Uchouten Kazoku – 13 (End) and Series Review

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This finale was neither spectacular or especially emotional, but it succeeds in terms of the modest expectations it laid out for itself.

I don’t think there’s any question Uchouten Kazoku is one of the finest anime of 2013, and when I consider the Fall season it clearly belongs in the top tier with Watamote, Gin no Saji and Rozen Maiden.  Ask me which was my favorite and my answer might depend on my mood at the moment you ask, but I will say this much – of all those shows, Uchouten achieved the highest highs.  For my money episodes six and eight of this series are the best of any anime this season, and the latter is definitely in my top 10 episodes of all-time.

In truth, this series was not at its best with either its first or last episodes.  It was intriguing and enchanting right out of the gate but took a few weeks to truly ensnare me in an emotional grip it would never loosen.  And the last episode doesn’t have a lot of emotional high points, the manic energy of last week’s ep or the astoundingly deep intellectual content Morimi-sensei can deliver at the top of his game.  Rather, it seems to fully embrace the notion of being a manifestation of the tanukis’ idiot blood – it’s mostly an irreverent tribute to the “be interesting” mantra that guides the Shimogamo family, most obviously Yasaburou.  Is that a metaphor for a certain type of human being in the real world, or simply admiration for a mythical creature?  Everyone can judge that for themselves.

As expected, the episode boiled down to the gathering storm at Sensuiro (this was clearly not a good night for restaurants in the Pontocho).  The tanukis are in one room, trying to meekly stay quiet with an unknown party in the room next door, but with a roiling debate between Souun and Yaichirou gaining ferocity with each like Souun tells.  Meanwhile Mother Shimogamo arrives in her cage where the Friday Fellows are gathered, much to the delight of Jurojin and the horror of Yodagawa-sensei, who recognizes immediately that this is the beautiful tanuki he nursed back to health all those years ago.  And waiting in the wings, a certain tengu who hates to be ignored grows increasingly irritated at being ignored…

It’s a perfect storm, all right – and the general tone of the finale is one of madcap chaos.  It’s one of the most comedic episodes of the series, in fact, for better or for worse given that it’s the final episode.  There’s no denying that Uchouten can deliver in humorous mode, and it did so several times here – like watching all the tanuki transform en masse when Yaichirou knocks down the door and they see Benten in the next room.  I would have liked a little more time spent on the reunion of the Shimogamo family, to be honest, as I think that emotional powerhouse of a bond is the strongest part of the series.  But there seems to have been a conscious decision to end on an upbeat note, both in terms of emotion and tone, and any issues I have with it are purely a matter of personal preference.  This ending definitely feels thematically consistent with the show as a whole.

I can say pretty confidently that whatever members of the Kin-youbi Club didn’t already know about the existence of tengu and tanuki in Kyoto certainly do now.  As to the deeper question of that organization and their tanuki-boiling proclivities, I think it’s fair to say that the show took a pass on meaningfully addressing that.  Yodagawa-sensei does a complete 180 when the tanuki in question is the one he fell in love with (I’m sure reconciling that has been a full-time job for him all these years), and declares that he’s abandoning his “eat what you love” theory, a “total defeat”.  But in reality it does sound, as his fellows accuse him of, as if he’s saying whatever suits him in his moment of need.  And while they boot him out of their club for his about-face and attempts to rescue Mama, one assumes they’re going to resume their hotpot tradition as soon as things settle down and another unfortunate tanuki falls into their hands.

Yodagawa’s change-of-heart does pose fascinating moral questions, as it seems he’s really applying a subjective morality based on his personal feelings about one tanuki rather than the general practice of boiling them.  But the episode doesn’t make any attempt to explore those questions, (for example as compared to Gin no Saji, which – whatever you think of the stance it took – took the stance that Porkbowl was no different than any other pig simply because Hachiken loved him) and it doesn’t make any attempt to judge Benten either.  She’s pretty much let off the hook for what she did to Souichirou – she smiles her way through the chaos at Sensuiro, then steps up and talks Akadama-sensei down from his rage-induced reign of terror.  She’ll abandon him again when the mood suits her – likely when she becomes bored again, and likely soon.  And she still has her sights set on Yasaburou, as she makes clear with her wish at the shrine on New Years.  She’s an inscrutable figure to the end, an alluring mystery – but it rankles to see her escape any consequences for the role she played in murdering Souchirou (including the consequence of anger or resentment from his son at the very least).

