Those were manly tears, dammit.
Tora-chan – no!!
Well, I pretty much knew it was coming but that didn’t lessen the impact too much. Ushio to Tora is many wonderful things, but it plays by the rules most of the time – and the rules say Tora’s time was up. He’d done what he existed to do, and the poetry of the moment dictated what happened in this episode. But I was right there with you, Mayuko-chan – my reaction to that moment was exactly the same as yours (even more so when I saw your reaction to that moment).
When they write the guidebook on how to do an epic shounen adaptation, MAPPA should be front and center with Ushio to Tora. I know some manga readers are sulking because of the pacing and edits required to fit this series into 39 episodes, but let’s be blunt – it was a miracle that we got any adaptation of UshiTora in 2015-16, never mind three cours. No one is going to make any real money off this, and I don’t think anyone expected to – which makes the series’ existence that much more improbable. And the end result was cracking stuff – so lean, so focused, every moment on-screen relevant and to the point. Not having read the manga, I never once felt like I was missing out on something I should have been seeing and wasn’t.
I would be hard-pressed to think of anything I would have wanted from the final episode and didn’t get. The fight scenes themselves were incredible, the emotion was off the charts, everything made sense within the mythology. And importantly, the big events ended early enough to allow at least a brief period of reflection – not as long as I wanted, but more than we often get from action-driven series. The finale even managed to put Hakumen no Mono’s existence into some context, and make it (I guess I can finally say “her”, now) a little sympathetic.
Was Hayashibara Megumi using any kind of electronic enhancement in this performance? It was extraordinary either way, but if this was all her it amounts to one of the most remarkable feats of voice work I’ve ever heard. I always had a suspicion that Hakumen was female, though I guess her existence transcended gender on some level – and Hayashibara managed to communicate that, somehow. Even when Hakumen was at her most evil, Hayashibara was humanizing her somehow – letting us see that there was a pain and desperation driving the cruelty and hate. It was truly a tour de force.
It seems Hakumem is the Yin to humanity’s (and not just them) Yang. When the light formed what would become us, the darkness became Hakumen (chibi-Hakumen – kawaii!). And isn’t it only natural that Hakumen, in that cosmic womb, should wonder why it had been chosen to be a creature of darkness instead of a shining source of light? That she should become envious and bitter as she came to understand what that fate meant? This strikes me as a particularly cruel trick by the universe – to make such a creature out of the ethos, and give it enough self-awareness to realize what it truly is, and truly isn’t.
It’s Tora, of course, who figures all this out and ruthlessly dissects Hakumen no Mono psychologically. Ushio is the epitome of the Yang, so much so that his ability to draw others into his circle of light extends even to the dead. This, ultimately, is the undoing of Hakumen – there’s just no limit to the number of allies Ushio has, because he’s been unknowingly building an army through every one of his journeys. Hakumen even freely admits that Tora is right – she hates them and the Beast Spear, it’s jealous and terrified of what they have. So much so, in fact, that she gouges her own eyes out to close the window into her soul that they provide.
I think I always knew Tora would sacrifice himself in the end to save Ushio and the world – it was only a question of how. And hiding the presence of the Beast Spear inside his own body is as good a reason as any. Knowing Tora’s origin story (and he admits that he, too, remembers it) it only makes sense that his long life should end in freeing the world of what he gave birth to. In the end Hakumen is, as Tora says, a creature more to be pitied that hated – driven to become what she became more by loneliness than anything else. That doesn’t bring back any of the people or youkai Hakumen no Mono destroyed, but it does make one realize the incredible pain she lived with for every day of her even-longer existence. We never find out what the name she wished to be called, just once, was – but we do see that the self Hakumen wished to become was always there, hidden in that ninth and final tail.
Sacrifice is a theme of these final moments, as you’d expect in a series such as this, and it’s not just Tora. We now know why the women in Saya’s family can only open the gates of the underworld once – they can only be closed from the inside. Saya is ready to make the final walk so many of her line have made, but Omamori-sama stops her – accompanied by Saya’s mother. The masses of youkai sacrifice themselves, too – turning themselves to stone to replace the pillar that held up Japan, and leaving their few and more integrated youaki brethren to remain behind in the human world and keep ties to the old ways alive.
I know Ushio would have sacrificed himself too – he had every intention to, if the siblings who made the Beast Spear hadn’t intervened at the last moment. Ushio has paid his dues, but he hasn’t been given the chance to have a life. And as painful as it is to face that life without Tora, he owes it to his friend to live his life to the fullest. He and a much-reduced Shigure even get their mother and wife back, a much-deserved chance to live out the blink of an eye that is their human lifespan as a family. In that sense it’s a happy ending of sorts, but certainly a bittersweet one defined by who’s absent as who remains behind. Ushio and Asako have each other, and while poor Mayuko has lost both her soulmates (one to her best friend) she at least has Kirio to look after, and given her nature that’s something she’d do without even being asked.
I don’t have a lot else to add to that, because Ushio to Tora is a series that speaks for itself so eloquently. It’s a product of its time, yes, but also timeless – a shounen whose influence can clearly be seen on what came after it. UshiTora is a straightforward and honest series that’s also quite complex and deep, one that doesn’t shy away from emotion and benefits from an almost impossibly intricate plot structure that comes together gracefully in the end. I liken what Mappa did here to being given a great house made of 5,000 cards and being told to replicate it as closely as possible, but with 3,000 cards. How could anyone do that without the structural integrity being hopelessly compromised? Yet they did, and ended up with something that held together beautifully and communicated what it was that made the original so special.