Ushio & Tora gets a lot of heat for its pacing, a criticism which I confess I find rather puzzling. I think it manages to pack just enough into every episode without things seeming rushed, and teases out exposition and plot development just long long enough to keep you hooked without frustrating you. The art of maintaining a self-contained episodic narrative while still focusing on the recurring plot is not an easy one to master, and this series has managed to do it with remarkable dexterity.
The quest to get Ushio face to face with his mother is a perfect example of this. In the manga of course it takes a lot longer to get there than it does in the anime, yet if anything the anime seems to be erring on the side of making us wait too long. Yet it never crosses over the line, because the stuff that happens along the way is both very entertaining and plot-critical. It makes me suspect that the pacing is actually better in the anime, but I haven’t read enough of the manga to say for sure.
The stuff that happens along the way this week is mostly Moritsuna Satoru (Ohsaka Ryouta). He’s another of the four spear-wielder candidates, and apparently the most spiritually powerful and respected – probably some sort of onmyouji.. We actually meet his sister Jun (Takagaki Ayahi) first – she’s a failed candidate, one of a group of several who end up intercepting Tora and Nagare after their fight.
Before Satoru makes his presence felt, there’s the matter of the bus full of innocents put at risk when the Hakumen no Mono again sends its Hiyou to do away with Ushio and the Best Spear. Seriously, you do not want to get on a bus with this kid – if you see him get on board, take a cab. To his credit Ushio once again refuses to think of his own safety when the lives of the others are at risk (the fact that the Hakumen knows human weak spots so well is perhaps the scariest things about it), but it’s still going to take some help from Tora – and Nagare – to turn the situation around.
Tora is pretty much full-on tsundere for Ushio at this point, and there’s an unmistakeable pride in his voice as he lectures Nagare about how Ushio is going to put his own life on the line yet again, and why the Beast Spear has chosen him and no one else. But continually putting others at risk is clearly starting to weigh heavily on Ushio now, which takes some of the lustre off his victory over the hiyou. Fortunately he doesn’t have much time to mope, because that’s when Satoru shows up, and it’s immediately clear that something is very wrong here.
As it turns out, the Hakumen no Mono has possessed Satoru, though he’s not going down without a fight. I must point out here that Ohsaka Ryouta does a fantastic job as the tortured onmyouji – I didn’t recognize him at first (he actually sounded a bit like Namikawa Daisuke to me), and for a seiyuu as eponymous as Ohsaka is at the moment, that’s a remarkable achievement. Perhaps the Hakumen no Mono chose to possess Satoru because was the most powerful potential threat to it, but there’s an underlying darkness in Satoru’s character that certainly made him vulnerable to being possessed.
We’ve seen Ushio in these sorts of situations before, and it’s never a possibility that he’s going to leave Satoru to his fate even though Satoru has just tried to kill him. He calls on some old friends for help – no significant character is ever cast aside in this series it seems – and learns that the only way he can save Satoru is the become an “apparition” and get inside Satoru’s head to kick the hiyou ou, in the process risking his ability to every become human again. It’s classic Ushio, but that’s the side of him that’s worn down Tora’s hostility, and that makes him one of the best protagonists of the year so far.