Uchouten Kazoku 2 – 03

The Gist: Benten returns and crushes Tenmaya, who is both obsessed with and terrified of her. Yasaburou and his mother Tousen visit Tousen’s mother, an ancient white fluffy tenuki, and ask for help turning frog-brother back to normal. The grandmother is blind, kind, and cryptic, but offers some medicine.

Later, Yasaburou and his little brother visit Nadaime’s new location, which is a lovely roof top mansion, and share some afternoon tea. Benten shows up and completely fails to dominate Nadaime. Major magical conflict can not be far off now…

As is often the case, Uchouten Kazoku wandered us through several lovely, dialog heavy scenes that straddle the line between inconsequential and deeply magical. However, because Uchouten Kazoku treats its magical settings and characters as every day occurrences, exposition is kept to a minimum.

What is grandmother’s place in tenuki culture? What are the other tenuki doing around grandmother? Is it a ceremony simply because she is old or is she part of the shrine or something else? Leaving us with a heavily detailed but unknowable scene renders it dreamlike. Captivating.

The rise and fall of Benten is more or less the defining arc this week. As with Nadaime, she abruptly falls from the sky full of power and crushes Tenmaya. While we learn no details about their rivalry, and Benten is almost as interested in Yasaburou’s moon (stolen by Tenmaya) as she is in Tenmaya himself.

Here Benten is full of power and flaunts it. Yasaburou has no course but to ask very nicely for his moon back and Tenmaya has no choice but to shed his fake skin and flee. Benten casually rolls the moon around her fingers and, when she tires of it, simply throws it back into the sky before demanding even more courtesy from Yasaburou and wandering off to visit her master.

That domination comes to a quick end when Benten arrives at Nadaime’s new house and arrogantly lays down on the couch Nadaime had planned to use for his afternoon nap. Always polite, Nadaime asks her to leave and when she will not, he spreads a sheet on the floor and dumps her out. Paying her no mind, he thanks everyone for their visit and gets ready to nap.

The contrast between Nadaime and Benten is rather interesting. Both are powerful and throw their weight around but it is hard to figure out which is ‘good’ or not. Despite her malice and abuse, Benten seems to care for Yasaburou. (At least she cares enough to want his attention) Where as Nadaime, despite being generally polite in dialog, is obviously dismissive of Tenuki in general. He’s tollerent of them, but does not especially desire to have them around.

The Verdict: Despite the masterful craft poured into Uchouten Kazoku, it is not always an exciting nor engaging show to watch. Again as last week, episode three was full of action, characters and conflict, but it lacked a sense of purpose. Nadaime’s shirt ironing, Yasaburou’s grandmother, and Benten playing with the moon were all interesting curiosities but, not counting Nadaime and Benten’s cliffhanger show down, nothing consequential actually happened.

Uchouten Kazoku 2 – 02

The Gist: Akadama and Nidaime’s top-dog Tengu fight ends before it even begins, with Akadama falling off the building and Nidaime not seeing his father being worth the effort to fight. For whatever reason, Akadama takes this as a victory, which Yasaburou thinks is patently absurd.

Though perhaps that’s Nidaime’s point in not calling himself a Tengu? The very definition of Tengu may project an arrogance that he finds unnecessary and unproductive.

Meanwhile, a noodle shop opens on the roof of the shopping arcade and the owner wont take it down. Apparently, he can extend his chin as a whip, amongst various other illusions and even Yasaburou’s foolishness is not enough to win the day. Actually, Yasaburou ends up a hypnotized bear, and is nearly shot by the police…

This conflict leads to a few passing confrontations between Yasaburou and his formerly betrothed, who’s angsty at him for a variety of things but, most obviously, that they are no longer engaged. Even though Yasaburou is the only one who doesn’t realize there’s no reason for them not to be engaged anymore…

It also leads to the introduction of a painter who doesn’t want to sell his paintings and reveals the name and identity of the noodle shop owner. Tenmaya, who appears magical but is also consistently referred to as just human, apparently climbed out of a painting of hell because the painter illustrated a Buddha holding a spider’s thread out to the damned… it’s unclear who the painting belongs to or what the significance of all of this is. (Tenmaya doesn’t seem to want anything from life except amusement)

