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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Ushio to Tora – 01 (First Impressions)

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What is it: A story about a kid who forms an uneasy alliance with a demon to protect his friends.

To Aotsuki Ushio’s annoyance, his priest father is always going off about a legendary demon spear stashed somewhere on the temple grounds. While his dad’s away, he stumbles upon the spear in a hidden basement, along with a captive demon whose side it’s lodged into. 

Ushio deems the demon too dangerous and untrustworthy to release, but by encountering him, he’s released its demonic aura, which draws masses of demons from all over the area to the temple. When Ushio’s friends Nakamura Asako and Inoue Mayuko are endangered, Ushio grudgingly removes he spear.

The demon is about to betray him when he shows him he’s able to wield said spear like the legendary samurai 500 years ago. Ushio and the demon work together to destroy all the demons, saving Asako and Mayuko, and names his new demon ally “Tora”, vowing they’ll continue working together to defeat demons.

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Why should you watch? After Rokka no Yuusha, a far more conventionally-designed and animated show, the shift to the rougher, rawer, more cartoonish style of Ushio to Tora was a bit…jarring. I mean, look a this kid’s face…it’s ridiculous! But I’ll tellya, the style really grew on me quickly. There’s something simultaneously silly and tough about Ushio’s design, and his range of expressions really liven things up.

His two cute girl friends, one “tomboyish”, one “girly” also hold up well as complements to both Ushio’s looks and personality, and are backed by solid seiyu (Komatsu Mikako, who’s in everything this Summer, and Yasuno Kiyono, who also voiced Katou Megumi in Saekano). This trio’s dynamic is familiar, but well-rendered and warm in nature.

I also got a great kick out of all the banter between various pairings of characters, most of whom have no patience for each other. From Ushio and his Dad, to Ushio and Ayako, to Ushio and Tora, the back-and-forth dialogue was vibrant, peppy, and more often than not, hilarious when combined with the jacked-up animation.

That speaks to perhaps the best aspect of U&T: it’s sense of humor. While there are times when things get all dark, gloomy, and serious, the show can change gears on a dime, balancing the gravitas with levity and in many cases, side-splitting reactions and exchanges.

Other items: Tora reminded me at times of Hobbes (id-ego dynamic), Garfield (he likes to eat) Tigger (eating humans is what he does best), and even Charlie Brown (arm stripes). Also, the sign on Ushio’s door warning his dad to keep out, next to another sign by his dad saying he doesn’t want to go in, imbecile!, was a nice little detail.

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Why shouldn’t you watch? The art style, which melds a coarse throwback style, painterly and simplified figures, and some CGI creepy-crawlies, isn’t for everyone, though it’s well-grounded in anime history. If you can’t get over the stylistic hump in this first episode, I doubt the show will endear itself to you moving forward.

There was also a lot of obvious monologue and exposition, though the legend of the spear was made overly repetitive for comedic effect. It’s also not for you if you’re not into a classic shounen tale of a kid with a really severe face who yells a lot to draw out his power, nor a fan of “shouty argument” comedy.

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The Verdict: None of the demerits I attempted to list about this show were of any consequence; I loved this episode to death. It was a bold, brash, impish piece that got better looking as I got used to it, and managed to successfully balance life-and-death stakes with effective, buoyant comedy. I hope down the road I won’t have to choose between this and the bigger, more polished Rokka no Yuusha, because after watching the very different first efforts of each, I’d really rather keep both.

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