Uchouten Kazoku – 04

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Say what you will about Uchouten Kazoku, but it’s a show that’s perfectly comfortable in its own skin.

This is a strange series to say the least.  It’s not particularly sinister or disturbing, but it seems to have no interest in squeezing itself into any boxes we might be familiar with.  That fits with Morimi Tomihiko’s writing style, but this series is quite different from Tatami Galaxy.  That was a more overtly subversive show, likewise intentionally obtuse but a lot more in your face about it.  Uchouten Kazoku is subversive in its own way, but it’s a subtler thing – a sense of sadness that underlies it’s breezy and whimsical demeanor.

Though it’s clear that there is a larger narrative that’s playing out, it feels as if we’re seeing snapshots of a continuously playing film.  It’s not as if the events of one episode don’t lead into those of the next, but like some series have, this one has the sense that things don’t stop between episodes – they keep happening and we pop in for a visit and check where they stand a week later.  What Uchouten Kazoku doesn’t have a lot of is explanations.  It asks a lot of suspension of disbelief, but if you don’t buy into the magic of the premise I don’t think you’re going to find the series the enchanting transportive experience it sets out to be anyway.

If you have a good memory or a habit for noting things down, there are clues dropped about what’s going on in this fantastical Kyoto that are left for the audience every week.  The “False Nyogitake Incident” seems to be a central, transformational event – a massive con pulled off by Tanuki-papa Shimogamo Souichiro (finally given the voice of Ishihara Bon this week) at the expense of the Kurama Tengu, as payback (seemingly) for their brutal hazing of Akadama-sensei.  Akadama-sensei is a tough guy to love – he’s an irascible old coot, and seems determined to denigrate and belittle tanuki at every turn, and his gruff display of gratitude towards Souichirou after that event was about as warm as he seems to get.

Where things don’t quite fall together yet is in Souchirou’s death and the “Friday Fellows”.  I suppose they’re the Kurama Tengu or affiliated with them, but it seems as if the Ebisugawa Tanuki might have been involved in that, too.  They’re the emergent villains of the piece, starting with Ginkaju and Kinkaju’s bullying of Yashirou and going downhill from there.  They and family patriarch Souun (Tobita Nobuo) had the most to gain from Souichirou’s death, and indeed they did – seemingly usurping the Shimogamo’s place on the top rung of Kyoto tanuki society.  And since the tanuki seem to be at the bottom rung of the ladder to begin with, that floor clearance is even more important.

Indeed, the tanuki identity is a theme of Uchouten Kazoku that seems to be growing in importance every episode (it’s certainly telegraphed in the OP and ED).  Would the Ebisugawa betray one of their own in concert with tengu?  Judging by their attempts to blow the Shimogamo out of the sky with fireworks on the night of the Gozan Fire Festival it doesn’t seem much of a stretch.  The Shimogamo – especially Yasaburou and his mother – seem like “purist” tanuki.  Be fools, and be proud of it.  Don’t be boring.  Make a scene, and have a good time.  It gets tanuki looked down on the magical side of the tracks and there’s a sense that they’ve become experts at playing the role of the humble jesters of the youkai world, not offending the powerful and accepting their dismissive arrogance with a sad smile.

But I sense a fierce pride in this family that I suspect all “proper” tanuki (and thus probably not the Ebisugawa, cousins though they are) share, starting with Souchirou and passing on to his wife and son.  He was a “great” tanuki not just because he was kind and loved his family, but because he pulled off the greatest prank in modern tanuki history.  And with Yaichirou being over-concerned with propriety, Yajirou being the family screwup and little Yashirou seemingly just a baby when he died, it’s no surprise that he would have designated Yasaburou as his heir – he has the sense of whimsy about him that seems so essential to the tanuki nature.  It’s this eccentric family of the title that really drives the show the way booze drives the inner parlor.  Their fierce devotion to each other is about as strong a display of pure familial love as I’ve seen in anime for a long time.

That’s a pretty strong pillar to build a show around, and when you factor in the truly mesmerizing world-building ability of Uchouten Kazoku, it’s a compelling mix.  Last week’s clock-tower segment and this week’s Gozan flight of fancy had a real Ghibli quality to them – “magical” is really the best word, so I’ll use it yet again.  While the series soars on wings of imagination, it’s the strong family bonds and the authenticity of the character interaction that keeps it grounded – Akadama-sensei may not be loveable but he comes off as very real, and his conversations with the Shimogamo are incredibly natural.  The greatest mystery of course remains Benten, who was right there on-board the Ebisugawa flying yacht (though she floated to safety when the fireworks started).  For all that she’s referred to as a human I’m beginning to wonder of her name might not be an affectation, but that in fact she’s the Goddess Benten herself.  Akadama-sensei’s fruitless love for her has already led him into trouble (directly or indirectly, it causes the injuries that render him unable to fly) and I suspect Yasaburou’s own infatuation with her is going to lead him into big problems, too.  She’s trouble, this one – she has all the air of a capricious Kami who’s greatest enemy is boredom, and who isn’t bashful about ruining a few lives in order to keep it at bay.