What is clear is that Yasaburou probably shouldn’t have tried to scare Tenmaya by turning into a demon, which is where the episode ends. A shotgun pointed right in our poor foolish hero’s face…

The official theme this week is that we are in the age in which Man plays tricks on Tenuki. However, for me, the story was more about the world not being able to move forward. (or not being aware of its lack of forward development)

Akadama is not only stuck in the tradition of Tengu, but also stuck on his conflict with his son. Despite his rejection of Tengu, Nadaime hasn’t moved ahead himself, which is evident from his characterization of Akadama being pathetic because he interacts with Tenuki, and Nadaime’s somewhat vaguely contradictory like/disrespect of Yasaburou throughout their encounters.

Yasaburou is stuck in last season’s position of servitude to the community, pranking around without purpose, and with not advancing his relationships with family and his love interest. He doesn’t exactly have a strong narrative reason to have changed, but he hasn’t changed regardless.

The Verdict: Uchouten Kazoku takes a casual approach to narrative. It just sorta wanders all over the place, touching on many different story threads, but without any sense of specific purpose. This very much fits the nature of Tenuki, and the experience is enjoyable enough due to the odd and specifically weird situations, but it does risk becoming so whimsical as to lose my attention.

It’s already somewhat hard to follow, due to the gigantic cast, many of which can shape-change and many others who simply don’t get enough story time for me to remember who they are or what their objectives may be.

For now, the magic has me under it’s spell. However, like Akadama, I too miss Benten and the sense of specific adversarial focus she brings. Hopefully, we’ll see her sooner than later…

Uchouten Kazoku 2 – 01 (First Impressions)

The Gist: the stage is set some time after the events that closed the first season, with the cast serving mostly familiar roles. The Shimogamo brothers are an eclectic, often disrespected, but equally relied upon members of the Tenuki community.

Yasaburou continues to take care of the elderly Akadama-sensei, who appears a bit depressed now that Benten is on an extended vacation. Yasaburou’s older brother is still vying for the position of leadership amongst the Tanuki, the youngest brother is immersed in books and his own world, and the second brother is still a frog at the bottom of the well. Fools’ blood all around but fools’ blood where we would expect it.

One day, while Yasaburou is searching for a mythical snake, a couch falls from the sky. Eventually, this leads him to meet Akadama-sensei’s son, who’s returned after over a hundred years in exile. While their exchanges are guarded, the two wayward sons seem to bond over clever and polite banter. However, it’s obvious that Akadama’s son will be a source of major conflict.

Sure enough, by the end of the evening, Father and son stand on a roof ready to duel…

At it’s core, this opening episode is a leisurely exploration of nostalgia and the challenges of tradition (or, perhaps, generally grappling with the past).

Yasaburou’s snake-hunt is something his father own father played at long ago. It’s even how his father and mother met, which Yasaburou attributes as the singular reason he and his four brothers exist.

Meanwhile, Yasaburou’s older brother is attempting to revive the town’s shoji tournament, which has not been run since their father was cooked in a hot pot. Not only does this repeat the shadow of the father motif, but it reinforces the older brother’s need to retain the family place as an upstanding leader in the community. It’s strongly implied this will let him tanuki-bang the wide eye’d girl at the clinic too.

Double meanwhile, Akadama and his son have an unavoidable need to battle, due to their traditional pride as tengu. However, neither seems up for that tradition (Akadama physically and his son emotionally). It’s comical to see the modern tengu, a classless lot, dressed like dime store mobsters, egg them on from afar. As Akadama’s son says when he first meets them: if you’re tengu, at least put some pride in it.

You should probably watch Uchouten Kazoku’s second season because the first was a lovely, whimsical tale of weirdness. While the narrative buildup and payoff, and the tension along the way lacked the emotional impact of other weird-genre shows (Tamako Market, Tatami Galaxy, Mr.Despair), Uchouten Kazoku absolutely rules the roost for world-building. Only Durarara!! comes close.

You may choose to skip Uchouten Kazoku because it’s destined to be a slow build with an all-too-uneventful finish. While the high concepts appeal to me, and pose a creative challenge to tease out and express via review, I must admit that academic focus creates a barrier between the story and emotionally resonant action and conventional drama.

The Verdict: Uchouten Kazoku is solidly enjoyable to look at and confidently cool. Despite being a slow burn, it presents a lot to absorb; at times, too quickly for me to read without pausing.

But that’s hardly a complaint, as re-watching and rewinding lets me revel in its wonderful camera angles, solid color work, imaginative facial expressions, character designs and gestures. The music choices haven’t stuck with me but that also means I have no complaints about them either.

Uchouten Kazoku – 13 (Fin)

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Yaichiro informs the elders of Soun’s treachery, but he stubbornly feigns innocence. Enraged, Yaichiro transforms him into a tiger and throws Soun through the wall, into the room where the Friday Fellows relocated. They have mother in a cage, which even enraged Soun, and when Hotei gets a good look at her, refuses to let her get boiled. Akadama interrupts the chaos and blows everyone away with his fan, and continues to chase Hotei through the streets as the Shimogamo brothers chase him. Benten takes over, coaxing him into a cab. The brothers talk to their mom, who is safe and sound at Akegarasu. The next day the family celebrates New Years at the shrine.

This episode takes some time to get going, as we must endure more of Soun’s lies, but Yaichiro finally does what we’ve wanted him to do for a while now: go into Tiger Mode and flatten him. In a city where humans, tanuki and tengu live in a delicate balance, they all end up converging at the same restaurant to celebrate New Year’s Eve. While the Friday Fellow’s sacred tradition is deferred and the election for Nise-emon in tatters, the Shimogamo family is made whole again. That’s all that mattered to Yasaburou, his mom, and us. Yajirou speaks to his mother again, Hotei meets the tanuki he nursed back to health, and even Benten returns to her master. New year, indeed.

Yasaburou has spoken at length about the idiot blood of tanukis. Perhaps part of that idiocy is trying to create the same hierarchies and possess the same lofty ambitions as humans. In the end, Souichiro rose as high as a tanuki could rise, but it didn’t save him. Yasaburou doesn’t want to be Nise-emon. He just wants to live a full and interesting life, and to have fun with his family, which is now whole again. Of course, now all the tanukis and fellows who were present that very weird night will remember Yaichiro turning into a tiger and taking Soun down – some of the small “glory” Yasaburou allowed for in his New Year’s wish. And interestingly, he didn’t wish to see Kaisei’s face: that’s her choice.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)

 

Uchouten Kazoku – 12

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Yashirou heads to the well and makes Yajirou drink a bottle of Denki Bran. He transforms into the False Eizan Electric Railway and races through the streets. After rescuing Yasaburou and capturing the twins, they find the Friday Fellows, accidentally ram their private room with the train, and free Yaichirou. Jurojin moves the fellows’ party to Sensuiro, the same restaurant where the elders and Soun are assembled. After Yashirou disrupts their meeting with the Raijin fan, Yaichirou arrives to expose Soun’s plot.

The ladies did their part last week; now it’s up to the brothers: starting with Yashirou. Worried, perhaps justifiably, that he alone won’t be enough against the Ebisugawas, so he makes the inspired choice to give his froggy brother a try. Yajirou doesn’t think he can help, so Yashirou gets him drunk, and we’re off to the races. Of all the memories reminisced throughout this series, one of the most joyful was of a drunk Soichirou riding the False Eizan Electric Railway, Yajirou’s signature transformation. This time the joyride doubles as the conveyance for the Shimogamo family’s salvation.

We’ll admit we pumped our fists when that train rammed into the Friday Fellows’ party; even if it wasn’t intentional, it got the job done with panache. Sorry Yodogawa, no tanuki hot pot for you! At least, not the tanuki he thought. Worryingly, the Shimogamo mom remains in custody, likely as Soun’s last bargaining chip. If a tanuki has to be eaten, we’re hoping it’s Soun, but until that’s decided, this week showed that when they join forces, the Shimogamo boys can reverse the grim fates their evil uncle set up for them, and perhaps save tanuki society from his poisonous corruption.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)

Uchouten Kazoku – 11

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Benten saves Yasaburou by using him as an umbrella and flying away. She tells him Yodogawa is claiming the tanuki soon, and right after she leaves he spots him, covered cage in hand. Yasaburou follows him to a restaurant, where he orders an egg bowl, but it was all a trap by the Ebisugawa brothers. Poison in the egg bowl makes Yasaburou revert to tanuki form and they cage him. Soun brushes off judgment by his sister-in-law and delivers Yaichiro to the real Yodogawa. Kaisei notices a light in the warehouse and frees Yashirou, but she must stay behind to occupy the guards.

