by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 7 of
It's said that no good deed goes unpunished, and that certainly seems true for Heizo this week. We've known since episode one that his daughter Ojun was biologically the child of a thief, but it's been apparent that he and his wife are very fond of her. There's a slight stutter in that affection this week when Ojun behaves badly during dinner, hitting her mother in the face with her favorite ball before ruining Heizo's sweetfish meal, but the exasperation is more because she knows better than to behave so poorly. This stands in harsh contrast to the flashback intercut throughout the episode about another child that a younger Heizo, when he went by his childhood nickname of Onitetsu, tried to save.
Twenty years ago, a twelve-year-old boy named Otomatsu was being severely abused by his stepfather, and Heizo intervened in an attempt to help him. When the boy never showed up at the Hasegawa house, he assumed that the beatings had stopped after his warning, but now he's about to find out differently – Otomatsu's stepfather did not stop abusing his stepson, and when the boy tried to go to Heizo for help, he was turned away by the family retainers at the door. This lead to a tragic sequence of events that ended in Otomatsu killing his abuser and being thrown out by his mother, now culminating in his arrest for a life of crime in the show's present.
To say that Otomatsu is resentful of Heizo's role in his downfall, which he has blown up a great deal (let's face it, his stepfather was never going to stop after just a warning and was already escalating his violence), would be an understatement. In Otomatsu's mind, Heizo is the root of all of his problems, so when he learns that Ojun is adopted, he tries to drive a wedge between Heizo and his daughter by telling her that she's not biologically his, and that Heizo doesn't really love her. His goal is clearly to hurt Heizo by proving to him that he will fail to save Ojun, just as he failed to save him.
Simplistic as this is, it's also Onihei's most psychologically interesting episode. Much like last week, when we saw Heizo allow the old thief to continue on his way out of respect for the man, this week delves into Heizo's more emotional aspects, looking at his family structure and his own soft spots in a way that has only been hinted at before. It's clear that his family values their time with him – his wife obviously went out of her way to get his favorite fish for dinner – and it's also clear that Heizo adores Ojun. (We still don't know much about his relationship with his son, who has barely appeared in the series.) When Ojun runs away after Otomatsu's revelation, both Heizo and his wife are hysterical, and Otomatsu's wish to be executed and thus end his miserable existence rather than allowing Heizo to care for him strikes the man to his core. In a way, Otomatsu's decision to die was far crueler than his words to Ojun – they are a firm reminder that he is the one Heizo was unable to save, and that nothing will ever make that right.
This may be the episode that owes the least to the pulp fiction of the 1960s and 70s, with its focus on Heizo's emotional core rather than on intrigue or action, but its attention to character rather than any genre deviance is what makes this the best episode so far. This episode develops Heizo, his wife, and Otomatsu to a degree that we've barely seen in the series (the exception being the similar case of the woman from Heizo's past), adding a depth that I felt was lacking in previous episodes. We've certainly had hints that Heizo is a caring person right from episode one, but this confirmation makes it feel like the story has firmer ground to stand on, and getting to know the role of Heizo's family in his life rounds things out. As an added bonus, this is the first episode where no one threatens to rape (or actually rapes) anyone, although there is mention that Otomatsu's gang has done so in the past. (Next goal: an episode where rape isn't even mentioned.)
With its more balanced blend of character development and cop drama, this episode of Onihei feels like it's fulfilling the promise that its first episode showed. Given that a major plot point next week is going to be about an heirloom from Heizo's father, it seems that we'll continue to explore the role family plays in his life. That feels like a good sign – there's still going to be exciting battles and sinister plots, but maybe with characters who run a bit more than skin deep.
ONIHEI is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
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