This is a good season for sequels, no question about it. With Boku no Hero Academia, Natsume Yuujinchou and Kyoukai no Rinne out there the competition is damn steep, but this show might just be the one I was most looking forward to. It’s not as though the first season of Uchouten Kazoku was perfect – there were a couple of minor ebbs, and the ending arc wasn’t the strongest side the series displayed. But it was also a show that featured a couple of episodes I consider to be among the very best in anime, especially the eighth (I can count on one hand the anime episodes that moved me as much as that one did). Any show that can impact me on that level has my full attention from day one.
It’s been almost four years since the first season of Uchouten ended, but I found myself slipping back into the universe it creates pretty quickly. Without any question the city of Kyoto is a character in its own right here, just as it is in all of Morimi Tomihiko’s works, and that helps. It would be hard to overstate the emotional hold Kyoto has on me – it’s no exaggeration to say it’s my favorite place on Earth. It’s highly emotional for me to watch this series now, having lived in Kyoto for a time – more so than in the first season I feel a jolt of recognition with every scene change, each one bringing with it the memories I have of that street, that building, that Shrine.
This season of Uchouten Kazoku is off to a pretty measured start – there’s a lot of re-introduction and scene-setting going on here. I had to double-check my reaction to be sure I remembered correctly, but the first season started off that way too – and there’s a reason for that. The Eccentric Family is not a series that attacks you head-on. Rather, it seduces you – with the beauty of its scenery, with the quirky charm of its characters, with the subtle elegance of its plot. This is a pretty mature series to begin with, but shortcuts simply wouldn’t work with this material – the experience would be cheapened to an extent that it held little emotional power.
The head of the Shimogamo clan of tanuki (it’s already been a great year for tanuki in anime) is one of those dead characters that holds major sway over the ones left behind, and it’s fitting that we began with an homage to Souichirou-sama. It’s clear some time has passed since we left Kyoto, but not too much – Yashirou is still a short-pants bozu and Yasaburou a gangly teen (though he smokes now – that’s new, isn’t it?). Benten, Uchouten’s great femme fatale, is missing – having left for a cruise around the world to allay her boredom. She’s left a hole in Akadama-san’s life, and in Yasaburou’s heart. The latter has filled in for Benten in looking after the old man, and in his spare time is engaged in a hunt for the elusive tsuchinoko with his little brother.
There are reminders here that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Tengu are still imperious and still squabble incessantly, and tanuki still defer out of self-preservation to these “greater” beings. But there’s new stuff too, perhaps most significant being the arrival of the Nidaimae (Majima Junji). He seems to be the Nakadama’s son (though it’s interesting that he tells Yasaburou that he’t not a tengu). He and his father apparently fought a century earlier, and when the Nakadama defeated him Nidaimae left Kyoto. His return signals a confrontation – these are tengu after all – despite Yasaburou’s best efforts to prevent it, and that seems to be the focus of the first arc this season.
There are some other seeds planted – like the mysterious “X” on the sheet of paper in Nakadama’s box of postcards from Benten – but for now, Uchouten Kazoku is primarily concerned with slipping back into its fictional setting like a comfortable old suit of clothes. It’s great to have it back, and not much has changed. It is immediately apparent in the backgrounds and animation that the budget is substantially lower this time around, but when you consider that this series generated little in disc, merchandising or licensing revenue (this sequel exists mainly due to the popularity of the source novels) I’m certainly not going to worry too much about that – it feels like a miracle of good fortune that it exists at all. This was a very good premiere, but with Uchouten Kazoku that’s only a teaser for what may follow.
ED: “Moon River” by fhána