by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 5 of
If you had any lingering doubts that this is a show for adult audiences, episode five aims to straighten you out by opening with a sex scene. It's not graphic, but there's also no question what's going on, as it sets the stage for a story about Chugo, a ronin working under Heizo who has some issues with his work/life balance.
Unlike earlier episodes, this week's Onihei casts a nice guy as its protagonist. Chugo is kind of the office punching bag – he's basically a secretary and bears a striking resemblance to the usagi manju, or rabbit buns, that a local bakery sells. Emasculated as Usa-Chu, he's kind of a sad sack until Heizo, telling him to man up, sends him out on patrol. Sadly, Heizo did not specify that “man up” was not a specific statement about Chugo's penis, and Chugo ends up spending all of his time and money at a brothel on a prostitute named Omatsu. In a bit of a change from other women in the series, Omatsu's totally unobjectionable – she seems to genuinely like Chugo, not just his money, and she's just doing her job as best she can without appearing to feel any shame or conflict. The issue is clearly with Chugo's lack of self-control, not with Omatsu for being good at her job as a prostitute.
Ostensibly, the theme this week is that Chugo needs to learn to take control of his life. We know that Heizo was a ne'er-do-well in his youth who has now become quite respectable, and previous weeks have shown us Kumehachi and Omasa both pulling themselves up into decent employment under Heizo's supervision. Both of them were able to take Heizo's advice and advance themselves, and to some degree we were left to assume that Ofusa and Hanshiro were unable to get such wise council and thus paid for their inability to rise above themselves. Seen in that light, Chugo's a near total failure. Not only does he shirk his patrol duties to go screw Omatsu, but he also doesn't listen to either Heizo or his father, who on his deathbed entreated his son to lead an honest life.
At the end of the episode, we learn that the madam of Omatsu's brothel was once a customer of Chugo's dad, who talked about how hard it was to pay for her services and take care of his family, which presumably included Chugo and his siblings. (We see at least two in a flashback.) Therefore, we can take his father's admonition to mean that Chugo should not follow in his daddy's footsteps and become involved with a woman of negotiable virtue rather than taking care of his family and other monetary obligations. So at the end of the episode, when Chugo takes the money he earned for inadvertently stumbling across a crime in progress and then just being present for the ringleader's death, heading off to Omatsu's new workplace in Yoshiwara, he's failed to learn any of the lessons offered to him.
It could be that this is intended to be funny. Certain elements at the tail end of the episode certainly seem to suggest that, from the music to the fact that this fool just keeps bumbling into lucky situations, and we could also read his resemblance to the pastry as humor as well. But it also may be the case that Chugo is setting himself up to be one of the bad guys Heizo will have to take down in a few years. It honestly feels hard to tell, because there's a sense of inconsistency in terms of how Chugo is portrayed. He's both adorably incompetent (in Heizo's eyes) and astoundingly foolish (in our eyes), and that leaves a lot of room for interpretation.
Of course, that may be the end goal. No one is fully one thing or another, which is something that earlier episodes have tried to show us with characters like Ofusa, Hanshiro, and Kumehachi. Even Heizo's not the perfect man he perhaps ought to be, so maybe Chugo is just another imperfect soul out there trying to do his best. Maybe one day, he'll figure this out and listen to what people have tried to tell him. Or maybe he won't – and it will be his failed attempt to recoup his losses that comes across Heizo's desk sometime in the future, when he reaps the folly that he has sowed.
ONIHEI is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
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