It was bound to happen eventually. Since the get go of this series, one mystery has remained ever present; Who the heck is Tora anyway? We’ve met yokai who know him, the various names he has taken on throughout history and what he has done to earn his reputation. Yet we still know nothing about the guy himself. Okay, so maybe this episode didn’t give us all the answers, but it certainly gave us some pieces of the puzzle…the violent, tiger striped, tsundere puzzle.
In addition to his most hated nom de guerre, Nagatobimaru, Tora has been referred to by another in the past; Azafuse. Though originally assumed to be as inconsequential as his, somewhat forced, change to Tora, we know now better. Rather than a name, Azafuse is a term, one that refers to a very unique bunch of yokai. As we remember from Ushio’s brief foray into the animalistic, the Beast Spear possesses the danger of being able to swallow the soul of its wielder, which is kinda really bad. Ushio, of course, avoided this fate with a timely trim and styling, however, what about those without an unintentional harem of supernaturally empowered ladies? Well, as it turns out, these poor souls become Azafuse, a special breed of yokai that all share a similar look; bestial, angry and tiger striped…you see what I’m getting at here? That’s right people, good ol’ Tora is a former wielder of the Beast Spear, a fact that answers just as many questions as it raises within me.
Let’s start with the cons first, so we can all leave here on a high note. Though admittedly a series from a few decades ago, this realisation shares the less-than-ideal vibe that events are a touch too interconnected. At the start of the series, Tora was a jerk, an evil yokai pinned in place by the Beast Spear. From there on it was his slow reformation by the actions of Ushio that drove this character forward. The sheer fact that the wielder of the legendary yokai slaying weapon would choose to partner with a yokai was what made this duo unique. With the new knowledge of his origins, the fact that Tora was so inherently tied to the Beast Spear from the get go has the side effect of making the series’ premiere relationship seem more like destiny. Though this would undoubtedly suit the theme of the story, what with the preordained battle with Hakumen and all, it somewhat robs Ushio of his accomplishment of sparing Tora and Tora in turn of his shattering of expectations. Of course this is a decidedly negative viewpoint, but one that exists nonetheless.
Complaints aside, let’s talk about the positives of this revelation. First and foremost; Tora has some backstory. Again, we don’t know the details yet, but for the first time we are actually delving into the past of one of the series’ leads. Which, when you actually stop to think about it, has taken a long time. We’re twenty nine episodes in and we are just now getting specific details about Tora, I hope the truth to follow is worth the wait. Regardless, knowing that Tora once wielded the Beast Spear raises a whole new interpretation of the character. Apart from the aforementioned obvious, it gives us an inkling of explanation as to why the Beast Spear was used to hold him in Ushio’s basement for so long, rather than outright kill him. Though the wielder may have known the truth of the Azafuse, it is my currently evolving opinion that perhaps Tora himself was the wielder alluded to in the story. Maybe during his final moments as a human he impaled himself, so as to prevent a possible rampage? sure it has been said that Tora was a demon hunted by the Beast Spear wielder, but I am not willing to take any of that at face value anymore. Hell, it turns out Guren was the one who murdered Hyou’s family, so all of the stories regarding Tora’s evil are up in the air at this point. However, despite all of this, the fact that has me most interested in what’s to follow is the hinting that Tora actually remembers his time as a human. Despite the Azafuse reverting to stone, Tora does not, so we already know that he is unique even amongst these yokai. With this in mind, the comment that Tora has a personal grudge against Hakumen all but states this fact. How said Azafuse knew this is still unknown, but it does explain Tora’s overall attitude. It is also my thinking that his memories are the reason he despises being referred to as Nagatobimaru, a name that may have belonged to him as a human. Now, whilst I am well aware that yokai know him and are aware of his tremendous power, this does not debunk my theory as of yet. We’ve all seen the Beast Spear in action, who’s to say that they don’t simply remember him from those days? Perhaps Tora was kinder in the past than we thought? After all, nobody said the yokai didn’t know the truth of the Azafuse, maybe they just didn’t tell Ushio. Of course, in a week or so, we’ll find out that I am absolutely wrong about all of this, but, as for now, I am rather enjoying pondering what will happen next.
I have to throw a quick mention out there to Hyou, who hasn’t been seen for quite a while now. Takes some kind of guy to turn up, mention he travelled back in time, drop some exposition and then fight Guren with a creepy smile. What is most impressive, and indicative of the series’ writing, is that it doesn’t feel like a deus ex machina for him to reappear. Ushio and Tora has always been a series that reveled in returning cast members, a surprising twist for what was once a monster of the week show. Not only that, but we finally get to see him enact his revenge, or as much as he can. Hyou has always been an interesting character, becoming his most elated when in the throes of violence, yet remaining ever gentlemanly when not. What most endeared this situation to me, especially in this episode, was Ushio’s support of Hyou’s actions. I understand, murder is wrong, but sometimes in anime you just want to see the good guy get their revenge. It doesn’t have to be a soul darkening action, especially in a world of demons. This series gets that and I can’t wait to see Guren get taken down a peg. He’s been around for two episodes and we all know he’s a jerk, that’s how much of a jerk he is. Also he has swords in his face, what’s up with that? Hakumen no Mono is a terrible gift giver if that’s what she meant by power (I say she because, well, you know).
This was an interesting episode. Taking a slight respite from the emotional roller coaster that preceded it, this outing took us down a more factual path. With some insight into what Tora is, we are now left wondering who he was. Did he come across the Beast Spear by chance? Did it choose him to wield it? Did he utilise it for evil? OR was he just like Ushio once upon a time? And what is this personal business he has with Hakumen? I mean I’m sure it isn’t good, but I’m still curious. Which is exactly how the episode wants you to feel, so much so that you might overlook the true theme of this latest outing; change. Through each and every interaction, the one thing that persists is the simple fact that these characters have come a long way. From Kirio desiring to save someone, to Tora listening to Hyou when he said not to fight, to the fact that Ushio calmly assessed the situation, to Asako to a hospital and didn’t blindly rush off to rescue Mayuko, no character is the same as when they began. Can you really ask for anymore when watching an anime? Nothing is more frustrating than seeing a story stagnate, but Ushio and Tora has never has that problem…it’s too energetic to.
Ushio and Tora can be found, doing what they do, over on Crunchyroll