Once again I’m compelled to say: I’m just not sure you can do traditional shounen any better than this. It’s not all that subtle, maybe a little sexist in a benign sort of way, loud and brash – but damn, this was good stuff. I mean really, really good – gorgeously animated by MAPPA, well-acted, perfectly paced, emotionally fulfilling and funny at the same time. I haven’t seen a series this comfortable in its own skin in quite some time.
Type-casting isn’t always a bad thing, and that’s what I thought was the case with Izuna – who I was sure was played by Miyata Kouki (Mama Red Squirrel). But no, I was stunned to see it was actually Nagasawa Nao, another old-school seiyuu I remember best as Steak from Tegami Bachi. She does a fantastic job bringing the little ferret youkai to life, and Izuna is such a winning addition (courtesy of Osa) to the cast that I really hope he sticks around. He’s be a great compliment to Ushio and Tora on the traveling circuit (but since the show isn’t titled “Ushio and Tora and Izuna” I’m not too hopeful).
There’s not much more that needs to be said about that trio’s fantastic voyage inside Satoru – it’s just flat-out great stuff, start to finish. Ushio sums up himself – and the series – pretty well when he asks Nagare how many girls a guy can prevent from crying in one lifetime. It’s a little condescending but in context (a manga written more than 20 years ago) kind of sweet. Ushio is just a straight-up shounen hero – a middle school knight-errant who’d rather lose his eternal soul to darkness than give up the good fight. He’s slowly become one of the best heroes in anime this year.
Izuna brings a good dose of humor and a fresh perspective to the main dynamic, and he’s quite right when he snarkily observes that Tora is relieved not to have to eat Ushio – which he’s promised to do if the boy starts to turn into a youkai. And indeed it does look as if that’s going to happen a couple of times during the struggle inside Satoru’s body, which is riddled with hiyou under the command of Chibakama, who’s taken up residence in Satoru’s brain. Izuna becomes increasingly impressed with Ushio’s boundless determination and courage, to the point where he takes it upon himself to intervene when it seems as if Chibakama is about to end Ushio for good.
The ending of the episode is especially great – a roller-coaster ride of surprises right up to the end credits. It seems for all the world that Izuna is going to sacrifice himself for Ushio – he even makes a very self-aware comment about how there’s an “order of things” (which implicitly includes his own heroic death and Ushio taking down the mid-boss before tackling Hakumen no Mono). But Ushio is so GAR and stubborn he won’t be defeated even by tropes – he powers up at the expense of the Beast Spear and saves Izuna. And with the help of Jun (from outside Satoru’s body – and nude) they save Satoru, too. And the heroic trio end up exiting the body in a really beautifully staged moment, via a teardrop.
There’s one more twist to come, though – just when it seems as if a happy ending is on order for all concerned, the Beast Spear exacts its price for all the help it gave Ushio inside Satoru’s body and seemingly turns him into a youkai. Is this simply a matter of delayed gratification for Tora? I rather doubt it – but I do find myself hoping Izuna is involved in the plan to rescue him. For a change, it seems as if Ushio isn’t going to be able to fight his way out of this one on his own.