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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