Ushio to Tora – 38

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Despite the title “The End”, this week is not the end; just the beginning of it for Hakumen. The united counterattack is now in full swing, with supernatural and military forces working in concert to make Hakumen’s life increasingly difficult. Even better, the battle is being broadcast to Japan from a news chopper, lessening the fear of those who didn’t evacuate (like Asako and her fam).

I must say, after so much darkness and dread, I was glad to see the mood of the show brightening along with the skies around the battle. The irreverent chatter between Ushio and Tora flies as furiously as the cameos, which, to be honest, are a bit out of control; but are to be expected, as the end, titles aside, is very quickly approaching.

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Hakumen is a little slow on the uptake, and in assessing exactly why things are going so bad, determines that Ushio and Tora are the cause. If they can be smitten once and for all, Hakumen can crush everyone else’s spirits and get back to wreaking havoc. So Hakumen unleashes a Malboro-esque poison cloud, isolating and trapping the duo.

All everyone else can do, from Asako to Mayuko to Hinowa and the Moritsuna siblings, is keep fighing; keep doing their part; and trust Ushio and Tora will be okay.

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And they do do okay. Ushio’s armor is shattered and he comes close to his soul shattering as well, but he’s not like the other wielders who turned into azafuse, and both he and the spear are able to calm themselves, buoyed by the knowledge, and Tora’s confirmation, that Hakumen is not only terrified of his adversaries (for their ability to unite humans and youkai, among other things)—he’s also insanely jealous.

Hatred, pain, fear, and death are the only things Hakumen has ever known, and perhaps believes they’re the only things in the world. But seeing what Ushio and Tora have been able to accomplish; watching all the assembled friends and allies fight with everything they have for their sake; even watching the beast spear reassemble itself to fight again; it’s no surprise the increasingly puny bastard would be a bit envious.

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Ushio to Tora – 23

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Hinowa and Nagare buy Ushio time to advance towards the Beast Spear, but Kuin comes out to meet him. Tora tags along, but totally not because of Ushio; he just wants to fight Kuin. With no spear, Ushio can only hit Kuin with rocks, but even when Kuin seems to get the better of Tora, Ushio doesn’t stop hitting him with rocks.

Tora finally gets fed up and exerts a little more energy into the fight, saving Ushio from getting stabbed, cracking Kuin’s faceplate, and continuing to duel with him, buying Ushio more time to advance. I guess seeing Ushio not acting like a defeated wimp made him want to preserve his future dinner, huh?

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Inside the very carefully-staged chamber where the spear is about to get dunked, Kirio puts Ushio on the ground, then listens as his mom Towako plays a dirge on her cello under a single narrow pillar of sunlight creeping through a hole in the roof. Theatrical much??? Anyway, when she’s done, Ushio can’t stop Towako from cutting the red cloth and sending the spear plunging into the molten metal.

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For a second there, it looks like the show just destroyed its protagonist’s one and only weapon, which would be quite a dire eventuality. But then, out of the shadows, Ushio’s dad tells the sect members, confused by Towako’s presence, that this whole thing was of Hakumen’s making. Towako is another one of his minions, who created and raised Kirio for the express purpose of destroying her master’s anathema—the Beast Spear.

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In hindsight, I should have known from the look of her eyes that Towako was somehow related to the final boss. To see her mother in this new monstrous form, telling him everything she’s ever done wasn’t for him, but for the destruction of the spear, is all a bit much young Kirio, who proceeds to go bye-bye. And for the first time, I actually sympathize with the little bastard. All this time I knew what he was—nothing but a tool—but he never did, while I didn’t know whose tool he was until now.

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Speaking of tools, Ushio is, at the end of the day, the Beast Spear’s tool as much as it is his. He needs the spear to defeat Hakumen, while it—or rather Kiryou within it—needs him to wield him, even if it means his soul getting torn to shreds. When Ushio calls the spear once more, it emerges triumphantly from the solidified metal and into his hands. For the first time, Towako frowns, and her attacks are shattered by a revitalized Ushio in Beast Mode.

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Sensing a stronger resistance to her plans, Towako summons her stone golem, who still has a weakened Hinowa and Nagare in its clutches. Towako tries to give Ushio the choice of giving up his own life to save the others (a false choice, since she’ll kill them anyway for sure) or let them die. The two of them start the incantation for a self-destruct spell, forcing Ushio’s hand. He takes out the golem before they blow themselves up.

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Her golem gone, Towako reverts to her “human” form and beseeches a still-in-shock Kirio to help his “mama” from the bad guys. Now, up to this point, Towako really has been Kirio’s mama, and by far the most important person in his life. So it’s not really a surprise that he’d fall for her treachery once more and turn his scythe on Ushio. But only once more.