As for Souun, he again proves himself a vile scoundrel indeed, continuing to deny any involvement in Souichirou’s death and to try and pin the blame on Yajirou (who hasn’t regained enough mojo to transform yet).  It seems that the arrival of Mama on Jurojin’s orders is what unmasks him, though – he seems to have admitted to enough in his confrontation with Jurojin that he’ll never be trusted by tanuki society again.  We’re told that he’s “gone to a hot spring” and not returned, and the implication is that in his shame he won’t be coming back.  With Souun gone, Ginkaju and Kinkaju are cast in much less ominous roles, which suits them better than being the villains in a game where life and death are the stakes – they’re just too hilarious to hate.  And Kaisei clearly still loves Yasaburou, though she won’t relent in her refusal to be seen by him – yet.

The strongest moments of the finale are the brief ones where we see the Shimogamo brothers together, especially when Yashirou calls their mother on his cell phone to check on her (which he’s proudly charged in front of all his brothers), and it’s eventually handed (well, figuratively) to Yajirou.  There’s also a scene of the five Shimogamos at the shrine, where they meet first Yodagawa, then Akadama and Benten (where Akadama delivers what one suspects he feels are the wishes of Souichirou to each of Yasaburou’s brothers), then Ginkaju and Kinkaju, and finally Kaisei.  It’s wonderful to see the family together and smiling -Yashirou restlessly tugs on his mother’s hands as she embraces him from behind, and it’s a completely real and natural moment.  This family is the title of the series for a reason – their bond is its heart and soul, and rarely have we seen this kind of relationship depicted so powerfully and authentically in anime.

Uchouten Kazoku is proof – as if we needed more – than anime adapted from non-traditional sources are a wonderful thing.  Not only is it free of almost every cliche and affectation that most series adapted from light novels and even manga seem unable to escape, it progresses with amazing fluidity – it feels neither a moment too long or too short, and each episode tells a self-contained story with its own themes.  This show feels complete in a way very few traditional adaptations do, but that we often see with original series and shows adapted from novels.  P. A. Works poured a lot into this series – a lot of care, a lot of budget, and a lot of time and exceedingly careful preparation – and it really shows.

There are a lot of words I could use to describe Uchouten, and “refreshing” is certainly one of them, not least for the reasons described above.  This show is a breath of fresh air, so different from the bulk of what we see in so many ways.  It’s also in turns heartbreaking and hilarious, and nearly always magical and enchanting.  Kyoto is a remarkable and dreamlike place to begin with, and the Kyoto imagined by Morimi and the anime staff is a wonder.  I’m still pretty happy with “naturalistic surrealism” as a genre for Uchouten Kazoku – there’s much fantasy and mysticism here, but the emotions could hardly be more real.  No matter how bizarre things get, the characters always behave in a way that’s true to their nature.  “There’s no telling how many of these people are actually tengu and tanuki.”  Indeed, being in Kyoto anyone with a trace of tanuki blood in them surely feels as if that could be true.  And it’s in capturing that about the place – and about the people who dream such dreams – that Uchouten Kazoku finds its singular voice.  It certainly speaks to me, in a very profound and personal way.  Must be a manifestation of my idiot blood.

