Uchouten Kazoku 2 – 04

Uchouten Kazoku 2 - 04 - 01I wouldn’t say “tanuki are people too” is the central theme of Uchouten Kazoku or anything, but it’s always struck me that it’s one of those series that uses fantasy to illuminate the human condition.  I look at it kind of like this: tanuki are like humans if the limits to their imaginations were removed.  When you think about it, the fantastical Kyoto of The Eccentric Family isn’t all that different from the real one – this isn’t Kyousougiga or anything.  It actually wouldn’t take that big of a shift in the nature of reality for this fantasy world to happen – just a little magic to spice the soup.  And wouldn’t the world be a much more incredible place just from that small change?

Uchouten Kazoku 2 - 04 - 02That’s why, for me, when I look at the cast of Uchouten Kazoku (especially but not only the tanuki) none of them seem alien to me.  All of their emotions are extensions of elemental human ones.  This is most stark with the unshakable bonds within the Shimogamo family, and most painfully demonstrated in Episode 8 of the first season.  But it applies to most everything that happens, I think.  Yashirou is gentle and timid, and responds to fright by becoming tiny and clinging to his brothers.  Yajirou feels shame over his past deeds, and has retreated to a place of utter solitude and taken a humble and ugly form.  Yasaburou is the closest to his true tanuki nature, but finds society pushes back at him because of it.

Uchouten Kazoku 2 - 04 - 03Yaichirou has been something of a mystery man in Uchouten Kazoku, only rarely showing us anything beyond the stern, impatient young man desperate to fill the unfillable void his father left (in many ways, the most “human” of the brothers).  And romance has been a human emotion on the periphery for most of the story, with only the occasional interaction between Kaisei and Yasaburou to highlight it.  What’s happened between Benten and the series’ males can’t be called romance in any real sense – in every case (though perhaps we’ve seen that start to change), it breaks down to infatuation on one side and inscrutable bemusement on the other.

Uchouten Kazoku 2 - 04 - 04We first meet Gyokuran (Hikasa Youko – purely as an aside, it’s astonishing how few of her shows I’ve liked given her huge portfolio) when she comes to visit Yasaburou as he’s standing in for the local tanuki family who portray captive tanuki at the Kyoto Zoo (echoes of Shirokuma Cafe here).  She’s a member of the distinguished Nanzenji tanuki family (we met her brother in the first season, and again here), whom Yaichirou has been helping to revive the tanuki shogi tournament.  There are plausible reasons for this – Yaichirou clearly values status, and the Nanzenji are powerful enough to impart it on those they favor.  But clearly, this goes deeper than that.

Uchouten Kazoku 2 - 04 - 05Temperamentally,  Yaichirou and the demure, intelligent Gyokuran seem a perfect match.  But there’s a shared history here that’s painful for both.  As usual Uchouten Kazoku shows us this rather than explains it – its approach to exposition reveals an understanding that the most direct path is rarely the best.  There’s quite a dustup at the tournament – which is yet another utterly magical Uchouten moment, with the shogi pieces being played by tanuki, including Yasaburou and Kinkaju and Ginkaju.  Yasaburou allows the idiot brothers to bait him into disrupting the match between Gyokuran and Yajirou – and of course these idiots are actually rather clever, and their jibes hit close to the mark.  The enraged Gyokuran transforms into a tiger and scatters the pieces and audience like bowling pins, though the true significance of this won’t be known until later.

Uchouten Kazoku 2 - 04 - 06The aftermath of all this is a lot of chaos in the tanukiverse, including between Yaichirou and Yasaburou.  But Tousen shows once again that she’s one of anime’s greatest moms, cheerfully guilt-tripping Yasaburou into intervening to smooth things over between Yaichirou and Gyokuran.  There’s so much to love here I hardly know where to start.  Yasaburou’s “fool’s shogi” says so much about who he is – he sees rules, and thinks the game would be more fun without them.  Even Souichirou shook his head when his son did this – Souichirou, whose foolishness Yasaburou has supposedly inherited. What is the difference, then, between the father and son – the difference that made Souichirou-sama the tanuki who was the most beloved and respected in the community, and Yasaburou the kid everyone shakes their head at?  That learning process is Yasaburou’s character arc, really – and thus, the spine of Uchouten Kazoku.

Uchouten Kazoku 2 - 04 - 07The final scene is another memorable one, as Yasaburou switches places with Gyokuran after challenging his brother to a shogi match using his father’s old board.  Simple pride is such a powerful influence in life, and so utterly human – it was the shame of having Gyokuran intentionally lose to him at shogi when they were children (and his childish reaction, which left tooth marks in that board) that left a distance between the two all these years.  But as ethereally beautiful hotaru dance through the air around them, Yaichirou and Gyokuran reach a place of acceptance and understanding. Of course she’s mysteriously sucked into the board afterwards, but I’m not too worried – it’s the detours that make Uchouten Kazoku (and Kyoto) so magical, and I suspect this one has something to do with a secret shogi room in the Tadasu-no-Mori.

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12 comments

  1. C

    Nothing ever seems as perfect as Uchouten Kazoku does every week. It’s interesting to compare Yasaburou, the most tanuki-like of the brothers, to his father, the epitome of the Nise-emon tanuki. But where Souichirou impressed others with his natural gravitas, his wisdom, and a handful of tanuki fun, it feels like Yasaburou took only the “tanuki fun” share from the family blood and ran with it. Yasaburou is both like and unlike a tanuki because he takes his love of rule-breaking too far, to the point where he wants to go beyond the things tanuki should and shouldn’t do (his rejection of his father’s “tanuki don’t get involved in tengu business” line last week kind of surprised me, given the general reverence for Souichiro).

