I’ll say this for M2 – when they want to, they break out maybe the most beautiful backgrounds of the season (even giving Shouwa Genroku a run for its money) with Onihei. The color composition and detail work here is really something – and when it comes to stuff like fireworks displays and burning farmhouses, the animation is stellar too. I have no idea what, if anything, is in-store for this studio that seems to have been formed through the sheer will and influence of its legendary founder (say “Pluto” three times and click your heels together). But I sure hope we get to see them produce a few more series at least.
As for as story goes, Onihei has likewise had a few exceptional weeks and several more in the realm of merely good. I’d rank this one in the latter category, though early on I had hopes it might be more that that. It certainly didn’t hurt to hear Shinichirou Miki join the cast as Kondo Kanshiro, a “man from the past” if ever there was one. Shinichirou is one of the very best to ever walk the boards as a seiyuu, and the idea of getting a deeper look into Hisae’s past was certainly an appealing one. And indeed, that did prove to be a very interesting element of this episode’s story.
We already knew Heizou was a bit of a wild child, a bad boy – but it turns out Hisae was a bad girl too. She was neighbors with Kondo on one side and Heizou on the other as a kid (stop me if you see trouble brewing here). Hormones took their toll, and she fell for the handsome Kondo, a member of a respected samurai family. But he betrayed first her, than his family – with whoring, drunken behavior, and finally robbery and murder. But not before he took Hisae’s honor (though to be fair, she was clearly a willing partner at the time) which left her with a rather untenable future. It was Heizou volunteering to marry her that saved her from that future – and there’s no doubt that Heizou (a few years older than she, it appears) took a lesson from his own missteps not to judge others too harshly for theirs.
Flash forward to the present, and Kondo has arrived in Edo to… Well, I’m still not sure what, exactly, and I think that’s a major flaw in the episode. Blackmail? General harassment? Revenge? Honestly, it’s kind of hard to say. And that’s a problem. So is the fact that I rather thought this was being set up as an opportunity for Tatsuzou to show his stuff, stepping up as the man of the house in Heizou’s absence (he’s away on a trip, which seems to be the reason for the timing of Kondo’s- whatever it was). But all Tatsuzou really does is blunder into the open and blow the patrol’s cover and prove utterly useless in a scrum.
This wasn’t a bad episode narratively, certainly. I rather like the theme of Heizou learning the big “secret” about his wife and not giving a damn – though truth be told, he knew from her father anyway – and of Hisae being willing to have her secret revealed in order to save her demon child, who Kondo has kidnapped. But for the aforementioned reasons the final third rather falls flat. Thank goodness, then, for the visuals – which were juicy and delicious. These old Edo backgrounds were just stunning, and they kept following each other up in machine gun fashion, one after the other. If the art is going to the star of the episode, it certainly helps when it’s as exceptional as this.