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ED Sequence:

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  1. t

    it was indeed refreshing or "non-traditional" series.even bizarre would fit (in good way of course). I mean..this everyday life and comedy combination was indeed unique and relay rare scent toward the viewers in that aspect. plus, the last episodes were quite intriguing. so I did enjoyed the series. it was quite something else..some sort of..experiment that P.A decided to do, after all it wasn't too romantic or dramatic like hanasku or true tears and so on. and yes, it went well.

    the animation was good (sakuga!) but the ears problem will be forever this show achilles heel.
    the pace was also good. started slowly and the last episodes did made me to anticipate them.
    the whole stuff with the idiot blood was good, they really did put it in the characters's nature. I want to manifest my idiot blood too 😛
    I liked the ending, it was positive atmosphere despite the whole mess started back there in episode 10 or 11. though I feel mixed about that the bad guy (Souun) escaped punishment, I don't care about the Nise-emon..but can't be helped i guess.

    there was really good equilibrium between the characters, that's what made the show so unique. obviuosly I like Kaise and Yasaburou, poor him for not seeing her yet. Benten was interesting as well, though I didn't understand why did she cry back there in Yajiro's story..because of So?S:

    well now all that left for us is to wait patiently for Nagi no Askura in a few days, and Hanasaku's movie BD at october 16th.

  2. k

    It puzzles me whom does Kaisei actually love. If I remember correctly, Yajirou spoke to father about Kaisei and him being in love with each other when she had already been engaged to Yasaburou. However, the way she acts toward Yasaburou does suggest she might have some feelings for him. Did I jumble the story up? I admit that for 1/3 of the series I had some minor problems remembering names of everyone in the story.

  3. H

    I'm really not sure if (and think it's probably not true that) Kaisei ever loved Yajirou. All I recall seeing is that Yajirou was in love with Kaisei, who was betrothed to Yasaburou, and also too young for Yajirou.

  4. R

    Yajirou said that he was in love with her, there was never any mention of her loving him.

  5. R

    Kaisei did mention once in front of Yasaborou that she liked Yajirou, but the word suki is very broadly used — it could mean that she liked Yajirou as a friend.

  6. e

    I'm quite satisfied by how it ended. It definitely delivered on the exhilarating entertainment side. In a few moments it went eerily close to the wackiest scenarios I was envisioning in my end prior to watching ( a) fluffy good end: all end in the same room, chaos ensues but they become friends! Peace and love for everybody vs b) enjoyable chaos ensue, tanuki de-morph en masse, Benten helps the Shimogano. And as I had nursed the thought she perfomed the ear-cleaning on sensei before – long story short based on a couple of mangas I read some time ago it felt the kind of intimate-borderline-implications thing fitting to the relationship of B. and Akadama have – I went a bit 'O_o' when she actually proposed that this week).
    And Benten's behaviour was the best she could muster ;D. She's her own brand of consistent for sure. Keep liking the twins as much as you do, I have enough appreciation for Benten to make up for your less charitable feelings Enzo :p.
    On the other end Akadama-sensei didn't disappoint either in his own ragey mercurial tengu-ness. He blew up the restaurant and wrecked people and things until Benten stepped in. Then later on he turned all wise well-wishing (I second your interpretation about those being Soichirou's wishes btw) mentor on the Shimogamo. Good thing someone else had rescued them mid-air before they met to their freefalling death by Raijin fan attack :p. I don't see you holding much of that specific against the old tengu though***.

    TL;DR: personal bias are delicious&interesting both in-universe and in a meta way.

    ***Neither did the Shimogamos for that matter. But then with the possible exception of Soun they're basically on good term with everyone in the final part of the episode including Hotei and Benten aka the Soichirou-eaters. You need to embrace your idiot blood more! :p
    The heartwarming parts were a joy to watch. And our little frog got his own serious emotional moment with healthy tears too! (Talking of him I loved the little deatil of the water-filled bowl for his comfort as the family +Benten are gathered in sensei's room).
    Kaisei at the temple gets my nearly-reservedless love. I wish she could have exerted her sensible influence on her brothers a bit more but now that daddy's away in exile there might be still hope for those two, She is a bit of a tease to Yasabouro there btw isn'it she? XD Quite a darling.

