Uchouten Kazoku 2 – 12 (End) and Series Review

Uchouten Kazoku 2 - 12 - 01Every so often when a series ends what strikes me most is, “that was a labor of love”.  Tsuritama and Kyousougiga spring immediately to mind, but there are others – anime where it’s very clear that the full heart and soul of the staff was behind the idea that this had to be great.  You can hear it in his voice when P.A. Works founder and president Horikawa Kenji talks about this show – no one at PAW was under any delusions that Uchouten Kazoku was going to be a commercial success, but everyone there loved the material and wanted it to be the signature work from the studio.  And after two seasons, I think it’s pretty clear they’ve succeeded (and, just maybe, broke even in the process – if they were lucky).

Uchouten Kazoku 2 - 12 - 03I’ll confess that this finale had me a bit worried at first, because it seemed to be heading in directions I was neither expecting nor especially liking.  I didn’t want a big, epic finale for this show (though it does epic very well) – it’s always the interior character moments that define Uchouten Kazoku.  And I was worried for a while there that we might see both a “deathbed conversion” for Benten, turning her into a good guy, and the tossing of the Nidaime under the narrative bus.

Uchouten Kazoku 2 - 12 - 04Soon enough, though, it became clear that none of those things were going to happen.  In The Eccentric Family things are both complicated and simple, and paradoxes are everywhere.  As Woody Allen once said, the world would be a wonderful place if it weren’t for certain people.  But of course, there are certain people – and tengu, and tanuki.  In a sense I think this story could be seen as the struggle of the rest of us to have wonderful lives and of the world to be wonderful, in spite of the bastards whose greed and vanity and petty vindictiveness screw it up for the rest of us.  And in true Uchouten fashion, I think tanuki are both the wisest and most foolish among us in this context.

Uchouten Kazoku 2 - 12 - 05To be sure, this episode does start out looking like going out with a bang – a kind of battle royale featuring every conflict that arose over the course of the past twelve episodes.  Yasaburou and Benten manage to crash Jyurojin’s flying rail cars onto the roof and into Nidaime’s house, which leaves him seriously pissed off.  Pissed off, too, is Soun – when he finds out that Kaisei has been caught up in his scheme (there’s that answered – thought so).  Jyurojin directs Tenmaya to toss every tanuki onto the roof into a hot pot, further cementing his status as the closest thing this series has to an outright villain.  But before that can happen, a giant hand reaches up from Jigoku and snatches Tenmaya (and Soun, who’s throttling him at the time) back down to Hell.

Uchouten Kazoku 2 - 12 - 06That’s really just the warm-up though, for the main event – one which I think we’ve all been expecting for a while.  In the end, for all his exaggerated dignity, Nidaime is just a man who – like most – can be unmade by a woman.  As best I can guess, it seems as if Benten looks just like the woman (a flapper) he fell in love with a hundred years or so ago, and fought (a losing one) with Akadama-sensei over.  My guess is that both he and Benten were human disciples of Akadama, and if indeed he’s been at it that long, it’s not surprising he has the edge in power over her.  Their battle is ugly – flames and wind, degenerating into nose-gouging and hair-pulling.  But Nidaime puts an end to it by setting fire to Benten’s hair, which was a pretty dark moment to say the least.

Uchouten Kazoku 2 - 12 - 07“Do you pity me?” is the question Benten asks Yasaburou when he comes to visit her at her mystical lake retreat later, to find her curled up in bed, locks shorn.  Yasaburou does – he loves her, after all – but do I?  Are we supposed to?  In the end I think Benten is a sad and lonely wretch, and this was a fitting way for her story to finish (for the moment).  Benten is powerful, and uses her power to tease and titillate and massage her massive ego.  She ran up against someone more powerful and was laid low, but in the process he also was laid low by her charms and by his own human frailty (though even in his dark despair, he had the detach to summon the rain and douse the blaze he’d started).  The Nidaime may have ended up in a less disheveled state than Benten, but the both of them end up coming across as pitiable.

Uchouten Kazoku 2 - 12 - 08The B-part of the episode returns us to the Uchouten Kazoku I love best, and how I hoped and expected it would end its run – with humor, warmth and wry wisdom.  Ginkaku and Kinkaku are left to reflect on their sins (Kureichirou is making sure they do) though it seems that they too were ensnared by Soun’s trickery.  Dear old Yadogawa-sensei returns to his Thoreau-like life in the woods, the tanuki population seemingly safe (for now), where someone (I’m guessing it’s Tousen) leaves him care packages regularly.  And Yaichirou and Gyokuran tie the knot at Heian Jingu, where Akadama-sensei comes to pay them his respects (and is no doubt thinking about Souichirou as he does so).

