Well, that didn’t go as expected. With the onslaught of drama and melancholy that last week brought us, I was expecting a little of that ol’ shonen charm to bust in and save us all from contemplating the complexities of a problem you can’t just hit with a mystical, magical weapon. Okay, I suppose we kind of got a little of that, but damn Ushio and Tora, way to bring the mood down…not that I don’t love you for it.
Kicking off right where we left last week, we open on the crowkai (patent pending) guard informing Mayuko that she is to be burned alive for the sake of making a pointy stick that will be used to kill a big fox-bird that has been asleep under the sea for thousands of years…okay, maybe they don’t quite phrase it like that, but that’s pretty much the gist of what’s happening. Asako of course denies this reality and lunges at the birdman, who deftly dodges (real show of skill), leaving Asako flying helplessly past him…directly into the human disintegrating barrier that was placed around our two damsels. Smooth move birdbrain. Anywhat, Mayuko uses this opportunity to startle everyone,, including herself, by manifesting a counter barrier energy pulse thing to save her friend, which is cool. Though deus ex mechanic in description, it has long been stated that Mayuko houses a special power, born of her bloodline connection to Jie Mei, the original girl forged into the Beast Spear, which is a whole separate sad story you already know. Regardless, it is nice to finally see some development on that particular front, with Mayuko actually utilising these supposed gifts. As to why she never used them any other time her or Asako’s life was threatened by a yokai is beyond me, but I’ll let that slide for now because she saved Asako and was pretty cool about the whole being kidnapped situation to begin with. Girl’s got guts, I like that. Of course, addressing the yokai in the room, this display only cements the kidnappers’ resolve to burn her in fire and make a second Beast Spear, which totally won’t break like they fear the first will, because they are going to use the exact same method that forged said first spear…because reasons? I don’t know, these guys are desperate, not sure that logic is a word that was thrown around during the planning phase.
With her fate sealed, Mayuko does her typical endearing thing by trying to make Asako feel better which, if anything, is the clearest sign that she is not your typical highschooler. Throughout the series, Mayuko has constantly been thrown into danger, death and everything in between, yet she has always been shown as the cute, smiling girl she always was. Is this perhaps not how a person would react inside the belly of a beast? I would imagine it isn’t, but the series has always gone to lengths to explain this impeccable facade, namely that it is just that; a facade. For every smile, joke and sparkle that she emits, there is a pain there, a constant, well hidden pain. Even from the previous episode we are reminded that her days consist of spending time with her best friend and the guy they both love, a love triangle she has already admitted is no place for her. Combined with the revelation that she simply cries most nights because of this, her cheerful disposition becomes all the more fragile which, in turn, make sit all the more impressive that she can maintain it. Even in the face of death, all Mayuko has is her smile, with sadness, rage and disbelief all robbed from her by shock…it is not an easy scene to watch. However, as per the Ushio and Tora norm, our feelings are quickly reset by sheer bravado, albeit from a decidedly not Ushio or Tora source, but rather Asako. Refusing to see her friend perish, Asako quite astutely convinces the yokai that burning one with the power to seal Hakumen would be a terrible waste. Seeing as she has no such powers however…yeah, you can see where this is going. Deciding to bear the burden herself, to which she admits as selfish in a way, as she could not bear to see Mayuko die, Asako leaps into the fire herself. Through this sacrifice, Asako ponders what her life could have been if it were to not be ended. Her thoughts drift to her ideal partner, one who slowly reveals himself to be the stalker from last episode who claims to know her, the one we know as Ushio. Though to be expected in a final moment scene, her remembrance of Ushio is no less impactful, namely because both herself and Ushio are the type of characters who never admit to anything, let alone how much they care about each other. If that wasn’t enough, Asako’s actions also shatter Mayuko’s facade, leaving her screaming and crying as she is told by Kagari (the kamaitachi Ushio befriended a while back) that respecting Asako’s decision is the only thing that can prevent the moment from being irredeemably tragic. Again…damn. This series has always been one to focus on every side of a story, but that only serves to make this all the sadder, as we see how conflicted the yokai themselves are about sacrificing in the first place.
To keep this from getting too morose, I should mention that, at the last moment, Ushio crashes this particular party and saves Asako by the barest of margins, by which I mean he leaps under her into the forge and both of them emerge rather severely burned for the effort. Heroic as ever, Ushio screams out another complicated simplism by telling Asako not to die. Again, to be expected of the character, but powerful nonetheless. The events that follow only serve to increase the drama of the story, perhaps because of how few words are spoken. Ushio’s tattered appearance upon emerging from the fire is quite confronting, with his Beast Spear transformation barely remaining intact, rendering him mismatched and clearly broken. Despite this fact, Ushio continues to refuse harm onto the yokai he once called friends results in both him and Tora guarding Asako form the deluge of blows that are dealt from every angle. The sheer fact that Tora deigned to defend displays how far the character has come in terms of personality, despite his near consistent tsundere style outbursts regarding his compassion for Ushio, Mayuko or humanity in general. The following act of the episode continues this finale style characterisation by splitting the group in half, despite their efforts to reunite. Despite having saved Asako, and endeavour aided by Kagari and later Kappa, Ushio is forced to leave her in order to save the yokai. An obvious choice for a protagonist to make, it is not often that shonen series separate saving the world and saving the girl, with the two overlapping for a dramatic, “I’ll save them all!” speech. What this divergence does however, is allow the two strongest portions of this series to play out next to each other. With Mayuko tending to Asako, she relays the emotion of the series, revealing that she will assume the mantle of Hakumen’s watcher, parting with the message that the boy with the spear should hurry and save her, a declaration that is more true to her feelings than she would care to admit. On the other side of the spectrum, Ushio and Tora showcase to the yokai just how dangerous a force they are when fighting together, literally decimating Hakumen’s latest army by themselves. Rather than attempt to convince the yokai that they were once friends however, the duo simply leaves in silence, content with having saved the lives of those they once knew. Again, the fact that nothing was said speaks volumes for what these characters are going through, bolstered immensely by the lingering shot that displays the sadness on Ushio’s face, an emotion I can’t remember seeing him express during his transformed state.
As it stands, this second season of Ushio and Tora is a mystery to me. I did not suspect in the slightest that we would return to a cast who does not remember the events that transpired, in a way undoing the entire first season. What surprises me moreso is that the cast remain amnesiac still. Sure Asako began to recall Ushio as she was about to die, but the countless yokai and Mayuko herself still do not remember. There are enough hope spots in Mayuko and Kagari that we can believe their memories will return, but for now what we are left with is a hero left ostracised by those he cares about, albeit for one friend, and acquaintance and the world’s ultimate evil…it’s a pretty bleak way to be, which makes it all the more honourable that our hero continues to aid those in need, endearing himself anew to those who would see him dead. Except for that Tora clone Guren, I have no idea what that was about. But he’s in the intro so I can only assume he’ll be back, blade face and all. That being said, discovering the truth behind this familiarly faced foe would’ve only serve to depart from the more powerful moments of this episode, for which I’m glad that mystery yet remains unsolved.
Ushio and Tora can be found, doing what they do, over on Crunchyroll