Ushio to Tora – 20

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Events get extraordinarily heavy in this week’s UtT, with Hakumen massacring men, women, and children indiscriminately, and Ushio rendered helpless before the monster’s fearful visage. Even Tora’s fire is little more than the inconsequential buzzing of a harmless bug in Hakumen’s ear. Thanks to Ushio, Jeimei and Kiryou are still alive, but both have been transformed by their traumatic experience and the loss of their mother and father.

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The way things shake out is even darker: Kiryou knows that human sacrifice is a way of forging a sword strong enough to fight Hakumen, but he dare not suggest it outright, because Jeimei is the only family he has left. Yet it’s Jeimei who offers herself to the flames of the forge, over the desperate protests of her brother and Ushio. Her rationale is that if her sacrifice can lead to Hakumen’s defeat, it’s all worth it.

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Despair eventually turns to hope, as Jeimei and Kiryou become the blade and shaft of what becomes the Beast Spear, imbued with the strength and power to oppose Hakumen no Mono. Jeimei returns to Ushio and Tora in spectral form to complete her saga: she reincarnated as Yuki, found that Hakumen had inserted himself between the pillars that held Japan up against the very sea, and the task of holding Hakumen in place fell from Yuki to Mikado, and finally, to Sumako, who was only freed of her task deep under the ocean for two years, during which time she gave birth to Ushio.

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By travelling back in time, Ushio experienced a kind of causal loop: the reason the Beast Spear chose him is because it contains the souls of Jeimei and Kiryou, who sacrificed themselves with the hope that “Tsung Yue” or Ushio would use the spear they became to one day rid the world of Hakumen no Mono.

His actions in the distant past led to his very conception. And he also learns his name refers to the unyielding, steadfast ocean that bends to no one where his mother dwelt and dwells still. Now Ushio heads home to think over how to go about fulfilling his destiny, which he himself set into motion.

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Ushio to Tora – 19

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Big change of gears this week, as the focus shifts from the women in Ushio’s life back to Ushio and Tora, who waste no time exploring the suspicious-looking cave with a temple and a really nasty demonic aura all about it. As the very creepy youkai Tokisaka informs them, this is where a piece of Hakumen no Mono landed when he retreated many centuries ago when humans and youkai joined forces to fight it. But it’s not dead, only dormant.

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U and T have a lot more questions, but rather then tell them the whole story, Tokisaka decides to send them back in time 2,200 years to the village where it all began. There, outside the castle walls, they meet a young Jiemei, who bares more than a slight resemblance to Mayuko (likely with good reason).

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They save her from youkai, but because she can’t see Tora, she thanks only Ushio, and invites him to her house. It’s a nice house, warm and loving and happy…but there’s also a fair amount of sadness to it, both the fact Jeimei’s clothes are rather tatty, and the house is outside the walls.

Turns out Jeimei’s father was once the court priest and swordsmith, but he and the family were cast out when a distant relative tried to assassinate the king. Her father and brother Giryou (whom Ushio also met while within the Beast Spear) are eager to forge a divine sword that will grant them access back into the castle.

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When elbow grease doesn’t do the trick, Giryou suggests they use dark arts in the forging process, and hey presto, they churn out one fine-looking sword. Turns out Hakumen no Mono has been in the castle all this time, disguised as nine concubines. His transformation is, shall we say, extremely disturbing and creepy? Because it was, as is his voice.

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Hakumen lays utter waste to the court and all who charge him with their divine weapons, including Jeimei and Giryou’s father. Then their mother gets the top half of her body blown off by Hakky’s ice breath. In a rage, Ushio rushes him with a spear, but not the spear we’re used to seeing him wield. That’s because the Beast Spear hasn’t been forged yet. Also, he seems paralyzed by the evil eye of the great messed-up looking beast.

While it’s a bit odd for Ushio to suddenly end up going back in time to relive history, it’s certainly better than a straight narration. It’s also interesting to see Jeimei and Giryou at this early stage, and a glimpse of the happy, simple lives they led before dark arts, fate, or both, thrust them onto far different paths, not to mention see Hakumen no Mono in all his terrifying glory.

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Ushio to Tora – 14

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As we begin UtT’s second cour, Ushio is finally in Hokkaido, but his hardships are far from over: not only is Hakumen no Mono sending thousands of little minnions out to grab the spear, there are others—humans—who want the spear too, and not because they’re greedy or evil, but simply because they think it’s their birthright…and they’ll be damned if some denim-wearing snot-nosed punk kid is going to butt in line for it.

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He meets the first of these “rightful successors” as HnM’s minions start to coalesce into a larger beast. Her name is Sekimori Hinowa of the Kouhamei sect, and her game is to take possession of the Beast Spear. Very tall, very tough, and sporting a very no-nonsense outfit and haircut, she actually makes some pretty good points about Ushio’s ownership thus far. His lack of training has caused him a lot more trouble and collateral damage than would have occurred were he able to properly “hear” the spear.

So Sekimori snatches it away, and when Ushio refuses her offer to hit her in frustration, she hits himOH NO SHE DIDN’T! But her comeuppance is swift; the Beast Spear won’t answer her call; it ignores her completely, and what would have been an easy beast to slay starts wailing on her.

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Proving he’s neither one to hit a girl nor to stand by and let even someone who wronged him get killed, Ushio launches himself between Sekimori and the monster. When it tries to take her as a hostage with its tentacles, he fires his spear, slashing them to bits, along with her prim-and-proper clothes, in one of UtT’s more amusing executions of fanservice. The beast, for it’s part, is disgusting sinister in its design.

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To put a cherry on top of our Sekimori Schadenfreude Sundae, when Ushio is in a tight spot for saving her, Tora blasts in to free him so he can regain his handle on the spear and do his thing, slicing the monster in half and such. In the aftermath, a rather chastened and rebuked (but not ready to admit it) Sekimori accepts Ushio’s ownership of the spear and his “bizarre youkai” companion…for now. Mizuki Nana (Ange in Cross Ange) provides the right amount of superiority and bitchiness to the character, and UtT once again introduces a dynamic, interesting new character in no time at all.

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With that, Ushio continues his journey to Asahikawa, and has time to reflect on why the spear chose him when there were more capable people training their bodies and minds their entire lives for the privilege. While wondering if he’s really worthy, it seems to respond, but in a familar, barely-disguised voice of Tora lurking behind him. Hey, it was worth a try!

Then the second member of the Kouhamei sect, Akiba Nagare, shows up (on a boss motorcycle), only he’s more interested in Tora than Ushio, and when Tora challenges him, they dance in lightning and fire. Only unlike the usual youkai, Akiba is up to the task, having researched Tora for years and knowing how to counter his moves.

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It isn’t long before Akiba literally has Tora nailed to the wall, and he wants to know what Tora’s game is; why he hasn’t eaten Ushio but actually saved him and other humans. He’s convinced it must be some kind of dastardly scheme hatched by a 2000-year-old monster from China.

But after proving he can be a monster if pushed hard enough (tearing all four of his limbs off, crawling around on his hair like a spider, and kicking Akiba’s ass), Tora tells Akiba anyway: he doesn’t really know why he hasn’t eaten Ushio…but he knows he’s never bored when he’s around him. In that regard, Tora really has started to understand the human heart—not just to exploit them for nefarious purposes, but to coexist and protect them.

And with the remnants of the beast they dispersed earlier possessing the tour bus Ushio is on, Ushio’s going to need Tora’s help yet again.

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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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