Ushio to Tora – 39 (Fin)

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No more dancing around the matter at hand: this is the final week of Ushio to Tora (for the forseeable future), so if Hakumen’s going down, Hakumen’s going down today. And I couldn’t be happier; frankly, I’d gotten a bit tired of its raspy, evil voice-of-many-voices.

The souls of the recently deceased like Hyou and Nagare aid Ushio against a Hakumen who has been exposed as jealous and terrified; a Hakumen that never wanted the existance it got, but couldn’t escape, and so became more and more twisted.

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Ushio’s parent’s also finally unite, but at the end of the day, all the amassed allies of Ushio can only do so much; it’s Ushio and Tora and the Beast Spear that must defeat Hakumen once and for all.

In a last-ditch effort to kill them without fear, Hakumen gouges out its own eyes and goes by the smell of the spear. Tora counters this by stabbing himself with the spear, hiding its scent long enough to disorient Hakumen. Ushio and Tora go in for the kill, drive the spear through Hakumen’s skull, and end it.

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Hakumen goes out not cursing the victors, but wishing someone, just one person, could say its name—it’s real name, which we never learn—in a soft, quiet voice, as something other than the wretched monster it was throughout its existence.

Not long after Hakumen evaporates into the either, Tora, whose spear wound was mortal, also passes away before Ushio’s eyes, content that he already “ate” Ushio and he’s full now.

Put another way, Ushio filled Tora’s once empty, black heart (which had been thoroughly wrung out in his past life) with experiences and people Tora cared about and fought to protect. Now it’s time to go home to his family, who is no doubt waiting for him. Tora’s death was a surprise, but a welcome and noble one.

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When it becomes Ushio’s turn to pay the piper and become the next Tora, the souls of Jiemei and Giryou bail him out by leaving the Beast Spear (which shatters into dust) and entering his body to keep him from transforming into a beast.

Back to being a human, he falls from the sky, and his dad catches him as Mayuko watches. But Tora isn’t coming down; she never got to change him back to a human. Ushio got a happy ending, but Mayuko most assuredly did not. What did she do to deserve such a raw deal?

Oh, and Saya has to say goodbye to Omamori, who goes in her place in order to close the gate from the inside. It’s the right move; like Tora, Omamori has lived far longer than her friend, and so it’s only natural she be the one to go. Ushio and Saya have their whole lives ahead of them.

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With that, there’s even more loss, as the bulk of monsters turn to stone in order to prop up a sinking Japan—not purely for the humans’ sake, mind you, but because they love the country too. Thanks, youkai! Also, some like Kagari and Raishin remain behind so the humans aren’t lonely. How thoughtful!

Of the life that stretches far ahead for our young protagonists thanks to their efforts and the sacrifices of those dear to them, we see precious little, which keeps a good finale from being a great one. I liked how Kirio wants to step in to fill the void in Mayuko’s heart, but Ushio and Asako didn’t meet until the end credits, and only then wordlessly as they walk to school with the other two.

While I can’t help but feel a little disappointed by the lack of quality Ushio x Asako time at the end, the fact remains this was a tight and often moving finale. Things got a little heavy in the home stretch, but Ushio to Tora was worth the watch.

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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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