A thieving ring that Omasa is familiar with is discovered to be behind a string of violent crimes in Edo. Having once shared a romance with the assumed successor of the group, Omasa refuses to believe her former lover is the one responsible
The code of the thief has been an oft repeated mantra in this series to the point where you could only name a few episodes that didn’t mention it or feature it in some way. It seems fitting then that this last episode would be a similar story, but oddly it wasn’t focused toward Heizo’s friendship with an honorable thief like Kumehachi or Zenpachi. Instead, this episode took a more bleak approach to one thief’s fate.
The choice to focus on a character other than Heizo once again has mixed results as the episode follows Omasa’s efforts to track down her one time lover. The thieves working with Arson/Theft Control: Kumehachi, Hikojyu, and Omasa, operate very differently than Heizo in the way they approach a case. Omasa in particular strives to keep her findings as secretive as the could, much to the dismay of the other two, to protect a man she believed was innocent. He was, of course, but this unwillingness to trust Heizo is odd considering his lenience toward Kumehachi and Hikojyu’s friends.
The mystery over who is responsible for the Will-o-the-Wisp killings is over as soon as the episode reveals that the previous leader had two sons. The episode doesn’t allot enough time to explore the bad blood between Matataro and his half brother Bunkichi, even as it attempts to explain the dispute over the jobs the thieving group took on. Matataro takes personal responsibility in stopping Bunkichi and taking him back to Kyoto, but Bunkichi’s fate was seemingly sealed when he threatened Omasa.
Heizo swoops in to save the day, as he has always done, with Arson/Theft in tow, but apart from a brief scene that depicts him more ‘Oni’-like than ever, the focus is on the two brothers. Bunkichi’s murderous ways almost ensure that he doesn’t get a happy ending, though Matataro’s symbolic death is apparent here too. Omasa claims he is a different man when Heizo finds them and, perhaps knowing the truth already, Heizo banishes him from Edo all the same.
The ending is far different from the positive conclusions we have seen from the series thus far. Omasa is left in despair over Matataro’s eventual demise, but Heizo remains at her side through the literal and figurative downpour she suffers. It’s an end to the life she once lived, yet the blow is softened by Heizo’s silent assurance that she doesn’t have to walk her path alone any longer.
An episode that featured a more comprehensive look at the various characters we have enjoyed all season might have been a more fitting for a season closer. Still, given Onihei’s episodic nature, it’s not surprising that the episode was yet another one shot in the tales of this charismatic Tenmei era swordsman.
– A more realistic take on the violent and dangerous lives of thieves in the Tenmei era than the romantic tales Onihei normally opts for.
– An underdeveloped buildup that tries to give equal focus to Omasa and the Kitsunebi clan brothers, but doesn’t satisfactorily cover either.
Becoming familiar with the episodic nature of Onihei, it wasn’t surprising that the finale seemed much like any other week. With that said, this was yet another beautifully crafted and delivered tale. As with most of the episodes, I felt a bit more details would have served to shape the narrative better. All in all though, it was a fitting end for the season.
The reoccurring theme for this series has focused on the past in relation to present day. How a person’s history influences their actions, alters their chosen path, and can make a seemingly good intention appear immoral. While I will revisit these points and how they contributed to the series, lets first discuss the setup for the finale.
In nearly all the previous episodes, an indiscretion leads to conflict, a confrontation, and ultimately a sort of redemption. Similar to the situation with Kumehachi in the premiere episode, Omasa was first introduced as a thief in episode four. During her plundering and pillaging days, Omasa was involved with a thieving ring known as Will-o-the-Wisps (Kitsunebi in Japanese). It was around this time she met and fell in love with the Kitsunebi leader’s son, Matataro.
Though the narrative was a bit vague about it, the thieving ring (Matataro included) ends up casting off for a distant land, leaving a heartbroken Omasa sobbing on the shore. In present day Edo, rumors begin swirling that the Kitsunebi clan is committing horrendous crimes that completely ignore the three cardinal rules of a thief — no killing, no stealing from the poor, and no raping.
Hearing that the leader of the Kitsunebi clan has been deceased for some time, rumors abound over one of his two sons being responsible. Either the older, handsome, cunning Matataro; a bastard born child from a concubine or the far less attractive true born heir to the family thieving business, Bunkichi.
If you guessed Matataro, shame on you! Honestly, short of a neon sign, the episode makes it fairly obvious who is behind the brutal slayings. It doesn’t take someone threatening to have their way with Omasa to confirm who the evil one is (though that happens too). Regardless, this returns to the initial point I made about good intentions, opportunity for redemption, and immorality.
For example, episode seven introduces Otomatsu, the abused adolescent turned thief. Realizing he is a product of his circumstances, Heizo offers salvation to the wayward young man. Otomatsu, however, prefers death as his means of peace. Hisae’s youthful indiscretions leave her “ruined.” When Heizo offers his hand in marriage, she accepts. This is highlighting a far more pleasant outcome when salvation is offered.
What was most intriguing about this episode was that Matataro was not behind the terrible crimes, yet still met an unfortunate ending. Because he is the true leader of the Kitsunebi clan, Matataro apparently is still required to answer for the crimes committed under the leadership of his half brother. To save her former lover, Omasa misleads Heizo by giving a false name for Matataro; allowing him to escape from Edo without punishment. Even so, an epidemic sweeps through Kyoto, claiming Matatro’s life in the end. Is this fair? Is it justice? No, perhaps not. But it does make me wonder what the deeper meaning (if any) behind this is.
Though the finale didn’t result in any conclusive ending to epic tale of Heizo, the chosen narrative to end with featured well the themes depicted throughout the series. If the anime ever decides to resume in the future, I am certain to be among the audience!
– Bittersweet ending that encompasses the themes that have become familiar to the audience over the course of this series.
– As I’ve mentioned in past posts, time constraints make for a rushed narrative.
This post is part of our seasonal episodic review series. To view all the posts in this series, click the following link: Viewing Party