Things aren’t exactly looking up for the good guys, are they?
There are loads of great villains in manga and anime (two of them are fighting each other in Heaven’s Arena right now, in fact). Some of them are great because of the nuance they bring to the antagonist role – their motives might be complex, or maybe they’re just so entertaining that it’s hard not to like them in spite of yourself. But Hakumen no Mono is a different matter. This is a villain who’s great simply by virtue of their villainy – Hakumen is undeniably straight-up evil, and one of the most terrifying creatures in modern anime history. This is a baddie who’s bad in every sense of the word, and gloriously so.
Given that, it’s pretty undeniable that all of Ushio to Tora has been building up to this moment, when Hakumen no Mono stopped being an abstract who worked through its minions and became the baddest motherfucker on the planet. Hakumen’s got it all – ridiculous power, limitless cruelty and ambition, and even a healthy dose of snark. It’s bad enough that the JSDF’s foolishness has freed Hakumen – in the process it’s also destroyed the keystone that holds the country in place That keystone (Kanameishi) thing is, by the way, one of the oldest tenets of Shinto – the myth that the keystone holds in place the giant catfish (Namazu) that cause earthquakes. In a country where earthquakes are so elemental to existence, it’s no wonder they play an elemental role in its belief system.
When you get right down to it, it’s hard to blame Ushio for going off the deep end as all this is coming to a head. This is a kid who’s been dealt a brutal hand in life, and he’s more than entitled to ask “Why me?”. Problem is, there’s no time for self-pity or being a kid when Hakumen is about to lay waste the country. And of course his mom has been dealt a shitty hand too – though she is an adult, and one who’s had quite some time to get used to two-seven off suit. I get why she slapped Ushio, but in the moment it wasn’t the best idea – especially given what happened with Asako, it was being hit by his mother that sent Ushio to the dark place that’s always lurking inside him as a bearer of the Beast Spear.
Why, it’s almost as if all of this – what happens with Ushio’s mom, and later Tora – had been scripted by Hakumen no Mono. At the very least it could hardly have worked out better for Hakumen. Along with everything else, one thing that makes it such a terrible enemy is that Hakumen is powered by fear and hatred. And let’s face it, Hakumen is a Karmic perpetual motion machine for fear and hatred – everywhere it goes those things explode like Netero’s Miniature Rose. Death is everywhere as Hakumen takes advantage of its newfound freedom to destroy ships and entire islands in the Okinawan chain, and the hideous grin on its face and gleam in its eye grow ever more intense. Yikes.
All of this is brought off in glorious fashion, of course, by the team at MAPPA. There’s a sense of just how much the staff love this project here that’s reminiscent of Madhouse and Hunter X Hunter – a series on which much of this staff worked. There’s an intensity to every moment, never more so than when Ushio launches a suicide attack at Hakumen despte his mother’s warnings, and is only saved from imminent demise by the arrival of Tora. But this too is a moment that Hakumen has laid the groundwork for, and the truth of what happened to Nagare is too much for Ushio to bear in his current state. Tora has too much pride to sugarcoat the truth, even though he could have truthfully sad he did everything he could to try and subdue Nagare without killing him.
The Beast Spear is a weapon that’s fundamentally driven by hatred – which makes following Sumako’s warnings quite difficult. I’m not sure it matters given just how much Hakumen seems to have everyone including Ushio outclassed by, and it’s certainly not a shock when the Beast Spear shatters after Ushio pinpricks Hakumen with it. And this isn’t even full Hakumen – it’s still behind a barrier, one being sustained by Sumako with the help of Jie Mei and dear sweet Mayuko. Where is there hope to be had in all this, I wonder – where in the world does any sliver of light come from?