The ladies come up big this week, with Benten saving Yasaburou from capture by Soun. It’s only temporary freedom, though, as Ginkaku and Kinkaku actually get one over on him. Disgusted by her brothers’ behavior, Kaisei decides to sabotage her family’s plans by springing Yashirou. Benten could pass of her heroics as simply needing an umbrella, but Kaisei’s won’t be so easily explained to her father. So two brothers remain free, though one is small, weak, and timid, and the other is a frog in a well who doesn’t think he can change back. Still, better than nothing, right?

As he sits in his cage under the watchful eye of an iron-girded Ginkaku and a creepy Kinkaku who’s giant face is literally popping out of the wall, Yasaburou gets broodily philosophical, as Yajirou is wont to do. Everything that he and his family has endured is all part of being a tanuki, whether it’s tricking humans, annoying tengu, or getting captured and eaten. Their situation can be fully explained by their blood. But as his mother protests, the Soun and his sons aren’t acting like tanukis. Such horrible treachery is more suited to humans or tengu. Which is precisely why they can’t be allowed to lead tanuki society. They’ll be its downfall.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • The twins’ elaborate “back in the game” celebration upon capturing Yasaburou was a fantastic piece of stagecraft.
  • When a caged mother tells Soun how pained his brother be if he knew how horrible his brother had become, Soun simply says “he knew I was like this.” Cold bastard.
  • We realize he’s not strictly a villain, but when Yodogawa takes delivery of Yaichiro, the tone of his voice is blood-curdling.
  • Again, mad props to Kaisei, who is just plain badass this week. We only wish she could go with Yashirou to teach her dim-witted brothers a lesson.

Uchouten Kazoku – 10

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The day of the Nise-emon election – and anniversary of Soichirou’s death – arrives. Yaichirou heads to meet with the elders. The twins lock Yashioru in a warehouse. Yasaburou meets with Yajirou, when a thunderstorm suddenly rolls in, and Yasaburou runs off to find their mother. Yaichirou’s rickshaw is interrupted and he’s captured in his tanuki form. Yasaburou and the empty rickshaw arrive at the same time. Kaisei is there to again apologize, for it was her father who betrayed Soichirou and sold him to Benten. Soichirou and his elite guard capture Kaisei and surround Yasaburou…

For most of this series’ run, the Ebisugawa family has been primarily represented by the fumbling, dim-witted duo of Ginkaku and Kinkaku. Initially threatening and in control, but always ending up with tiger bites in their rumps. Their petty mischief lulled us into forgetting that the family they represent is not merely a political rival but an existential threat to the Shimogamo family. This week they’re charged with capturing the youngest, weakest Shimogamo, while their father, Soun, takes the lead in executing a carefully-planned takedown that is devastating in its efficiency. The episode oozes with imminent dread that gradually builds like that storm as things go from bad to worse.

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A day filled with so much hope and promise turns to utter shit for the Shimogamos, many of whom never see what’s coming. Kaisei’s apology last week definitely intrigued Yasaburou enough to relay it to Yajirou, and he knows as soon as he hears it something awful will happen today. This time, Yajirou’s crushing pessimism is perfectly accurate. Soichriou didn’t just get eaten by Benten; he too was lulled into a false sense of security, under the ingenious guise of a “reconciliation ceremony”, Soun uses So’s kryptonite – Benten’s mere presence – to revert him to tanuki form. So could only shrug and calmly accept defeat. Kaisei recounts the story to Yasaburo because her father had taken her with him to witness everything (in the form of one of a purse).

