Ojun must be Japanese for “terrifying”, but somehow I never learned it my Japanese classes…
After a two-week detour into considerably more lighthearted territory, Onihei returns solidly to its darker and more dramatic roots here. And in the process delivers what I think was probably its most effective episode, along with the third (the tale of the assassin Hanshirou). Once more the focus of the tale is Heizou’s path intersecting with an unfortunate on the wrong side of the law – and it seems more clear than ever that these are the souls he has a real empathy for. Not that it prevents him from pouring boiling oil on them and having them executed, of course – a job’s a job.
The foil of the week is Otomatsu, a horribly-scarred criminal with whom Heizou has some experience. He’s played by two very distinguished seiyuu indeed – Takeuchi Junko as a boy and Ishikawa Kaitou as an adult. And it’s the period in flashback which is the pivotal sequence of the story, because it sets everything else in motion. We meet Otomatsu as a formidable, savvy and eloquent young lad who can take care of himself – until he returns home, where he’s at the mercy of his horribly abusive stepfather (who gave him a body and face covered with burn scars). It’s an age-old story – the mother shows inexplicable loyalty to a louse of a husband, while allowing her son to be brutalized.
Heizou’s involvement in the young Otomatsu’s life is very brief, but critical. Being the man he is of course he intervenes once he’s determined the truth – but that intervention makes things worse. And anyone who knows anything about these sorts of situations would have predicted exactly what happened – one can only hope Heizou has learned enough that he would never handle the situation that way now, but the damage to Otomatsu has been done. And as the abuse gets worse and worse and finally his stepfather trains it on the boy’s mother, Otomatsu does something no one could ever blame him for. And predictably his scumbag of a mother blames him, and kicks him out of the house at the age of 12.
As an adult, Otomatsu is now Ishikawa
Kaitou Gohei, a member of a murderous gang and a recent capture by the Arson Theft Squad. He hasn’t sought out Heizou but rather fallen into his clutches by chance, but of course the latter recognizes him immediately. All this comes in the midst of domestic trouble with the demon Zashiki-warashi hell child Ojun, which Otomatsu decides to turn to his advantage in seeking revenge against the man who he sees as having sealed his fate. Gohei tells Ojun the truth about her parentage (which a careless officer has let slip) but in truth, I’m not sure she didn’t suspect it anyway.
Is Heizou right to feel guilty about what happened to Otomatsu? In my view yes, absolutely – he mishandled the situation terribly and left a helpless child to suffer. And indeed, it seems Heizou does feel considerable guilt, because he offers Gohei (after he’s spilled the beans about his gang) the chance to work for him rather than be executed. But Otomatsu refuses, figuring he’s suffered enough for one life. I think he’s considerably more generous that he should be just the same, because he more or less absolves Heizou before he dies. Heizou may have a conscience, but most of the time it doesn’t seem to actually lead to helping the poor saps he feels badly for…