To cut right to the chase, I thought this was an absolute pip of an episode of Onihei. Not just the best of the series, but one of the best of the season (for shows not containing “Rakugo”) in the title anyways. It’s gratifying to see both this series and ACCA step up to the plate with their best work this week, because this season needs strong finishes from those two shows if it’s going to end up as anything close to decent as a whole.
Truthfully, it was a couple of geriatrics at the heart of this episode’s success – though it was very strong narratively too. First there’s Taniguchi Moriyasu, the legendary 72 year-old animator who’s worked on- well, pretty much everything (and co-founded Japan’s first animator’s union, too). Taniguchi-san hasn’t worked on all that much lately but one of the great things about a Maruyama project is that when Maruyama calls, everyone picks up the phone. Visually, this ep was a stunner – the fireworks scene was absolutely breathtaking, but the entire episode was gorgeously drawn and animated. I love the look of Onihei when it’s at its best – old Edo looks far more real than it does in any live-action recreation of it. Taniguchi worked on Episode 3 as well, and it’s no coincidence that was the standout of the series in terms of visuals until this week.
The other geezer who shone this week was 83 year-old seiyuu Hazama Michio. He plays Tomogoro, the old-timer (though not as old as Hazama-san) at the heart of this week’s very clever and engaging caper. Tomogoro is a former thief turned boatman (he says he’s been clean for ten years), who’s lured out of retirement by all the local talk about how fearsome the Onihei is. So the old man sneaks into Heizou’s house, just for the challenge of it – all he steals is a silver pipe, not realizing it’s a priceless heirloom of Heizou’s late father. The only reason Heizou doesn’t stop him is because he’s dizzy with fever, but Tomogoro doesn’t know that – he just thinks he’s still got the chops.
Heizou is miffed at having been embarrassed in this fashion, but even more so at losing his precious pipe – and when he happens to see Tomogoro smoking it when he hails to boatman for a ride, he enlists Kumehachi to scope out the old thief. Turns out those two are old friends, and Kumehachi goes back to Heizou with the truth of who the boatman really is. What I really love about this is Heizou’s reaction – he’s able to laugh at himself for being shown up this way. Heizou is an interesting guy, no question about it – he has a sense both of humor and empathy, and it’s clear that even setting aside Kumhachi’s plea that he go easy on the old man, Heziou probably wouldn’t have been too hard on him anyway.
The plan Heizou hatches to get his pipe back is genuinely elegant – he has Kumehachi “steal” a seal case as proof he’s upped the ante, and to goad Tomogoro into returning the pipe in exchange for the case, then ends up effectively buying the seal case back from Tomogoro for a gold ryo. Again, it’s hard not to like Heizou – this was certainly a quirky thing to do, but he clearly admires cleverness and moxie in others, even if it’s put to the service of “honorable theft”. He also leverages the situation to put the fear of God into his men, and make sure they aren’t so lax in providing security to his estate in the future.
No question about it, Onihei stands out like a sore thumb in the 2017 anime landscape. The cast includes more pensioners than idols, the music is strictly 50’s TV drama and the art style is old-school. I really like the fact that Maruyama started his own studio (again) basically so that he and a bunch of friends could get together and make anime without annoying production committee weasels poisoning the well. I have no idea how in the world the economic model works, but I’m going to appreciate the hell out of shows like Onihei for as long as Maruyama keeps making them.