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Onihei – 01

OP Sequence

OP: 「鬼平~江戸を走る~」 (Onihei ~Edo-o Hashiru~) by ()

「血頭の丹兵衛」 (Chigashira no Tanbei)
“Tanbei of Chigashira”

Most anime opening themes are pop songs of one kind or another, so when one isn’t, it’s always worth taking a closer look. I mean, I enjoyed the Cowboy Bebop OP quite a bit, so I don’t see why we necessary need to sing at the start of every show. This is especially the case for period pieces where the usual pep of J-pop may not exactly be appropriate. Yes, I know Cowboy Bebop is not period piece per se so maybe it’s not the best example, but the jazz does perfectly suit the moody, used-future setting of the show, no? Music is key to establishing atmosphere, so it may be better to have something that really gets us into the time, is what I’m saying.

‘But wait!’ I hear someone in the back crying out, ‘I thought Onihei was set in feudal Japan, but it’s OP is neither feudal nor Japanese!’. Quite so; I couldn’t have made that point better myself. What is Onihei trying to achieve, then, with its choice of soundtrack? When I first the OP, the first thing i thought of was the Joker Game OP. Am I right, or am I right? Indeed, there’s much to the show that may remind you of some sort of spy-mystery-thriller. The titular Hasegawa Heizou is in fact, voiced by none other than Horiuchi Kenyuu who always played—and I recognised this one instantly as well—Joker Game‘s Lieutenant Colonel Yuki. A coincidence? I think not. Perhaps Onihei is going out of its way to be that kind of show. Consider its literary roots. The Western tradition has Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, and Japan has Hasegawa Heizou. He was the archetypal Japanese ‘detective’ for some time. Actually, I suppose ‘Demon Heizou’ is less Sherlock Holmes and more Robocop. In any case, though, if you wanted a feudal crime serial, he’s your man, but how do you translate that for the audience? By framing it as a stylish mystery thriller, I think, in the vein of Joker Game. Joker Game may have its period trappings too, of spies and WWII, but at its heart it’s also psychological detective fiction.

Joker Game, though, rode on its masterful execution, and I’m not sure Onihei displays the same chops. Heavy dramas like this naturally require very tight storytelling to manage balance the waxing and waning of tension and the flow of the narrative, but this Onihei pilot seemed to me somewhat disjointed. Joker Game quickly drove home its setting and its themes to unifying everything it was about, whereas Onihei doesn’t seem to have that same focus. Is it about Hasegawa Heizou, and the contrast between his ruthlessness with criminals with his respect for honour and and his goofy family life? Is it trying to establish an era of lawlessness and brutality for him to work in? Or is the main character actually the thief who was too idealistic for his own good? Are we supposed to draw parallels to something? Is it an allegory? I can’t answer any of those questions, and that’s a problem.

Without tight storytelling, nor a strong script, I’m not exactly sure from which angle I’m supposed to recommend Onihei. I mean, it’s not the best looking show either. Sure, the action is for the most part fine, but there’s so many samurai anime already that it’ll take more than that to impress. More concerning is the character animation in general. I think Onihei was going for something stylistic, perhaps even inject some realism in the art and movement, but they don’t quite get there, and the end product ends up more uncanny than anything. An while it’s evidently very proud of its background art, considering the ED, and sure, it’s great, the overall aesthetic doesn’t grip me as much as other period anime—and there are many.

All in all, not the best start for Onihei, but I think it’s got potential. Perhaps it’s expecting the audience to already be familiar with the character—which is not entirely unfair, considering his history—and actually works better for those who do (I, myself, am not very). Once we get to know Heizo better, perhaps everything will start clicking. And, in any case, a gritty, violent crime drama is certainly something we don’t get an abundance of in anime, and Onihei could be a welcome addition to the season on that alone. I’m willing to give Onihei time to impress me, for now, but I hope it does it soon. It definitely needs the opportunity to show-off the literary chops its based on.

 

ED Sequence

ED: 「そして…生きなさい」 (Soshite… Ikinasai) by 由紀さおり (Yuki Saori)

Preview

January 10, 2017 at 6:08 am
6 comments »
  • January 10, 2017 at 7:12 pmOby

    I actually enjoy this a lot (so far). Lately, we have a dearth of serious jidaigeki anime set in Edo-period complete with its crime, politics, and swordfight aspects. And no, anime like Gintama Touken Ranbu, Hakuoki and other anime with bishounen Shinsengumi aimed for female viewers do not count as serious jidaigeki anime series.

    • January 10, 2017 at 11:13 pmPasserby

      Oh, it’s certainly not a bad show by any means. And you’re right, it does fill a niche.

