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To the Bittersweet End – Ushio and Tora Episode 39 (Finale) – Season’s Writings

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Once more, with feelings

So here we are, the end. It’s been a wild ride hasn’t it? We’ve seen an inexperienced child come to terms with his duty, an obnoxious yokai slowly transform into an upstanding hero and the world around them forgo grudges born thousands of years ago. We’ve seen a monster of the week story shift into a single cohesive plot, characters return well after we forgot who they were and an impossible amount of stubbornness vanquish evil time and time again. But whether you’ve been concious of thisi or not, the simple fact remains, through every challenge, through every moment of strife and elation, we have seen Ushio and Tora.

Judgement Day. Hakumen no Mono is on its final legs and is now more dangerous than ever. Having openly admitted that Ushio and Tora’s verbal beatdown is accurate and it is in fact jealous of the world, Hakumen lets loose and becomes a ballistic bundle of unbridled fury. Apart from showing how tenacious this villain is, I was rather interested in Hakumen’s willingness to accept its faults. Sure it doesn’t use this knowledge to better itself, but it is so far done with  Ushio and Tora that it does not deny anything. Rather, it alters its entire plan, forgoing the destruction of the world if it can just kill our heroes. Now, this little outburst is empowered twofold by the fact that not only does it show how petty Hakumen has become, but also how Ushio and Tora both personify the fight against evil. Though I have praised the series inclusion of characters long forgotten, this final fight is very much a personal one. Albeit one sidedly so. Yes, Ushio hates what Hakumen has done, but Ushio hates everything that evil yokai do. Tora admittedly does have a grudge against the fox-bird-horse, but his connection with Ushio is by far the most important bond throughout this fight. Having overcome their mistrust and fury from their previous encounter, Ushio and Tora once again stand as one, shining so brightly that nobody even cares that Hakumen is there. In a rather unexpected turn for the over emotional Ushio and the explosively reacting Tora, they manage to take their personal selves out of this climactic battle, culminating in Tora’s simple utterance to Hakumen, “For whatever reason, I just can’t hate you anymore.”

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Hakumen no more

Yet, in the face of such a bond, we are contrasted by a distinct lack thereof; Hakumen no Mno itself. Despite its claims of superiority and perfection, we now know the grudge Hakumen harbours for the beings of yang, for those born in the light. Born of darkness and forced to live in such, Hakumen fostered nothing but hatred in its heart, a hatred that compelled it to destroy what it could not have. Despite its pleas and deathbed cries, it is ultimately hard to feel compassion for Hakumen. Having refused to seek out happiness for itself, Hakumen merely wished to make the entire world as unhappy as it was, which seems like a discernibly more difficult thing to do if you ask me. It invaded, it razed, it ended life after life in an attempt to quell its jealousy. However, in poetic irony personified, Hakumens mere presence sought to strengthen the very forces it despised. It gave the beings of light a common enemy, a force to rally against that broke down the barriers between them. Yokai, human, tradition, technology, the living and the dead all banded together to end an unequivocal evil that threatened them all. It’s actually kind of funny and definitely a little sad. In its final moments, Hakumen solemly calls for someone to say its name, not in a scream of terror, or a cry of rage, but in a soft and caring voice. Though unable to finish its final words, we also learn that Hakumen wishes for a different name, one that we will never know. Is this tragic? In its own way, yes. However, Hakumen no Mono is a being who possessed the ability to appear in countless forms even when trapped beneath the sea, and what did it do with that skill? Plot. It didn’t try to form connections with anyone, it didn’t try to learn about the world it hated so, it just blindly sought to destroy an ideal that it had formed long ago in the darkness of its own soul. So while you can feels sympathy for Hakumen, it is ultimately a shallow one that without a doubt highlights how this all could have been avoided if it just stopped for two seconds and pondered a different course of action, one wherein it could have become a part of the world it wanted to belong to.

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A fight now over, a rest well earned

With this in mind, this finale contrasts the broken soul of Hakumen no Mono with the repaired soul of another; Tora. Having proclaimed fury and hatred from the outset, we are finally able to witness the culmination of Tora’s journey and the complete insincerity of his claims of hatred. Sure I’ve joked about it before, but Tora is tsundere through and through. Though a comical statement, what this means is simply that a heart of gold lies under his violent outbursts. For all his screaming and threats to eat Ushio, it has never been believable. Whether he wanted to be or not, Tora was Ushio’s friend and Ushio was his…to the end. Having devised a plan only he could think of, Tora sacrifices his life in order to defeat Hakumen. Hiding the Beast Spear within his own body, something we learn he has been doing for 500 years in Ushio’s basement, Hakumen is unable to see where its opponents stand. Oh, I should not that by this point Hakumen has torn out its own eyes, citing them as a hindrance that allowed its enemies to discern its true feelings. Yeah, it’s as brutal as it is intense. Regardless, this self sacrifice leads to an inescapable outcome; Tora’s end. Though an understanding by the Spear prevented it from killing him for 500 years, its unleashed form is unable to hold back and Tora succumbs to his wound. In his final moments, and through an uncharacteristically calm demeanour, everybodys favourite being of fire and lightning simply smiles and say that he is full, having gotten everything he ever could have wanted from his time with Ushio. It’s simple, it’s sad and it is a moment that closes the book on a being plagued by Hakumen longer than anyone else. And yet, in one final display of peace and rebellion, Hakumen no Mono is the last thing on the mind of the one who swore a life to vengeance and the destruction of said beast. Ironic, isn’t it?

With the threat of evil behind them and their wounds beginning to heal, we find ourselves a year later, returned to the daily lives of our main cast. With no world ending threats before them, Ushio, Asako, Mayako and Kirio simply make their way to school. and yet, Ushio and Tora reminds us one last time why it is such a powerful series. Though blatantly decreeing that he will never let food his mother made go to waste, Ushio’s morning routine is supported by a beautifully unsung moment. What food is it that he finishes just before he leaves? Miso Soup. The very dish that he wanted so desperately for his mother to make, the dish that was so normal that it was alien to him. Expressing a similar sweetness, albeit in a much more sombre way, we turn to Mayuko who after one year still cannot hear the word hamburger without tearing up. Though perhaps not as classically upsetting as Ushio staring at the place where he and Tora first met, this simple moments shows us the normal moments that will be missed by Tora’s friends. The way Kirio declares that he will eat every hamburger in front of Mayuko also presents a rather touching moment. As one who once stood against Ushio and Tora, proclaiming to be their better, we now see a young boy who wishes to see his adoptive sister smile. Not attempting to replace her memories of Tora, but simply to give her new ones that will see her spirit soar.

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Gone, but never forgotten

So there we have it; Ushio and Tora. I must admit, it took me a while to get into this series. During its initial stint as a monster of the week exercise, what mainly stood out were the yokai. Weird, wonderous creatures that plagued the daily life of a student. However, as the series continued forward, it began to find its footing…and then it broke into a sprint. From including an amnesia story that was in no means hackneyed or annoying, to having an ally succumb to evil in a believable and surprisingly selfish way, Ushio and Tora never simply followed cliches, it used them, it improved them, it shaped them until they were what they needed to be and then it let the characters do the rest. Have we seen a redemption story before? A revenge story? A journey of self discovery? A heroics fall? A broken villain? An unrequited love? Yes, yes on all accounts. But you know what? Who cares? Because at the end of the day, despite its fragments existing in stories throughout time, none have assembled them quite like this series and for that, I will never forget Ushio and Tora.

Ushio and Tora can be found, having done what they did, over on Crunchyroll

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