Uchouten Kazoku 2 - 12 - 09Finally, we have Yasaburou and Kaisei, who meet (back-to-back) at Tanukidani Fudoin, where Grandma (who apparently is literally Yasaburou’s grandmother) wanders over to pay them a visit.  She’s wonderful, as she was the first time – full of mirth and kindness and wise words, and it’s clear that Yasaburou and Kaisei are indeed tied together by the red fur of fate.  This really is the distillation of everything Uchouten Kazoku believes about life – have fun, have kids and make trouble.  This is the true wisdom of tanuki – to always keep the child alive inside yourself, no matter how old you may be.  Life is only overcomplicated when we allow ourselves to be distracted from what’s important.  And, of course, by certain people…

Uchouten Kazoku 2 - 12 - 10What does the future hold for Uchouten Kazoku, then?  Well, the first two seasons have more or less completely adapted the two novels by Morimi Tomihiko, so we’re certainly done for now.  Morimi-sensei is planning a third, but it was eight years (2007-15) between the release of the first and second so it may be a while before we see it.  Once the novel trilogy is complete, will there be a third season of the anime too?  Who knows where anime will be by then – where the world will be, for that matter.  I can pretty much guarantee that P.A. Works would love to complete this adaptation if there’s any conceivable way to do so, and it’s not impossible – Morimi’s novels are very popular, enough so that the anime sells a few discs and merchandise and enjoys a bit of cross-promotion (mostly in Kyoto, but also the cafe in Tokyo).  If there’s any way to make it happen, Horikawa-san will make it happen.

Uchouten Kazoku 2 - 12 - 11These days every time a series like Uchouten Kazoku ends I find myself wondering “Is this the last anime like this we’ll ever see?”  So far the answer has always been “no”, but it gets harder and harder to keep the faith as anime becomes more and more narrowly-focused and creatively stagnant.  But this show does teach us to be optimistic, so I’ll do my best.  As long as there are people in the industry willing to take the massive risks required to produce smart, challenging and subtle material like this, we have a chance – because there’s no shortage of brilliant written source material to draw from.  In that sense Uchouten Kazoku isn’t unique, but it’s nevertheless exceptional in every way – brilliantly wise, funny and warm – and the anime P.A. Works has crafted from it is every bit as exceptional.

ED Sequence:

 

 

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11 comments

  1. T

    Well Soun is literally in hell now so I can’t say much on that end, but I was hoping Nidaime would be the one to handle it. I am glad though Soun wasn’t so low that he would involve his own daughter in the tanuki hotpot scheme so I am happy to admit I was wrong in that regard.

    I really felt for Nidaime in this episode he had worked so hard to be different from what he was in the past and to be reminded of his weakness and lose his composure was really sad to see. The battle was so awesome and I am so happy he put Benten in her place because damn that woman was such on a power trip throughout this entire series.

    The relationship between Akadama-sensei and Nidaime is something I wished was explored more this season. I personally believe Nidaime is a tengu and is Akadama-sensei son, but perhaps he continues to deny his tengu identity for a variety of reasons we don’t know about yet and its clear there is a lot of unresolved tension between him and his father. I have no doubt in my mind that he wants to be different from his father and will continue to have his own internal struggle to do just that, but I did like that for once Akadama-sensei actually acted like a “father” (I say that really lightly because I can’t think of another word right now) and reminded his son that he needs to become stronger if he ever wants to be the person he strives for.

    As fo Yasaburou and Kaisei I was surprised that it was Yasaburou who declared and accepted that him and Kaisei will get married someday. It was cute, but unexpected, but i guess i shouldn’t be surprised since Yasaburou is a free spirit and does whatever he wants. There are moments i can’t tell what he is thinking at all.

    I am going to miss this show. It was one of the few I kept up with recently since nothing else holds my interest.

  2. C

    Fingers crossed for another installation of the foolish Tanuki saga!

    That being said, I wonder how effectively the second book was adapted and whether the loose ends in the anime were tightened up at all in the book. The Nidaime storyline took a bit a backseat to Soun’s (third?) attempt to seize power of any kind. I liked the finale but felt like the two tengu apprentices got very little closure. I’m also a little fuzzy in what exactly transpired between the Nidaime, the flapper and Akadama. Did she leave the Nidaime for Akadama or simply because the Nidaime lost a fight?

