“Honjo, Sakura Estate”
Reports of criminal activity in Honjo lead Hasegawa to recall his younger days at the Ginhei Takasugi dojo with his friend Tetsu Samanosuke, with whom he trained in swordfighting and rivaled for the affections of a young woman. His encounter with old acquaintances leads to information about the criminal and extortion activities at the Hattori estate, leaving Hasegawa responsible for preventing a planned slaughter.
While first episodes aren’t always the best things to go by to determine how any given show will proceed, the time spent forming a partnership between Hasegawa and Kumehachi in the first episode made me think that this was going to turn out to be a sort of buddy cop series set in feudal Japan, which was quite different from the gritty samurai tale I expected from the premise. Imagine my further surprise when Kumehachi was nowhere to be found in this episode, which instead focused on Hasegawa relationship with yet another new character.
Aside from that particular character, the format of this episode was much like the first, only this time Hasegawa is the one retreading his past. The episode spends a good deal of time on flashbacks to the days when he was training as a swordsman. Seeing him as a brash young man with an undisciplined attitude contrasts with the “Onihei” seen in the opening scenes of the series, but serves to give some background to his character.
The focus on the others from his past, Tetsu and Ofusa, mirrors another theme from the first episode. They, along with Hasegawa, see how each other are different from their past selves, as Kumehachi did with his old master. This reflection on how the times have changed them is perhaps the most compelling part, such that even Hasegawa’s inevitable raid near the end of the episode feels dull by comparison
The one continuing thread from last week is the Heizo family life, and the hope that Hasegawa’s son finds a way to establish himself soon. If these two episodes are any indication, the series will likely focus on Hasegawa’s particular method of leveraging relationships, past and future, to stop criminals. It’s not a bad shift in direction from what I was expecting, but I am hoping that the highly episodic nature provides something more involved before too long.
– Better animation due to less action pieces
– A more in depth look at the Onihei and other characters
– Very little to draw on from previous episode
– The plot feels a little formulaic
I am beginning to suspect Onihei may be the underrated show of the season. Though the art direction might not be for everyone, the engaging narrative is enough to elevate interest. Heavily inspired by samurai and western archetypes, the characters are convincing; with a few broad brush strokes to make them more comprehensive. Similarly, Onihei follows a traditional story arc (setting, conflict, action, consequence), making each episode unfold smoothly.
Episode 2 shifted away from visually assaulting viewers with copious bloodshed, to focus on developing a more cohesive story. The episode is detailed mainly from Onihei’s past perspective, allowing for the introduction of a handful of supporting characters, including Ofusa. Once infatuated with the beautiful woman, Onihei witnesses Ofusa’s family marry her off to another suitor. What resonated most with me about her character is what became of her afterwards.
Suffering abhorrent treatment at the hands of her brother-in-law, following the death of her husband, Ofusa is banished from the village she once controlled. Concluding that the people are driven by greed and power, Ofusa acclimates herself into a world of crime. It is difficult not to feel sympathy towards a person who has become a product of their volatile environment. Ofusa is not evil just for the sake of being, but has hardened herself in an effort to survive.
After the harsh criticism I had for the premiere, Onihei has begun to surprise me with the depth of the narrative. Hopefully viewers can anticipate the same level of intrigue for the remainder of this series.
– Introduction of some compelling supporting characters
– Depth and pacing of narrative is improving.
– Animation quality may turn some viewers off this series.
– Supporting characters may be reduced to short intro and exits; with sole purpose to move story along.
This post is part of our seasonal episodic review series. To view all the posts in this series, click the following link: Viewing Party