The Heian period of Japan, which spanned almost four centuries between the 8th and 12th centuries AD, was marked by the decline of Chinese cultural impact on the existing national consciousness and the advent of esoteric Vajrayana Buddhism in the country, in the form of the Shingon sect. While the first significant change contributed to revitalization in literature and mythology, the second one integrated itself with both natural science and popular belief systems to give way to a new stream of thought, Onmyodo.
The topmost practitioners of Onmyodo, known as Onmyoji, dealt with the studies of natural science, meteorology, astronomy, the occult, and divination—in short, they tried to strike an equilibrium between the tangible, real world and the supernatural one. Onmyoji had significant importance in the royal court, were distinguished by their signature attire, and acted as advisors to the emperor and the lords. Netflix’s recently released anime series, Onmyoji, adapted from Baku Yumemakura’s novel of the same name, offers a closer look at this unique vocation and combines it with the nation’s rich cultural and mythological heritage in true anime fashion to present a universal story of friendship. Although the central narrative is not as gripping as some of the recent Netflix anime adaptations were, the awesome chemistry between the two leads, sweeping soundtracks that transcend the boundaries of time, and strong presentation of the contemporary cultural atmosphere more than make up for it, making this entry a must-watch for both avid anime watchers and Japanese culture enthusiasts.
What Do We Know About Seimei And Hiromasa? How Did The Duo Meet?
Set during the Heian period, Onmyoji takes viewers to a fictional alternate history of Japan where demons and supernatural elements are very real threats that regular human beings have to cope with. Aside from the ever-present malevolent forces, often humans wrecked with strong negative emotions pass away and return in demonic forms, as their inability to gain solace in life plagues them even more after their deaths. To counter the demonic presence of such variants, Onmyoji, or specially trained scholars who can wield great magical powers, are employed by the royal court and commoners.
Returning to the narrative, after a police officer and his entourage spot a phantom oxcart carrying a demon lady near the capital, Kyoto, Emperor Daigo’s grandson Hiromasa Minamoto is advised to seek the help of the renowned Onmyoji, Seimei Abe. Initially, a rather distant and haughty Seimei refuses to help Hiromasa, but he eventually decides to check up on the situation on his own. Using his investigative and occult practitioner skills, Seimei easily deduces the identity of the demon lady, Rindo, to be a former lover of the Emperor, who was abandoned by him long ago and succumbed to her death while waiting. The agony of unrequited love had turned her into a demonic being, and after Seimei offers her closure in the form of creating a decoy of the Emperor, her soul is finally able to find peace, and she is exorcised. Extremely impressed by Seimei’s abilities, Hiromasa decides to stick around Seimei.
What Missions Did The Duo Embark On?
Soon enough, Seimei is assigned a series of supernatural investigations, and Hiromasa partners up with him to get an up-close experience of the unique missions, which also reveals much about the emotional and psychological intricacies of humans and demons alike. A lustful minister, Lord Kaneie, gets his body taken away after losing a gamble to a demon residing near Suzaku Gate. Seimei confronts the demon and trickily obtains one of his prized possessions—a flute—which forces the Suzaku demon to reveal his past—that his pursuit of perfection as a flute player, combined with the hatred directed towards him by society, transformed him into a demon. The Suzaku demon’s soul finds peace after Seimei instructs Hiromasa to put his exceptional talent of playing flute to use, and the demon offers his unique flute ‘Two Leaves’ to Hiromasa in gratitude. Lord Kaneie’s body is also restored to its former self at the end.
In another situation, Seimei helps an agonized widow, Lady Fujiko, come to terms with the death of her favorite biwa player, the charming little Kujo, whom she resurrected with the help of a rogue Onmyoji. Throughout these adventures, Seimei and Hiromasa complement each other, just as the Onmyodo philosophy advocates the use of the Yin-Yang binary. A troubled childhood and stigma as a ‘fox child’ in society had resulted in Seimei putting up an emotional barrier, which is why, despite being a good-natured person, he is unable to respond to emotions and often appears to be a cold egomaniac. Living with his two Shikigamis, Mitsumishi and Mitsuyo, Seimei isolates himself willingly from every possible human connection. On the other hand, Hiromasa’s innocence, optimism, and naivety act as a foil to Seimei’s worldview, and his talent as a flute player justifies his mild-mannered demeanor as well. Lord Atsumi, the Imperial Prince, is another important figure in the series. He is introduced as Hiromasa’s mentor and friend, who taught him to play the flute in his younger days.
Another investigation involves the forlorn soul of Tadami, a poet who formed a special bond with a demon friend in his past life to compose a masterpiece of a poem. The piece was plagiarized by another poet, and Tadami’s life of ignominy resulted in agony, trauma, and eventually a tragic death, which was the reason Tadami’s soul never passed and was lost in the mortal plane for so long. After reuniting him with his demon friend, Seimei proceeds to exorcise Tadami’s soul, much to Hiromasa’s disdain, and the event strikes a discord between the friends as Hiromasa temporarily leaves his partner’s side.
