Well – that episode title wasn’t exactly truth in advertising, was it?
It’s no secret that I enjoy Ushio to Tora very much. It’s been a remarkably consistent series from start to finish, a chestnut of a shounen worthy of the name. Depending on how good the rest of 2016 is this series certainly has a chance to make an appearance in the year’s Top 10 list. But what be the most unique attribute of Ushio and Tora is its remarkable ability to remember everything – much better, it must be said, than mine. It’s truly amazing how many seemingly one-off characters this show manages to tie back into the plot, to the point where I feel as if I did a very careful re-watch I’d probably pick up on characters drinking coffee or crossing the street who wound up playing some role in the fight against Hakumen no Mono.
That’s something about UshiTora that’s not coincidental. The theme of this series really centers around the bonds that tie intelligent being together struggling against the ones (namely, hate and fear) trying to tear them apart. Eastern youkai against Western, youkai generally against humans – there’s always been plenty setting us off against each other. But historically speaking the only times (twice) progress has ever been made against Hakumen no Mono have been when those intelligent creatures found a way to set aside their hatreds and work together.
As usual I have a notepad I scribble on as I watch a series I’m blogging, and I have a long list of entries for this episode. But I sort of feel like ignoring them, because ultimately this was pretty simple – everyone banding together and uniting their strength against Hakumen. Ushio is, of course, the key to tall of it. The Azafuse reveal that it was Ushio’s influence which kept Tora from turning into one of them, and the head of the Western Youkai tells Ushio that it was he – and the journeys he made, touching the lives of both humans and youkai – that gave Japan the reserves of strength its relying on here. It’s an unpretentious and old-fashioned message, I suppose, but after 38 episodes of buildup I think one that hits home.
As the combined might of the JSDF, the Kouhamei monks, Ushio and Tora and the assembled youkai bears down on Hakumen, its minions go forth to try and wreak havoc where the barrier prevents Hakumen no Mono from wreaking it. But here lots of those old faces step up to help – fathers living and dead, Umizatou (I really had to dig deep to recall who he was), Bal-chan and more. It’s striking that the villains of many of the standalone stories have ended up being allies in the end, because of course in the end there’s only one true enemy and that’s Hakumen. It’s also striking how little Asako has to do in the end – dispensing rice balls to refugees – but then, some of us consider Mayuko the true heroine of UshiTora anyway.
Hakumen does have a couple of trumps left to play, even as it feels the fear of the nation ebbing as it begins to feel hope and take heart. It blows itself up and emits a cloud of miasma which forces everyone inside the barrier to flee, apart from Ushio and Tora themselves. This is the one-on-one battle it wants, for Hakumen has realized that it’s these two (especially Ushio) who are responsible for the loosening of its grip of terror on Japan. Hakumen reveals the nature of it’s heretofore unused seventh and eighth tails – a lightning storm and a spear, respectively. They do cause quite a bit of initial damage to Ushio and Tora, but nothing fatal in their current state. And that’s when things really start to turn, and the true meaning of the episode title to reveal itself.
This is really the first time we’ve seen Hakumen no Mono reflect self-doubt, I think. Tora nails the psychology of the moment: why have Hakumen’s two weapons of last resort (though by my math it still has one more tail) manifested as copies of his power and Ushio’s? Hakumen fears the Beast Spear, certainly, but he’s also envious of these two because they have a power it can’t control or emulate. All Hakumen can do is terrify and kill – it can’t restore hope, save lives or undo terror. In looking at Ushio and Tora, Hakumen is staring at the limits of its own power.
Tora is exactly right about something else, too – Hakumen no Mono is a great youkai. It is the pinnacle of its kind, the ultimate in power. In a certain way one can admire Hakumen no Mono for the sheer depth of power it has, and for the purity of its mission – to destroy, to terrify, to crush the spirit. It’s great at what it does and it never takes its eyes from the prize. But all beings, even Hakumen no Mono, are still just that – beings. They have limitations, and once Hakumen is confronted by its limitations it has nowhere to go from there. There’s no deeper meaning to its existence to fall back on once you take away the ability to terrorize and kill. That’s why in the end, both Ushio and Tora will be standing and Hakumen no Mono will likely fall. But what fate may hold for Ushio and Tora after that happens is another matter altogether, and one which I suspect will dominate much of the final episode.