Vinland Saga – 06 – Engulfed by the Quarrels of Men

On November 13, 1002, King Æthelred II of orders all Danish immigrants in England killed. The Danish respond by sending troops across the sea, and the Vikings—Danish pirates—serve as the “army’s army.” Askeladd’s crew are right in the middle of this.

When English archers ambush their camp, Thorfinn gets a crash course in mass death, killing, and living with it, taking his first life and letting out a cry of vicious despair that carries through the forest, while Askeladd observes in quiet approval.

The battles with the English continue, and Thorfinn continues to kill and gets better at it, with his enemies continually underestimating him due to his size and youth. Askeladd starts using him as a scout, and he manages to kill two foes who come at him, gaining a second dagger with which he dual-wields henceforth.

While on another scouting mission he takes an arrow to the shoulder and washes up on a branch in a river in East Anglia. A kindly, God-fearing mother and her daughter take him in, clean him up, and feed him. The daughter worries (rightfully) that he’s a Dane, their enemy; but her mom doesn’t think any women or children should be bothered with the quarrels of men.

The mother even combs the fleas and lice from Thorfinn’s unruly hair, with the same comb she used to use on her son, who died of a cold two years ago. An English soldier arrives looking for a pint-sized scout, but the mother covers for Finn.

That night, while the daughter continues to argue with her mother about harboring him, Finn abruptly takes his leave, saying just one word to them in English: Run. He then sets a cottage on the beach aflame; the signal to Askeladd to make his landing.

The mother doesn’t run as Finn urged her; she comes to the beach and sees for herself the boy she nursed back to health and harbored: a rabid killing machine. When Finn spots her among the crowd, tears streaming down her cheeks, guilt momentarily washes across his face, as he remembers his own mother and older sister.

Then the mother is simply gobbled up by the charging viking horde, Finn takes a deep breath, and the guilt is replaced by cold detachment as he too gets lost in the crush, joining his fellow fighters in the latest retaliatory raid on a relatively well-off English village. The comb the mother used on him is trod upon and broken, and perhaps with it any possible chance of Thorfinn turning back from his current, blood-soaked path.

Ushio to Tora – 18

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Few anime this year have worn their hearts so brazenly and so effectively on their sleeve as Ushio to Tora, and these past two episodes—in which the women (and one special woman in particular) in Ushio life literally save his soul—comprise UtT’s finest and most thrilling hour yet. Not a single line or action is wasted, and the dramatic stuff is expertly garnished with bursts of UtT’s trademark comedy.

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Two girls have successfully combed his hair, and once Yuu uses her athleticism and courage to be the third, that leaves his closest friends Mayuko and Asako. Mayuko almost instantly falls into a river charging ahead, but she is continually rescued by Tora, under the pretense of preserving a future meal.

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That neither Mayuko, a grateful Asako, nor anyone else take Tora’s malevolence seriously cracks Izuna up while showing how far he’s come whle maintaining his preferred way of showing affection to the humans around him: by claiming, almost defensively, they’re all food. With Jiemei showing him the way, Tora carries the girls to Ushio’s new location by the mouth of the cave where “a piece” of Hakumen no Mono dwells, and Mayuko reflexively uses the comb to parry a blow from the Beast Spear.

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That sends her flying to the edge of a cliff from which she falls rather than drop the comb that contains “all their hopes”, but fortunately for her Tora is really diligent about keeping his food clean and unharmed. Mayuko in arm, he decides he’s sick of Ushio, a human, acting like this. So he lets Ushio stab him with the spear, giving Mayuko the opening she needs. Four down, one to go.

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As suspected, for maximum dramatic effect, the one who loves Ushio the most is saved for last. Jeimei reveals it’s her brother who is the Beast Spear trying to devour Ushio in service of destoying Hakumen, but she begs him to stop. Ushio is even able to get the words “it hurts” out, sending the tears streaming from Asako’s eyes as she laments that all this crap is happening. Like Tora, she wants the old Ushio back, preferring him and all his lovable flaws to the mindless monster before her.

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As she wipes her eye she combs his hair, but the Spear senses Hakumen close and seemingly undoes all the progress the combing made, and neutralizing the power of Asako’s emotions. But she doesn’t give up, grabs hold of Ushio and doesn’t let go, and remembers all the times throughout the years Ushio pissed her off by teasing her, only to be her dopey knight in shining armor when she was in a spot.

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Just as Tora has a shorthand for why he helps out his “food” so much, Asako has a shorthand for the “idiot” Ushio. But she also happens to love that idiot, and all but says it when his crystal eyes shatter for good, released from the Beast Spear’s hold. Back in “normal” Beast Mode, he summons Tora and the two deal with the threat that had been bubbling around them, and had been dealt with by his dad, the chosen four, Jun, the priests, and even Hyou (Hi Hyou!), until the end of their limits: the massive swarm of Hiyou.