  • January 10, 2017 at 8:29 pmYukie

    The OP actually reminded me of Samurai Champloo’s OP:
    -anachronistic music choice
    -some of the scroll placements and the movement of the graphics
    -sword slashes part

    While I enjoyed this first episode, I think the concerns you brought up are pretty valid.
    The tone is a little all over the place for a premiere, but maybe they wanted to deepen the mystery of Heizou as a character. Is he a brutal police officer? Does he intentionally play the good cop, bad cop act? Is he a strict father?
    I am worried about the execution though, since after this episode I’m more intrigued by the robber/thief rather than Heizou himself.

  • January 10, 2017 at 11:17 pmPasserby

    And, like Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo is Watanabe Shinichiro too! I hesitate to compare Samurai Champloo and Onihei though, since the former was a deliberately anachronistic show and bit on flair, while the latter is more… grim, I guess.

    I’m also not sure how much Onihei will be about the titular character. It may more be about telling the story around him, especially since he’s already fairly established in Japanese culture.

  • January 12, 2017 at 4:13 pmdaikama

    Bit late, but my thoughts FWIW. Had moderately high expectations for this (or at least hope). I enjoy reading mysteries set in a historic period (e.g. roman times) so this fits with that. I guess it wasn’t bad, but at least from a detective/mystery aspect, this was a mess IMO.

    Visually, yeah, it got kind of off at times, but overall I thought it looked pretty good. Definitely going for a bit of an “artistic” style IMO. The OP music was ok – definitely gave a Cowboy Bebop vibe (though like CB’s intro music better). I did like the OP visuals. Fit the story well.

    I agree this wasn’t a “tight run ship” but for different reasons. The story as I see it is going to be somewhat (or maybe entirely) episodic with a “crime/mystery” of the week format, probably with some longer running subplot(s). It was unusual that so much time was spent on the Thief character (don’t recall name so going with that) rather than Heizou, but I think that was done for two reasons. First, Heizou, like Sherlock Holmes, is established = probably don’t need as much time on him. Second, given ALL the time spent on Thief, not only as character background but also transform him from bad guy/criminal to sufficiently sympathetic character/good guy who I have to think will show up again (most likely joining Heizou’s group).

    The issues I have with episode 1 concern more story-telling and what goes on in this episode’s “crime of the week”. Thief is an OK character I suppose. Like a lot of characters, he comes with a tragic back story for sympathy, and is super-duper driven by honor. I guess the old addage “no honor among thieves” does not apply here because “honor” drives so much of the story. Maybe just me/cultural thing, but I think it got pushed a bit too hard for criminals, but whatever.

    More of a minor point, but I thought some of the exposition was clunky. Those sure are some friendly, chatty guards (and is Thief the only prisoner?). Definitely worse though, is how the “crime of the week” is resolved. Detective work? That’s hard! It’s… some kind of work. Why bother when you can have EVERYTHING handed to you on a freaking massive plot convenience platter. It’s ALL handed to Heizou from the dumbass former boss who leaves his name at the crime scenes (and “want to punk the police” is a weak, stupid and weak reason) to the Thief who just happened to have been mentored by said dumbass boss (including the “3 Articles [rules] of Thieves”) to loud mouth guards who discuss said case in front of the open prison door so Thief can overhear, etc. etc.

    Even beyond that, it gets WTF/inconsistent at times from what I could tell. So if I have this right, Thief is released, and… he’s carrying a hidden lethal weapon – dagger (which I assume he stole rather than Heizou gave his back ’cause that’s too much IMO). He then bumps into some huge “samurai” kind of guy who I guess he knows? Insults “samurai” guy to start a fight and kicks the guy’s ass. Then when he has the dude clearly subdued, he snaps the guys neck!?!? which I have to think killed him. Neck snapping is a killing move. WTF happend to his “honor” and “rules” including the “never kill”!? I don’t even… Then he shouts to the crowd, “if you have problem come see me at xyz inn.”

    That’s his plan!? Go kill some guy on the street in front of a huge crowd, shout to all where he’s staying, and assume his former boss will not only show up as a result, but offer him a job back in the old gang upon which he’ll learn the gang’s hideout!? O.o How the hell is this guy not arrested/back in jail after the neck snapping? But the plan it is apparently, and it works perfectly because of course it does.

    So… really do not know here. I like the setting concept (historic period “murder mystery”), but there was zero mystery and zero detective work. I’ll give this another shot, but looking like a drop right now.

  • January 12, 2017 at 9:12 pmAvalon

    I actually like this first episode a LOT more than anything Joker Game gave us. Personally Joker Game bored me, but this had me hooked from beginning to end.

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