We’re really speeding towards the end aren’t we? I mean, this is the second last episode of Ushio and Tora, one more and we’re done. That’s it, finished. But let’s worry about that next week shall we? This week we have bigger fish to fry, well, it’s the same fish, but you get the idea. Having been driven into four magically empowered corners, Hakumen no Mono is on the defensive this time around…not that it’d let you know that. Rather, we must witness a spiteful and pompous villain until the bitter end, in all its fox-bird-horse glory, as it proclaims to bring eternal darkness unto the light of the world. Which is really mean.
With the collective forces of the yokai and humans bearing down on it, Hakumen no Mono decides to enlist an annoyingly logical course of action and separates said forces from their leaders. Their leaders, of course, are Ushio and Tora, whom Hakumen just figured out are the cause of Japan’s receding fear levels. A surprising blind spot for a being so hellbent on causing pain through manipulation if I do say so myself. Honestly, how did it take this long to understand that the greatest opponent of evil was the source of so much goodwill? Although, if that is what has kept Ushio alive, then so be it. Regardless, the misjudgment that will carry Hakumen through to his assumed destruction next week happens to lie on the complete opposite end of the caring/not caring spectrum. Realising that Ushio and Tora must be stopped, Hakumen decides to do so personally and shrinks down to a third its usual size, immediately followed by the reveal of its trump card tails; Spear and Storm. Sound familiar? Well they should, because our oh so loveable villain now bears the weapons of our heroes. also, they’re stronger…for the most part. Citing a need to rub salt into the wound, Hakumen declares that it will best Ushio and Tora with their own powers because it is a jerk and that’s what jerks do. That being said, this intentional invocation of enemy and hero sharing powers stands leagues above situations wherein it simply occurs for the sake of parallel. There’s spite in this maneuver, a spite that we have come to expect from the surprisingly petty personification of evil.
However, the most interesting aspects of this episode are not what Hakumen does, but what is done to Hakumen. Namely, smackdowns, both verbal and physical. Having gotten slapped around a little by the all new compact Hakumen, Ushio fulfills his role as protagonist by explaining the strength of compassion and the power he has gained through helping those around him. Declaring that he would gladly cry the tears of his friends so that they would not have to, there is no doubt (if there even still was) that Ushio is recovered from the rage and depression which led to his previous loss and is now ready to truly vanquish the evil that stands before him. Did we all see this coming? Yes. Does that make it any less cool? No, especially when it irks Hakumen so. And yet, that isn’t even the worst burn Hakumen suffers in this episode, no, that comes courtesy of an equally stalwart Tora. Emboldened by the strength of Ushio and the azafuse’s declaration that he is without a doubt their better, Tora proceeds to point out a well overlooked fact about Hakumen; his posture. Though this might not sound that important, the details reveal otherwise. Despite proclaiming itself to be superior to every single being, Tora note that Hakumen does not look down its nose at them, rather its head is hung low, staring upwards with eyes full of jealousy. Personally, I find this scene awesome for the sheer fact that it adds a new sense of importance to something that has never been up before. Hakumen looked as it did because that was creepy and menacing, that was enough. But enough often the calling card of lost potential, a card that Ushio and Tora has constantly refused to draw.
Jumping back for a second, the azafuse’s expository appearance in this episode is just a touch weird. Having been relegated to goofy looking armour for the quite a while, there sudden remarks makes you wonder what they’ve been doing this whole time. Sure we’ve seen Tora wreck shop recently, but dialogue has been pretty heavy on the whole Ushio and tora thing, with little room for the not-quite-Toras who turned to stone as soon as they appeared all those episodes ago. Regardless, having realised that their unending hatred of Hakumen has ultimately led them to become that which they despise, they decide to launch one final hoorah and deal a hefty blow to their ultimate foe. Which is cool, despite the Hakumen-torpedo forms they adopt. Before this however, they relay to Tora some truly thematic truth. Having so longed to eat Ushio, the azafuse declare that he has already consumed all he needs to. With his bond preventing him from being consumed by thoughts of Hakumen, Tora has surpassed all fallen Beast Spear wielders before him. He has become a yokai with the soul of a human. If that wasn’t enough for you, the Beast Spear also decides to pick this moment to transform Ushio (don’t worry, he holds it back with willpower), further blurring the line between Ushio and Tora and, subsequently, the line between human and yokai.
On somewhat the other side of praise, the background cast of this episode was perhaps explained a little too much for my liking. Though the series has been bringing back faces from episodes long passed, it has been somewhat skittish when it comes to outright stating its intentions. This was a fact I appreciated, as it allowed us to enjoy the connections being renewed without specifically being told to do so. This week however, Ushio is told straight to his face how his actions have forged the alliance that now stands at his back. Whilst this is awesome in and of itself, the statement draws to attention the actions of the previous weeks and makes you realise all of the allusions presented at once. Again, though far from a bad approach, I simply preferred the subtlety the series had employed previously. At least, it was subtle for a shonen series. that being said, this bombardment of return guests was legitimately surprising when it brought back two deceased father figures, redeeming themselves in death due to their deathbed realisations and the mystical magical spirit door that connects this world to the next. Man is that thing handy.
So we pretty much got what we expected this week, the verbal storm that comes before the much more violent, physical storm that bring this series home. We saw the return of damn near every friendly face who has ever passed through an episode, both dead and alive, and saw the true unification of our two heroes, who claim that Hakumen vs them will be a one on one fight. Which is sweet…in a tough, manly/yokaily way. Hakumen is nettled, shrunken and afraid, pretty much showing all the signs of a villain on their last legs, except for a tussled hairstyle that was once well groomed (though it doesn’t technically have hair, so I’ll let that one pass). So with probably half an episode of combat and half an episode of celebration and reconciliation still ahead of us, all I can really say is enjoy the tension as we all wait for Hakumen to draw its final breath. Don’t feel guilty by the way, Hakumen is the embodiment of evil, you can wish him dead all you won’t. Nobody will judge you.
Ushio and Tora can be found, doing what they do, over on Crunchyroll