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Noting he seems stronger than before, Tora works with Ushio to obliterate the storm, after which Ushio collapses from exhaustion, back to his old self. He mutters to Tora how before he woke up, he felt like he was having a strange dream full of strange people, but also filled with warm people who were at their very best. But it all seems like a dream to him; he’s unaware of what has transpired and who was involved.

That Ushio may forever be ignorant to their deeds and hard-won victory is a little disappointing, but they’re right: if he learned what he did to them, he’d likely never forgive himself. They’re protecting him from needlessly punishing himself for hurting them, because to a woman, they were there by choice, and would do it again to save him in a heartbeat.

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This is an experience none of them will ever forget, but it’s also notable that it’s an event that brought them all together, as shown when they decide to go party together to celebrate a victory everyone who was present knows about except the one they saved.

But while many friendships were forged in this ordeal, as Ushio heads into the cave with Tora (no time to waste!) all the girls not named Asako know that Ushio will definitely be back, but won’t be coming back to them, but to her.  That will be some reunion.

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Ushio to Tora – 17

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The temple elders are visited by a beautiful ghost, Jiemei (voiced by Hanazawa Kana) who reports that Ushio’s body has been overthrown by the Beast Spear, making him a true beast. The only way to save him involves his dad, the Kouhamei Sect, the comb that his mother gave him…and none other than all of the girls he’s saved on the way to Asahikawa.

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One by one, to my increasing delight, Jiemei pays a visit to those girls: Yuu, Saya, Reiko, Mayuko, and Asako. And when they hear their Ushio is in trouble, they don’t ask about the danger, or why a green ghost goddess is talking to them: they drop what they’re doing and GO. I should have known this was coming: after spending most of last season saving these girls, the time would come when they’d be able to return the favor.

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And let me just say, it’s a delight to anyone who’s been following the show closely and enjoying it to behold this episode assembling the “Dream Team.” Ushio is in rough shape, and it wouldn’t be as satisfying if some new priest or shaman or youkai stepped in to save him with some kind of miracle spell or ritual.

Ushio’s soul is under siege, and these girls who touched that soul are the best chance to break that siege. Naturally, Haniwa, Jun, Satoru, and Nagare are also on board. And let’s not forget Tora, who wants to restore Ushio to his human state so he can eat him…and because, c’mon, the big lug loves the guy.

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To save Ushio, the girls have to comb his hair with the heirloom comb, but the comb is on his person. Enter Izuna, the fleet green jackal-weasel-fox thingy who fights through Beast-Ushio’s black tendrils and snatches the comb up. Easy part over. As Ushio’s dad and the sect members prepare for an approaching Ushio (followed closely by a massive horde of hiyou), the girls introduce themselves.

The sudden melding of these girls’ personalities and histories with Ushio is exceedingly fun to watch, especially how Mayuko tries to kid around with Asako’s feelings, only for it to get more serious when Yuu reacts to Asako’s usual defense mechanism of running down Ushio and claiming not to care about him. Yuu calls her the hell out, causing Asako to cry and admit the truth: she’d have come running earlier had she known what was going on.

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Once Ushio arrives, Reiko is the first to volunteer to go at him with the comb. He tries to shove her aside, but she successfully gets the comb in his hair, tearing off a big lock. But once she’s done, Ushio is racing straight at the other girls. Saya trips trying to run, but Asako puts her body between her and Ushio. When the injured Asako thanks God no one else got hurt, Yuu realizes she was harsh on Ushio’s childhood friend. She’s the real deal.

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Hinowa manages to trap Ushio in a magic barrier, something Saya is able to punch through due to her status as a white-haired woman. Like Reiko, Ushio saved Saya from a life of despair and servitude, so she’s no less committed to freeing Ushio from his demonic prison.

She gets a lock off too, but Hinowa’s barrier breaks, leaving the next girl, Mayuko, exposed to Ushio’s wrath. That’s when ZZZZAP, Tora unleashes a lightning storm that half-destroys the bridge, saving his “future food” Mayuko along with Saya. Everything happens bang-bang-bang in this episode, and even when it doesn’t, the scenes are full of great character interaction.

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Like Asako and Yuu, Hinowa and Jun quickly get over their mutual animosity when the latter saves the former by helping her maintain the barrier on Ushio. While they’re not part of the group of girls who must comb Ushio’s hair, there’s no doubt Ushio saved Jun from a life of despair by saving her bro, while Hinowa can’t help but respect him, considering how many others are willing to put their lives on the line for him.

Yuu’s up next (Asako will probably be the last, for dramatic purposes and all), and she too is steeled by witnessing the love and devotion of the others. They may have been saved in different ways, but they were all saved by the same goofy, hard-headed, kind, selfless guy. And they’re going to get him back.

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