ONIHEI
Episode 8

by Rebecca Silverman,

How would you rate episode 8 of
Onihei ?

There was an odd delay this week when Amazon mistakenly had this episode up with the subtitles for episode seven. I assume I'm not the only one who had this issue?

Heizo may have a reputation for being an oni, but the more we learn about him, the more at odds that reputation seems with reality. This is the second episode where Heizo has shown not only respect for an elder, but also kindness to someone who committed a crime for reasons that, in his estimation, are reasonable. We've seen plenty of instances of compassion from the supposed demon (last week being one of the most heart-wrenching); now we can definitely add both “good sense of humor” and “nice to old guys” to the list of his virtues since we have proof that they weren't just one-off occurrences.

The old man in question this week is a retired thief-turned-boatman who decided to put the rumors of Onihei to the test by sneaking in and stealing something. Luckily for him, Heizo was feverish in bed at the time, so the old fellow got away with it, with no idea of the true secret behind his successful theft of a silver pipe. Not so luckily, the pipe is a memento of Heizo's father, and there's no way he's going to let it go, even if it wasn't stolen from his bedroom, which makes his agency look undeniably bad. Because of this issue, Heizo decides to keep the investigation on the down-low, and when he sees the old boatman smoking the stolen pipe, he enlists Kumehachi to look into the matter as quietly as possible.

This is where things get interesting, both in terms of plot and character. Kumehachi may be thankful for his new lease on life as Onihei's secret officer, but he's also still fond of the people he knew in his former existence as a thief, which was a pretty good life for a while. When he realizes that the boatman was once a thief he knew in his days with the old gang, he's clearly conflicted – he knows that his job is to bring the man in, because Heizo's reputation is at stake, but he also doesn't want to see the old guy hurt for a spur-of-the-moment decision. After all, he's been on the straight and narrow for a while now. Although he doesn't voice this conflict in so many words, Heizo is perceptive enough to see what's going on, and there's a sense that he also feels a sort of admiration for the gutsy old man. Rather than bringing him in, they basically allow him to hang himself with the rope they provided, playing on the facts that he doesn't know Kumehachi's new career or what Heizo actually looks like, having never bothered to peer at his face when he stole the pipe.

As set-ups go, it is a bit contrived. Since he was deliberately trying to pull a fast one on Heizo, or rather Onihei, it seems a little odd that he wouldn't try to see the face of the man he wanted to humiliate. On the other hand, it works well for once again showing that Heizo's “oni” reputation is perhaps cultivated rather than deserved. We don't know precisely what happens to the old man after Heizo reveals himself at the very end, but given his treatment of the previous elderly thief, it seems likely that he was simply let go, with a gold ryo to boot. (And possibly with the promise not to steal again.) We can take this in a couple of ways, given Heizo's earlier actions in the series: as a sign of his respect for the elderly or as admiration for ingenuity and intelligence. Both interpretations hold up in light of earlier episodes – Kumehachi and the others he has taken in certainly speak to the latter, while the previously mentioned thief and the obvious respect Heizo has for his father's memory can indicate the former. Whatever the reason (and they aren't mutually exclusive), it's become very clear that Heizo is really not the monster people think he is. The question then becomes how he acquired his reputation – are we simply not seeing the cases where he's tougher on criminals, or are those aspects of the cases we are seeing being deliberately underplayed so as to make his human side more apparent?

On a totally different note, I have at last gotten one of my wishes: this episode is the first in the series to not even mention rape, following up on last week's only mentioning it and not actually threatening it. We also get to see a cozier side of Heizo's relationship with his wife, which definitely indicates affection on both their parts. As the series goes on, Heizo is becoming more of a real character rather than the outline of one, and that's likely to be reinforced next week when he has an encounter with an old teacher.

Rating: B+

ONIHEI is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.


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