“Oni: Thunder God’s Tale” follows Onari (Momona Tamada), who lives with her father, Naridon (Craig Robinson). Their home is in a village on Mount Kamigami, which is filled with oddball gods and monsters (collectively known as Kami). Onari and her best friend Kappa (Archie Yates) go to the local school to learn about harnessing one’s Kushi (a special superpower that’s unique to the individual). While the rest of their classmates—Amaten (Brittany Ishibashi), Ann-Brella (Anna Akana), Tanukinta (Charlet Takahashi Chung), Nama & Hage (Robert Kondo), Emi (Miyuki Sawashiro), and Darma—are somewhat aware of their superpowers, Onari fails to figure out what makes her tick. And between her teacher, Mr. Tengu’s (George Takei) dominating nature, and her father’s goofball attitude, she feels lost. But since the advent of the Demon Moon looms over the village, Onari must resort to some desperate measures to activate her Kushi.
Major Spoilers Ahead
What Is Supposed To Happen On The Night Of The Demon Moon?
As explained throughout “Oni: Thunder God’s Tale,” on one side, there’s the Kami, and on the other, there’s the Oni. According to Tengu and Naridon’s brother Putaro (Omar Miller), the Oni are a group of gigantic, dark, smoke-like monsters that ravage village after village. They are the ones who killed Naridon and Tengu’s parents as they tried to scare off the Oni and failed. And due to the death of the Kami spirits, the Oni has only grown in power. Since Mt. Kamigami is the last refuge of the Kami folk, if that’s destroyed, then their kind will technically go extinct. The Modori Bridge is the only thing that separates the Oni from the Kami. But it’s assumed that on the night of the Demon Moon, which is when the Moon will become completely red, the Oni’s powers are going to reach their peak. That will allow them to cross over the bridge and completely take over Mt. Kamigami, whilst killing all the Kami.
After having a rough day – because she isn’t able to conjure her Kushi and she overhears a barrage of provocative questions pointed at Naridon about Onari’s doll, the other side of the Modori Bridge, and Naridon releasing the Morinoko (spiritual forces that float in and around Mt. Kamigami) in the Oni’s area – Onari decides to see what’s actually there beyond the forbidden section of the forest. And she finds out that the Oni that the Kami keep talking about aren’t real, smoky monsters but humans who are causing deforestation. Onari and Kappa even befriend a human boy, Calvin (Seth Carr), and they learn that a real estate company is encroaching upon the mountain in order to build a mall. So, on the night of the Demon Moon, humans aren’t going to gain any supernatural powers. They are going to finish chopping off what remains of the forest on that day, thereby killing everything that’s organic and spiritual about the place. But that doesn’t mean that the word “Oni” is a reference to just humans.
What Happens When The Kami Figure Out Who Onari Really Is?
Just like everyone else, Putaro assumes that since Onari is Naridon’s daughter and Naridon is one of the Storm Gods (Naridon is the God of Thunder and Putaro is the God of Wind), Onari’s Kushi is that of a Storm God (or at least a Storm DemiGod). But when Putaro notices some loopholes in Naridon’s story, he starts to suspect his relationship with Onari. Meanwhile, Onari spends time in the “Oni village” (the city) and dreams of her mother (who appears to be human). She doesn’t connect the dots because she’s too busy figuring out alternative ways of stopping the Oni (which is a reference to the humans causing the deforestation instead of all the humans, as per Onari). Calvin says that, according to Japanese tradition, they are supposed to throw beans – referred to as the “Setsubun mame” – at the Oni to drive them away. When Onari tries it out on an oncoming Oni (which is actually a minivan carrying logs of wood), it stops in its tracks. So, she thinks it’s a viable option.
