Ushio to Tora makes a perfect companion piece with Kyoukai no Rinne, Jitsu wa Watashi wa and Gangsta (and I’ll even add a bit of Joukamachi no Dandelion) as a quartet. They provide a kind of sampler platter of old-school anime – each a very different genre, but each eerily authentic to what anime was in the 1995-2005 era. We just need a really good classic mecha series to complete the set, but sadly there isn’t anything airing right now that fits the bill.
This is one of those anime episodes that’s sort of tough to write about because they’re so self-explanatory. Honestly – what could I possibly add that the ep didn’t say better for itself? Not only was it flawlessly executed, but its intentions were perfectly clear. If you want a monster-of-the-week story in the vintage shounen style, you may as well make this the one they use in the dictionary, because it was an object lesson in how it’s done. A series could hardly be more in the wheelhouse of the Madhouse/MAPPA family (and this staff is almost all Madhouse current and past) than Ushio and Tora.
As good as the first two episodes were, this was definitely a level-up in that it added a bittersweet element those eps were lacking, while advancing the story and character arcs at the same time. The jig is up back at the temple – Shigure has discovered what’s happened in the cellar, though the repercussions of that are still to be determined. But Ushio’s mind is on art, namely an exhibit of the work of his favorite artist, Hanyuu Michio – especially is “Reiko” portraits of his daughter. But Michio’s final “Reiko” is highly disturbing and dark, and Tora immediately recongnizes it as the work of a man who died hating the human race.
This connects to the story through Hanyuu Reiko (Makino Yui) herself and her osananajimi Masaki Kenichi (Nakamura Yuuichi), the school banchou who takes a resentment to Ushio’s outspoken personality. When Ushio finds out Reiko goes to his school he’s desperate to paint her portrait, but she refuses – and with good reason, as it turns out, given that her Dad has turned into an oni and causes anyone (especially with a Y-Chromosome) who gets too close to his daughter to have an “accident”. Ushio, of course, is nothing if not bull-headed and fearless, and this news is but a red cape waves in front of his eyes.
As youkai-themed shounen goes this is a pretty traditional plot, but the magic comes in the way it’s executed. Simply put, it’s note-perfect – and simply is exactly how it should be put when discussing an ep like this one. The acting, the pacing, the art and animation – it’s completely committed and authentic. And the moment when Ushio stabs out at Hanyuu’s painting and Reiko throws herself in the way is a genuine cracker, a gasp-worthy payoff to the episode’s buildup.
Tora’s involvement here is especially interesting. He declines to tell Ushio what he’s discerned about Reiko’s father, but when he’s presented with an opportunity when Ushio uses his spear to prevent Reiko from committing suicide, he doesn’t leap on it. And while he tells Ushio to beg for help when he (along with Reiko and Masaki) are being dragged down to Hell by Michio, he still offers it unbidden when Ushio refuses to beg. I think we have the case here of a youkai who’s been really bored for a really long time, and against his wishes he’s starting to find this reckless little human interesting. As Rick said to Louie, I think this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship…