There were quite a few ways this episode could go, which is a testament to the way Morimi-sensei and the team at P.A. Works (especially Yoshihara Masayuki, the director) have teed up the story like a golf ball. There’s a risk in series like Uchouten Kazoku, full of magic and magical characters with undefined powers, that all sense of realism and consequence can be lost in the endless possibility (and perhaps more to the point, the lack of impossibility). But that’s never happened here: the real magic of this series is that it’s managed to stay resolutely on a human scale emotionally despite the presence of so few humans in the main cast.
I’ll say up front, I didn’t especially care for the way Yajirou’s crisis was resolved, and since I haven’t had many material disagreements with this show that’s a rarity. Both the fact that his malaise could be cured with a bottle of Denkibran and the fact that no one thought of it before now seem a bit weak to me, considering how well-written this show is otherwise. Frankly I thought Yajirou – whose personal tragedy had been set up so beautifully and with exquisite care – deserved a better rebirth moment than that. Ideally, I think it would have been best for him to regain his ability to transform upon hearing the news that his father’s death wasn’t his fault. It’s true Yashirou didn’t know that, but Kaisei did – and she could easily enough have told him that when she rescued him from the warehouse. For me at least that would have made more sense, and had a lot more poetry to it than what actually happened.
That aside, the rest of the episode was pretty fabulous (as usual). The credo of this episode was most certainly “what’s fun is good” – Souichirou’s last words (remembered by Yajirou at last, when Yasaburou repeated them). This could have been a reflective, highly emotional, or somber episode – but what it went for was uncontrolled exuberance. It was all the magic and imagination of Uchouten on full display, the Kyoto of the mind in all its glory. And really, that seems fitting – this is a series that’s more than anything about tanuki, despite the presence of the others, and in the end it should represent itself as a manifestation of their idiot blood.
The buildup to the rebirth of the false Eizan Electric Railway has been a long time coming, and it didn’t disappoint. It figured that Yashirou pausing on that bridge was a sign that he’d figured out the best course of action – instead of diving into the lion’s maw trying to rescue his family himself, head for the one onii-san that was still a free tanuki. I loved this whole sequence, but then I love Kyoto – seeing the Yajirou-streetcar powering through Teramichi (even a fake one) and soaring over the Kamo River was well worth waiting for. I also enjoyed the cat-and-tanuki between Yasaburou and the Ebisugawa brothers, using tanuki trickery to think one step ahead of the other. I almost felt sorry for the idiot (and not in the good sense) brothers here – they’re their father’s sons, but they’re so goofy that it’s hard not to like them just a little.
My favorite moment in this sequence, though, was when Yasaburou carefully prepared to use the Raijin fan to generate “just a little” wind, and then proceeded to ram the train into the building where the Kin-youbi Club was having its dinner at full force (that’s a hell of a fan, as Yashirou found out later). That’s one way to bring the plot elements together, that’s for sure. From this sequence it emerges that Jurojin (Mamiya Yasuhiro) is the one among the Friday Fellows (along with Benten of course) to watch out for. I don’t think he was fooled by Yasaburou’s story about just being a human passing by – we’ll see next week – and it seems a little too convenient that he “thought something like this might happen” and made a reservation at the restaurant (Sensuiro, which literally translates as “The Color of the Fan”) where the tanuki were having their sacred succession meeting. He’s also got a backup plan in mind to fill the hotpot – use the other tanuki Souun had caged up (Mother). With Akadama-sensei already in attendance (and already drunk) at the tanuki meeting, Sensuiro is the stage that’s set for an all-in finale.
We pretty much got all the bases covered in this episode that you’d expect. Yashirou got his chance to think for himself and show some steel, Yajirou emerged from his froggy cocoon, and the idiot brothers got their comeuppance. I feel pretty confident Mama Shimogamo isn’t going to be boiled in the hotpot, but there’s still plenty of mystery as we head into the final episode. I still think the issue of the Friday Fellows and their grisly tradition needs to be dealt with definitively, and of course there’s the matter of Souun being held accountable for what he’s done. I wonder if Yaichirou may just come to realize that being the Nise-emon isn’t what he truly wants – it seems as if he’s been playing out the role that’s expected of him (“he only inherited his father’s sense of responsibility” after all) but not following his heart. In many ways the final arc seems to be a story of each brother transcending the limitation that Yasaburou described in the postscript of episode 8, and I suspect that theme will carry the day in the end.