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 – 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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Black Rock Shooter – 08 (Fin)

Strength cannot free Mato from Black Rock Shooter, so she attempts to sacrifice herself so Yuu won’t be the one to kill Mato. However, Mato breaks out of Black Rock Shooter’s hold and enters the world to face her one-on-one. BRS beats her bloody, until she realizes that she can’t be hurt without hurting others, and vice versa. Mato cries out and starts to fight back, distributing her pain out to Yomi, Yuu, Kagari and Kohata, who shed tears in the real world. Their counterparts lend Mato “strength in colors”, which she uses to blast BRS away. Strength dies, and Koutari Yuu returns to the real world, where she, Yomi, Kagari and Mato become friends.

The BRS finale featured almost as many tears as bullets, didn’t skimp on lofty deliberations or shaky distraught voices, and all in all did a satisfactory job wrapping up an abbreviated series that didn’t have a whole lot of source material to work with, a fact that became clearer as the story progressed. Even the kickass battle scenes, slick as they are, had become a little repetitive in this, the eighth episode. We’re a little relieved we don’t have to watch four to five more episodes of the same battles interspersed with the same philosophizing about pain and colors.

Don’t get us wrong; we enjoyed watching it thoroughly. At its best it served up really well-animated and imaginative action while also dealing with teen girl angst issues in a very over-the-top abstract fashion. It sticks to simple lessons – life is beautiful, don’t hold all your pain in, don’t be afraid to open up to people. But like Guilty Crown, which we’ve also just finished, Black Rock Shooter didn’t fully live up to its potential.


Rating: 3

Black Rock Shooter – 04

Kagari returns to school and instantly finds a clique of friends, further frustrating Yomi, who is now feeling ignored and unused by everyone – Mato because of Yuu, and Kagari because of all her new friends. In the dream world, Yomi becomes enveloped in a mass of metal chains. Kohata’s admiree stops by practice to apologize for the love letter incident and to reciprocate his feelings, but she has no memory of him. Yomi holes up in her house, and when she finally recieves her, Kagari tells her exactly everything she doesn’t need, and in the dream world Yomi’s chain nest explodes, revealing an immense boss for Black Rock Shooter.

Well, Kagari seems to be adjusting nicely to normal high school life, and all but discards Yomi by the episode’s end. This is troubling to Yomi, because as it turns out she was just as dependent on Kagari as she was on her; moreso, in fact. Kagari is not one to mince worlds and in fact seems to go out of the way to state things as nastily as she possibly can – and already teetering on the edge, Yomi seems to crack. It’s her turn to be saved, and it’s up to Black Rock Shooter to defeat her very nasty evolved form.

As for the whole deal with Saya, well, the woman is clearly a bit of a sadist, happily contributing to Yomi’s instability by saying the magic words: “Nobody really needs you.” She also really likes her coffee. It’s our experience that whenever an anime series with fantasy elements has a character who believes she is useles and the world wouldn’t even bat an eye if they never existed, that character goes on some kind of rampage, followed by a catharsis. It will be fun to watch Mato snap her out of it, if she can. As for Kotoha, we’re not sure what’s up with that yet.


Rating: 4

Black Rock Shooter – 02

Mato goes to a festival hoping to meet up with Yomi, but she’s stood up, with only an “I’m sorry” text in reply. Mato is crushed, and Black Rock Shooter is brutally punished in the dream world. Kagari wouldn’t let Yomi leave, and when Mato shows up at her door, Kagari throws herself down the steps in protest. Mato meets Yomi’s mother, who tells her Kagari’s paralyzation is all in her head, but Yomi has to take care of her. Mato won’t accept that, and confronts Yomi and Kagari in the hospital room. After much heated discussion paralleled by equally heated combat in the dream world, Yomi finally calms Kagari and persuades her to give up the act and go outside. In the dream world, Yomi is freed from Kagari’s chains.

Well now, we’ve got ourselves quite the dual headcases in Yomi and Kagari. For years Kagari has been pretending she can’t move her legs so she can be isolated at home with no one but Yomi. Perhaps more disturbing, Yomi has gone alone with it, enabling her the whole time. In refusing to give up friendship with Yomi, we can credit Mato with freeing not one but two troubled souls who had become far too entangled with one another. Now Yomi will surely get reacquainted with an old friend called free will while Kagari will re-learn how to walk, go to school, and function in society again. Hint: It’s not all about you, kiddo.

The animation stepped up its game – in both worlds. The regular world features some intense close-ups and demented expressions – particularly from the Kagari during her vicious, ultimately cathartic tantrum. The dream world meanwhile was a feast (and not just of macaroons): we were worried that the spare, washed-out palette may grow stale with too much exposure, so what does this episode do? Administer a big dose of Color with a Capital C. Black Rock Shooter has some really sweet-ass weapons, and there’s nary a still frame in sight, as everything – the people, the scenery, and the cameras – are all in constant motion. We could watch this stuff all day.


Rating: 4

Black Rock Shooter – 01

The expressive but sometimes clingy Kuroi Mato has just entered a new year of high school and meets the beautiful, artistic Takanashi Yomi. She is polite, but Yomi’s ‘relative’ Kagari doesn’t want her befriending Mato. Distressed that Yomi may hate her, Mato talks with the school counselor, Saya, who tells her no matter how much her heart may hurt, the pain will be taken away by someone else. In Mato’s case, it’s the Black Rock Shooter, a punk’d out version of herself in a dreamworld, getting brutally punished by enormous monsters piloted by dream versions of both Yomi and Kagari. In the ordinary world, Mato reaches out to Yomi once more, resolved to be her friend…whatever the cost.

(Cracks knuckles)…Well now, with out winter staff retreat behind us, we thought we’d resume our reviews with the first of only eight episodes of the newest series on the scene. Not only were we impressed with the level of quality in the production values and the stark contrast achieved in depicting two very different universes, but we also like how at the heart of this exquisitely sweet-looking series resides a very simple story about friendship – in this case, the uneasy genesis of one – and the  risk taken and costs incurred  in opening one’s hand and heart to another.

The world in which the badass looking Black Rock Shooter resides, and the battles she fights, can be seen as literal manifestations of the emotional states of the ordinary Mato. Kagari freaks Mato out and rubs her in every wrong way imaginable; and in the otherworld, it is Kagari laying waste to Black Rock Shooter. Still, we expect the kid will score some victories down the road. It may have taken a month longer to arrive, but so far it’s been worth the wait. It doesn’t hurt that two of our favorite seiyus (Hanazawa and Sawashiro) voice the two lead girls.


Rating: 4