Onihei is another member of the class of Winter 2017 whose most appealing attribute may just be its weirdness. This series is certainly quite different than ACCA, but both of them are swimming against the anime current in a major way. I hate to phrase it so bluntly (because it’s actually a very good thing), but Onihei really feels like the vanity project of an old man (Maruyama-dono in this case) who’s happily out of step with where anime is headed. It’s not as if this series is a masterpiece, but it’s pretty much singular and entertaining to boot.
Like last week’s, this episode features Chugo. And while he’s a minor player this time, the tone is again quite a bit more irreverent than it was for the first four episodes. That’s interesting in that the content here is pretty damn dark – it’s clear that a young female character is being gang-raped nightly by corrupt government officials. But then, that dichotomy is quite in-line with Onihei’s rather loose moral compass. And that applies to its main character, for certain.
Heizou certainly is an odd duck. He seems very much a consequentialist – he’s much less concerned with the letter of the law than the results. That’s probably consistent with a lot of men in his position in the late Edo Period, as well as with his own troubled past (which we’re going to learn more about next week). That’s why he responds the way he does to Zenpachi, the old thief he meets on a road trip with Usa-chu (sent by Heizou’s wife to keep an eye on him – very telling) to the mountains, the way he does. Zenpachi is played by the omnipresent Takagi Wataru (it just seems like he’s been around forever – he’s only 50), and he’s another memorable character in this rather strange and diverse cast.
There’s a clear sense of romanticism for the “honor among thieves” mythos in Onihei (one which Heizou himself shares), which I guess isn’t surprising for a setting where the “good guys” were almost always corrupt. Still, for a renowned lawman to play along when invited to assist Zenpachi in pulling of a robbery is a bit startling. Part of it is that he no doubt figures the old man really is the good guy in this instance, but I think boredom has something to do with it too – Heizou seems like a man who seeks out trouble because he finds it entertaining.
What’s really funny is that when Zenpachi – believing Heizou is the ronin he claimed to be – offers his invaluable guide to thieving tactics, Heizou ends up returning it. He not only lets the old man go but turns down the chance to accept a tool that would prove hugely useful in fighting crime (though perhaps Heizou has enough direct experience with thievery that he already knows most of the contents). It only makes me wonder whether he also accepted his cut of the spoils from their job – knowing Heizou, that really doesn’t seem so far-fetched.