It’s very much left to our imagination whether So knew it was Kaisei he was taking along, just as its ambiguous as to whether Kaisei is actually fulfilling her family duty by stalling Yasaburou with her long and troubling story. At any rate, the Shimogamos are now on the cusp of total ruin, all for believing Soun had a shred of honor and trusting he’d follow the rules. The episode ends with Yasaburou surrounded and only Yajirou unaccounted for which could be the one fatal flaw in Soun’s grand scheme. Now that he’s the only one who can save his family, will the useless frog be able to transform into a useful tanuki?


Rating: 10 (Masterpiece)

Stray Observations:

  • “What’s with that cage in the corner?” Ah, shit, man. Run. RUN! AAAAAGH!
  • Other questions for next week: Will the cliffhanger end with Yasaburou surrendering, or will he be able to fight his way to safety, perhaps with an assist by Kaisei? We’ll see…
  • Other than the flashback, Benten was absent this week, but that flashback proves she’s quite villainous for accepting the leader of tanuki society on a platter simply to ingratiate herself with the Friday Fellows.
  • Any one of the captured Shimogamos could end up in their next hot pot, but we suppose the money should be on Yaichirou.
  • Yajirou says “I’m convinced a little brother is something everyone should have.” Well he has a nice one, but his late dad’s SUCKS.

Uchouten Kazoku – 06

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Yasaburou and Hotei follow Benten along the rooftops of Kyoto, stopping at a rooftop garden, where Hotei tells the story of how he met Benten, and fell in love with her on the spot. After she leaves, Hotei tells Yasaburou of the tanuki he met that same night: Nise-emon Shimogamo Soichiro, who spoke with him for a long time. After finally finding a way down to the street (thanks to Kaisei being a ladder) Hotei and Yasaburou part ways, Yasaburou changes to a frog to visit his brother, and Benten appears at the top of the well to cry.

This week the series made the choice not to end the Friday Fellows night to move on to the next day and another story, like the upcoming Nise-emon election, for instance. Instead, we delve deeper into the full-mooned night as Benten, Hotei, and Yasaburou continue to talk about things. Benten (or should we say Batman) never looks comfortable being followed or talked to in this way, and eventually peaces out. Then Yasaburou spends more time with Hotei, the man who saved his mother but ate his father, and the more time he spends with him, the more he likes him, even though he feels like he shouldn’t.

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There’s a good deal of philosophical discussion on this long night of drinking, eating, and talking. Hotei (AKA Prof. Yodogawa Chotaro) has most of the episode to simply talk about things he wouldn’t be able to talk with just anyone about: talking tanukis, loving to eat them (and anything else, for that matter), loving Benten, wanting tanukis to eat him when his time is up, and lamenting, like Yasaburou’s father, that he might not taste good. He doesn’t want to shrivel in a hospital and then be turned to ash. He wants to nourish that which he loved; to contribute to the life-stream as food for his food.

This episode also further reinforces Benten’s sheer, universal inscrutability. Neither tengu nor tanuki, she can’t quite just be called a human, either. Plucked from the riverbank by Akadama and trained in the way of the tengu, Suzuki Satomi threw her master to the curb as soon as she’d learned all she could, and for that Yasaburou may never fully forgive her. But for all her past misdeeds or her cold demeanor and refusal to let anyone in, she must still visit Yajirou’s well to empty her eyes of tears she’d bottled up all night, a bottling which could be a manifestation of her idiot blood.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • This episode was gorgeous even by Uchouten Kazoku standards. From the moonlit rooftops, to the bold autumn colors of the awesome rooftop garden, to Benten disappearing into a spotlight, back to the moonlight at the bottom of Yaijirou’s well. Lighting and shot composition were both magnificent.
  • We love every thing Hotei says in this episode, and you really can’t help but soften your opinion of him as an antagonist.
  • Ditto Soichirou, whom we see in that pivotal flashback, saying he’s fulfilled his duty as a Tanuki and feels nothing but gratitude for all the extra days he’s been blessed with, and trusts his family will be fine without him.
  • Kaisei has a neat cameo as a useful if out-of-place ladder, lending more credence to our theory we’ll never see her in human form.
  • We’re now about halfway through the series, and with the Nise-emon election looming, we suspect we’ll learn if Soichirou was right about his family surviving just fine without him.

