by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 13 of
This final episode of Onihei brings us full circle. Episode one introduced us to the theme of the past never being quite as you remember it, the idea that change is inevitable even if it's not what you want. This episode follows Omasa as she learns much the same lesson. In her past, Omasa worked with a group of thieves known as the Will-o-the-Wisps (or the rather better sounding Kitsunebi in Japanese), and despite restrictions on workplace romance, she and the son of the group's leader were in love. Shortly before she left, Matataro broke things off with her, but ten years later she still loves him. That's why when two brutal crimes are committed under the Kitsunebi name, Omasa begins to wonder about what's really going on – could the Matataro she remembers have become so cruel in her decade-long absence? Do people truly change so much?
The indication would be yes, going by the first few episodes of the series, as well as a few scattered throughout. But the truth turns out to be far from that simple, wrapped up in succession wars and the increasing feeling in the thieving community that the three old “laws” of the profession are outdated. This, too, has been a running thread throughout Onihei, with the gentleman thief of old being replaced by the more modern thug. Luckily for Omasa, Matataro isn't the one committing the murders around town; it's his younger half-brother Bunkichi. But that doesn't mean that there's a happy ending in store.
If you sit back and look at Onihei as a series, the idea of the past versus the present has been its central theme. Not only do we have episodes like episodes one and two, which make a clear link between what's remembered and how things are, but also in Hisae's past and episode seven, about Otomatsu, the boy who lived down to people's expectations of him. The past, the show suggests, is always with us in the present; it's how we choose to use it that matters. This week Omasa tries to both embrace it and allow her lover to escape it, but his eventual death in an epidemic in Kyoto makes it clear that there's no benefit in going back. Otomatsu can't overcome his past and so he dies entrenched in it; Omasa allows hers to slip away and lives, but with a price. Like Kumehachi, she'll always carry it with her, even if it doesn't shape her future. Perhaps the only one who truly frees herself from her past is Hisae, but she's got familial support that the others don't have, and in a sense she and Heizo are both living with his past incarnate in their son, whose wildness mimics young Heizo's antics. (Heizo's also clinging to the past with his father's pipe, but in a much less destructive way.)
While I can't say that this episode truly wraps up Heizo's story, or anyone's really, it does make for a nice revisit of the series' main themes. It also outdoes itself with the background music, which really works to enhance the mood, as well as the house in the forest where Bunkichi is run to ground. If there's some weirdly awkward walking and a few scenes of cross-eyed Omasa, they're balanced out by the more acrobatic fight scenes and the subtle shaking of Matataro's knife as he tries to make himself stab Bunkichi in the throat.
It's a shame that Onihei ends here, but it's been an interesting journey. Hopefully in the future we'll get to walk in his sandals again, because if there's one good thing about an open-ended series, it's that it leaves room for there to be more stories in the future.
ONIHEI is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
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