The thing about Ushio to Tora is this – it’s just really, really good. It’s not a fancy series and it doesn’t require any fancy analysis to explain why it’s so good – it just is. I know I love my cooking analogies, but this show is like a dish that excels because it’s composed of high-quality ingredients beautifully prepared in a straightforward way. Call it comfort food or whatever you like, but call it an outstanding piece of work – because that’s exactly what it is.
One of the things I really like about UshiTora is that things don’t just happen and disappear into the ether. It’s tempting to pigeonhole this as a monster of the the week show – I sort of did myself for a while – but the one-off characters aren’t actually one-offs at all. They come back, like Saya and Omamori-sama did this week. It really creates a feeling that the story is a cohesive whole, which is especially important for an episodic series like this one. The structure of the show isn’t immediately apparent, but reveals itself over time – all these pieces do fit together, and we’re just now really getting a sense of how interconnected everything that happens is.
As we pick up the story this week, Ushio is just about the leave the Kamaitachi behind and journey to Asahikawa, where he’s expecting to find information about his mother. But as it happens that information is about to find him, as are about a thousand pissed-off youkai (as his father surely knew they would). This is the reckoning for being the bearer of the Beast Spear, and when the bakemono find him Ushio and Tora are riding to bus to Touno to catch a train to Hokkaido. My first thought was that he and Tora should immediately have gotten off the bus to avoid collateral damage, and I get the sense that was Ushio’s thought too – but he didn’t act quickly enough, and doesn’t prevent a disaster when the youkai catch him up (miraculously, only the driver dies).
It’s not clear to Ushio why all these youkai are ganging up on him, but it is to us – they know he wields the Beast Spear, and even more, he’s the son of “that woman”. Ushio finally does flee into the woods to prevent any more innocents from getting caught up in the carnage, but even with the spear he’s no much for this many youkai. Fortunately for him it whisks him away from the combat zone to a marsh some distance away, setting the stage for two very interesting conversations to take place.
I’m not normally a fan of exposition by conversation, but this is about as well as it can be done – it feels natural and unforced and makes sense in the context of the plot. Ushio meets that most eponymous of Japanese youkai, the kappa, and it helps him – fulfilling a millennia-old promise not to hurt humans. The kappa treats Ushio’s wounded arm, but it also tells him more about his mother than he’s ever heard before. The story begins a thousand years earlier when the beast called Hakumen no Mono arrived from China (where Tora and most Japanese youkai came from) disguised as a little girl. It proceeded to decimate the Japanese youkai population, believing no other monsters needed exist but it, finally prompting the youkai to do a very un-youkai like thing – team up. But just when they had Hakumen no Mono at their mercy, a (presumably) human woman protected it, and they were unable to break her barrier and kill it.
Why would any human help Hakumen no Mono – and how could a woman from a millennia ago be Ushio’s mother and still be human? We don’t know yet, and the youkai arrive before the kappa can finish the story (natch). But there’s another fascinating encounter going on, as Tora confronts a powerful ayakashi named Hitotsuki (Egawa Hisao – UshiTora manages to work in another legendary seiyuu). He and Tora were allies against Hakumen no Mono once, and Hitotsuki is puzzled as to why his old friend is allying himself wit the “tasked woman’s” son. He also persistently calls Tora Nagatobimaru despite the fact that Tora says he hates the name, which prompts Hitotsuki to drop one we haven’t yet heard – Azafuse.
I really like the way these two stories frame the mythology – the youkai and humans cast as the Yin and Yang, with Ushio’s mother strangely poised between them. It’s decision time for many youkai here, and Raishin and Kagari side with Ushio, taking up arms against their fellow youkai. Tora – for now – seemingly abandons Ushio, not agreeing to fight him but not making any attempt to stop Hitotsuki and his underlings from doing so. Loyalty is a major theme of this story, that’s for certain – and it seems very likely Tora will show some to Ushio before it’s too late. But the question of Ushio’s mother’s loyalty is fare more opaque, and seemingly a crucial component of unraveling the mystery at this heart of this story.