While it was always pretty obvious how the immediate crisis in this arc would ultimately be resolved, Ushio and Tora still did a pretty great job (as usual) getting us there. It does get a little repetitious doing so, but you can’t help but note that this series just keeps nailing it week after week. It’s one of those series that does so much right and so little wrong (kind of like Haikyuu, in that sense) that it can be a bit tricky to write about.
I really like the dynamic in this arc, for a good number of reasons. In the first place Izuna is an absolute delight in every scene he’s in, such a wonderful contrast with and foil for Tora. There’s also a real sweetness to the premise, as old-fashioned as it is – underlying the scenario is a deep sense of affection and gratitude towards Ushio by the girls. And there’s a refreshingly light hand on the tiller when it comes to any notion of romantic rivalry – everyone in the group (including Mayuko) knows there’s no point in pretending one exists, even if there was an inclination on their part.
The one off note in all this is Asako, but I don’t really hold it against her – she’s just fulfilling her predestined role. The power of the osananajumi-tsundere double-dip is irresistible in a series as traditional as Ushio to Tora, and the girls all know it. It takes some of the suspense out of the whole combing thing, and I’ve never found Asako’s constant stream of insults to be especially charming. But considering it’s a played-out trope that was’t appealing to begin with, it’s executed pretty well here.
Much more appealing than the way the drama ended was what we had building up to that moment, and what followed it. Tora’s tortured musings on what to do about eating Mayuko, for example (she and Tora are flagged as surely as Ushio and Asako). I loved the way he reacted when the girls were thanking him for being such a bro, and Izuna’a reaction to his reaction. I also thought his breaking into uproarious laughter after Ushio showed how badass he’d become was a great, great moment – kind of the official seal on this bromance that’s been building since the very beginning of the series.
I also thought the revelation that the fire-breathing blacksmith was Jie Mei’s brother (and thus what – Ushio’s great-great uncle or something?) was a very interesting one. Just what is the relationship between this family and Hakumen no Mono? The pieces don’t all add together just yet – clearly the brother at least despises Hakumen no Mono, yet the women of the family have seemingly been protecting the ayakashi from the wrath of the other youkai. Perhaps we’ll finally find out now that Ushio is seemingly at last about to face down his family history (if not his mother herself).
One thing can be said with certainty – Ushio has established his GAR cred beyond the point where not even the tsun-twins Tora and Asako can deny it. The best moment between Ushio and Asako was when he flashed a rare instant of vulnerability with a simple and profound “It hurts”, but when he’d finally wrestled control of his own soul back, Ushio never thought of taking a break despite his obvious exhaustion. Whatever the unfairness of it, this boy has taken on the burden of his fate without complaint, and tirelessly at that. He’s an old-fashioned sort of hero for an old-fashioned series, and very much the exceptional one it deserves.