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Episode 17: BIRD OF FIRE (IGA NINPO HI NO TORI) *****
Directed by Yoshiki Onoda Shiina Misato watches a house from afar amid a bamboo forest. A group of men are inside, conspirators against the onslaught of the Dark Shogun, O'oka Tadamitsu. The Shiina attack killing everyone inside. Misato cuts down the last and the man's body tumbles down an embankment landing near a passing Shinpachi. The dying man utters the word, 'Myokeiji'. Misato appears and attack him again accusing Shin of murdering her father. Shin denies committing the murder and states he will fight her one day, but not for an incident he was not a part of. Misato returns to O'oka to tell of a successful job in eradicating the conspirators. O'oka then states her next mission is to kill Tsuge Shinpachi. Later, Dr. Gennai asks Orin if he can use her backlot for an experiment. Not long after, many women in the bathhouse rush out screaming fire. Orin runs outside and sees Gennai playing with fire. She hits him several times in anger. Having retreated to heal his bruises, Ryukichi asks Gennai what he was doing with this strange discovery. He says, "It's called asbestos in the west, but I discovered it in Japan." In detailing this fireproof find, Gennai says that, "150 years from now, people can live in fireproof homes." This prompts Ryukichi to say, "Just because we are not educated, you are always lying to us."Tsuruzo comes into the restaurant to talk with Shin about info regarding the men that were attacked by the Shiina. Meanwhile, Misato goes to see a sick member of the Shiina, Sagenta. He quickly stabs himself shortly after Misato tells him to get well so as to return to the circle. He proclaims that he was the one that killed her father. Misato demands he say why he did it since he was her father's most trusted agent. Sagenta dies before he can explain his actions. Misato calls a meeting with the other Shiina agents. Angered that they all knew it but her, she mandates someone say who ordered it. Anabuki Samon reluctantly says, "The Shogunate Chief of Security at that time...lord O'oka." Misato then requests an audience with the Dark Shogun. Meeting with O'oka, he senses she has now learned the truth about her father's killer. He explains his actions to her and then asks if Misato can still be loyal to him or will she attempt to avenge her father. O'oka then slyly goads Misato to believe what he did was right. She asks for a few days to ponder her decision. Of course, O'oka doesn't plan to sit idly by waiting for Misato to come for his head. Meanwhile, Otoki and Tsuruzo check out the Myokeiji Temple. A woodsman happens upon them and tells them to beware of the temple that a strange light, (or ghosts as he puts it) have been seen there the first of every month. They soon find an unhinged man playing on the beach. Upon closer inspection, marks are found on his neck that look like the work of the Koga ninjas. At the same time, Shinpachi is out hunting and sees smoke. Investigating to see if anyone is in need of help, he finds Misato who has been searching for him for the past three days. She says the fierceness is gone that she was mistaken about him. She apologizes for having wronged Shin and he also apologizes for thinking her a vicious woman. The two walk down the mountain together and it is clearly evident, Misato brings her feelings for Shinpachi to bear. Back at O'oka's chambers, he has summoned Anabuki Samon to ask him if he can lead the Shiina group. Misato having become a woman, she must now die. The Iga meet about the strange light emanating from Myokeiji Temple and surmise it must be O'oka's secret meeting place where he gives orders to officials he couldn't normally be seen with. The meetings occur on the first of every month and tomorrow is the next meeting. The Iga plan further. Misato meets with O'oka and beseeches her obedience to him. Pleased, O'oka asks that she partake in a drink with him. Misato becomes weak and realizes that O'oka has drugged her drink. She is furious and confused that she has pledged her loyalty to him yet he does this. She staggers towards him. O'oka quickly grabs his sword and slashes Misato across the eyes blinding her. The other Shiina rush inside and prepare to deliver the killing blow. O'oka stops them stating she will be of use to bring Shinpachi out into the open. With the next day the 1st of the month, O'oka changes the planned meeting into an Iga massacre. Otoki, Ryukichi and Tsuruzo keep an eye on the Shiina and notice Samon and crew carrying a palanquin into the Temple. They then see them take a blindfolded Misato into a storeroom. Awaiting the Iga, O'oka