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When Kirio sees his “mama” encircling the sect members in the blue flames of a Hakumen minion, even he can’t ignore his eyes, nor his ears as she gloats about everyone writhing in hell. He stabs her, asks her once more if she’s tricked him all along, then hears more of her lies for what they are before she bursts into flames and vanishes.

Now, Kirio is pretty pissed, despairs that it’s all over and blames Ushio and everyone else for killing his mama as he lashes out at them with his scythe. Ushio calms him down by crossing spears and giving him one hell of a slap to the face. Nothing is over. People suffered and died so they can live and complete their mission to destroy Hakumen. Annoying he may be, but Ushio’s going to need Kirio in the coming showdown.

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He’s going to need everyone, as Oyakume said they’ll all have to work together in order to achieve victory. The rift that Towako created in the Kouhamei sect with Kirio shows just how far Hakumen is willing to go to stop his enemies from getting to him, but now they’re united against him like never before. Kirio may need a little time to process all of this, but there’s not much time left.

Meanwhile, Ushio is done with losing and done with letting anyone else die for him. He almost lost himself when he lost the spear, but getting it back made the fire in his belly burn even brighter and stronger…and that’s more than enough to bring Tora back to his side, as that fire will make him that much tastier a meal when the time is right.

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Ushio to Tora – 22

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Sensitive as Ushio is, especially when it comes to mother figures, he remains emotionally drained and doubtful of his own strength in the wake of the loss of Oyakume. Logical arguments like it was her choice, and perhaps she was always meant only to live long enough to protect Ushio there and then against the minion of Hakumen, won’t dissuade him from his spiral of despair.

As for Tora, he gets sick of this attitude real fast, and tries to snap Ushio out of his funk by threatening to kill and eat him in his weakened state. Ushio listlessly fights back, causing Tora to conclude he’s far too weak to be worth eating, so he’s peace-ing out until he is.

Ushio and Tora may have become near-as-makes-no-difference friends, but Tora’s not the hand-holding, comforting kinda friend; he’ll split if things get whiny and boring. After all, Ushio’s weakness uncomfortably reminds Tora of just how strange an tenuous a relationship they have, which makes him question his own strength in terms of being a Big Bad Monster.

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Conveniently, Tora’s absence leaves Ushio open to a confrontation with Kirio and a group of ten Kouhamei monks who steal the Beast Spear, intending to destroy it in favor of Elzaar Scythes, the “superior” holy weapons.

Meanwhile, Kouhamei sect members who haven’t fallen in with Kirio—Nagare and Hinowa—both act to support Ushio. Tora hooks up with Nagare, who at the moment is more interesting than Ushio, while Hinowa’s loyalty to the high priest and late Oyakume won’t allow her to let Ushio or the Beast Spear be destroyed.

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Hinowa and Ushio get an education on the Inasa, a former sect member who raised Kirio. Driven by his fear for Hakumen, he grew so obsessed with developing weapons that he started to believe he could make one better than the Beast Spear, using a forbidden combo of sorcery and science that got him excommunicated. He took up residence in the “House of Whisperers,” which is where Nagare and Tora begin their search for Kirio and the Spear.

What we basically have, then, are two very common genre concepts—mad scientist and his haunted mansion—cloaked in an Ushio to Tora skin. Which is fine; again, we knew he’d have to contend with one more would-be successor (albeit one who wants to destroy, not wield the spear), it’s just that Ushio’s crisis of confidence feels like a rehash, and we’re with Tora when he says a weak Ushio is a boring one.

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Nagare and Hinowa, on the other hand, are their usual delightful selves, with the former offering Tora some interesting insights about his life, (seeking a life of excitement while stopping short of putting his own life on the line for others), while the latter is constantly scolding Ushio for his lack of manners and propriety, but not hesitating to help him, because she believes he’s the true wielder.

Then there’s Towako, a woman who comes out of nowhere to help Inasa advance his research and perfect Elzaar scythes. Another evil crazy-eyed character? Sure, why not?

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Towako seems like some kind of dark muse for Inasa, until she steals an infant and decides they’ll use it to create the “materia”, the ultimate artificial spiritual warrior who will wield the Elzaar Scythe, and along with Kuin take out Hakumen no Mono. They share the desired end with Kouhamei Sect, but it’s the means that are so, so wrong, to the point that even Inasa isn’t really fully on board with creating Kirio, though he’s not strong enough to step in and stop it.

Inasa ended up dying in that house, while Towako is still around somewhere, having raised and twisted Kirio into her instrument. But you know what? Despite learning that Kirio had a rough upbringing and probably suffered much at the hands of people who were, charitably, on the cusp of insanity, the bottom line is I still don’t much like Kirio.

Revealing him as a GMO Monster that can only act as programmed doesn’t make him any more sympathetic or compelling a character. He’s literally a tool, and an obstacle to Ushio, and whether he’s killed or joins the cause, I’d prefer if he was dealt with sooner rather than later.

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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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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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