Uchouten Kazoku – 02

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In a season where second episodes haven’t always lived up to the promise of premieres – so far – it’s nice to see the opposite effect with Uchouten Kazoku.

Of my top tier of shows going into the season, Uchouten Kazoku and Gatchaman Crowds were the ones whose premieres were good, but failed to enthrall me as I’d hoped.  We’ll see what happens with the hero suits, but The Eccentric Family at least leapt forward with a much more captivating second episode.  Given the pedigree you knew a few things – this was going to be a very odd show, and a very interesting one to look at.  The premiere dumped us into the middle of the story and felt somewhat disconnected, but the second began to put the pieces together in a way that made it more engaging.

Novelist Morimi Tomihiko seems to be a guy who likes to hold his cards close to the vest, and not let the audience understand what it’s looking at until long after the fact.  The implications in Tatami Galaxy were obvious, and even the modest exposition we got in this episode cast the events of the first in a much different light.  The Kyoto of Uchouten Kazoku is a complicated place, and the connections between the races who share it more complicated that it initially seemed.  The premiere focused heavily on Professor Akadama, but it was clear that it was the mysterious Benten who was at the heart of much of the plot – and having seen what we saw this week, I can only wonder why Yasaburou is as favorably disposed towards her as he is.

We finally hear of the Shimogamo father, and it turns out he’s dead – boiled in a hot pot, which seems to be the scary story mother tanuki tell their sons to make them behave.  Except in this case it’s true, and Papa Shimogamo was apparently feasted upon by the Kin-Youbi Club.  It was obvious they were trouble, but the implication here is that it was Benten that served him up to them.  I can hardly believe it’s that simple, otherwise Yasaburou’s behavior is hard to explain.  It’s also suggested that a rival tanuki clan, the Ebisugawa, might have some connection to Papa’s demise – there’s certainly enough enmity there to suggest a deep-seated cause behind it.

The complexities of tanuki existence are apparently quite formidable.  In addition to struggling to avoid the nabe, there seems to be a strong rivalry between families.  Papa Shimogamo was an important tanuki but his children are struggling to carry on the name.  The youngest is a kid and a timid one at that; Yasaburou (apparently his father’s favorite) an “idiot” by the estimation of all concerned.  His widow (Inoue Kikuko) cosplays as “The Black Prince” to hustle young men at pool.  And the second son, Yajirou (Yoshino Hiroyuki – the seiyuu, not the hack writer) has apparently transformed into a frog and is unable to transform back.  This leaves quite a burden on eldest Yachirou, to act both as guardian of the family legacy and to bail his otouto out when they get into trouble (seemingly often).

Little Yashirou works at an “electric brandy” factory owned by the rival Ebisugawa clan, where brothers Kinaku (Nishiji Shuuya) and Ginkaju (Hatakeyama Kosuke) bully and torment him.  And it falls to Yachirou to save the day when the Ebisugawa boys – in the form of giant Maneki-neko – menace him for daring to leave the factory early to go after his mother.  There’s a story there too – she’s apparently unable to deal with thunder – but before Yashirou and Yasaburou can go to her Yachirou has to transform into a giant tiger to save the day with timely crotch and butt-biting.  Ironically it’s another Ebisugawa who has stepped up to save Mama Shimogamo – Kaisei (Sakura Ayane), presumably the sister.  Clearly she’s different from the rest of the family, and the Shimogama view her as such.  It’s yet another part of this complex web that we’ve only seen hints of so far, with the promise of much more to come.

This was undeniably a pretty busy episode, but in a good way – it felt enjoyably frenetic rather than exhausting.  Clearly Morimi-sensei has built a complex and fascinating world here and this ep very deftly teaches us just enough to make us want to know more.  I love Kyoto – who doesn’t – and seeing it as Uchouten Kazoku presents it is undeniably one of the great joys of the series.  What we have here is an interesting hybrid of P.A. Works usual classical beauty and Morimi’s dreamlike fantasy worldview, and the result is pretty enchanting.  What a pleasure to see the Shimogamo gather at the sublime Kiyomizudera in dawn’s first light to comfort each other – it’s the sort of scene that can only happen in a series with a boundless imagination like this one, and the dexterity to bring it to life.  Uchouten Kazoku is still an incomplete picture, but I’m very much looking forward to seeing the empty spaces filled in.

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  1. R

    I think I have fallen in love with Uchouten Kazoku. I haven't watched Tatami Galaxy yet — it's on my list to watch — and probably because of that I can come fresh to this delight. However, what I love about this show, amongst the many things, is the subtle feelings that the characters have for one another. I like how natural the dialogue is — like real people talking — but beneath it bears deep feelings, and these feelings drive how the characters act.

    I agree that the story was told well in this episode, and I like how the remaining Shimogamo members share a deep love for their family while living their (long) lives differently. I especially like the piece of music played at the end of the episode when the Shimogamo comfort each other — it's like it is quietly but beautifully conveying Yasaburou's feelings for his parents. It's actually the same piece played in the premier when Yasaburou carried Professor Akadama on his back, had that wonderful conversation together in the cab, and sent the Professor home.

    With this episode, I am quite confident that the different pieces of the story will come together. This show probably may not be as popular as Gin no Saji, but I think I will love both of them equally.

  2. M

    Kyoto looks splendid. I like that you get a sense of history behind the setting and characters, which is why dropping us in the middle of it last week worked out. Tomihiko is dripping with creativity.

  3. a

    Love, love the second episode too! Though for me it was love at first sight on the first episode.

    What I liked about it was the subtle sadness that permeates the show; I think Takahiro as Yasuburou really delivers on that point.

    Funny, this doesn't really feel like a PA Work show; I hope they make more shows like this (and stop using the same generic looking character designs over and over again!).

  4. Definitely not a typical PA Works show visually, and that's fine even though I'm a big fan of their normal style. It's also quite different thematically from their normal fare. Of course, the whole show is just "different" generally in terms of today's anime, which makes it quite a refreshing change of pace.

  5. i

    I like that PA dropped their standard art, which is the same from True Tears to RDG. IMO when an animation company begins producing different styles they become a proper anicompany. Strongly thematic episode on a weird family, really liked the frog and the weird battle between Tanuki.

    Its still quite hard to understand what the whole point of Uchouten Kazoku is but at least its was easy to understand what is going on in the short term. The whole setting still matters for naught to me but I'm finding myself liking the characters, especially the frog, a bit more.

  6. f

    I found a photo on flickr that was exactly the same as the screenshot of the river in Kyoto – that's how amazing the animation is. (They even included the red chairs in the room on the furthest left.)

    Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/beboflickr/4880752088/

  7. That's Pontocho, on the Kamo River, and it seems to be the director's favorite place in Kyoto based on how often he's highlighted it already. It's quite atmospheric – on one side a narrow alleyway full of restaurants and bars, and on the other the decks hanging out over the river. It's also the #2 ranked Geisha quarter in Kyoto, after Gion.

  8. Z

    Well as good as that is, what you refer to is not technically animation per se. Just good drawing+painting.

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