In Gateway to the Past, the girls make their way home to the feudal era by making a deal with Root Head, their rainbow pearls for passage back in time. Before they leave though, the episode takes time to evaluate Towa’s thoughts and feelings about going back to the world she came from. There is some guilt at the prospect of abandoning her adoptive family, but after some understanding and encouragement from Sota, she resolves to go with Setsuna and Moroha, though she doesn’t intend to stay there permanently.
When the group sets off through the portal they’re summoned by the Tree of Ages, or rather the spirit of the tree, who takes the form of a familiar face from the original series. She first confirms that Towa and Setsuna are Sesshomaru’s daughters, then tells them that she has a request for them. She explains that Sesshomaru has shirked his duties as Beast King of the Western Lands and that Kirinmaru, his Eastern counterpart, is planning to take advantage of that to plunge the world into “the Degenerate Age.”
What exactly she means by that is unclear at this point, but Moroha eagerly accepts. Setsuna refuses, stating that she doesn’t know Sesshomaru so even if he is her father, it’s not her job to make up for his failures. The tree of Ages corrects her, saying that actually even if they defeated Kirinmaru, that wouldn’t solve the problem unless they defeated Sesshomaru at the same time. This angers Towa, who refuses to slay her own father even though she doesn’t really know him.
As punishment for refusing her, the Tree of Ages sends the girls to Root Head, which is a problem because they never actually intended to hand over their rainbow pearls, after a short battle with him, they’re swept back into the portal and land in front of the Tree of Ages in the feudal era.
I really like this episode. In fact, it’s fair to call it one of my favorites. It’s another transitional episode but there are a lot of subtle emotional layers to it, along with a lot of fun callbacks to the original series. I really love the scene when Towa goes to talk to Sota about leaving, it gets me right in the feels every time. Their father/daughter relationship is so sweet. I love how we can clearly see that he doesn’t want her to go but also puts what he wants on the back burner. I love how clear it is that he knows and accepts what and who she is and really does consider her his daughter even though she still seems to see herself as an outsider in the family.
A quick note about that for western viewers. Blood ties are a lot more important in Japanese culture than in a lot of western countries, and adoption is a lot less common as a result. Towa’s feelings that she owes the Higurashi family for taking her in are cultural. It’s pretty obvious that Sota and the rest of the family don’t treat her differently because she’s adopted, but she feels like an outsider. This is because that’s still pretty much how Japanese culture views adoptees and is the message that everyone outside her family would have sent that whole time. I just think it’s important to point out the context there since it’s something that could easily be misinterpreted when you don’t know much about Japanese culture.