Ushio to Tora – 10

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You’re just not going to see an anime episode executed much better than that.

There have been a few instances now where Ushio & Tora has flat-out nailed it – delivered an episode of old-school shounen as close to perfect as it’s realistically possible to make.  It hasn’t been every week of course, and with a semi-episodic narrative like this some variation is inevitable.  But all in all the series has been admirably consistent, a first-class production in every sense of the word.  MAPPA is a studio that really seems to have found its stride, and we’re awfully lucky to have they and Madhouse thriving at the same time – it’s like having our cake and eating it too.

For all the talk of consistency though, these standout episodes are where UshiTora really stakes out its place as one of 2015’s elite shows.  This is the sort of material that seems perfectly suited to anime – tales of the old Japan clashing with the new, full of atmosphere, suspense and youthful martial spirit.  It’s so effortless and such a joy to see – a staff and studio confident and assured at their jobs, a first-rate cast, a coherent and compelling story about interesting characters.  Yeah, this stuff was written 25 years ago but it still gives one hope for what anime remains capable of in this creatively challenged era.

This week’s fable concerns one of Japan’s most revered and well-known Ayakashi tales, the Zashiki Warashi.  To call this legend archetypal is an understatement – there’s a reason we see it popping up over and over in manga and anime.  Very few mythical beings in Shinto are as simultaneously cute and creepy as the Zashiki Warashi, and this one is no exception.  Omamori-sama (Kayano Ai) has been the household Kami of the Takatori family for centuries, bringing them wealth and power – though they’ve had to make her a prisoner to ensure her cooperation.

Ushio and Tora are continuing their wanderings through the north of Japan, and while soaking in a hot spring to heal their wounds from the Kamiatachi encounter, they overhear a lovely voice in song.  It belongs to Taketori Saya (Nanri Yuuka), the white-haired young woman tasked with consoling the spirit of the household.  Saya too is a virtual prisoner, sickly and treated shabbily be her father Takee (Ishizuka Unshou) and grandmother.  She flees when the embarrassed Ushio catches a glimpse of her, but they cross paths again the next day, when Ushio saves the girl after she faints into the path of an onrushing car.  Unable to avoid getting involved, Ushio carries Saya home, where he quickly grasps the essence of what the situation is.

Here’s the thing – Ushio may be loud, crude and not especially book-smart, but he’s no fool.  He’s perceptive, straightforward, fearless and noble of heart – in short, he’s just about the perfect hero for this sort of series.  And he makes a perfect knight-errant come to town to be Saya’s  – and Omamori’s – champion.  There’s not a lot of subtlety to what’s going on here – Saya’s father and grandmother are exploiting both Saya and Omamori-sama for their own greedy ends – but the story is so elemental that it’s hard not to feel stirred by it.  Even Tora seems to be – I think it’s very telling that Omamori-sama’s comment about Nagatobimaru’s actions was “I expected you to be far more cruel than this.”  Tora has definitely changed, and it’s Ushio that’s changed him.

It should be pointed out that this is the second week in a row that Ushio and Tora has turned to one of the finest seiyuu of all-time for a supporting role, following up Miki Shnichirou with the almost-peerless Ishizuka-san.  Kayano Ai is no slouch either, one of the best of her generation, and Nanri-san (more known as a singer than seiyuu, and apropos of nothing a stunningly beautiful woman) does a fine turn here as Saya.  The background music for this episode is also exceptionally good, matching the shifting moods of the narrative perfectly.  Again – it’s pure class, start to finish, and kudos to MAPPA for a job well done.

There are signs here that we’re about to circle back to the main story again, as the priests of Shigure’s sect – under the orders of their previously glimpsed-in-shadow leader Oyakume-sama (Satou Ai) – have decided to abandon their attempts to eliminate Ushio and Tora and acknowledge the former as a potential wielder of the Beast Spear.  She states the matter quite simply – it’s up to the spear to choose its wielder, not a bunch of fallible human servants – but I wonder if we aren’t going to see a schism in the order over this.  In any event, it’s clear that Ushio is swept up in something far larger than he could imagine as he is now, and that his quest to find out more about his mother is intricately connected to it.

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  1. A

    While this episode was good I wish that MAPPA had been given more episodes for this series. They did the best job possible but it felt rushed compared to the manga, the episode with the jet also felt rushed, almost tripping over it's own heels. I feel like most of these mini-arcs would be improved by being told over two episodes, or perhaps one and a half with the B part of every other episode being the lead in for a new mini-arc.

  2. s

    I kinda agree with you (which is why i kinda prefer the directing and pacing of the 90's ova's) but i feel like this rendition still works very well. Ushitora 2015's best asset is it's execution and it takes advantage of its fast pacing by filling each episode with pure raw energy

  3. It's funny, I almost feel as if I could pre-write these critiques before I post. I get it, but we're 9 episodes in and the seres isn't magically going to get three more cours – it's 39 and out. I guess it's just one of those cases where having read the manga is a curse.

  4. A

    That is awfully dismissive. I do think that MAPPA is doing the best job they can given the time constraints they have to work with but does that somehow invalidate the criticisms that are an artifact of the overly fast pacing? Even if I had never read the manga some of my criticisms would still stand. For example I don't think we had enough time to get to know Saya, without any investment in her character how can I care about her predicament?

    How would having not read the manga change the issues with pacing? Generally when I have an issue with an anime adaptation of a manga it's either because the anime cuts or changes important content or because of the order in which the anime studio chooses to adapt the content. In this case I feel like everything is moving so fast that I have no time to take anything in, it's like listening to a breathless child summarize a movie they watched.

  5. All I know is the critiques are the same week after week, just about word for word. I understand why manga readers feel the way they do, but that doesn't make the dialogue any less predictable. It is what it is, you know? I'm not saying those criticisms aren't valid but I still feel lucky I don't have that baggage with this series.

  6. g

    For me the issues the manga readers have come from watching the 90s OVA first. Now that the 2015 anime has gone past where those OVAs ended (as of last week) that chip on my shoulder is no longer there, which is great. Though I'm left with a bit of a dilemma. Is it worth it to start getting ahead with the manga and possibly spoil my reception of the anime to bypass waiting a week between installments? Not a bad dilemma to have to be honest.

  7. R

    Haha, I'm actually in the other camp. The anime did such a good job that after the first 5 episodes I jumped into the manga so I could read what happens next without waiting week by week XD

    And any anime that does that is a success as far as I'm concerned. Though it is true that now having read the manga, I'm aware at how MUCH story there has to be crammed in 39 episodes. I'm not so much surprised at the pacing as I am worried that they haven't actually gone EVEN FASTER. They're going to need to cut out some large swaths of plot (there's lot of one-shot stories so it shouldn't be hard) or I can't see them finishing the whole thing

    I think that since Enzou is a non-manga reader, his opinion on the pacing is less biased. I don't event try to push my own opinions on anyone's I read the manga for since I know I'm biased, especially series that have limited cours. It comes with the territory of knowing what comes next.

    Ah, I miss when 100+ episode series were the norm…

  8. E

    I'm happy as long as it doesn't end up noticeably rushed like this week's Shokugeki. I was getting a little bored with the episodic arcs(episodes as good as this ones dont count) so maybe it's a good thing we get these done with quickly to let the the main plot receive more focus…

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