by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 6 of
The loveable thief is one of my favorite literary figures, and unsurprisingly, Onihei gives us a worthy member of that troupe in Zenpachi, a grizzled geezer Heizo meets on the road. He's a combination of your fun great-uncle who figures he's old enough that rules no longer apply and a cunning trickster, and when he sees Heizo being taken to task for rescuing a couple from what he assumes to be bandits (but who turn out to be accused thieves themselves), he decides to cultivate his acquaintance with an eye to passing on his skills. The fact that this episode takes place on the road rather than in Edo itself explains why he doesn't recognize the man known as Onihei, but he has certainly heard of him – later he tells Heizo that he's stayed out of Edo since “Onihei” came to power.
All of this is really just window dressing for what feels like a classic caper story. When Heizo, who is being accompanied by Chugo from last week's episode at his wife's insistence, sends his “bodyguard” away and decides to throw in with Zenpachi, the two launch a thieving and kidnap operation against a corrupt local. Heizo, it turns out, was (unsurprisingly) right about the couple he saved – they were running away from their master due to his cruel treatment and it was law enforcement that was acting like thugs in apprehending them. Zenpachi enlists Heizo's help to steal this man's gold and, although he makes a show of not intending it, rescuing the two servants as well. Heizo is charmed by the old guy, as well as fascinated that he's wily enough to evade his notice, so he agrees. Analytically, his choice is interesting – he's a renowned lawman taking up with an established thief in order to root out corruption in a small local precinct. Ultimately what goes on in this beautiful woodland area doesn't have any real bearing on Heizo's life or work, and taking out the corrupt magistrate won't help further his own career; he just does it for the dual reasons of it being fun and righteous. That's what the loveable thief character type exists to show us: that the path to doing The Right Thing isn't always straight and narrow, and that having fun (and profit) along the way doesn't negate the good deed itself. The fact that Zenpachi's supposed mortal illness turns out to all in his head supports this, and since Heizo declines to arrest him – or threaten him the same way he does the corrupt magistrate – maybe he doesn't have to worry quite so much after all.
As fun as this all is, I am beginning to wish that we could have at least a two-episode stretch where no one is trying to rape a woman. While it does set up a clear line between good guys and bad guys, with the good ones inevitably proclaiming that rape is bad, it also is part of a larger problem within the series. As entertaining as Onihei is as a whole, I do find myself growing weary of how it treats its female characters, although I also have increasing respect for Heizo's wife, who is clearly not going to take any of his garbage if she can help it. The only female we've seen who appears to have any agency is last week's Omatsu, but since we don't know the circumstances under which she went into prostitution, it's still up for debate. (If it was her choice, no problem. If she was sold, that's another story entirely.) Granted, this is in line with the time period to a point, but the beauty of fiction is that things about reality can be changed, and I'd like the show to take advantage of that with its women.
On the positive side, this episode has some of the most beautiful scenery we've seen thus far. The forests are breathtaking, and the use of light is wonderfully done. Even the towns and inns are detailed in a different way than usual, possibly because Heizo isn't familiar with them, so we're seeing them with his fresh eyes. Regardless, I hope the series maintains this level of gorgeousness going forward, because I'll be dreaming of those trees tonight.
ONIHEI is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
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