You’ll have to excuse me – I’ve got a hole in my chest…
I got a little alarmed when I watched the preview and saw the title of next week’s episode (“The End”), given that finding out series I’m following are ending early seems to be a theme today. But as far as I can tell that title is just that, a title – perhaps representing the end of the battle with Hakumen no Mono, clearing the stage for the finale to be a character-driven epilogue. I certainly hope so – far too few action-driven series make the time for that, and almost all of them that didn’t would have been better off if they had.
It’s always been my assumption that sooner or later, that final showdown would have to include the three principal combatants in this series – Hakumen, Ushio and Tora – staring each other down. The only real question was how we would get there, especially with Tora floating unconscious on the ocean surface looking like half of a fuzzy orange flute. Tora and Ushio have each faced Hakumen down one-on-one, but there hasn’t really been a time when they’ve done so together.
Enter Mayuko, for my money the real heroine of UshiTora. She’s always been in an odd position in this narrative, the one osananajimi losing out to the other; her relationship with Tora is even odder. But it’s special, somehow – has been from the moment Tora first got a whiff of her and realized there was something different about this girl. Mayuko may just be the least judgmental anime character I’ve seen, and she immediately saw all the good in Tora-chan and laughed at the bad. It’s only fitting that she should be the one to revive Tora body and soul – though not to comb his mane back into human form, as I almost thought she might for a moment or two.
Just as fitting is that Tora’s motivation for coming out of retirement is not just to fight at Ushio’s side, but to spare Mayuko from a tragic fate she’s only too willing to accept. Ushio and Tora both have gotten a raw deal from life, no doubt about it, but the women in the Oyakume line have been screwed too. Hakumen no Mono’s existence has ruined lives in ways myriad and diverse, subtle and gross, and Mayuko is no exception. But Tora isn’t satisfied with the notion of Mayuko being stuck at the bottom of the sea for centuries babysitting the personification of evil, so his answer is more direct – just finish Hakumen no Mono off now. It’s an odd little scene the two of them share, with Mayuko talking about turning him into a human so they can double-date with Ushio and Asako when it’s Ushio Mayuko is in love with. But she loves Tora too – just in a different way.
It’s not only Tora who arrives back at the scene of the battle – it’s the Asafuze too, who’ve hitched their promised ride with the first of their line. All of them have the same goal, to finish this once and for all – and that makes me very worried about what happens with Tora at the end of all this, when his role in the story really be over in poetical terms. But that’s a problem to worry about later – for now there’s still Hakumen to worry about, and it’s not going anywhere without a fight. The combined will of pretty much everyone we’ve ever met in the series is enough to push it back towards the sacred ground where the barrier can hold it, though some (like our remaining two HAMMR scientists, who go out whistling a happy tune) pay the ultimate price. It turns out that Saya’s act of opening the door to the Underworld was about more than bringing back Hizaki Mikado, too – she’s also called forth the souls of those killed by Hakumen to add their power to the barrier.
In a series such as Ushio to Tora, it isn’t necessarily difficult to guess how the final battle is going to come out. But the good ones (Hunter X Hunter takes this to an extreme) frame the conflict in such a way that it can’t be resolved in a straightforward fashion. In UshiTora‘s case, we’re looking at what seems to be a trifecta of possibilities – and even if you eliminate the unlikely event of Hakumen winning, the question of just what a “victory” for the good guys would look like is by no means simple. Will it be a true victory, one that frees the world from Hakumen’s evil and the souls of those who opposed Hakumen to finally rest? Or will we return to the recent past, with a weakened Hakumen sleeping beneath the sea – a respite for the world, but only that?