ONIHEI
Episode 9

by Rebecca Silverman,

How would you rate episode 9 of
Onihei ?

There's an interesting linguistic detail in this week's episode of Onihei that fascinated me more than it ought to have. Set twenty years in Heizo's past, when he was known by his childhood name of Tetsusaburo, we learn that part of the reason Heizo was such a scamp in his youth was because of his family situation: he may be the son of his father, but he's not the child of his father's wife. Because this wife has not borne Hasegawa the Elder a child (or at least a son), yet she steadfastly refuses to adopt Heizo, this leaves the family without an heir. All of this goes a long way toward explaining Heizo's present-day behavior, but the linguistic detail I was referring to comes in the way that his father speaks to his wife: he calls her “Hatsu,” not “Ohatsu.” From what I understand, “o” is a “beautifying” addition to words, and in the case of pre-war female names, could replace the “ko” at the end to function in the same way that the contemporary “chan” suffix does.

Therefore, Ojun's name may actually be Junko; her parents just call her Ojun instead of the modern Jun-chan. Regardless, the fact that Hatsu is referred to as Hatsu seems to indicate her cold attitude toward her husband and his son, as well as a rift in the family dynamic. Now I will grant you that we've heard Heizo call his wife simply Hisae, but this is where tone comes in; not only do Heizo and Hisae rarely call each other by name, going more in the “dear” vein, but Hatsu is always mentioned by name, almost never addressed as anything but her name, and she clearly inspires fear and perhaps some hatred in her husband and Heizo. Therefore, the fact that she's called strictly by her first name seems to indicate her strained relationship within the family.

That was a lengthy aside, but the meat of this episode is really about how Heizo functioned within his childhood family unit and how it almost turned him down the wrong path. As a teen, Heizo's dad sent him to study at a dojo (where he met Samanosuke), perhaps hoping that he could work out his emotional issues and maybe even learn to control his anger. Instead, Heizo began to see the sword as a way of letting off steam, which made him more likely to strike out in violence or passion – not what a teacher wants to see. Combine this with his father's relatively lenient allowance policy, and Heizo was on the path to becoming a nogoodnik – one with really strong teeth, as we see when he bites a die in half to see if it's weighted. (It is.) He doesn't get himself together until a passing stranger shows up at the dojo and takes him on – also an illegitimate son, he sees Heizo heading down the same rocky road to ruin, so he punches some sense into him. However, what truly changes Heizo's fate is not that his new mentor wallops him, but that he does so with tears in his eyes. It's the first time anyone has obviously cared for the young man, and that is what makes Tetsusaburo decide to become Heizo, leading him to try and do the same for Ojun.

This isn't lost on Hisae, who's rubbing her sleeping adopted daughter's head while Heizo tells his story. Although she has never explicitly expressed any irritation at raising the girl, there has been a tension to their relationship, and as she looks at Ojun at the end of the episode, she seems to suddenly understand why she's raising her. This may also explain their somewhat lax attitude toward discipline with both children (their son makes a brief appearance this week on his way out gambling) – Heizo wants them to feel loved, not rejected. Besides, he straightened out, so there's no reason his son won't too, right?

With such strong plot content, it's a shame that the art isn't quite up to snuff for this episode. There are a lot of off-model faces and some suspicious fight choreography that isn't nearly as good as usual, and the pseudo-seventies music feels out of place in a few scenes. Bodies are out of proportion a lot of the time – particularly inexcusable when there are so many shirtless scenes – and some of the facial expressions seem more exaggerated than normal. Hopefully this all straightens out for next week, when it looks like Heizo will have another encounter with a memorable thief.

Rating: B

ONIHEI is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.


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