In a week full of anime goodbyes – or at least “so longs” – it’s nice to talk about a show that’s not going anywhere. We’ll have a pause after this coming season before the third cour airs, but Ushio and Tora is staying with us through what promises to be a spotty Fall season – and thank goodness for that. Not only does it look like a season that needs all the quality it can get, Ushio to Tora has proved itself to be one of my favorite anime companions of the year.
Sometimes series come along that seem to compress 22 minutes into half that length, and UshiTora is one of them. Disgruntled manga fans may claim it’s due to rushed pacing, but while I’d agree there’s not a lot of fluff in this show, I think it’s more just a matter of how on-point it is. Every episode just gets it – there’s never a moment where what’s happening on-screen isn’t engaging and fun to watch. There may be a lot happening, but so what? As long as it’s this good, I don’t feel any desire to slow things down.
I mentioned last week how much I appreciate the fact that key players don’t just disappear in this story – they stick around, and they matter. Well, another related notch in Ushio to Tora’s belt is that actions have consequences. Ushio is paying the price for the actions of his mother when the Tonoo youkai attack him, of course. But he’s also building up a reservoir of Karma by the way he conducts himself. He never attacks bakemono unless they attack him first. He never acts out of cruelty or vengeance. He’s rough-hewn, crude – but rigorously honest and honorable. And in this universe, that seems to matter.
We see evidence of it in the fact that the Kamaitachi have allied themselves with Ushio against their own kind (hell, we see it in the way he’s slowly turned Tora). We see it in Omamori-sama intervening to help after she sees what Ushio did for Saya. And it’s Ushio’s own words to the old man who he “rescues” in the forest – “Sometimes I think when I strike down demons it hurts me more than them” – that save him when he’s about to be struck down by the Tonoo horde.
That old man is no simple old man (it’s fairly clear from the beginning, though subtly so) – he is in fact the leader of the Tonoo youkai, Osa. And he’s played by yet another (yawn) superb veteran seiyuu, Furukawa Toshio. It may have been Omamori-sama’s intervention that convinced Osa to give Ushio a hearing, but it was Ushio’s own stalwart character that convinced the old Tengu to give the boy a chance to resolve the millennium-long stalemate over Hakumen no Mono. He whisks Ushio away inside a mysterious fog ti his mansion, where he lays the truth on the line.
That truth gets Ushio (and us) a lot closer to understanding what’s happening with his mother than anything that came before. No, Osa doesn’t know why the human woman Aotsuki Sumako is protecting the nine-tailed Hakumen no Mono, scourge of demons and humans alike. But he does know that she’s the third of her line to do so – which makes Ushio’s mother freakishly old for a human, even if she’s not a thousand years old. And he asks (well – tells) Ushio to go ask her why she’s doing it, and that a truce exists between the boy and the Tonoo until he comes back with the answer.
Before that can happen, though, Ushio has to deal with Hitotsuki, who’s so angry over the past that he’s even willing to disobey Osa. Fortunately Tora has already abandoned his neutrality and taken to the field for Ushio with only the weakest protestations that he’s not doing so out of friendship. And when he offers to take on Hitotsuki in Ushio’s stead, Osa declares that the chosen course of action will ride on the result. And in the process, we get a very stark demonstration of just how strong Nagatobimaru is – and just how much he’s come to hate that name (and by inference, his old self). In choosing the name Ushio gave him over the one he took with him to his long imprisonment, Tora makes his loyalties unmistakeable.
It almost feels as if we’re approaching the end of a cour, not starting a new one – but with a 39-episode run in the plans, I suppose it’s not much of a surprise. It really seems now as if we’re going to get the long-teased introduction of Ushio’s mother – though I wouldn’t put it past the series to find one more unexpected obstacle along the way to delay it another week. Funnily enough I don’t mind, because even if that happens I know that the time spent on the way isn’t going to be wasted.