In Hiromasa’s absence, Seimei ponders about his action and takes on another case, which also involves his rival, a rogue female Onmyoji named Ashiya Doman. The daughter of Lord Tachibana, Princess Tsuyuko, is a hyperactive, curious, free-spirited entomophile who refuses to follow societal expectations regarding feminine responsibility, which worries her overbearing father, who sought Ashiya Doman’s guidance to help his daughter get over her unique interests. However, Ashiya Doman, who previously orchestrated a number of demonic cases to pester Seimei, sends a malevolent Sekisenko (living spirit) in the form of a caterpillar, and its demonic heritage frightens Lord Tachibana, who at last arrives at Seimei’s doorstep. Eventually, Hiromasa returns, and his flute playing combines with Seimei’s magic in a mystical way to stop Sekisenko from turning evil. What was meant to be a weapon for the evil forces turns into Tsuyuko’s insectoid friend, Kuromaru, thanks to her unwavering love and support. Seimei’s support to help her become the best version of herself by maintaining her stance against societal pressure makes Princess Tsuyuko his new friend as well.
Was Seimei Able To Save Hiromasa?
Trouble arises in the form of a mysterious Namanari, or half-demon, who infects Seimei with an evil Sekisenko, leaving him in a fatal condition. Tsuyuko arrives with Kuromaru, and under the Emperor’s private Onmyoji Yasumori’s guidance, she uses her Sekisenko to protect Seimei, but his condition continues to deteriorate. To save his friend’s life, Hiromasa goes to Ashiya Doman and strikes a bargain with the god of life-prolonging, Lord Taizan, saving Seimei’s life in exchange for his flute-playing talents. After Seimei’s recovery, Yasumori is suspected to be the culprit, as he is the son of Tadayuki Kamo, the master Onmyoji who sheltered Seimei and chose him as his prodigy over his own son. However, it turns out Yasumori was indeed trying to protect Seimei to uphold the promise he made to his father, and the half-demon assailant is someone else, whom Ashiya Doman knows.
Soon enough, the half-demon strikes again, and this time it claims the life of Hiromasa. A distraught Seimei starts investigating and finds out that Lord Atsumi was the half-demon assailant, whose jealousy over Hiromasa’s immaculate flute-playing skills slowly turned him into a vengeful monster. However, to respect Hiromasa’s ideals, Seimei lets Atsumi go, who is still in a conflicted, anguished state over the actions of his demon half. Yasumori presents Seimei with a talisman that he had previously used to save Hiromasa’s soul, which means there is still a possibility of resurrecting him, but Seimei might have to pay the ultimate price to do so.
Seimei plans to organize a Taizan ceremony to bring his friend back to life and, in the process, also to restore Atsumi to normalcy, and much to the royal court’s dismay, he takes Hiromasa’s corpse to perform the rituals inside the palace premises. The Emperor allows his transgression, as he is grateful for Onmyoji’s assistance in saving Rindo’s soul previously.
Using the Suzaku demon as Hiromasa’s decoy, Seimei lures Atsumi inside the palace courtyards and, while battling him, completes the invocation ritual of Lord Taizan. In the process, several demons and otherworldly creatures get summoned, who are fended off with Tsuyuko and Yasumori’s help. Eventually, Hiromasa gets resurrected, and it seems that Seimei had staked his own life in a bargain to Lord Taizan, as he gets spirited away soon after. Finally, Hiromasa confronts his old friend, Atsumi, who has now completely transformed into a demonic entity, and tries to appeal to his humanity to turn him back to his former self. It is revealed Seimei survived after all, as the version of him that was taken by Taizan was a Sekisenko decoy, imbued with the sliver of vitality of his detractors, which Doman helped him to create.
Eventually, a guilt-ridden Atsumi makes peace with his negative instincts, learns self-acceptance, and prepares to be exorcised. Before departing, Atsumi wishes to play the flute one last time and wishes Lord Taizan to return his dear friend Hiromasa’s flute-playing skills. Eventually, Hiromasa joins him while playing ‘Two Leaves,’ reminiscing about the days when he used to practice the flute with Atsumi, and their timeless, melancholic tunes captivate the listeners. At the end, it is revealed that Atsumi has regained his human form, finally free from the mental burdens that were plaguing him, and to leave his sordid past behind, he decides to move away from the capital and embark on his own journey. Peace is restored in the capital, and Seimei is finally reunited with Hiromasa. Later, Seimei reveals to Hiromasa that, at the cost of creating a decoy of himself and fooling Lord Taizan, he had given Ashiya Doman his real name, which might create significant problems later on, but that it was worth the risk with a friend’s life on stake.