The Japanese tradition that Calvin mentions is rooted in reality (just like the entirety of “Oni: Thunder God’s Tale”) because “Setsubun” means the beginning of spring in the old calendar in Japan, and “mamemaki” means “bean scattering.” And the ritual involves throwing roasted soybeans out of the front door or at someone wearing an Oni mask (which are the maskless humans from Kami’s perspective) in order to purify one’s home and drive away any evil spirits. That’s followed by eating the roasted soybeans, one for each year of one’s life and an extra one for some good luck. But as far as I can tell, in “Oni: Thunder God’s Tale,” those beans also symbolize afforestation because planting more trees will counter all the deforestation. Onari tries to explain all this to the villagers. However, when an angry Putaro knocks out Onari’s horns—thereby forcing Naridon to explain that she’s the child he saved from a car crash caused by a storm conjured by Naridon and Putaro—she becomes enemy number one. Putaro blames her for depowering Naridon, labels her as a “murderous Oni,” and forces her to leave the village once and for all.
‘Oni: Thunder God’s Tale’ Ending Explained: Why Does Naridon Become A Threat For The Kami?
While referring to the humans and Onari as the Oni, Putaro fails to notice that every time he gets angry, a dark smoke begins to envelop his shadow and his limbs. With Onari gone, Naridon retires to a cave with Onari’s doll, refusing to join Putaro as a fellow Storm God and help the Kami. This angers Putaro even more, and the dark shadow becomes even more prominent. On the night of the Demon Moon, Putaro rouses the Kami to attack the Oni and finish them before they can ever cross the Modori Bridge. That’s when the dark shadow starts to emanate from not just Putaro, but from all the villagers siding with him as well. But it’s actually when Naridon appears as a massive smoke-like monster, channeling his thunder powers to stop Putaro and the Kami from attacking the humans (which includes Onari) while also destroying the entire village, that the definition of the Oni becomes incredibly clear: anyone who is driven by fear is an Oni.
As explained by the Principal (Tantoo Cardinal), the Demon Moon reveals the shadow of fear that exists within all Kami spirits. Naridon ignored his origins, his responsibility towards the entire village, and the threat of the humans because he cared about Onari and Onari only. She is a living reminder of the kind of damage gods like Putaro and himself can cause. And although he appears all goofy and happy-go-lucky, every time he looks at Onari, he probably becomes aware of the fact that he’s the one who robbed her of a normal childhood. That’s why he doubles down on creating this stress-free environment for her. So, when the threat of the humans, Putaro’s insistence on proving who Onari is, and Onari’s expulsion from the village hit Naridon all at once, he feared that he was going to lose her forever. It’s that fear that turned him into a monster. Now, as a monster, he’s instilling fear in the villagers and turning them into Onis as well.
In order to bring Naridon back to normalcy, Onari performs their father-daughter dance. The rest of the village joins in, and that brings an end to Naridon’s outrage. Later on, via a letter sent to Calvin, it’s revealed that Naridon and the rest of the village are working on building themselves back. That’s helped in part by the Morinoko, which is helping the forest heal (something that Naridon was already doing before things went sideways). Putaro is off on a new mission – which is about using his paper theater show to tell all Kami the truth about the Oni – and he has mended his ties with Naridon. Calvin’s mother lets us know that the new town development has stopped their encroachment on Mount Kamigami because they’ve seen the “Oni” up there. It turns out that “Oni” was actually Naridon releasing Morinoko into the forest. And the limited series concludes with Onari accepting that although she is never going to become a Thunder God like Naridon, she can become synonymous with the Sun, i.e., someone who is kind, warm, and caring to all the spirits.
“Oni: Thunder God’s Tale” is definitely about how humans are absolute monsters and are ruining the Earth by never being satisfied with who they are. They talk about folklore and tradition but always prioritize capitalism over everything else. And although every single sign is pointing to the fact that the planet is going to implode, we aren’t stopping. So, the display that Naridon puts on can be seen as a metaphor for nature pushing back against everything that humans are doing via thunderstorms, floods, and earthquakes. But it also sends the message that even if most humans behave monstrously, the rest who are more caring, loving, and kind don’t have to emulate it. They don’t have to give in to their insecurities and fears and turn into emblems of corruption. Instead, they’ve got to come together as a unit and promote healing, growth, and courage.
“Oni: Thunder God’s Tale” is a 2022 Animated series streaming on Netflix.