Uchouten Kazoku is the sort of series that leaves a great deal unspoken. It’s fitting in that this is very much a show where two worlds exist side-by-side, wholly interdependent yet seemingly also independent of each other (or even unaware of the other’s existence). It’s that sense of naturalistic surrealism I mentioned a few weeks ago – that which is so fantastical and fanciful is treated with such matter-of-fact nonchalance that it becomes easy to accept it as perfectly normal.
The truth is, last week’s episode was so transcendentally brilliant and emotionally devastating that I actually held off on watching this one for a bit, because I knew there was no way it could operate on the same plane of existence. And wisely, it doesn’t try – this, like episode seven, focuses on the tapestry of half-revealed mysteries that make up the plot. As well, it takes time to finally introduce us formally to a character whose shadow has been long, but whose face entirely absent – Kaisei. I’m still not sure if there was a reason why we were kept from seeing her for better than two-thirds of the series – when we did finally see her face it was done without too much fanfare, and she seems quite normal. But Morimi-sensei isn’t the sort of writer who’s fond of coincidence, so the thinking here is that we just haven’t been told the reason yet. And there’s an awful lot we haven’t been told, in general.
Kaisei exists at a very critical and precarious position in the story, as the rickety bridge connecting the Shimogamo and Ebisugawa families. Like so much else in this mythology the history of their rivalry has been shared with us a tiny bit at a time, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that it’s a the center of much that’s happened so far. It seems Kaisei’s father Souun married into the Shimogamo family, a deliberate attempt to try and bring them together after what seems to have been a very long feud – indeed, this is the same reason Souichirou arranged for Kaisei to marry Yasaburou. Souun ended that as soon as Souichirou died, but it’s clear that a great mutual affection existed between Kaisei and the Shimogamo family above and beyond the fact that she’s obviously in love with Yasaburou (and we certainly know Yajirou is in love with her). There’s a bit of Romeo and Juliet to the situation now – except that Romeo’s brother is in love with Juliet and Romeo in love with a femme fatale named Benten.
There’s much we don’t know about Benten – I find it fascinating that Kaisei calls her a tengu and Yasaburou doesn’t bat an eye or challenge her. But without a doubt the event – and mystery – around which the entire series orbits is the death of Souichirou. I’ve seen many theories floated about that night – some argue that Souichirou isn’t dead at all, some argue that he arranged his own death because he was simply finished with life in this world and ready to move on. There’s some uncertainty about his comment to Akadama-sensei about “being past the point where he can transform” – and that perhaps his dismay over that led him to decide to end his life. All defensible theories, but none hold water for me. I think Souichirou was already dead or nearly when he said that to the old tengu (tengu are renowned for their ability to speak with spirits) and on his way to the spirit world, which is why he couldn’t transform. This is supported by the fact that he was unable to transform in Benten’s presence (which is a mystery in its own right, and potentially a critical one) and thus avoided her, and the fact that he left Yajirou as a human and ended his life as a tanuki. As for the notion that he faked his death or pre-arranged it, it’s more a matter of intuition than hard evidence – but I feel wholly confident of the former being false, and almost as much of the latter.
No, it seems more and more likely to me that Souun and/or his sons sold Souichirou out to the Kin-youbi Club. They certainly had the most to gain – power in the tanuki community, potentially the Nise-emon position, and the termination of an engagement they didn’t want to see consummated. And it seems very likely that they’re crafting a similar scheme now, with the Nise-emon election due on December 26th (4 days after this episode ends) and only a few days before the end of the year – the final “tanuki hotpot” meeting of the Friday Fellows, as it happens, falls on December 27th this year. Kaisei is obviously torn between the family she owes allegiance to and the one she clearly prefers, and the scene in the sento – where we finally see her face (and a bit more) reveals a girl who’s conflicted and seemingly feeling guilty. Her “I’m sorry” to Yasaburou was exactly as he described it, both puzzling and ominous – I don’t know if she was lying when she told Yasaburou she didn’t know what her family was planning, but she certainly knows things that she didn’t share with her former fiancee.
Indeed, there’s a sort of ominous air to much of this episode, even the somewhat whimsical scene where Yasaburou goes to Yodogawa-sensei’s office for another strange conversation. The disconnect in seeing the way Yasaburou speaks so casually about the boiling of tanuki in a hotpot with one of the men who ate his father is truly jarring, especially given how well the two of them get along and what a sincerely nice guy Yodogawa seems in so many ways (and what was with eating those enormous Baumkuchen as if they were doughnuts?). Benten, meanwhile, remains conspicuously – some might say ominously – absent from the narrative, even as her role as a lynchpin in Souichirou’s death becomes more and more strongly suggested. Does she cry at Yajirou’s well because she was used as part of the plan to capture Souichirou – to keep him from transforming so he couldn’t escape? I couldn’t help but note that Mother very pointedly said “only Souichirou, Akadama-sensei and Benten knew” about the effect Benten had on her husband – but what if, somehow, Souun knew as well? This feels like a warm trail to me, but it leads to a very obvious question – what would motivate Benten to allow herself to be used in such a fashion?
I don’t know what’s going to happen in the end, but I’m pretty sure the dates of the Nise-emon election and the final Kin-youbi meeting of the year aren’t coincidental, and that Kaisei’s apology to Yasaburou was heavy with significance. One of the Shimogamo siblings seems ticketed for that hotpot, and Benten is likely going to be involved again – willingly or not, and it’s hard to imagine her doing anything unwillingly. Which one? Well, Yashirou – sweet, kind Yashirou who “inherited nothing but the innocence” of Souichirou, is the only sibling whose load-bearing role in the story hasn’t been established yet, and my ominous feeling extends more strongly to him than anyone else at the moment. Uchouten Kazoku is, as I’ve stated, more than anything a story about love – and most of all, the love than binds the Shimogamo family together. And I can think of nothing that would prove a greater test of that love than if this turn of events comes to pass, and nothing that would more surely force Yasaburou to abandon his amiable acceptance of life’s twists and turns and become a man in the mold of his father.