Uchouten Kazoku – 05

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Benten corners Yasaburou at an antique shop where he’s meeting with Kaisei and forces him to attend a night of sukiyaki with the Friday Fellows, with the unveiled threat that they’ll boil him if he isn’t entertaining. He dazzles the increasingly drunk fellows with his transformations, even changing into a sultrier Benten. One drunk fellow, Hotei, waxes lyrical about his love of tanukis, including an injured one he found in a thunderstorm and nursed to health. When Benten gets bored, she grabs Yasaburou and they share cocktails by the moonlight, she reminds him that one day she’ll eat him up.

Just as the tanukis ride pleasure barges through the sky during the fire festival, the Friday Fellows partake of tanuki hot pot every year because it’s what they’ve always done. “It’s the rule,” says one, warning that questioning it could spell excommunication in this very exclusive club of highly successful men plus the enigmatic, capricious Benten. As the alcohol loosens his tongue, Hotei points out to his fellow fellows that he doesn’t eat tanuki out of obligation to tradition, but because he truly loves them. He sees no hypocrisy in rescuing one tanuki – probably Yasaburou’s mother – then turning around at the end of the year and eating another – one of which was Yasaburou’s father.

Knowing Yasaburou and his family and the intricate lives and tanuki society, we still have a bit of a problem with Hotei’s glib attitude towards devouring them – and Benten’s similar feelings toward Yasaburou. Benten even admits that it makes little sense to eat what you love, because eating is a form of destruction, and then the thing you like will be gone, which is sad. But they almost can’t help themselves. Ultimately, despite our disagreement with their tradition, it’s fairer to look upon them not as villains, but as predators. Nature placed them higher on the food chain, and they’re only exercising the rights that position affords them. Eating what they love is their version of “idiot blood.”

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Stray Observations:

  • Yasaburou’s secret meeting(s?) with Kaisei are pretty cute…but we still haven’t actually seen Kaisei in the flesh. Show yourself!
  • Even though we stuffed ourselves with barbecue fare prior to watching this episode, that sukiyaki still made our mouths water.
  • We see Benten at perhaps her least adversarial as she has a cocktail with Benten (at the coolest “bar” in the universe). While she threatens him as usual, she makes it clear she actually really likes him, and is lamenting the fact she may not be able to stop herself from ultimately eating him.

Uchouten Kazoku – 04

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The night of the Gozan Fire Festival arrives, and the Shimgamo family ascends into the sky with the port wine-fueled tearoom. Akadama gradually accompanies them, and they’re joined by his friend; the two recount the “False Nyoigatake Incident” and how Soichirou scattered the Kurama tengu.The Ebisugawas arrive in a grand flying boat (with Benten aboard) and harass the tearoom with fireworks. Yasaburou and his mom return fire, ignoring Yaichirou’s pleas for calm. The Ebisugawas grab the tearoom with an anchor, but Yasaburou ruins their ship and blows them all overboard with one of Benten’s folding fans. Akadama drinks the last of the wine, the tearoom crashes, and Yasaburou loses the fan.

There’s nothing like a great party, and the Kyoto tanukis certainly know how to hold one. Being suspended high in the air aboard grand ships and eating and drinking way too much is definitely a way to do it, but another tradition, their annual antagonism of the Shimogamos via sky battle, goes too far and strikes a nerve. Yasaburou in particular, disgusted by his older brother’s sniveling propriety, decides to take up the mantle of protector of the family’s pride and honor, if only for the night. He and his mother know that sometimes bullies need to be given a bloody nose. Benten, meanwhile, literally floats above the fray, drink in hand and aloof smirk on her face.

Interestingly, someone we don’t see is Yasaburou’s betrothed, Keisei, whom you’d think would be on the family boat he ultimately sunk. The party environment would have been a good chance for them to interact, but things got too adversarial too fast. We also enjoy how the party was also a venue for Akadama to stop pining for Benten for five minutes and reminisce on better times. The flashbacks continue to portray Soichirou as every bit the awesome badass everyone builds him up to be, making it that much more shocking that Benten made him into soup. Benten helps Yasaburou this week, but is she merely sizing up her next meal?