    A few big fat weighty threads form the past have been left ending loose not to speak about the whole hotpot issue ready to start again next year most likely.
    I'd root for a second season to see more of this deeply enchanting world and of these characters – and any answers about past issues and hotpot – but if this is all we get I'm still glad and thankful for the ride. There are more novels out – or planned at least – if I recall?

    And as usual – or even better than usual for some episodes – thanks for blogging this with such dedication.

  7. R

    Yes, I was drowned in my tears when Yajirou finally talked to his mom for the first time in years. I saw that water-filled bowl for him, too. P.A.Works is notorious for their attention to details and I love that — they just make anything on screen so much more fun to watch and re-watch.

  8. Well, I've already stated that I don't especially like Akadama-sensei, though he redeemed himself a bit in the end. He's a selfish old bastard who just happens to have the power to make others share his misery if he's in a bad mood.

  9. K

    I loved the simple ending and thought it fit the series & characters perfectly. But I think perhaps the reason it might not have been as strong of ending for you is in reality it is only the ending of the first book of a trilogy.

    While I am content with the anime ending I would love to see the entire story in the novels enfold. Unfortunately I doubt it will be animated and I can't read Japanese so I am personally out of luck with the novels

  10. R

    Hey, I didn't know about that and always thought that the novel was complete and published years ago — the anime definitely feels complete. Are the second and third of the trilogy published? This is good news — perhaps we may see more of the Shimogamo family and friends — be it in OVA, movie, or a season 2 — in the near future.

  11. K

    From what I understand the 2nd is being worked on now.

  12. R

    I see. Thanks.

  13. Don't plan on seeing any sequels animated. I love this show, so that clearly is off the table.

  14. i

    That's negative. Remember Chihayafuru – I was sure, 100%, that I would never see Chihaya return in beautiful Madhouse animation but it did and with the OVA and who knows what might be next for my one of my all-time favorite animes and casts. I'm keeping up with the manga as well as I can, even the raws with my limited knowledge of written Japanese but I'd really rather see it animated and voiced.

  15. Chihayafuru is a very different case. The manga is a commercial monster, the anime was created to sell manga volumes, and it did – lots. Uchouten is a niche series all the way.

  16. R

    To me, Uchouten Kazuko is a mastery of a top-notch art, an exemplification of superb storytelling, an epitome of great character work, and an utmost representation of an awesome character-driven story.  It’s human, personal, and charming that ties everything neatly together by telling a touching story of the Shimogamo family — and through this story of fantasy, comedy, and drama, it explores themes like love, life, death, and family.  It’s so well-rounded — absolutely a great surprise of the season and a rare find in recent years.

    There is no doubt that Uchouten consistently delivers high production and entertainment value keeping its viewers captivated week after week.  It never stops giving its audience the most beautiful visual and auditory art — I can totally indulge myself in its beauty even if I close my ears or shut my eyes. Both the visuals and BGM work so well in letting the viewers explore the beautiful Kyoto, dialing up the mood and atmosphere of the story, communicating the feelings of the characters, and drawing the viewers.  This is quite a mastery by director, Yoshihara Masayuki.  

    And then there is the meticulous series composition.  Uchouten never confines itself — it comes off as a slice-of-life but blends fantasy, comedy, and drama so well into the story.  It has a very naturalistic storytelling — it shows in the dialogue — carefully building its story and reeling the viewers in each step of the way.  It has a grand design that comes with a neatly woven plot and a detailed plan that tie everything perfectly together.  You can find subtlety and hidden hints everywhere, and it makes very good use of all the pieces to bring everything back to the start and make the story and the characters feel real. This is quite an exemplification of superb storytelling and writing that we can’t thank Suga Shoutarou enough for helming the series composition and Morimi-sensei for bringing us such a wonderfully written novel.  Of course, we need to thank P.A. Works for adapting it.  I agree — it does feel different and amazing when an anime is based on a well-written novel.

