This was another rollicking, wildly entertaining episode of Ushio and Tora, but I must confess there were a few times I laughed a bit when I probably wasn’t supposed to. This certainly went in a direction I wasn’t expecting – gathering together everyone in Ushio’s harem to save him by… combing his hair? I suppose mothers of teenaged boys everywhere would give their seal of approval, but it’s a pretty wild way to climax a shounen manga arc.
One of the real pluses of this premise is that (and this is something I’ve praised before) it ties together so many of the characters who’ve come before. I really appreciate the fact that there’s so little waste in UshiTora – the so-called side arcs really matter, not just in terms of the mythology but the characters themselves. Heck, even surly old Hyou showed up – headed towards Asakhikawa to learn more about his quest, though I suspect we won’t be seeing him playing hair stylist anytime soon.
It’s not all about bringing back old friends, though – there are some new faces here too. Foremost among them is Jie Mei (Kana Hanazawa, no less), who would appear to be the matriarch of the Kouhamei sect and – presumably – Ushio’s great-grandmother. At this point in time she’s a spirit, and she appears before the head (who’s presumably Ushio’s grandma) with the prescription for what ails Ushio.
Context does matter with Ushio & Tora, because I’m honestly not sure we’d see a plot twist like this in a recent manga rather than one which was written 20-25 years ago. Is this series sexist? If I’m honest, I can’t say anyone who felt that way would be wrong – and the notion of gathering together a bunch of girls to comb the beast-boy Ushio’s hair does have a distinctly old-fashioned air about it. Yet it doesn’t feel malicious to me so much as “period” – even today gender politics in Japan are hardly enlightened, and this was 1990-1996. And it’s not as though the girls are demeaned or exploited here – they have quite a bit of spirit, in fact. It is what it is, but it’s certainly not a deal-breaker for me – especially when contrasted with the insidious, creeping chauvinism that dominates anime these days, especially anime adapted from light-novels.
As for the specifics of the gathering itself, the most interesting part for me is Asuko’s interaction with the others – especially airplane girl Hiyama Yuu. It’s quite sharp and funny, in fact, that Yuu calls out Asako for her reflexive tsun snarkiness. She’s belittling Ushio, the guy who’s been out risking his life and saving countless others without a complaint about the burden he’s been forced to bear. Tsundere has been a staple of manga and anime for a long time (as Asako proves) yet rarely do we see a writer call attention to how silly and thoughtless it usually is. Also of note here is Asako’s observation that Mayuko looks like Jie Mei – which would certainly explain Mayuko’s connection to the spirit world.
It’s all hands on deck here – Shigure-san has come to help his son, and all of the spear-bearer candidates are drafted willingly into helping try and save Ushio (who struggling in vain against the power controlling him, though he does seemingly manage to steer it away from a human mother and child). Tora and Izuna (who I still love, love, love by the way) pitch in too, with Izuna stealing the comb literally out of Ushio’s back pocket and Tora jumping in to save Mayuko (flag!) at the very last moment. The girls are taking their turns at the comb, but one assumes that it’s Asako who’s fated to be the final player – annoying as she is compared to the others (especially Mayuko), that’s just how these things seem to work…