Ushio and Tora, that takes me back. Not to the original manga run mind you, but Season One, the part where I jumped into the fray and decided to see just how a kid with a spear and a not-tiger spirit could tear up some truly demonic forces. And boy did they. In their original run, the vitriolic pair of best buds saw to the destruction of their fair share of yokai attackers, which was pretty sweet. However, the most important aspect of the series, at the stalwart behest of Ushio, has been the yokai that they did not kill, but instead befriended. More often than not, this attitude has seen the redemption of foes and the forging of unlikely friendships. But, as the morose saying goes; All good things must come to an end.
Season Two, we’re enjoying ourselves, we’re ready to get back into the swing of Ushio’s adventures and everything seems situation normal. Actually, things seem better than normal. Right out of the gate, the episode provides us with yet another aggressively coy interaction between Ushio and Asako, the fan favourite couple who just can’t seem to get on the same page (which is the premise for every rom-com ever I think). What is unique about this encounter however is Ushio himself. After muttering something about tomorrow, he comes to the sudden realisation that he might not actually have a tomorrow. With the threat of Hakumen no Mono so often on his heels, our protagonist seldom has time enough to think about this reality, or anything that isn’t, “Hit this thing really hard with the Beast Spear.” So, he decides to walk her home and both get all blushy about it. Awww. But, considering that this isn’t the last episode of the series, progressing a relationship in a shonen series was a bad move, as we witness through Asako’s sudden, and very laser guided, amnesia. What does she forget you ask? Ushio of course. Everything about the guy. Not just from when he obtained his wicked spear, nor from when she saved his life that time by brushing his hair (it makes a little sense in context), but everything she even new about the guy. It’s honestly heartbreaking. This is only compounded by his arrival at Asako’s house, wherein her parents have no recollection of him either. This is especially saddening given that, earlier in the episode, they treat him much like their own son, showing just how integral he is to Asako’s life. Even his hopes of appealing to her through Mayuko, whom he hopes remember him, are dashed when, shockingly enough, the classic snap out of it slap to the face doesn’t work, resulting in him simply slapping a girl who doesn’t remember him. It is not a pleasant scene to watch. Which is ultimately the point of it all, not that knowing that makes it any easier.
This relationship angle is played up yet again during the eventual kidnapping of Asako and Mayuko. As the two sit imprisoned, Mayuko brings up the boy with the long hair, aka Ushio from his multiple rescues of them. Despite barely remembering him, Mayuko claims to love him dearly, before telling Asako that she feels the same whether she remembers it or not. Not that I understand why Mayuko is suddenly comfortable about telling Asako everything about this unwitting love triangle, something she has avoided doing in the past (especially the heartbreaking part about her crying every night), this dialogue does provide some surprisingly logical insight into an inherently illogical concept. Despite both of the girls loving Ushio, Mayuko points out that Ushio himself loves Asako and therefore forcing herself into a relationship would ultimately hurt all three of them. Of course Asako declares that she would rather forgo love in order to keep Mayuko smiling, she is immediately told that there is no point to doing so as, though this would make Asako feel better,this course of action would ultimately hurt Ushio and prevent either of them from being happy. Again, though this scene kind of came from nowhere, I appreciate it shedding some light on an under-explored aspect of this series. Sure there have been hints here and there, that were of course obvious to the audience, but it never really felt like progress was being made on this front. The Mayuko aspect also originally impeded any relationship prospects, as outlined by Asako’s slightly misguided attempts at preserving Mayuko’s feelings. Ultimately however, this entire situation is painted more realistic than it originally seemed. With nearly every rescue made, Ushio left behind a girl who held some interest in him, as seen yet again later in this episode, leaving us to believe in yet another oblivious shonen protagonist with an ever increasing harem of ladies pining after him. where this series differs however, is the definitive knowledge that Ushio has eyes for only Asako. It may sound simple, but this fact is more often than not left ambiguous to play up the tension of potentially romantic encounters. Ushio and Tora actually subverted this way back in the first episode, with Mayuko teasing Asako about her crush on Ushio, something I was surprised about even then, maybe especially then. Regardless, amidst the confusion and pain of this episode, Mayuko and Asako’s exchange does wonders to push forward the concept of a relationship in a setting that has robbed our characters of one of their strongest connections.
Eventually we come to learn that two characters still retain their memories of our protagonist; Tora and Saya. This is something I’ve always appreciated about this series, its utter refusal to throw any character completely by the wayside. Though she hasn’t appeared since Ushio went berserk, her appearance here does not feel shoehorned in, but rather natural as, being the type of character she is, she would try to seek out Ushio to offer guidance. As if we didn’t know, given the episode opening, this bout of all too specific amnesia is a direct result of Hakumen no Mono,the world’s ultimate jerkbag. Fearing the return of the Beast Spear, the one thing that actually instills any emotion other than smug fury upon the monstrous bird-fox (or whatever it is), Hakumen sought to remove the wielder, thus solving that particular problem. In addition to showing just how frightening the spear is to Hakumen, something that has only been presented through dialogue, this episode endeavour to showcase just how important Ushio’s actions have been over the course of the series. This is not an entirely new concept, as Season One presented more than a few glimpses into the lives of those Ushio saved. However, as it was instigated by Hakumen, this insight into impact is noticeably darker. By removing his presence entirely, we can see just how much Ushio has changed the world. With the memory of him gone, newfound friends revert to being enemies, an entire Hakumen resistance crumbles and those close to him possess only the vaguest memories of the one who saved them. Honestly, it’s a pretty grim way to come back into a series and certainly not the way I expected Ushio and Tora to return. But therein lies the appeal. By hitting us with this curve ball right off the bat, the series shows us the the stakes are at their highest, that we’re coming into the final stretch and that there’s no time to dance around the issues anymore. Hakumen is getting restless and it won’t be long before it starts to tear everything down. That isn’t even mentioning the premonition that the Beast Spear itself will fail. Things are not looking good for the forces of good…
All this being said, Ushio and Tora is still a shonen series, so I expect that memories will start flooding back any day now. If I’m wrong, the series will most certainly have gotten the better of me, but that still remains to be seen. In going to all this effort to remove Ushio from the picture, our villain showcases just how effective a hero he is. Despite the clumsy manner in which he fights and the overall lack of knowledge he brings to every discussion, the paths he paved and bonds he formed are only presented stronger in their absence. This revelation will probably be the catalyst to Ushio regaining his fighting spirit, should it falter yet again, however it has already done its job by showing us that Hakumen no Mono is scared. Despite the terrifying appearances it has made thus far, knowing that it is truly frightened of the Beast Spear is inspiring in its own way. Of course things would be much better if the cast remembered who their champion was, but I guess we’ll have to wait to see how that particular problem unfolds.
As a final note, I have to give credit to the opening sequence. Further driving home the fact that this is a direct continuation of Season One, the intro is a literal part two of the original, showing a battered Ushio and Tora in the aftermath of the fight that ended the original intro. How cool is that?
Ushio and Tora can be found, doing what they do, over on Crunchyroll