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  1. A

    One of the things I really love about this show is the way in which it's slowly revealing its secrets to us, and each episode we find out a little more of the backstory. It's a much more subtle way of doing things than just info-dumping, and I appreciate that subtlety.

    It's a complete gem in the summer schedule.

    The next episode promises to reveal more about these Friday Fellows.

  2. i

    I don;t care about the plot too much. I like the stories the characters tell each week and I like them. I find my fun just watching a bunch of strange people with stranger powers exist in the strangest of worlds, Kyoto. Suffice to say I find enjoyable in a way not too far off from like Alice in Wonderland or Peter Pan minus the adolescent stories. UK has a far more reflecting story.

    I also love that PA have made a show I really like for the first time since Another and done it by doing what I've been asking a long time for, changing their animation style. For me an anime studio is completed when they make a show that uses a different style of animation to their previous works so now PA is the finished good for me. Hope they take a risk of making shows that go against the flow again.

  3. S

    Hey Enzo, when is the Summer Check-In coming out? I most certainly would rate this show as number one. I mean, there are maybe two or three top animes this season but this one just catches my heart with ease. I don't mean that Uchouten Kazoku is especially great in any particular way, but it's remarkable how easy it is to love.

    Disclaimer: I haven't had much time to watch any shows these two last months, so I might have missed something.

  4. Just finished the first draft, hoping to post it tomorrow – thanks for asking. This show is on the first tier, to spoil you now.

  5. i

    Haha, if I were the administrator I'd delete that comment for spoiling

  6. N

    That show is perfect since episode 2. It's my favorite of this season too. Does anyone know who composed the OST?

  7. Milktub, who also composed one of my favorite EDs, from Baka-Test S1.

  8. p

    I think he means the OST and not the OP/EDs.

    And yay I can post on this blog again …

  9. Ah – my bad. The BGM is composed by Fujisawa Yoshiaki, whose only anime work I know is the 4th ED ("Rehearsal") from Cross Game.

  10. R

    Uchouten Kazoku wasn't my top 3 shows before it premiered but has easily become my favourite of the season. I just love the characters and everything about them — their interactions, their bonds, their day-to-day lives, their love for one another. It's very interesting that the story is supposed to be about an eccentric family — they are not even human — but everything about them feels so natural and relatable, and I love how the theme of family love subtly portrayed through their actions. I think one of the readers here once commented that this could easily be seen as a Noitamina show, and I don't disagree.

    Normally, a character like Akadama-sensei has too big of an ego for me to take, but mixing him with the fun-making Shimogamo family makes it so interesting to watch. This week's story weaves some of the missing pieces from previous episodes, and the conversation between Yasaburou and him before the inner parlor set off is just amusing. I think the most interesting is how the show continues to focus on these characters, sharing their lives with us. I actually don't care much about the plot. At the end of the day, this show is about the lives of these characters whom I have come to care about, and their lives will go on even when the show ends.

  11. I can hardly think of a show that's more classically a "NoitaminA show" than Uchouten. It doesn't really matter in the end, I suppose, as long as it gets on the air.

  12. Z

    What constitutes a classic NoitaminA show? And if show like that can get aired, in spite of NoitaminA, is NoitaminA really necessary?

  13. R

    I don't see that the meaning of NoitaminA is limited to a time slot but more so an "adjective" for shows aiming at audience beyond the young male demographic and of high quality. Of course, there were shows aired outside of the NoitaminA slot in the past offering high quality and targeting at adults. However, I think having an official NoitaminA block shows the commitment of producing quality shows that are not solely for the young male audience or driven by the commercial reasons. That's just my two cents.

