Let’s cut straight to the chase – when I wrote my post last week, I was strictly guessing about everything I wrote. But unless Uchouten Kazoku has just pulled off one of the great misdirections of all-time, it looks as if pretty much all those guesses were right on the money. The key, I think – the “eureka moment” – was when we were told Souichirou was unable to transform in Benten’s presence. While the entire picture didn’t reveal itself immediately in my mind, that tidbit of information was the spark that illuminated the room. Of all the guesses I made in that post, Benten’s involvement in Souichirou’s death was the one that seemed the most inevitable.
All told, everything that was revealed has taken the story in an incredibly depressing direction. And in doing so, it seems to have framed the series in the kind of straight-up good vs. evil terms we don’t see that often in anime these days. It’s effective because the Shimogamo family has so convincingly and expertly been established as genuinely good – I can hardly think of a depiction of familial love as moving and authentic as what we’ve seen in this series. They’ve held together through incredible sadness, and it seems as if life really owes them a break – but so far at least, fate isn’t playing fair.
The counterpoint to that, of course, is the Ebisugawa, minus-one. There was understandable resistance from some viewers to the notion that Souun could be so vile as to sell out his brother-in-law to the Kin-youbi Club, and to plan to do the same to his nephew (one of them, at least, even if we weren’t sure which one). But honestly, it was really the only scenario that made sense – and we’ve seen little from Souun or his sons to indicate that they’re in any way constrained by the bonds of decency or familiar responsibility (hell, they tried to shoot the Shimogamo out of the sky with fireworks). As presented here we have a story of pure, despicable envy causing a weak tanuki to do terrible things. Souun was apparently in love with Mama Shimogamo, too, and the bad blood started from there and while Souichirou probably didn’t waste much time thinking about it, Souun apparently never stopped doing so for a moment.
If anything, what really cuts here is the reveal of Benten’s role, even if I suspected it was coming. I pretty much knew Souun and his sons were awful people, but there was at least a shred of hope that Benten had something better than that at her core. For her, it seems, it was simply a case of needing a prize to offer up for a seat on the Friday Fellows (a rare opportunity, one supposes) and thus, having overlapping self-interest with Souun. She’s a true femme fatale, indeed – and the thing is, when Yasaburou told Kaisei that he “suspected for a long time it was something like that” I bet he includes Benten’s role in it, too, and is unable to stop himself being in love with her in spite of it. That’s the very definition of a femme fatale, really – as I said after episode six “Benten is the faerie light that leads Yasaburou into peril, Kaisei the ladder which returns him to safety – yet it’s the fire he chases, even knowing the danger.”
So much make sense now, with this new information. Certainly we know why Benten cries by Yajirou’s well, though I give her no credit – if her actions torment her in any way I’m glad of it, but they don’t mitigate the evil of what she did one bit. We know why Kaisei said “I’m sorry”, and a lot more too – we know why she refuses to show herself to Yasaburou (shame and a reluctance to ensnare another Shimogamo) and why she loathes her family so much. The poor girl was forced to witness what her father did (and I suspect he knew full well that charm was his transformed daughter, too), yet was powerless to do anything to stop it, and now she’s been forced to live with the shame of it ever since. But we also know something else of importance that the relevant party doesn’t know yet – what happened that night wasn’t Yajirou’s fault. Not only was Souichirou’s drunken state not a factor, as the great tanuki himself said “I don’t get dead drunk.” Souichirou was in control of everything but the ability to transform – and when Yajirou (who’s emerged as probably the saddest and most tragic person in the cast) finds this out perhaps at the very least he can forgive himself. And in the process, maybe regain the ability to transform – and soon enough to be a factor in rescuing Yaichirou from the Kin-youbi hot pot that Souun has reserved for him.
There’s one other element in all this sadness that brought me some comfort, and that’s the fact that Souichirou didn’t choose to end his life, as some had suggested. This was a man who had much to live for – including a son so young he had no real opportunity to have a father. For Souichirou to have left behind a family who loved him so dearly out of some sense that he’d fulfilled his duties as a tanuki would have been an obscenely selfish act, and one that seemed totally out of character with the noble spirit we’ve come to know. His life was taken against his will, but he left the world with his dignity and pride intact – and he left behind a family that carries on the goodness that was fundamental to who he was, each in their own way. That Souun is now trying to take that away too only deepens the sense of tragedy and outrage that dominate my feelings in watching these events unfold.
As to what happens now, there are still far too many roads that might be followed to guess which direction Uchouten Kazoku will go. It seems that Yaichirou and his mother have been captured (he intended for the pot), and we know that Yashirou is trapped in a warehouse at Denki Brandy. Yasaburou is surrounded by Souun and this thugs, who have Kaisei safely in-hand. Yajirou will have a role in resolving this I’m sure, once he learns the truth – though it’s an open question just how he’ll learn it. But I can’t help but think that Yodogawa-sensei might just play a role, too, and even Akadama-sensei and Benten (not that it’d earn my forgiveness even if she did). There’s still the fundamental question of what the Friday Fellows are doing, which I believe to be fundamentally wrong no matter how much it seems to be fatalistically accepted by tanuki – and I wonder how Yodagawa-sensei’s view might change, if he were presented with the entire truth.