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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RDG: Red Data Girl – 08

Souda Masumi, Suzuhara Izumiko

Izumiko suggests summoning Himegami so Sagara can ask her to help bring back Manatsu. The summoning fails, and Izumiko stumbles into Masumi’s plane, where she meets him. He agrees to take her to the cave where Manatsu is trapped behind a massive boulder. Izumiko dances to remove it, but Manatsu stops her; he was outside the cave all along, and it is Masumi’s full body as a nine-headed dragon who is stuck in the cave. Mayura and Sagara arrive, but the dragon escapes. Sagara is able to protect Izumiko, and Himegami appears independently to re-seal the dragon in the cave. Izumiko and Sagara return to their plane and Izumiko’s mom is there, detaining Himegami as long as she can. Sagara also tells her he and Wamiya joined forces to protect her.

This was a gorgeous episode surging with an otherworldly mystical atmosphere (and eerily gorgeous moonlight) as Izumiko literally steps into another world. As Masumi notes, hardships make her stronger, and there’s no hardship worse for her now than seeing Mayura cry. As far as Izumiko is concerned, she owes Mayura for all she’s done for her, and in return she’s going to do everything she can to bring Manatsu back. And while all she knows how to do is dance, that’s enough to get the job done. We love her forceful determination: she’s done standing on the sidelines. If there’s even the slightest chance she can help, she’s going to.

Her trip to Manatsu’s plane has, as we said, a spookily beautiful aura to it. On more than one occasion we were reminded of the ancient forest in Princess Mononoke – a place ordinary humans don’t quite belong. Of course, Izumiko, Sagara and Manatsu are not ordinary humans; they have spiritual powers. But we like how it takes collaboration with Wamiya for Sagara to stop the dragon, and even then, he’s not powerful enough to return it to a slumber. That takes Himegami, through Izumiko’s mother. Proof that both Izumiko and Sagara still have much to learn – and they’ll learn together.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Stray Observations:

  • Izumiko handles getting hit on by ghosts quite well.
  • She also gets to dance again. Her dances are always lovely and entrancing.
  • The back-and-forth banter between Izumiko and Sagara this week was often quite amusing. We particularly enjoyed Izumiko equating Himagmi to a cellular signal, and going into 20 Questions mode as soon as she spots wings on Sagara.
  • A tearful but relieved Mayura hugging Manatsu while warning of future repercussions for running off in the first place was a very sweet moment.
  • As soon as we saw those black wings, we had a feeling Wamiya was involved.
  • Izumiko brought Manatsu back, but he has the same heart condition that took Masumi’s life, so he’s still in danger.
  • If there was any doubt before, it’s pretty clear by now that Sagara has a budding romantic interest in Izumiko. Why else would he care what her type is? Ganbatte, Shinkou!

11 Mononoke Moments

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Every couple years we like to revisit one of the first and best works of anime we’ve ever seen, to bask in its excellence and wade in the gooey nostalgia. Suffice it to say, the film gets better with each subsequent viewing, and it also gets more difficult to find satisfying and cohesive words to describe how much we adore it and why. So we won’t! Instead, we’ll list ten eleven of our favorite moments, in chronological order.

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1. The first shot after the title card, and that first Joe Hisaishi orchestral flourish: Ashitaka glides through the trees on his red elk, sensing something is amiss. Instantly, we are transported to another world, and that world already feels real by the sound of leaves rustling and the stamping of hooves on the earth.

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2. Three village girls flee from the raging demon, but one trips and falls. Do the other two run away and leave the third behind? Do they wait for Ashitaka to save them? No. Kaya draws her sword and stands fast with her fallen sister. Miyazaki wastes no time establishing that the women in this film are going to stand equally with men in all things: courage, intelligence, strength…and general badassery.

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3. Ashitaka learns his fate, from another strong woman, the village oracle. In this scene, we see the desperation of the men sitting against the wall. Ashitaka is the youngest there, the last best hope for the village; his sudden exile crushes them. But Ashitaka does not flinch from the task before him. He chooses to stand and face his fate.

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4. Ashitaka and Kaya’s farewell gets to us every time, but the sorrow of that little scene is soon put behind Ashitaka as he begins the next chapter of his life, out in the sprawling world, full of mysteries and wonders and infinite possibilities. The soaring, epic music and staggeringly vast, gorgeous vistas contribute to create one of the best traveling montages in all of cinema – and this is only the beginning.

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5. Ashitaka first spots San. When he braves the deeper parts of the ancient forest with the injured men, he finds San and her wolf tribe licking their wounds after a raid. Mononoke is sucking blood out of Moro and when she spots Ashitaka, delays spitting it out for just one brilliant moment. Ashitaka leaps up and gives a Big Dumb Hero Speech, to which the wolves respond by simply walking off. San replies with one word: “Leave.” San don’t give a shit about him…not yet, anyway.

