It’s funny, the things that run through our minds when watching anime. Last week I said Hatanaka Tasuku put me in mind of a cross between Satoshi Hino and Kakihara Tetsuya, but through all this episode I kept hearing Miyu Irino (that’s one reason why new seiyuu can be more interesting than instantly recognizable regulars). If you know my high regard for Miyu-san, you know that’s high praise from me – we’ll see if Hatanaka can bring some of the subtlety and emotional depth Miyu makes look so easy.
The other thing that struck me was that Tora is like a cross between Nyanko-sensei and Rider from Fate/Zero. That too is high praise, and it’s awfully important that I find him fun and interesting, because it’s obvious that Tora’s relationship with Ushio is the lynchpin to make the entire series work. He has Rider’s alpha-male braggadocio and fascination with modern culture, and the dynamic of “I’m just waiting for the chance to eat you” building towards an inevitable friendship can’t help but bring Natsume and Nyanko-sensei to mind (though of course, tonally the two shows could hardly be more different).
Tone is a big part of Ushio to Tora, and like Gangsta it’s very much a relic of another time. From the first strains of the OP this is a shounen which rolls out of the garage in sixth gear and never really slows down. It’s boisterous, rough, brash and loud – and I find that refreshing both because it’s so very authentic, and so different from what most modern shounen has become. Ushio and Tora’s relationship is a classic boy’s bond – bashing and scratching and bawling out each other, but coming through for each other when the chips are down.
Of course, we have to get to that last part, and at the start of events here Tora is still sticking to the story that he’s going to devour Ushio the minute the cursed spear gets more than a few feet away from him. But even before the events which really start to cement the bond, it’s clear that Tora is kind of enjoying this uneasy partnership. He likes “teevee” (though he trashes it good when a hated samurai appears on-screen), and he finds Ushio’s history class a lot more interesting than the boy does. There’s a genuine spark of curiosity in this bakemono which makes him a more interesting presence. As for Ushio, he cements the impression that he’s a salt of the Earth type – all martial spirit, stalwart and brave and stubborn. They make an endearing pair, these two, even if they don’t realize they’re a pair yet.
They start to realize it when Asako and Mayuko get into trouble – a result of their Library Club’s job of transporting a bunch of books from the old school building (seriously – when will Japanese kids learn you don’t go into the old school building?). Inside it is a spooky old stone samurai, and inside the samurai is a “Rock Eater” – a centipede youkai that traps its victims behind a barrier, turns them to stone and then slowly devours them as it revels in their terror. It’s here where Tora starts to realize that Ushio isn’t like his preconceived notion of humans – not only is he basically fearless, but he’s willing to disregard his own welfare in order to help other humans. As foreign as this concept seems to be to Tora, it seems to spark a little something in him – if not admiration or affection, at the very least grudging respect.
In the end, Tora risks himself to help Ushio – under the pretext, of course, that it’s because he doesn’t want any other demon to eat him. And Ushio takes another leap forward in using the Beast Spear (which on the surface, would seem like bad news for Tora). When we started out this ep no one besides Ushio could see Tora, but by the end even Tora can see himself on the teevee – and just how that’s going to change the equation is hard to say. But it’s going to be interesting to find out, and interesting to see just how much (and how quickly) Ushio and Tora’s relationship starts to take on some of the barely hidden affection we see between Nyanko-sensei and Rider and their human counterparts.