Uchouten Kazoku 2 – 09

Uchouten Kazoku 2 - 09 - 01I think it could pretty reasonably be argued that Uchouten Kazoku has been building up to this moment of crisis since its very beginnings.  Benten has always been a character that divides the audience, and it’s not hard to see why.  She’s beautiful, charismatic, a powerful female character who takes shit from no man.  But she’s also imperious, arrogant, and a bunch of even worse things I won’t list here because at least a few of them could still be called a matter of opinion (though I think the jury has returned its verdict).

Uchouten Kazoku 2 - 09 - 02If you’ve been reading my Eccentric Family posts since those beginnings, it’s safe to say you know I’m not especially fond of Benten – as a person.  As a character she’s great, one of anime’s best femme fatales.  But I don’t see her as especially morally ambiguous – I think she’s flat-out nasty.  Her delight in consuming tanuki hotpots is part of that, but I’m always highly suspicious of people who get turned on by their ability to frighten other people.  And let’s be clear – in the context of this mythology, tanuki are people too.  She’s bad news.

Uchouten Kazoku 2 - 09 - 03There is some time taken for unfinished business at the start of the episode – no, not Kaisei and Yasaburou, but Yajirou’s departure from Kyoto.  Tousen is too broken up about it to attend (just as well, as Yajirou turning into a furball on the platform would have been awkward) but Gyokuran steps in as a sort of de facto matriarch (what’s with the clacking stones together?  That’s a tradition I’m not familiar with).  This journey is one Yajirou clearly must make – even under normal circumstances the second son is a difficult role to play in traditional Japanese culture, and Yajirou’s circumstances are hardly normal (or ideal).

Uchouten Kazoku 2 - 09 - 04The meat of the episode, though, is absolutely the building crisis with Benten – and it again displays Uchouten Kazoku’s aptitude at creating an extremely tense atmosphere. The trigger to bring all this to a head is the election of the Trick Magister, a highly important position in the tanuki social hierarchy – an election which by tradition involves a tengu being the observer.  Sullen old Akadama-sensei refuses the duty, and worse still, he appoints Benten to do so in his stead.  The tanuki are understandably reluctant to have a member of the Kin-youbi Club act in this important role, and turn to Yasaburou – the “tengu expert” – for help.

Uchouten Kazoku 2 - 09 - 05Yasaburou’s role in all this is very interesting.  I see a fundamental difference between he and (to the best of my memory) pretty much every other tanuki we’ve met, in that Yasaburou is fundamentally unafraid.  He certainly knows how to grovel, but it’s never less than obvious that he’s playing a role when he does so.  Tanuki are expected to be subservient, to be humble – to cower in fear of what tengu and humans might do to them.  Yasaburou, really, isn’t afraid (Kaisei aside).  He knows the rules, but ultimately he trusts his own ability to manipulate others and think his way out of trouble.  Maybe that makes him the biggest fool among all foolish tanuki, but that’s a side of him I deeply respect.

Uchouten Kazoku 2 - 09 - 06Initially Yasaburou tries to persuade Akadama to play his part, as the tanuki elders have asked – but it’s clear soon enough that the old man is genuinely resistant.  He may also have an ulterior motive – to try and get Benten in a position to succeed him as head of the Kurama Tengu.  That in itself would be bad for the tanuki, but there may be other reasons for Yasaburou’s plan to have the Nidaime take the observer role – perhaps it’s a bit of payback for the way she manipulated the Friday club and caused Soun’s death.  Yasaburou’s relationship with Benten is obviously complicated – he’s probably in love with her, he respects her power (though doesn’t fear it as his fellow tanuki do), and he generally amuses Benten.  In that sense all these machinations can be viewed as a kind of 6th-grade courtship, but Yasaburou is clearly playing with fire here.

Uchouten Kazoku 2 - 09 - 07For me, the Nidaime is a character who’s become more and more sympathetic – not coincidentally as Benten and Akadama-sensei have become less so.  He, like Yasaburou, knows the role a tengu (he still denies being one, of course) is expected to play in the tengu-tanuki relationship.  But he treats the tanuki he interacts with in a more respectful way that any other powerful figure in this story.  He and Yasaburou are much alike in fact, it seems to me.  I wonder now if the Nidaime will act as a true defender of tanuki now that it seems this is escalating into a genuine crisis.

Uchouten Kazoku 2 - 09 - 08Perhaps this is a time when Yasaburou’s bravery crossed over into genuine foolishness, because it’s easy to see why tanuki are implored to never get caught up (much less cause) tengu disputes.  But what was he to do – allow Benten to preside?  For all his infatuation with her I think his (considerable) tanuki pride wouldn’t allow that.  There’s a lot of history between Nidaime and Benten, though, seemingly dating back to that finally-glimpsed encounter in London.  And that means this particular conflict (with all its implications for both tanuki and tengu society) is personal.  And as anyone could tell you, those can be the worst – and most vicious – kind.

