So once in a while this thing happens where I go into an episode expecting to have to write a series review post when it’s over. Except it turns out I was wrong, and it’s not the finale after all – sometimes there’s a whole second cour I didn’t know about (that’s pretty rare), or sometimes just one more episode. I may have known Onihei was 13 episodes once (I guess I did, since I just saw that I put it in the preview) but if I did I’d long since forgotten. And who expects a series to end almost a full week into the new season?
Be that as it may, it’s certainly nice to get one more episode of this series. If pressed I’d have a hard time saying whether it or ACCA is my favorite among the non-sequels this season. Onihei isn’t flashy but it has a lot of substance and a surprisingly murky and complicated worldview. I know little of either the source novels or the jidaigeki that was based on them, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the anime was actually the more faithful to the source material – for once the animated version somewhat less constrained by a very specific formula that’s expected of it than the drama.
Never let it be said that Onihei doesn’t go dark – it’s tackled some pretty rough themes (appropriate for the setting) and this week’s ep is no exception. We start out with one of Heizou’s men, Koyanagi, rushing home from duty to his pregnant wife, only to arrive just after she and their newborn child have died. Wracked with grief – and more relevantly, guilt – he goes into a tailspin. He starts taking risks, turns into a terrible bully at the dojo (much to the chagrin of Tatsuzou), and generally seems to be trying to go be with his wife and child as soon as possible. On the one-year anniversary of their death, he sees a woman with a baby on her back about to throw herself off a bridge and intervenes in the nick of time to prevent it.
Is it fate that this woman turns out to be the wife of a man Koyanagi arrested, Matahachi? Well, Onihei doesn’t shy away from such things, but at the very least Koyanagai certainly believes so. A man in his position is inclined to gamble, so Koyanagi decides to allow Matahachi out of his cell for a night to have a visit to his wife and try and help her through her dismay at the truth about him – in exchange, Mathachi will reveal the hiding place of his accomplice (who killed two men on the night of Matahachi’s final robbery). But Matahachi avails himself of the opportunity and escapes, leaving Koyanagi to face the music and rot in a cell for what he’s done.
Anyone who’s been watching Onihei these last three months knows that Heizou will be deeply troubled by this situation – Omasa has told him the truth of what’s really happened. By letting Koyanagai sit in that cell he’s doing him a favor by not passing sentence on him, but that can only last so long (about six months, apparently – there’s a wonderful time-lapse sequence of Koyanagi in his cell, his beard growing out)). Heizou is not a stickler for the letter of the law by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s interesting to speculate on what might have happened had not Matahachi returned, accomplice in-hand (in-barrel, actually) and turned himself in. I wouldn’t be surprised if the law decreed that Koyanagai be put to death for what he’d done, so Heizou was probably happier to see Matahachi return than Koyanagi was.
Heizou is an interesting protagonist for these troubled times – not a true anti-hero but not a conventional hero by any means either. His moral relativism is sort of disquieting for a policeman, but he does at least seem to do the things he does because he believes they’re right. My sense is that Heizou is so aware of the weaknesses in himself that he dislikes punishing others for succumbing to theirs – knowing how easily he could have been in their shoes, with very little interference from fate. The unfortunates he crosses paths with don’t always wind up better off for it (or alive), but one imagines a place like Edo was better off for having a few lawmen like him.