“Tanbei of Chigashira”
The blade arts of the “Devil” tasked with striking down evils threatening a peaceful Edo! Heizou Hasegawa, upholding the role of chief officer protecting against crime and arson! In 1783, the heart of the Tenmei era, Hasegawa held the office of chief director of the department charged with sustaining safety in the region, suppressing the most vile of thieves and criminals, an individual largely feared, renowned as Devil Heizou…
Historical shows always draw me, and anime about Japanese history in particular are interesting for being generally faithful to the events that took place. Periods like the Sengoku era or the Bakumatsu are common picks for their romanticized tales of legendary heroes and villains alike, but I can safely say I’ve never seen a story about the period known as the Tenmei era, which began with the emporer Kokaku being enthroned in the midst of a rice famine and ending with the Great Fire of Kyoto in 1788.
Its within this tumultuous time that the story follows Heizo Hasegawa going about his work as basically a policeman. The series opens on the capture of a thief named Kumehachi and his torture at the hands of Hasegawa. As a ‘thief with honor, ‘ common in romantic tales, Kumehachi refuses to talk despite the very awful punishment he’s subjected to. Only when it’s revealed that a set of robberies and murders are claimed to be carried out by his former thieving group does Kumehachi open up and attempt to help.
One of the most surprising things about this was the animation, but not really in a good way. The episode looked like it was trying, but may be stifled by tight budget. Character designs are serviceable when needed but most of the time the backgrounds show minimal work, especially when there’s action. The music is actually really interesting though, with an opening similar to what you might see in a James Bond movie.
Content wise, the episode is a mixed bag. Hasegawa is a policeman, not a samurai hero, and thus his job is as much investigation as it is action. The episode gives a good glimpse of both, as well as what he does in his off time (goes home to be a family man – cue Guile theme). He’s interesting for the contrasting dynamic between these roles, but I would like to see what else the series does in terms of story before making a decision on it.
– Explores a little known, but violent, period of time
– Hasegawa is an interesting charismatic character
– Some pretty poor animation
– Odd tone shifts
The narrative follows a group of police, known as the ‘Theft Arson Squad,’ set in Japan during the Edo Period. This series, Onihei (meaning Heizo the Demon), is also the nickname of the magnetic leader of the police force, Heizo Hagegawa; due to his ruthless nature. Despite Heizo’s nickname, I was left with the impression that he was a decent person; who takes his responsibility as chief of police seriously and aims to shield his family from the harsh reality of his career.
The first episode of Onihei manages to capture the audience’s attention right away, as a thief, Kumehachi, is apprehended and subsequently tortured by the police force after refusing to betray his fellow thieves. Disclosing his accomplices would go against the code of thievery: don’t kill, don’t steal from the poor, and don’t rape women. This code was drilled into Kumehachi by his mentor, Tanbei.
The execution of this scene allows for a copious amount of gore and violence (leading to the 17+ rating). While viewers are still processing this grisly opening, it is learned that a stream of brutal robberies and murders are plaguing the city. This revelation forms the pattern of what the audience should anticipate; a dark series (both in content and visually). So, those sensitive to bloodshed and brutality should avoid this series.
After the initial rush at the start of the episode, there was a noticeable lull; as a discussion between Kumehachi and Onihei takes place. It is significant for fleshing out the characters and story, but I found it dreadfully boring to sit through. To be fair, after witnessing such a horrendous opening scene, whatever was to follow was bound to be less than riveting.
Aside from the dramatic shift in pacing, the animation was just awful. Given that this is meant to be a historic crime drama, I had anticipated some well crafted, fluid fight scenes. But the art style in Onihei looks like some 70’s B-rated karate movie that is slated for a straight to video release. Given how equally dated the OP music was, it fits.
– Plot seems compelling enough, so long as the pacing improves.
– Characters and backstory were well detailed for a premiere episode.
– The animation and music should have been shelves a few decades ago.
This post is part of our seasonal episodic review series. To view all the posts in this series, click the following link: Viewing Party