“The Evil Scent of the Hakubaiko”
Working as an assassin while pursuing the man who murdered his father years prior, Ronin Kaneko agrees to take out Heizo in exchange for a lucrative sum of money. While boarding in Edo, Kaneko meets a timid servant, Osaki. Inspired by her kindness, Kaneko decides to get out of the business of murdering for money, after he finishes this last hit of course.
Once again Onihei flips the format of the show in order to refocus on the Arson Theft department in Edo. Whereas last week’s episode had me thinking that Kumehachi was a one time character in the episodic narrative this series presents, seeing him return as if he was never gone reminds me that I have no business trying to predict anything that happens in this show. Yet a thematic element is taking shape in this series that, at the risk of being wrong again, I feel is solidified by the presentation of this episode.
One thing that has remained consistent is the portrayal as of the “Onihei” as a very normal, if not brilliant and martially talented, man who must balance his in Arson/Theft Control with that of his position as the head of his household. At several times during these episodes, viewers see the quieter side of Heizo that defies his “demon” moniker. Living for more than just himself, he is challenged by the ronin Kaneko’s single-minded determination to kill him. As the first character we’ve seen that can challenge Heizo, Kaneko comes close to succeeding on more than one occasion.
What this episode highlights is the strength of ones resolve, even in the face of fear. Despite being outmatched, Hasegawa and Kumehachi investigate this killer in order to find him out and stop his crimes, unheeded by his subordinates’ counsel that he lay low to avoid drawing the assassin to him. It isn’t confidence, but rather a sense of commitment to his work that drives Hasegawa. The assassin’s own resolve, to kill the Onihei as a merely means to continue his quest to avenge his father becomes muddled when he takes pity on the kindhearted Osaki. Professing his desire to be with her, yet still holding onto the need to see his mission completed if only for the money to facilitate their departure, Kaneko’s demise is all but sealed.
These episodes show that each of Hasegawa’s trials has him dealing primarily with a foil of himself to show what makes him exceptional. Kumehachi shared Heizo’s deep sense of honor, but was initially on the other side of the law. Tetsu Samanosuke went through the same training and youthful longing that Hasegawa did, but failed to move past the romantic nostalgia of his earlier days. Hanshiro Kaneko was an incredibly skilled swordsman who became controlled by fear when he couldn’t choose between his past and his present. Only Heizo, resolute in his path, seems able to supress his foibles to avoid the same fate that his counterparts do.
– Thematic elements seem to be solidifying
– Music and animation are improving, especially for set pieces.
– While Kaneko’s sexuality is not stressed here, the idea of a crossdressing/transgender killer is an overdone and insulting stereotype.
While the melodramatic way in which Onihei unfolds may turn some viewers off, it seems to keep with the style of classic samurai tales. Japanese samurai are arguably some of the most legendary warriors. Admired for their code of honor, their way of life has been recorded and reproduced over the centuries. This week’s episode of Onihei borrows a few common threads from these romanticized tales.
The episode begins with Heizo being attacked by a ronin (leaderless samurai) turned assassin, Kaneko. As the story unfolds, viewers learn that Kaneko has a more noble purpose than just being hired to murder Heizo. He seeks revenge from the man who senselessly murdered his father. This retaliation theme, involving rogue samurai, has been reproduced many times over. It is rooted in ‘warrior’s code,’ where a man will defend his ‘clan’ and family above all else; even at the risk of death.
While Heizo is seemingly unsympathetic when hearing of Kaneko’s past, he is actually following the same principle of warrior’s code. Kaneko’s past doesn’t change the fact that he is still an assassin, nor does it revise the obligation Heizo has to take him out. As a honor bound samurai and with the vow to protect his clan; Kaneko is seen as a clear threat. Whether Heizo would show Kaneko leniency, as he did the thief in eps one, viewers can only speculate. Kaneko meets his death at the hands of Tamenosuke Mori. The audience learns that Mori is the same man responsible for murdering Haneko’s father decades prior.
To wrap up this well-executed (pun intended) episode, Osaki waits on a bridge for a love who will never come for her. In a moment of irony Mori passes behind the patient lover, accompanied by his wife, Omichi. The former Ozu warrior apologizes for uprooting his wife, only to be met with a response of unwavering devotion. As his wife, Omichi’s place is by his side.
– Follows classic samurai themes.
– Depth and pacing of narrative is improving.
– Character design pales in comparison to the visually stunning backgrounds.
– Agreeing with WeekendOtaku about how the cross dressing moment can be viewed as insulting.
This post is part of our seasonal episodic review series. To view all the posts in this series, click the following link: Viewing Party