[Review] Onihei – episode 1

In Edo Japan, Heizo Hasegawa heads up the Arson Theft Control, meting out justice at work then going home to a family sheltered from the torture, imprisonment and death he has become used to.

From the moment the jazz soundtrack kicked in I found this one hard work. This series is dark, both literally and in subject matter, and there is little reprieve until the very end.

A bird's eye view of Kumehachi strapped to a board with his arms stretched out, head hanging down and shoulders streaked with blood.

We start off watching a thief, Kumehachi, captured and tortured. He refuses to betray his fellow thieves, who abandoned him, as it goes against his personal code of ethics. Chief in this code are the three articles of thievery: don’t kill, don’t steal from poor people, don’t rape women. Kumehachi learned these from his mentor, Tanbei of Chigashira, who expelled him from his group of thieves years before for attempting to rape a woman during a burglary.

We see the attempted rape, in flashback, though it is stopped before he does more than push her down and expose her chest. He says that after this incident, he decided independently to follow the articles and has been an ethical thief ever since. The story really begins when he hears that a thief is going around and pillaging areas, slaughtering their residents, under the name of Tanbei of Chigashira. Unable to bear Tanbei’s reputation being tarnished, Kumehachi begs Heizo to let him join the force hunting down the impostor.

Wait – Heizo? Oh, right. The main character.

One man sits a distance away in a corridor of prison cells with wooden bars.

The episode spends a long time building up our sympathy for the criminal in the room, and it works. Almost too well; I knew nothing about this show when I started watching, and by the end of the episode I was unclear on who or what the show it was about. Kumehachi is built up as a potential protagonist for so much of it, and is more immediately engaging.

Heizo tortures Kumehachi for information, but he also adopted the daughter of a thief out of kindness, and builds up a friendly relationship with his prisoner. He’s a good police officer, and we get the impression he’s a good family man too. Frankly, a show about an honourable criminal turned law enforcer sounds far more interesting.

In a traditional Japanese home a woman in kimono sweeps in the garden while a small child in colourful chases a colourful ball with a grin on her face.

Women in this show are bit parts, while the men are noble fighters. This may change in future episodes, but as it stands there are no major female characters, and the minor female characters are very minor. The daughter, Ojun, probably gets the most screen time, more for what she represents about Heizo’s true nature than for her as a character. This isn’t to necessarily criticise it, just to manage expectations.

This is a crime drama, and a bloody one, and based on how it’s set up the main character is likely to take second billing to the case of the week. There was a sudden shift in tone to levity in the final few minutes when Heizo is at home with his wife, daughter and young adult son. However, it felt as out of place as the odd use of animation in this show. I rarely comment on animation because I know so little about it and I have a pretty high tolerance for poor animation in a good story – so if I found it distracting and hard to watch you know it’s pretty bad. To balance this out, some of the backgrounds are absolutely beautiful.

A beautiful image of the entrance to a Japanese building, with other buildings behind it and bare winter trees in front.

Violent samurai police procedural with dodgy CG and a jazz soundtrack isn’t for me, but there will always be an audience for the “violent samurai” part of that equation, and that seems to be what they’re relying on.

Read the ANN Preview Guide review.

 

Let us know what you thought of the show in comments below! Please read our comments policy before joining the conversation and contact us if you have any problems.

Want to see feminist reviews of more anime by more people? Make it possible for us to pay multiple people to review shows by becoming a patron for as little as $1 a month! 

  • ImaniToo

    I’m definitely a fan of the violent samurai genre but I find how jazz soundtracks are used in anime to signal “deep” or “adult/serious” fare to be very try hard. I’m a bit concerned that Kumehachi isn’t supposed to be the show’s MC. Haa? I hadn’t read any of the show’s promo material before hand. Why are we supposed to care about Heizo…? I guess we’ll see.

    I, too, found the animation a bad stand out– almost incongruous to the setting, just like the jazz music.

    • I’d be pleased if Kumehachi did turn out to be more important, but that’s not the impression I got from the ending and show title! However, I did find it a bit difficult to follow so I may have just misunderstood.