    In any case, thank you for blogging this series so faithfully and creating a space for other enthusiasts to read and discuss your reviews. With anime in its current state, people need every oasis they can find.

  3. M

    I do not think the Nidaime summoned the rain. When he comes back to his house and sees everything burning he flames back up and so does the house. But the rain comes with Akadama as he walks in to act like a father for a change. As I see it the Nidaime has built his life for the last hundred years around control and detachment but he lost all of that around Benten.

  4. M

    Meh, no dead Benten, no A rating from me. Nice effort though.

  5. Come now – you weren’t really expecting that, were you?

  6. Z

    It was a really good episode, but, it wasn’t a great one IMO.

    Things that made me super happy:
    – Grandmother, oh how I love Grandmother and her interactions with the family, and theirs with her
    – While I’m not a fan of Benten, I find her less repulsive when she and the Nidaime are straight-forwardly fighting each other. Those are the only times I really find her relatable.
    – Yasaburou and Kaisei sitting back to back so they can talk to each other
    – Finding out a tiny bit about the letter with the X that Akadama keeps, but still being completely baffled about what it means. (Yes, that was a thing I liked)

    Things I felt were flaws:
    – Jyourojin gets no comeuppance other than a crashed rail car, in fact it’s like the narrative completely forget about him after he got blown back by the demon hand grabbing Suon and Tenmaya
    – Akadama’s inexplicable about-face in his attitude towards the Nidaime, Yasaburou, and perhaps even Benten

    So, yes, really good, but flawed. 8.5/10

  7. Y

    I actually liked the finale of this season more than the finale of season 1, simply because it felt like all of the characters are moving onto a different phase in their lives with this ending and I was also surprised by how ugly things got with the Nidaime and Benten fight. Nidaime and Benten, even for all those years they’ve lived, are still immature fledglings. By the way, does anyone know how to interpret Akadama-sensei throwing his fan to the side? Is it a symbolic gesture? (I kept thinking someone’s going to pick it up and pocket it again as a potential plot point for season 3).

  8. While stuff like the Nidaime’s whiplash mood swing and Gyurojin’s non-ending are minor niggles, I’d agree in general. I wasn’t that crazy about the ending of the first season to be honest – especially as regards Yajirou’s arc, which I thought was kind of misguided in the way it finished. There was definitely more of a general sense of character progression this time.

  9. I don’t think that this will be the last show like this…
    Masaaki Yuasa keeps working and working, and since a lot of the anime industry is one of the circles of Hell all by itself, the people inside of it just can’t stop making something «worth their life» every now and then.
    Let’s cheer for this beautiful world that gave us not only one but two seasons of the most mischiveous family out there 🙂
    PS: I love Benten… sadly, Yasaburo ended up with Kaisei… oh well. Still, Satomi being snatched only leaving her backpack by Akadama and Benten silently cryin on Yajiro’s well will always live in my heart…

  10. Q

    I know this is a bit late, but anyway just a bit of thoughts 😀

    I have a feeling that there’s more to the feud between Nidaime and Benten than the eyes could see. As proud as they are as a being, their duel became so disturbing and they look like they are being desperate as hell. And then comes the most intriguing detail… Before setting fire to Benten’s hair, Nidaime intentionally came close to her as if he was going to hug her; and Benten – being desperate and fierce as she was just before that – suddenly loosen herself and fell into Nidaime’s hands almost without any thoughts (which was just a trap set by Nidaime though, we all knew what happened after that).

    Somehow, it seems to me as if Benten was actually “searching for the one that she is destined to” as she was saying at the end of the 1st season, and ‘that one’ happened to be the Nidaime. Benten was acting provocative towards him this whole time just because she wanted him to “acknowledge” her and her feelings in a way. I’m not the only one who realized this possibility, some other people also suggested the same thing.

    Oh and by the way, I also think that Nidaime was not the one who created the rains, it was Akadama-sensei with his Fuujin-Raijin Fan. Nidaime was in such a hell of a rage that flames keep burning from his body, I don’t think he could have had the intention to kill the fire for his house in such a state.

  11. Better late than never! Thanks for commenting. I definitely agree that there’s more to the Nidaime-Benten dynamic than what we were shown. That’s a topic with room to explore in the third novel/season.

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