    As for Benten, fingers crossed for a flashback scene of her with the Nidaime. Only someone who knows him well would pick JUST the right way to pay him back for such a small but enraging insult. (Actually, it’s just nice to see the female characters more involved besides Kaisei this season, Tousen and Gyokuran have been getting some excellent screen time recently. Ginkaku and Kinkaku didn’t even seem to consider that their actions may be getting under the skin of someone OTHER than Yajirou and bit off a bit more than they could chew.)

  2. “Of course she is mysteriously sucked into the board…”

    I am missing something here … when you say “of course” are you saying you saw it coming based on the earlier mentionings of the shogi god choosing people (or whatever the exact phrase was)? Or is it an “of course” because it is yet another whimsical detour no one expected so consistent with the series? Or something else?

  3. Something like the second one…

  4. As soon as she was sucked into the board I instantly thought “secret shogi room” like most other fans.

  5. H

    That final scene was just beautiful. The fireflies were a particularly wonderful touch because they were doing a courtship dance, which was reflected by the movements on the shogi board. When Yaichirou told Gyokuro he had lost, I took it both literally and metaphorically since this was the moment when he seemed to finally give her his heart. Just lovely. I’ve enjoyed the blushes between them up until this point and was rather pleasantly surprised that romance actually blossomed considering his personality. I thought it might be something he pined for but never acted upon, so the fact that he wasn’t bullheaded about giving in when she asked him to play shows that he is willing to step out of his comfort zone when it is important enough to him.

  6. Z

    So, maybe you guys have some theories that will help me. They say at the beginning of this episode that “the transformation technique tanuki are so good at can’t be used in a cage” yet Yajirou is clearly transformed as a frog. Does that just mean that they can’t do any NEW transformations while in a cage, and if they are thrown in a cage as say, a parrot, that they will remain as a parrot until they are let out?

    And if the transformation technique is strongly connected to the idea of freedom, and the tanuki who normally pose as the captives in the zoo can clearly leave when they choose, why is the cage a barrier? Is Yajirou having trouble with his transformation because he has “caged” himself in his own guilt?

    Isn’t a room with the doors and windows closed essentially a cage? Is it only a cage if the door is locked like the shed Yashirou was locked in? Am I going to have to go back and look to make sure a door or window is open every time they do a transformation indoors?

    I don’t know why the whole “can’t transform in a cage” thing bothers me as inconsistent, but it has since the first season. Seriously, every time they bring up the limitation on their transforming, my brain runs in circles like a hamster on a wheel.

  7. I took it to mean that they can’t transform in a cage (like the Friday club) but not necessarily that any transformation already engaged will revert. That kind of makes sense to me.

    As for the zoo thing, my assumption is that the zoo tanuki just slip out the back and switch with somebody.

  8. C

    Well the transformation thing is pretty interesting, it all hinges on “inner calm” and concentration/strength. The twins talk about this a little in episode 11 when they capture Yasaburou. Yasaburou also reverts to tanuki form after being poisoned by the twins in season 1 and being dunked in water in season 2 (apparently tanuki don’t like water, not really sure why, that might just be a given). Regarding the “inner calm” explanation, cages may instinctively cause tanuki to be uneasy, even if they know they can escape or are willingly caged (as in the zoo). It goes a bit beyond common sense, even for the tanukis, because being locked in a room certainly does not have the same de-powering effect.

    The rest of the time, inner calm may be disrupted by fear (as with Yashiro, who either reveals his tail or curls up as a tanuki in his brother’s arms) or general unease/stress (as with Souichirou who could never maintain a transformation around Benten). Your “caged” theory makes a lot of sense with Yajirou, who may start to work past his sense of guilt and leave his frog appearance. He may have settled into such a total acceptance of his guilt that no amount of “inner calm” or inner turmoil can shake his transformation (except when he is drunk and momentarily remembers the feeling of freedom and fun). Yajirou has probably internalized his existence as a frog and displaced his “tanuki” identity to the point where he’s convinced his body that he HAS no ability to turn into anything else. That might explain why he does not revert to his tanuki form while at the zoo exhibit. Sorry for the long reply, I hope this helped!

  9. Z

    I don’t think a long reply to a long request is something to apologize for. 😉

    But then according to that theory, sudden intense anger doesn’t affect “inner calm”? Because TIGER.

    Don’t get me wrong, I can easily see how being startled or frightened could “poof” a transformation (hehe, I originally typed transmutation, which is also true, but a different anime), I can also get behind a concept of a psychosomatic “they have always been told they can’t transform in a cage, and so they can’t.” It’s just as represented in this anime it seems inconsistent, and I think this work is well crafted enough that I must be overlooking something.

  10. C

    Hmm the anger thing makes this harder. Unless anger doesn’t affect inner calm? Maybe inner calm is actually an inner sense of freedom, not necessarily serenity or calmness? Anger doesn’t really make a person feel trapped (it may arise from a feeling of loss of control, but maybe on a less fundamental level), unless it reaches debilitating levels? Even fear needs to reach certain levels in order to poof a tanuki, except if the tanuki is more insecure at heart, like Yashirou. (This is all just makes me sorry that we can’t read the book in translation.)

  11. F

    Not only did Gyokuran get sucked into the shogi board, she also mysteriously transformed into this Gyokuro person after her initial appearance in this review 😉

  12. d

    I find that Eccentric Family, like Shouwa Rakugo is a story that exists perfectly on its own. You don’t have to add things, forget things or explain things in your head to make sense of everything, because everything make sense. It’s really lovely too that the story never judge their characters either and just let them breathe and be themselves (like Shouwa Rakugo) without coming off as one note-ish or stereotypical archetypes.

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