by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 11 of
At long last, Heizo's wife Hisae is finally getting her own story, which delves into her past to show the depth of her feelings for her family and her strength when faced with a difficult situation. With Heizo out of town on business and Tatsuzo off being his bratty teenage self, Hisae is home alone with Ojun (and, you know, the employees) when a strange old woman drops off a letter. The name of the sender, Kondo, sends chills down Hisae's spine – twenty-four years ago, he was the man she thought she'd marry. However, after sleeping with her, he began ignoring her, spending his time with prostitutes before eventually breaking with his house in a murderous rampage. Hisae was left not only brokenhearted, but utterly ruined: as a woman with sexual experience, she was no longer “pure” enough for marriage. Fortunately for her, her neighbors on the other side were the Hasegawas, and Heizo, unfazed by her lack of virginity, offered to be her husband.
Distasteful as the concept of worth and supposed purity being tied to female virginity is, it's also an appropriate conflict for the time period in which Onihei is set. The more interesting part of the episode is that Heizo simply didn't care that someone “had” Hisae before him; it didn't make her any less worthy in his eyes. As it turns out, this is the crux of the episode – Kondo plans to use the fact that he had sex with Hisae (twenty-four years ago) as a bargaining chip with Heizo. Ludicrous as that sounds to us now, it did run the risk of ruining their marriage at the time, especially if Kondo could finagle the situation to cast doubt on Tatsuzo's parentage. (I doubt we have to worry about that, since he and his dad have identical hairlines, which is as good as DNA proof for anime.) What he doesn't expect is that Heizo and Hisae have a good relationship based on mutual affection. Heizo not only knew beforehand, but he couldn't care less – after all, as he says, who cares who had her first? He has her now and forever after. Interestingly enough, Hisae wasn't aware that Heizo knew about her youthful indiscretion; I would guess that he kept the information from her because he didn't want her to feel ashamed around him.
The actual execution of the episode is sadly rushed, going from meeting to kidnapping to resolution with a swiftness that doesn't feel as if it gives any of the characters their due. Kondo just feels like Moustache-Twirling Villain Number 4 (Cad Model), although we do see Hisae showing impressive inner strength and Tatsuzo learning that his dad's job isn't as easy as it appears, not to mention Omasa beating up an old lady and rescuing the kidnapped Ojun. But those brief moments aside, not to mention the amazing irony of Arson and Theft Control committing arson, the main action of the episode isn't given much time to flow naturally. It ends up feeling like Ojun's peril and Kondo's appearance were simply for the purpose of making us understand how amazingly kind and progressive Heizo is, before tying his relationship with Hisae up in a pretty bow.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. The ending of the episode is very sweet, with Hisae and Heizo affirming how lucky they are to have each other. Hisae is lucky that her fate ended up being tied to Heizo rather than Kondo; the fact that he cares for her as well and neither of them see Ojun as less of their child than Tatsuzo (Heizo shuts down a subordinate who says she's almost a “real” daughter) is a big deal. If we take nothing else from this series, it's clear that Hasegawa Heizo is a good man who loves his family; the fact that he happens to interact with more thieves than you can shake a stick at is secondary to his integrity as a person – even if it makes Hisae's episode end up being more about Heizo in the end.
ONIHEI is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
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