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6. The first clash of Eboshi and San. Lady Eboshi is one of our favorite antiheroes in anime. Cunning, ruthless, and sexy, we never learn her true motivations. Perhaps she had a tough upbringing that steeled her for competing and succeeding in a male-dominated world, and wishes to carry that tradition on with other women with unfortunate pasts. She gives lepers and brothel workers honest jobs and happy lives, and makes a huge profit off of it.

San herself is a less complex but no less compelling character. We know for a fact her human parents discarded her. Whether they didn’t want her or couldn’t care for her, she was left to the wolves and raised as one. In a way, Eboshi is just as much a wolf. But she hides her wolf and her heart within, not on her sleeve. Whatever people believe about her is what she wants them to believe.

Then San slips by Eboshi’s guard and shoots at her like an arrow loosed from a bow. All speed and primal rage and chaos, Eboshi – at the last second – pulls out her thin, elegant blade of folded steel with the tiniest movements, then brandishes a tiny dagger; her first parry was a feint. All logic and discipline and careful sizing-up of her opponent. Her water meets San’s fire and a stalemate ensues, until Ashitaka’s finally had enough and subdues both.

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7. Ashitaka tells San she’s beautiful while she has his sword pointed a centimeter from his throat. San’s bashful reaction proves shee is still a human. Ashitaka doesn’t say this out of desperation; he’s not one to extend his life with wordplay. He says it because it’s the truth. He doesn’t want San’s beautiful soul irrevicably corrupted by hate. The end product of that path gave him his scar.

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8. There’s really no scene in any film we’ve seen that gives us goosebumps that last quite as long as they do when San takes Ashitaka deeper into the forest to see if the deer god will save his life. The utter majesty of their sylvan suroundings, the brief dream Ashitaka has in complete silence, the way the white noise of the forest returns when a dewdrop wakes Ashitaka up, it’s all perfect.

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9. When he’s unable to chew bark, San chews it for him and feeds him like a bird, in perhaps the best non-kiss first kiss we’ve ever seen. San is just making sure he doesn’t die, but Ashitaka is moved to tears. As are we.

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10. Ashitaka wakes up in a den, with San sleeping soundly beside him, and then the titular theme song starts up, we have perhaps the quietest, most beautiful scene in the entire film. You get the feeling this is the most comfortable and happy the two will be, as well as the last time they’re together, for some time. So bittersweet.

Shots of the contented San bookend his conversation with a testy Moro, who sits atop the stone den, contemplating her death and the death of the forest. Her speech to him about how even this place will soon be engulfed in the flames of mankind’s industry and war, and how both of them are too weak to do anything about it, is heartbreaking, but neither her cyncism or threats to bite his head off sway Ashitaka from the belief there can be a third way, and that he can find a way for him and San to live.

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11. The scenes with the rather bull-headed boar tribe and their doomed blaze of glory, as well as Jiko-bo’s strategizing aren’t our favorite of the film, and if there was a place where the film lags a bit, it’s here. But when Moro decides to use the last of her strength to help save San from being consumed by Okkoto’s corruption and hands her off to Ashitaka, who runs into the lake with her, it was a great relief. Yeah, it’s a bit Guy Saves Girl…but remember, she saved him too.

As representatives of mankind and nature, their friendship forged from mutual life-saving, trust, and love is proof that their two factions can, if not co-exist, allow one another to simply…live. Even in the present day, there are still countless places untouched by man. They are fewer than in the past, but they will always be here.

One side-effect of watching this film is it makes you want to seek out those places in nature that endure even today. Where trees have stood through ages of man, and the animals do not fear us. We will never truly defeat nature, and nature will never truly defeat us. It’s not a zero-sum game, and it never was.

RABUJOI World Heritage List

Ben-To – 03

Yamahara invites Satou and Oshiroi to join the Hounds, made up of “gundogs” who work as a pack to win their quarry. After a tryout with the Hounds, they’re able to get their dinner quickly and easily without any messy combat. But Satou finds it lacking; it’s boring and too easy. The food is far more delicious when he’s won it himself against a superior foe, and sharing it with Oshiroi and Yarizui, so he and Oshiroi decline the invitation and take the bento without their help.

Comparisons with Princess Mononoke are inescapable where Yarizui’s concerned. She’s like an albino verson of her in looks and is referred to as a wolf girl. But the rest of the school has it all wrong in calling her the “Ice Witch”. Once you get to know her and she lets her guard down, she’s a very warm person. Satou doesn’t want to lose that by switching to another club – especially one like the hounds. This week, Satou learns without doubt that he’s meant to be a wolf, not a dog. We think it’s a good move; it all comes down to taking pride in how you get your meals. And these three wolves are fun to watch.

There were other developments: Ume withdraws her objection to Oshiroi’s membership and association with You. Oshiroi gets the keys to the clubroom. And lastly, You’s old friend Shaga ends up in his bed somehow. Looks like next week will bring in The Beauty by the Lake, who most definitely does not resemble Mononoke Hime. Still lovin’ the next episode previews that take place the moment after the episode ends, breaking the fourth wall, and the soundtrack and action sequences continue to rock.


Rating: 4