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AKA: コミック 鬼平犯科帳 ; Onihei-Hankacho: The Animation
Genre: Historical Drama/Shonen Action
Length: Television series, 13 episodes, 24 minutes each
Distributor: Currently available streaming on Amazon Prime.
Content Rating: R (Strong violence, offscreen sex, nudity.)
Related Series: 2 previous live-action TV series, and a live-action film, are based on the same source material (see Notes)
Also Recommended: Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens; Miss Hokusai
Notes: Based on manga by Takao Saito, published in Comic Ran, which is in turn based on a series of historical novels written by Shotaro Ikenami

The title comes from "Oni" (a Japanese ogre/monster) and the first part of the chief protagonist's name. It's a (pretty accurate) comment on our hero's "methods".



In Edo Period Japan, Arson Theft Control, under the leadership of Heizo Hasegawa, works to suppress, well, theft (and presumably also arson), though its methods sometimes emulate those of its foes.


To tell the truth, the only action we see "Arson Theft Control" take about arson is to commit it one time, but I guess arson investigation would have been difficult before modern scientific forensics.

Theft, though, is quite a different matter, and one that Arson Theft Control (hereafter ATC) deals with with great relish- and even greater brutality. In an early scene (in the first episode) we see them torturing a suspect in a way that's definitely not for the squeamish; all I'll say is that it seems pretty much guaranteed to give the prisoner tetanus.

I nearly went only 3 stars on this show just based on that scene, but it's an important scene in establishing the peculiar ethos of the period (or at least this show's idea of it), which is very different from the white-hats/black-hats, good-guys/bad-guys dichotomy we normally adhere to. Here, as noted, the "cops" use torture, while on the other hand at least some of the thieves pay at least lip service to the "Three Articles of a True Thief": never kill, never steal from the poor, never rape women. Well, we usually say "there's no honor among thieves", and even here some definitely don't zealously observe the Articles, and the ATC gets pretty incensed about those violations, particularly the mass slaughter some of the more "dishonorable" thieves engage in.

The show's hero, Heizo Hasegawa, chief of the ATC, is, as is fitting here, a study in moral ambiguity himself. In some ways he reminded me a lot of Banba Zenji from Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens , despite the very different time periods: he's kind of laid back, he's an expert swordsman (!), and he surrounds himself with an entourage of "reformed" felons. (One difference is that Heizo is a "family man", though his family's a bit unusual; more later.) But Heizo came very close to becoming a thief himself once, and indeed still may yield to that temptation in a Robin-Hoodish cause. (In this show, many who end up on the path of the thief are victims of exploitation, ostracism, or even just being denied one's rightful inheritance.)

Yes, the show is sexist- but so was the period it depicts. One of Heizo's staff, named Chugo Kimura, frequents a brothel, but this is played lightly, for comedy; Chugo has a favorite girl there, and we're given to understand that she likes him too, because when he's short of cash she offers to provide her services for free. More seriously, Heizo's wife Hisae is a woman who many men of the time would not have regarded as marriageable. ("Now I can never get married!" is a pretty common cliché among anime women, and this exclusion from matrimony seems to apply over an awfully wide range of women's experiences, from serious indiscretions all the way down to minor public embarrassment.) Heizo and Hisae have one biological child, an adult son. I thought both parents were pretty dismissive of that poor guy; Heizo prefers doting over his adopted daughter, Ojun, who is of the species Bratticus Rugraticus, though more for what she does than what she says; the kid only seems to have a dozen lines or so in the entire show. (Kind of a waste of a terrific VA, Sayaka Senbongi, who had plenty to say as Mumei in the Kabaneri shows.) The show does have one female character with a will of her own, named Omasa; she was once in with a group of thieves, and still retains a large streak of rebelliousness. (I'd noted the tendency for women's names to start with "O" in the other Edo Period shows I've watched. It's actually an honorific.)

The show's theme music wasn't working for me. It's basically jazz throughout: the opener is in the rapid-fire, bombastic style we normally associate with police show themes (which of course the show IS...sort of). The incidental music in the show is mid-tempo jazz, while the closer is a lush, slow ballad. For some reason I didn't quite feel the musical score quite fit the show. I can't really explain why I felt the techno-pop opener of We Rent Tsukumogami worked for an Edo Period show, but a jazz score DIDN'T for ANOTHER Edo Period show.

The Recs are the show whose hero reminded me so strongly of Heizo; and another Edo Period show of a rather different flavor.

In spite of the moral relativism depicted, you definitely do get an idea of who to support (and when to cheer them on) and, on the other hand, why others come to be seen as bitter disappointments by some of their followers. It's definitely more engaging than We Rent Tsukumogami was. The show's violence is not just an exercise in sadism- there's really some good human drama in there. It held my interest throughout.Allen Moody

Recommended Audience: Oh, my. Brutal torture (that early scene); limbs getting hacked off (pretty graphically); Chugo's sex scene (softcore, but we HEAR plenty.) Nudity of course and vulgarity, but the violence is the major problem. Amazon dodges with TV-NR again; I'm going with an R rating here.

Version(s) Viewed: Streaming on Amazon Prime.
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Onihei © 2017 Studio M2
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