This must be the weekend for densely-packed episodes.
Uchouten Kazoku continues to linger out where the buses don’t run. There just isn’t a lot that tries to do what this series does in terms of complexity and sophistication – the writing here is God-tier. Even in a more conventionally plot-driven episode like this one, there’s still a free-form elegance and seemingly meandering flow that makes Uchouten something close to unique. While thematically very different, it does share that quality this season with Tsuki ga Kirei – narratively these shows are like rivers, rather than trains going station to station.
I’ve always noted that two seemingly contradictory things can indicate greatness in an anime episode – when my pad has a shit-ton of notes, or almost none at all. The Eccentric Family tends towards the former, especially this week (in contrast with, say, Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – especially this week) because there’s so much in this series that offers multiple interpretations, so much that’s going on beneath the surface of what we see. If I don’t make note of what strikes me in the moment, there’s no way I’ll recall everything I need to reflect on later before I can write – and that was certainly the case with this episode.
Let’s start with Benten and Yasaburou. Specifically, her comment upon departing the tanuki meeting – she calls Yasaburou a foolish child (well…) and notes that she’s “always been kind to him”. That’s fascinating in itself and begs to be interpreted – and my take is that in her own twisted mind, this “half-assed tengu” believes she has been kind to him. Something like eating his father is nothing less than her birthright if she chooses to, so that gives Yasaburou no grounds for complaint. She’s legitimately helped him on occasion, such as when Soun trapped him in the painting of Hell, and shown him many wonders and marvels. From Benten’s warped perspective, that amounts to kindness.
The upshot of all this is that Yasaburou is on the lam, hiding out in Souichirou’s shougi room in the forest. And not only that, Akadama-sensei has “excommunicated” him – and it’s clear that this hurts Yasaburou more than anything, because he does love the old man (as Gyokuran points out). He does at least have visitors (though some unwelcome, like Benten in a nightmare), among them Gyokuran (I loved that she brought the traditional Christmas KFC) and Yodogawa-sensei. I’m happy to see that he and Yasaburou seem to be on the same page about the latter’s “betrayal” – which was really just a desperate ploy to save the professor’s life. Yodogawa is an odd duck, but he really is a sweetheart – he declares that if nothing else, he’s going to infiltrate the Kinyoubi Club and save the tanuki himself.
Meanwhile Yajirou is still on his travels, sending (seemingly true) letters home stating that he’s getting better. His eventual destination is to hook up with the Kincho Clan in Shikoku, which he does – his introduction being a charming run-in with a little girl who loves frogs and holes (which makes her Yajirou’s soulmate by my reckoning). Uchouten Kazoku cleverly paints this as a wistful diversion from the main plot, but there’s a seemingly crucial development secreted inside it. When Yajirou meets the Kincho elders, sleeping in the next room is none other than Ebisugawa Kureichirou. That’s initially surprising, then rather alarming – though the extent to which it should be isn’t made clear until the final scene of the episode.
Before that, there’s a lovely intercut with Yaichirou, the ever-dutiful eldest son, on the day of his election as Trick Magister. He says goodbye to his proud mother, and on his way to the after-party at the Nidaime’s mansion reflects on a conversation with his father. I’ve loved every flashback with Souichirou, because the extent to which he and his sons adored each other is truly heart-wrenching. His advice to his son – “make a friend for every enemy you make, so that when you’ve made enemies of half of the tanuki all you need to do is look next to you.” He knew his son well, understood his fallibility, but loved him no less for it. He also tells Yaichirou to make sure he and his brothers always trust each other, because what happened between he and Soun was clearly the great regret of Souichirou’s life.
That brings us to the episode finale – and quite the agonizing cliffhanger it is. Kaisei visits Yasaburou at the shougi room in the woods and naturally, he immediately loses his transformation. She relates her worry over how much Kureichirou has changed – apparently he was quite the lazybones, but since his “return” he’s become serious and diligent (and opposed to the reinstatement of her betrothal to Yasaburou). The question isn’t so much whether this Kureichirou is an imposter – it seems clear he is – but rather, who is he, and why is he doing this? What sort of tanuki would be able to fool a species of tricksters who should be able to spot a fake a mile away?
For the moment though, even that huge plot twist takes a backseat to what happens next. Tenmaya shows up in the woods and shoots Kaisei with a tranquilizer dart, then Yasaburou (inconveniently unable to transform) when he tries to save her. My suspicion is that though both are taken into custody, the plan here is to devour Kaisei and force Yasaburou (technically a member) to if not participate, at least watch. Uchouten Kazoku is a series of subtle shadings, but I don’t see that with the Friday Club – I think this people are wicked and probably evil, plain and simple. I think if Akadama wasn’t in love with Benten he’d realize that (and indeed, already does on some level). This is obviously going to have to come to a head with the attempted rescue of those two, if not by Yodagawa-sensei then by someone else (perhaps the Nidaime, who won’t be pleased that his air rifle was used in the execution of a ritual he disapproves of). But my hope is that we see a resolution that confronts the existence of the Kinyoubi Club itself, which is an abomination and an affront to everything good and decent in this mythology.