    What makes me feel so emotionally compelled and fall deeply in love with Uchouten?  Well, when the show premiered, I immediately loved the characters — I was amazed by how much they felt like real people living their daily lives. The show never loses this aspect — even the antique shop owner who helped Yasaborou hide from Benten came back and lined up for the amazake handed out by Mama Shimogamo.  I love it when characters act so naturally and stay true to themselves — I thought I would be happy to follow a show like this.  Little did I know that it had such a touching story that resonated so deeply with me.  It isn’t easy to touch on themes like family and death — there are many shows that went wrong, became overdramatic, and made everything feel contrived.  It does not happen here with Uchouten — it stays true to what the story is all about and who the characters truly are.  It is also its great character work that makes the talking of love, life, death, and family become so natural and the character feelings and family bonds feel so genuine.  Uchouten is an utmost representation of an awesome character-driven story that tugs my heartstrings so tightly.  

    I love every episode of Uchouten — from start to finish.  Geez, for weeks it had me worried about the Shimogamos — now that’s what I count for having tension and a nice buildup.  It was quite an emotional punch when Yaichirou handed the phone to Yajirou — man, I couldn’t hold my tears.  I am happy to see that the Year-End Bash get ruined and that the Shimogamos can finally reunite and go back to their day-to-day lives as a family.  I will miss Uchouten dearly — the story that touches my heart so deeply and makes me think introspectively of the themes that it brought up. Thanks Enzo for blogging it with such passion and allowing me to talk so much about it.  Uchouten is my favourite of the season and will definitely be in my top 5 for 2013.

  17. Z

    As villainous and underhanded as they were, I found the Ebisugawas the more interesting characters than the the Shimogamo family to be honest.

  18. R

    I actually agree with you and found the Ebisugawas interesting — they brought interesting dynamics to the Shimogamos and the story. It's just that certain parts of the Shimogamos story speak to my personal experience, so I'm biased.

  19. i

    You stole the words right out of my mouth, someone call the cops! But jokes aside I think this finale suits Uchouten Kazoku like a glove. It is the realization of the 'idiot blood' and 'live life for fun' that has been the Tanuki motto I have come to love. Murder, conspiracy, traitors, battle, family, romance and more can go to hell as long life stays fun right? Maybe not in the real world but its a nice thing to know that we don't always have to be so serious.

    I actually heard that Uchouten Kazoku is a trilogy of which this season only covers the first part. Sad but I must preserve. If there's one thing that has been driven in to my head this summer its that there is no such thing as good and bad anime/movies/books/etc. There's only things I like and things other people like and for the most part those two are mutually exclusive sets, with my set having a much smaller population than the other ones. But hey that's life and with my own idiot blood I can say who gives a shit!

  20. P

    Best show this season. Possibly in my top five of all time.

  21. B

    Thank you for the reviews, Guardian Enzo. They add depth and meaning to a delightful anime for a guy who sometimes has trouble understanding things outside of his own experience.

    Arigatou gozaimasu!

  22. Do itasshimasite!

  23. H

    Yeah the lack of consequence in this show on top of Yasaburou's complacency is slightly disturbing. If Ginkaku and Kinkaku had been the perpetrators under less serious circumstances this end might have jelled a little more.

    It was a unique experience but the trite Shimogamo characters were honestly a let down considering the title of the show.

  24. Z

    Hey you guys were an accessory to murder! But we'll let you off the hook today and throw some snow at you instead! That'll learn ya!

  25. K

    I'm an hour from Kyoto. Seeing all the places that I've been to gave me a big feeling of connection to the show that I don't often experience in fiction. I stood at the spot in Kiyomizudera where it is revealed that it was the uncle who caused the father to be captured.

    I truly enjoyed this. I'm also just a big fan of modern settings with a mystical theme like this and Durarara. I would have liked to learn more about Benten. She's a mystery, and maybe that's the best thing for her to be plot-wise, but I can't help wanting to understand how exactly she feels.

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