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • It goes without saying, but the launch sequence of the tea room, and all the subsequent scenes of the floating “pleasure cruisers” made for an incredibly beautiful sight.
  • We liked how the upstart Kurama tengu dressed in suits like Yakuza; one more insult to the heritage Nyoigatake Yakushibo stood for.
  • Yajirou was also absent, which was kind of sad.
  • If the tearoom isn’t rebuilt (it looked pretty far gone), the Shimgamos will have to find another cruiser next year. But more urgently, they’ll have to explain to Benten why her tearoom was destroyed (and her fan lost).

 

Uchoten Kazoku – 03

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With the Gozan Fire Festival coming up, Yaichiro asks Yasaburou to procure a leisure cruiser. Knowing Akadama has an flying “inner parlor”, he and Yashirou pay him a visit, but tells them he’s given it to Benten. They travel to a sunken clock tower where she is relaxing. Though the Ebisugawa twins already tried to bribe her into staying out of the tanuki feud, she decides to lend it to Yasaburou anyway, then summon a storm and grab a whale’s tail.

When the Shimgamo tanukis pilot a leisure cruiser in the sky during the Gozan Fire Festival, they’re not necessarily doing it to honor the memory of their ancestors, they’re doing it because they want to throw a huge party, and “that’s what tanukis do.” Yasaburou calls this an effect of what he calls their “idiot blood,” something they can’t control and must obey because it’s a part of what they are. To do so, though, they need a cruiser to replace the one they lost, and the mission to find one occupies Yasaburou and his brother this week. We love focused episodes like this that take one major mission and enrich by having Yasaburou encounter other characters along the way as he draws closer to his quarry.

It all unfolds very naturally, from his brother’s initial near-begging (their mother referees), to Akadama and his visiting tengu friend (both of whom seem a bit morose over their recent impotence), to a winding, surreal journey to Benten’s awesome marine “lair” (setting her up as an antagonist capable of benevolence), to the stunning storm she summons and the whale she pulls a whale’s tail, just because she wants to. The stunning flight of the floating, port-powered “inner parlour” is the cherry atop a marvelous episode that shows that preparing for a traditional event is an adventure in and of itself.

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Rating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • We like how the mom stops Yasaburou from making Yaichirou beg. The brothers need to limit their antagonism against each other; they have enough external antagonists.
  • We learn that Ebisugawa Kaisei was/is betrothed to Yasaburou, but he’s had very little exposure to her. Still, their pairing is what his father wanted.
  • The flashback of Soichiro transforming into a mountain was pretty sweet, reminding us of Mononoke Hime.
  • Yasaburou’s and Yashirou’s multi-stage “odyssey” to Bentens’ sweet relaxation spot reminded us quite a bit of Spirited Away.
  • We like Benten’s ‘informalware’, and learn she’s no stranger to skinny-dipping.

Uchouten Kazoku – 02

Yasaburou, Yashirou, Mother ("Prince"), and Yachirou

After masquerading as Benten to comfort Professor Akadama, Yasaburou hangs out at a pool hall, with her mother, who takes the form of a flamboyant “prince”. He then checks on his brother Yajirou, who is stuck in the form of a frog and lives in the bottom of a well. He goes to the power plant to pick up Yashirou as a storm brews, and the two are cornered by the Ebisugawa twins, but Yachirou rescues them. They then search for their mother, who reverts to a tanuki in storms, finding her under a bridge with the twins’ sister Keisei. Back home, she waxes about how lucky she is to have such nice sons.

Japan knows a few things about adapting to change. For centuries, they stood alone and isolated, either warring among themselves to being ruled by divine emperors. Even today, they still have an emperor from an unbroken line, but like the Queen of England, at the end of the day, he’s a figurehead. It’s a modern democracy now. He’s just not the boss of everyone anymore. It’s the same with the Shimogamos. When the patriarch Soichirou died, his widow and sons weren’t able to carry on his legacy and the united tanuki society he spent his life building fell into disarray. Only the eldest, Yachirou, seems dedicated to keeping the flames burning, but he’s also just a figurehead, and not the most respected one at that. Yachriou probably looks at the lives of his brothers with disdain because they represent a future (or possibly even a present) where Shimogamo is…just another name.

