to mention put bystanders in harm’s way. That buys enough time for Ushio and Tora to show up and save her; Ushio because she’s a dear friend; Tora because he won’t let these moronic heads eat his food; the same reason he won’t let anyone else kill Ushio.

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It’s selfish altruism, but it’s altruism, and Tora is making more an more exceptions to his evil youkai ways and doing ever more semantic gymnastics to explain away what are, essentially, good deeds that make him more than just a monster and Ushio and Mayuko more than just dinner.

Once the five heads are squished, sliced, and speared into oblivion, Mayuko gets up, dusts herself off, and, realizing Ushio told her who Tora was, offers a cheeseburger in gratitude for his help. And it’s perhaps the most proportionally amazing feat anyone pulled off this week that despite everything she went through, she managed to hang on to those burgers!

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Ushio to Tora – 03

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In its third episode, the Demon of the Week is something that feels like a common trope in these kinds of shows—the evil painting—but Ushio included enough original twists, details, and character to make it its own, and an entertaining romp to boot. I especially enjoyed Ushio’s dad’s reaction to the fact his son let Tora out and now bears the Demon Spear. Even better: it’s Ushio’s passion for art that gets him into this week’s adventure.

That evil painting happens to be Ushio’s favorite by his favorite painter, Master Hanyuu, his last before he died. Ushio learns that Hanyuu’s daughter Reiko attends his school, but he’s blocked from approaching her by Masaki Kenichi, a bad-tempered beast of a third-year whom everyone in the school fears.

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Later, we get a nice Ushio and Asako moment: when she realizes Ushio’s only interest in Reiko is as a model for his painting, she’s willing to help him out. Even if the crazy demon shit she’s gone through feels like dreams, Ayako knows Ushio is a capable lad, and perhaps he can succeed where she failed in making Reiko a little happier.

In a pleasant surprise, after a short and evenly-matched fight, Kenichi and Ushio bro out, dropping their aggressive postures for the sake of a girl they both care about.

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Ken and Reiko were childhood friends, and he remembers her answering the door in a sheet as her demonic-looking dad feverishly painted that last portrait. Ever since he died, any guy who gets too close to Reiko meets with an unfortunate “accident”, isolating her at a crucial time in her life.

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In one of the first depictions of P.E. consisting of line dancing I can recall, Ushio insists Reiko give him some pointers. As he tells Asako, he’s not going to let sinister rumors keep him from painting his muse. Her demon dad shows up on queue and tries to blow Ushio away via tornado, but Tora happens to be around, and isn’t going to let a lowly demon steal his food. One might think being regarded as food is demeaning, but here it’s a gesture of regard.

Whether he’d admit it or not, Tora’s views on humans have been changing rapidly…and he’s had a lot more fun than he ever did in that musty basement.

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Unaware of how used to this kinda stuff Ushio is (and unable to see Tora), Reiko rushes home and tries to kill herself—for the rumored fifth time—so that her father will be appeased and no one else will get hurt (naturally, she blames herself for the casualties her dad has caused).

But Ushio isn’t going to let her die, and Ken, who had froze in fear earlier, is inspired by Ushio’s courage. They save Reiko, only for her dad to snatch her and start pulling her into the painting, something that is always creepy and nightmarish no matter how many iterations of it I witness.

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It’s—you guessed it—up to Tora to reluctantly pull a defiant Ushio out of the painting, with Ken and Reiko in tow. That frees Ushio up to spear Demon Dad, but Reiko jumps in the way at the last possible second. Fortunately, the spear only kills monsters and goes right through humans.

For that matter, the spear kills the demon, but not before purifying Master Hanyuu’s soul, which appears before them before fading away, with parting words for Reiko to “find happiness.” In his final moments before oblivion, he was able to find it in the knowledge he was free of his demonic shell and his daughter free of its torment; perhaps with her friends Ushio, Ken, and Asako, Reiko can find happiness too.

Then Ushio and Tora scamper off before they have to explain what the hell just happened. All in a day’s work!

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Ushio to Tora – 02

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In addition to destroying his HDTV because he thinks the samurai on the screen is real and being a pain in the ass at school, Tora is also proving a handful (or rather shoulderful) due to his persistent intent to eat Ushio when the time is right, despite the fact Ushio has the Demon Spear.

At each others’ throats they may be, but they also both show each other admirable sides to each other when it counts, inspiring a formidable alliance that allows Ushio to protect his friends and Tora to keep the guy HE eventually wants to eat alive.

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UtT proves last week was no fluke as this week is also a playful, breathless and solidly-crafted twenty minutes of bawdy humor, sudden, intense peril, bold, stylish action, and above-average character work all around. When a stone samurai awakens (probably due to Tora’s proximity) and takes Asuko, Mayuko, and three other girls hostage and starts to petrify them, Ushio eventually feels something is amiss when the spear starts to reverberate.

But I like how Tora doesn’t simply help him out from the start, and instead, tempers flare and they end up fighting each other, wasting valuable time. Tora is still testing the limits of his insolence in the face of the Demon Spear-armed Ushio, and he reaches it, finally offering info on the “Rock Eater” in exchange for Ushio removing the spear from his tender paw.

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It’s also good to see the situation inside the old school building, where the Stone Samurai has set up a barrier that makes the hostages invisible to authorities, before he sticks them with stone tentacles. Asako, to her credit, won’t let herself lose to the bastard, thinking of a time Ushio cheered her on when she was feeling down. There’s a lot that’s familiar about this situation and these themes, but it’s all very well-executed.

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Ushio manages to storm into the old building and challenges the samurai, but finds himself outmatched, and once he loses his grip on the spear, he himself starts to petrify. Tora enters the building unwilling to lift a finger to help Tora, but Tora’s selfless dedication to the hostages (and his begging Tora to save them and leave him there) move Tora.

The final straw is when Ushio, very close to defeat, apologizes because Tora won’t be the one to eat him…no matter how little he cares about humans, he cares enough about Ushio to want to eat him, and won’t let anyone else.

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Suddenly filled with a desire to rescue his future dinner, Tora saves the hostages, then holds the barrier open long enough for Ushio to figure out he can move the spear without touching it with his mind (a pretty good skill to have). He manages to get some good shots in against the samurai, who morphs into a two-headed giant centipede.

Tora tells him how to defeat the changed foe (spit on the spear and stab the left eyes), and it’s bye-bye shapeshifting demon. All that’s left is to break the girls out of their stone shells (they end up being naked underneath, but the show admirably doesn’t linger on their bodies, nor does Ushio stick around.)

Rather, he simply goes home with Tora, the two now grudging companions in battle, if not yet friends. And just as Ushio learned how to use his Demon Spear better, Tora finally comprehends the concept of television, as he sees himself and Ushio all over the local news.

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