There is only so much something can bend before it breaks. Generally a statement used to refer to any number of inanimate objects, the phrase holds just as much truth when referring to people. Sure there are varying types of people, all with their own strengths and weaknesses, but there exists a breaking point for all. That one step too far. This week, we find Ushio’s. Pushed just that little bit extra, we come to see just what kind of torment and stress has been bubbling under the surface of our rash hero, what kind of pain lurks within a child forced to bear the weight of the world on his shoulders. It isn’t pretty…
It was bound to happen. It had to happen. Given what we’ve seen during Ushio’s previous encounter with Hakumen no Mono, there is no way this fight could’ve begun without some strife. Personal strife I mean, I think we all expected some external negativity, what with Hakumen’s appetite for death and all. Jumping back into Mama Ushio’s protective sphere, we find the barrier maiden pushing Ushio to battle Hakumen no Mono and end its reign of fear once and for all. Ushio, of course, is terrified of the demonic fox-bird-horse that has been near solely responsible for the collective misery of the world for thousands of years, and literally buckles under the weight of his responsibility. Though far from the stalwart hero shonen portrays most of the time, what makes Ushio’s reluctance to fight here truly saddening is the fact that he isn’t wrong. He’s just a kid who stumbled upon the Beast Spear, sure his family is inextricably linked to the world of the yokai, but he was purposefully kept in the dark his entire life. For his discovery to place the fate of existence in his hands is frightening and, as childish as it may sound, completely unfair. Combined with the recent plague of Ushio specific amnesia that has infested his friends, our hero is left visibly shattered as he is finally given a moment to stop and think about what his life has become. It’s all just so…sad.
The catalyst of Ushio’s decent in to despair, even if unintentionally, is his own mother. Having come face to face with her after having believed her to be dead his whole life is just too much for the poor guy. Having sacrificed her own freedom to keep Hakumen at bay, she is just another on a long list of people stolen from Ushio in his short life. And so, our hero is reduced to a cowering wreck before the biggest fight in the history of the world…then the slap happens. Attempting to snap her son out of this sudden emotional funk, that has been building up for months, Sumako (Mama Ushio) straight up slaps him in the face, the universal symbol for get a hold of yourself. Hell, Asako slapped him one not too long prior…which kinda doesn’t help things. In one single instant, all of Ushio’s sadness, uncertainty and doubt is transformed into a blinding hatred. Having realised that, on top of everything else robbed from him, Hakumen’s existence could not even allow a peaceful reunion with his mother to occur, Ushio’s mentality becomes more bestial than ever as he leaps directly at existence’s greatest villain. The fact that Ushio is just a child is drilled into us when he simply states that Hakumen made his mother hit him. It isn’t poetic, it isn’t even close to the worst thing Hakumen has ever done but, to a child who has just found his mother, it is an unforgivable offence. The situation is only made worse when Ushio is slowly reminded of more travesties during the midst of battle, such as the death of the Oyakume, an event that even we as an audience probably forgot about, showing just how deep these wounds of Ushio’s run.
Pretty immediately after this, Sumako realises that she made a mistake and pleads to her son to calm down, as Hakumen cannot be defeated with hatred for some reason. Okay, Hakumen is the embodiment of evil and negativity, I get that, I’m just a little over anime limiting character’s emotional outbursts. Sure, a blind fury isn’t the most heroic way to vanquish a foe, but it is a bit frustrating that Ushio isn’t even allowed to think about himself. He’s been angry before, but always about injustice, or somebody hurting his friends. Now, when he is angry because he has had so much robbed from him, his anger is detrimental to the entire anti-Hakumen effort. It just kinda sucks if you ask me. After all, as I said before, he isn’t wrong. He’s had to fight day in and day out, lost more people than anyone should ever have to and discover that his family has been lying to him forever, all because he went into a basement. Of course, things swing a little too far into the realm of rage and self-pity when he believes Tora to be a villain, faster than he believes that Nagare, that guy he met all of twice, could possibly become evil and force a fight to the death. Especially given that their first meeting was as enemies. It does however swing back a bit after Ushio believes Asako, his father and every other Kouhamei Sect monk perished in Hakumen’s giant energy blast. I can understand the sadness and fury in that one.
What this episode boils down to is Ushio. Not the Wielder of the Beast Spear, not the uniter of the East and West, not even the one who befriended a demon known as Tora. Just Ushio, the boy. The kid who was thrust into a life of combat and sacrifice because he made one impetuous decision and found the secret in his basement. Contrasted by characters who have spent years devoted to battling yokai, or even those who have sacrificed their life to keep Hakumen at bay, we come to see just how unprepared Ushio is to fight this battle. Though those around him make solid points and are not wrong in what they say, for a child who has snapped under the pressure, they are not words that will reach them. Ushio does need to fight, Sumako was right, however the matter of fact manned in which she presented that information was probably the worst thing she could have done. Ushio wasn’t looking for another ally in battle, another hand to push him forward, he was looking for his mother…he thought he had found her. To be reminded that he isn’t even allowed to do something as simple as have his mother’s miso soup, our poor hero couldn’t cope. He’s seen death, destruction, all the evils you can think of, but to have such a personal thing robbed from him, just when he had found hope…you can’t help but feel for the guy.
All that being said, this is not a permanent storm. It will pass. As for how long that will take, who can say, but I believe it will not be too long until Ushio is his usual self once more. Though the Beast Spear has shattered, which totally sucks, it is my thinking that it will reform in the not too distant future. If the intro sequence is anything to go by, Ushio’s memories of the good times and those he has helped during his stint as Wielder will reform the blade stronger than ever before. You know, because love and friendship always win in the end. Which is nice. Still though, it does kind of bug me that every time a protagonist gets angry it becomes a cataclysmic problem. Let the kid be a little selfish, I think he’s earned it.
Ushio and Tora can be found, doing what they do, over on Crunchyroll