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14 comments

  1. R

    Why did Benten refer to herself as human in this episode?

  2. I suspect because she still is a human to a degree. She was born human and the English guidebook for the show (the NISA boxset release) says “[Akadama] trained her to harness tengu powers.” (I suspect that the Nidamine is the same)

  3. Thank you!

  4. Little more on the stone striking from 10 days in the future: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2010/12/16/reference/kiribi/

  5. Thanks. This is an interesting custom – very, very old if the Yamabushi are behind it. Seems even many modern Japanese are unfamiliar with it.

  6. T

    *Phew* while being eaten in a hotspot seems to be an accepted way of life in the tanuki world I am happy that everyone involved agrees it would be fucked up to have Benten be the observer for the elections. While I do feel she is clearly at a crossroads in regards to her identity I definitely agree she is going through some serious power trip in this episode.

    For once I am happy Yasaburou foolish is being utilized in a way to address the problem on who can oversee this election, why its so problematic to have Benten take on a role that is not really entitled to her AND why she should not be the future successor for Akadama-sensei (granted a lot of it may be personal too, but I am glad that despite his infatuation with Benten it does not blind him from the tasks that need to be done). Honestly, I want to see more of Nidaime because not only is he and Yasabourou alike to an extent, but I am intrigued why he is so insisted on denying his tengu identity meanwhile he is also calling out that Benten has no business being a wannabe tengu while also indirectly stating he should be the next successor.

    Aside from Akadama-sensei obvious love for Benten I feel like he is just using her to simply deny Nidaime birthright. I have to wonder what do the other tengus feel about this? I mean a human has no business taking up a position that is entitled to a fellow tengu.

  7. Well, you know, I’m not so sure Nidaime isn’t like Benten a human who was trained in the ways of tengu. At the very least we’ve seen nothing to rule that out.

  8. s

    If Uchouten Kazoku follows the basic Japanese mythological context, the fact that the Nidaime could FIGHT his own father a hundred years ago indicates that he was fully born as tengu. Tengu status is actually pretty flexible, in that humans can (and do) train to be tengu all the time. However, traditionally it is believed that tengu raised in this way will be bound to their masters. They simply cannot challenge their masters directly. We saw this to some extent in Benten in season 1, in that she simply took the tengu stones GIFTED to her by Akadama-sensei and abandoned him while never trying to take the most powerful ones he still held (like the fan). In the same mythology, tengu could fight each other openly to gain position and power, but simply never break the master-disciple relationship. This may also have been another reason Akadama-sensei prefers Benten over his own son. She may be able to betray him but never challenge him.

    Also, Akadama-sensei is the head of the Nyoigatake clan, not the Kurama. The Kurama are tengu from Mt. Kurama in the north of Kyoto while Nyoigatake is the old name for Mt. Daimonji in the east. The big letters written in fire we see a lot in Uchouten Kazoku are part of the Mt. Daimonji Gozan no Okuribi festival. In the context of Uchouten Kazoku, the Kurama tengu have been trying to take over Akadama-sensei’s Nyoigatake territory ever since he banished the Nidaime and after he broke his back he couldn’t stop them. That’s why Shimogamo Souichiro took over defending the mountain from the Kurama on sensei’s behalf. This is why Benten trapping and killing Souichiro is extra nasty, considering that Souichiro faithfully defended what would have become her heirloom for all those years.

    Also, the reason why Akadama-sensei is the tengu all tanuki look up to is because all the major tanuki families’ domains are located in his territory. Nanzenji temple (Gyokuran’s home) is located right on the foothills of Mt. Daimonji. Yasaka shrine (home of the current Trick Magister) in Gion and Shimogamo shrine (Shimogamo family home), are slightly west of the mountain, with Ebisugawa district (Ebisugawa family home) further west.

  9. Z

    I am woefully lacking in my Japanese mythos knowledge, but in the Kamisama Hajimemashita universe, there are no female Tengu so the King of the Mountain has to steal human women to have his babies. I had made the assumption that Uchouten Kazoku was going with the same world dynamics, and that was why Akadama took “Benten” in the first place, and as old as he is she was clearly not the first baby generator he had stolen. One of my current hypotheses is that the Nidaime was very affectionate with his own mother (a human) and considers himself more human than tengu. My other guess is maybe by losing the fight with his father and being driven out, he cannot call himself a tengu.

  10. Yep, definitely a realistic possibility.

  11. Great analysis, so far my feeling about this season is that its better than season 1 in terms of consistency, although it might not have reached those peaks yet.

    About that top gear comment last week, I kind of feel the same way about Natsume Yuujinchou: several forgettable episodes in that series and generally its good quality, but when it switches to high gear almost nothing in the anime catalog can match it.

  12. Here is little more detail on the old tradition of the sparks if interested: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2010/12/16/reference/kiribi/#.WTYnTkBlByU

  13. Z

    What was with that look Nidaime had on his face when he first saw Benten? Was that suppose to mean something?

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