Rather than stubbornly stand against the winds of change, they let the change flow around them and adapted; it’s what raccoons do; tanukis too (probably). Their mother did the same. They still have their abilities and their name and their house and all the honor that entails, but they don’t live and die by that honor anymore; they live for themselves. Yajirou (the frog) believes Yasaburou was their father’s favorite, and it could’ve been for all the same reasons Yachirou believes he is shaming the family name. The Shimogamos may never rule over tanuki society again, but it’s enough to keep looking out for one another and live happy, full lives. Yasaburou and his mom seem to understand this intrinsically, while Yachirou is either unwilling or unable to let go of the past. His mom may be known as the “Prince”, but he’s the one still playing royal House.

8_great
Rating: 8 
(Great)

Stray Observations:

  • Looks like Benten doesn’t have a soft spot after all; it was just Yasaburou pretending to be her. You got us, show!
  • The Ebisugawa twins were thoroughly unpleasant, weren’t they? Kudos to Yachirou for dealing with them.
  • Talk about going off the reservation; by becoming a frog, it’s as if Yajirou is living some kind of pared-down monastic existence as a simpler form of life. No one can say the brothers aren’t a diverse bunch!
  • Apparently, the brothers’ dad was killed and boiled in a hot pot, and Benten may have had something to do with it. Yikes!
  • We got the impression storms make their mother revert to her tanuki form, thus rendering her vulnerable to the same fate as her husband. We may be wrong on that, but it explains why her sons worried about her so much.
  • Those twins may be shits, but their sister – who appears as nothing but a twinkling light, Doonesbury-style, is apparently much nicer.

Uchouten Kazoku – 01

ucho1

In Kyoto, humans inhabit the city, tanuki crawl on the earth, and tengu fly through the sky. Shimogamo Yasaburou is a Tanuki who can transform to many human forms, including a high school girl. In this form, he visits his mentor and teacher, Professor Akadama, a tengu, who also taught a girl, Suzuki Satomi AKA Benten, how to fly. Yasaburou delivers a love letter from Akadama to Benten while she’s having a friday out on the town. Yasaburou and Benten have a drink and discuss the professor, whom Benten meets up with later in the night, then checks on him while he’s sleeping.

And now for something completely different…from P.A. Works, that is. Not that we should be surprised; from the by-the-numbers action of Canaan to the otherworldly Angel Beats! to lovely romance-tinged slice-of-life of Hanasaku Iroha to the somewhat disappointing Tari Tari to the stunningly tense, moody, bloody Another, the studio is every bit the chameleon our protagonist Shimogamo Yasaburou is. Without any explanation other than “he can,” he spends the whole episode, save a flashback, as a young high school girl. If nothing else, it’s quite strange seeing him in this form as he smokes hangs out in underground bars and gets drunk.

The point of the human get-up is that he’s trying to live his tanuki life to the fullest, and for him, that means simply living an interesting life. His older brother clearly doesn’t approve, as the Shimogamo family carries a long and venerable history and big things are always expected of its members, but Yasaburou’s more zen-like lifestyle. The Kyoto he inhabits is lush, gorgeous, and richly detailed. We’ve come to expect superb beginnings from many P.A. Works. We’re looking forward to watching more of Yasaburou, Akadama and Benten as they navigate the blurred spaces between tanuki, tengu and human.

8_great
Rating: 8 
(Great)

Stray Observations:

  • Yasaburou’s older bro may not like what he’s up to, but his younger brother seems more okay with it.
  • The episode’s title is “The Goddess of Noryoyuka”, likely referring to Benten (the goddess) and Kyoto’s string of connected restaurant decks (the noryo yuka) where she entertains men on Friday evenings.
  • Benten is a hard nut to crack right out of the gate; the flashback shows a friendly, excited, possibly naive girl; the present Benten seems more world-weary. But to be able to fly from building to building? Pretty damn sweet.
  • While having a drink (in an awesome bar, by the way) a “demon king cedar incident” is brought up, one that cost the professor his ability to fly. Both seem guilty about it.

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