  14. p

    Tbh, I don't think noitmania means jack squat in terms of demography anymore, but it does contain a notion of "quality" associated with it. The reason why I say this is that traditionally noitamina wanted to cross appeal to Japanese TV drama watchers, which is the young adult and adult female audiences. It's why stuff like Honey and Clover, Nodame Cantabile, Hataraki Man and Paradise Kiss aired on it because they all aimed at female audiences. Down the line, this was not maintainable so they switched to … I donno what they switched to but it sure as hell don't cross appeal to that TV drama demography anymore. In all honesty, Usagi Drop was the only true traditional recent noitamina series that would appeal to that demography. Anohana would have also, if Menma didn't exist as that type of character is a big no no for that audience and was more for "otaku" attachment.

  15. p

    *aired on it during its debut and early days.

  16. R

    I like that we have different views on NoitaminA, and I guess we will see more of its evolution when it returns next season. Nonetheless, Uchouten Kazoku does give me the appeal of a NoitaminA show. That's just my subjective feeling, and I am appreciative of having a show like this to enjoy this summer. It may be too early to ask, but I am wondering how Uchouten Kazoku is doing in terms of rating.

  17. c

    Terrible. Lowest PA Works rated series during airing (RDG was around the mid 7.5s before dropping to sub 7 after ending). Sales wise I'm expecting a total bomb much in the line of Shin Sekai Yori, bombing noitamina shows and the like.

    But it's totally to be expected. This is a bit of a "hipster" show for the "arthouse", and you totally can't expect it to do well in an anime climate that's full of people wanting harem yuri everyleads and cute girls. But you know, fuck em. Much like I say "who the fuck cares" when stuff like Shin Sekai Yori suffers the same.

    PA isn't a sellout studio like Kyoani anyways who only do one type of genre, so I'm not even worried. Even if half their works do kinda suck, at least they try. And studios like A-1, IG, Madhouse and the like always bring in one "ballsy" and "different" series once in a while too.

  18. Z

    Don't get me wrong, while I think the idea of a block reserved for alternative series is nice I have a few reservations about it. For instance why is there a nonsensical 11 episode cap per cour? It's obvious that this isn't really working as some series have needed to tie up loose ends via film or OVA releases. Just give it a normal 12-13 episode cap.

  19. Judging by the stalker points UK isn't going to do nearly as badly as SSY. It won't do well, but I don't think the production committee expected it to do that well, to be honest.

  20. p

    Yea, that's my point too (who cares). Plus PA Works is gonna roll in thier dough with Nagi no Asu Kara next season. If you see the PV for that you'll know what I mean. Otaku pandering romance/drama show if I ever saw one:


  21. R

    @Enzo and @pocarisweat88 (or cc934[omitted]996…teehee…just teasing you): thanks, and am glad that there are studios who will bring us good shows like this regardless of sales.

    @Zeta Zero: Like you, I don't understand the 11-episode restriction either — maybe for some commercial reasons, but I don't really care if a show is wrapped up well — which does pose a challenge to some creators.

  22. p

    Did you just pull a servant x service joke? ^_^'

  23. H

    I've gotta think that a lot of these series that don't perform well are expected to not really make money on sales. There's marketing worth in a series that has good mindshare even if it doesn't directly make you money. I do think they probably expect better than Dansai Bunri, but from a reasonable sales level, I'd expect they figure there are stories worth animating, and they're willing to take a bit of a direct loss on them, especially if it's a show that keeps getting talked about for years afterwards.

  24. R

    @pocarisweat88: teehee…hope that you don't mind :).

    @Highway: Agreed. I like it when studios re-invest in the industry — the returns may not be monetary and immediate, but the influence is definitely way more profound and long-term.

  25. I would like to think studios are that forward-thinking, but I have to wonder. In some cases series are produced based on perceived boost to source material sales, sometimes ad revenue from TV ratings for the non-late night ones. But I have to think it's pretty rare for a studio to make a series with an expectation of no tangible benefit, only the prestige of the brand. Publishers used to do it a lot in the US – mix in a "prestige title" among all the beach reading and celebrity bios. But not much anymore.

    SSY might have been along those lines – A-1 is the sort of studio that can afford to make a move like that, being as huge, loosely organized and chock-a-block with BD/DVD hits as they are. But that's a case too where I'm sure they hoped it would sell at least respectably.

  26. H

    Before this episode I wasn't 100% sure Yasaburou did in fact have a crush on Benten, I found his actions a tad ambiguous, but this episode cleared away any doubts in my mind on that front, although I'm more confused than ever what Benten's "goals" seem to be in this story, cause as much havoc as she wants for the sake of entertainment?

  27. d

    Anything that traffics in time usually has that undercurrent of sadness you mention. Uchouten Kazoku at this point seems to be about everything that happened before and in that way is very autumnal, despite the perspective which revolves around the MC who is young — youth's true season being summer.

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