has one last talk with the helpless Misato. Meanwhile, Shinpachi learns of Misato's fate and plans to head out alone but eventually allows the others to join him. The Shadow Warriors make their way to Myokeiji Temple. Shin enters the building Misato is being held inside of. He is then trapped with her. The Shiina lock all points of exit and set the place on fire. The other Iga try to rescue their chief but none of them can get close. O'oka watches the show nearby confident he has seen the last of the Iga Phantom. The Iga manage to get close to the flaming storeroom but cannot save Shin. They duel with the Shiina. Inside the burning building, Shinpachi lays atop Misato having been equipped with Dr. Gennai's suit of asbestos, the two emerge from the cinders unscathed. Shin joins in the battle as well. He spies O'oka hidden behind more Shiina warriors. Samon asks how he was able to survive and Shin replies, "Iga secret, 'Bird of Fire'!" He tells O'oka that he will kill him another day and to enjoy his power. The Iga escape amidst a flurry of grenades to get Misato to safety. Back at Yamabiko, Dr. Gennai tries to save her eyes. "The wound was sharp. A day has passed. I do not believe her sight will return. I will do what I can." The next day, Orin asks what is Shin's relation with the girl he brought to Gennai. Orin throws herself on him. Thinking one of her breasts has fallen, he sees that Orin was carrying tomatoes around inside her kimono. Suddenly, Gennai rushes inside and takes Shin away. Misato has fled while Gennai was out getting medicine. Shin finds a piece of paper nearby left by Misato. They check it to see if it contains invisible ink. They place the paper over some heat and it reveals a handprint! Gennai asks, "Shin-san...was that girl one of the 26?!" One of the best episodes of the entire series, it also has one of the best cliffhanger endings as well. There's an incredible amount of intrigue and subterfuge entailed in this episode. Not only that, but Shiina Misato, the most complex and conflicted character of series two, is the main focus here. Just when one loose end is tied up (the murderer of her father), another presents itself when it is revealed that she is possibly one of the 26 loyalists to the Dark Shogun. Her relationship with Shinpachi is also a complicated one. Friends and enemies as Shin puts it. Misato is nonetheless in love with Shinpachi but is still drawn to her sense of duty irregardless of the fact that O'oka ordered her father's murder. And despite this, O'oka slyly uses underhanded means to trick her into believing he still desires her services. This reinforces the notion that O'oka is not concerned with loyalty from any one person or group, only that his name shall remain untarnished and free of contention. There is an air of extra sensory perception about this episode as both Shinpachi and O'oka seemingly read the thoughts of others. Shin knows that Misato will return to O'oka's guard but also realizes the danger ahead and that the next time they meet, one of them may be dead. O'oka secretly orders Misato's death drawing the conclusion that she has become an ordinary woman and that she is in love with Shinpachi. Anabuki Samon gets the limelight here and the character of Gensai Kuroiwa is absent for some reason. Also, Gohei is missing. Possibly, actor Isamu Nagato was busy working on another show or movie at the time. Koroku has taken this episode off as well. Orin is seen fleetingly on a couple of occasions. This episode ends on a superior note, one that leaves you itching for closure which doesn't come until later on towards the end of series two. This is the first time I've seen anything from director Yoshiki Onoda but what an auspicious start! A perfect episode all around and one that doesn't disappoint in any department. The show closes with two great cliffhangers; a fiery final fight, and a shocking revelation that is guaranteed to make fans want to stick around till the last episode. Continued in Episode Eighteen: THE BLACK WOLF CRIES IN THE NIGHT FOG!!!
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I've been a huge movie buff since childhood catching old horror and monster flicks on Shock Theater and kung fu movies at the drive-in during the late 70's and early 80's. I've had a long time fascination with, and appreciate all genres of fantastic cinema, good and bad. One fans cheese is another fans juicy steak. I like both equally and seldom find a film I truly dislike as I will find something of interest in just about anything. The bulk of the films or tv series' seen here are mostly from my childhood, or films I own in what has become an Amazing Colossal DVD collection.