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.
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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 – 09

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At the tanuki gathering at a shrine for the two Nise-emon candidates to confer with the “Center Stone”, the Ebisugawas block the Shimogamo’s way, but eventually let them through. The scheduled Kurama tengu witness is unavailable, so Yasaburou is conscripted to convince Professor Akadama, and barely manages to do so. Later, on the near-eve of the election, Yasaburou encounters Kaisei at the bathhouse. She doesn’t think Yaichiro will win, and warns caution, while also offering a cryptic apology.

This episode moved the Nise-emon election plotline forward, but more importantly, holy crap, we finally see KEISEI! The reveal is tantalizingly slow and deliberate, starting with obscured shots that don’t show her face, and then there she is, in the bath of all places, where we can finally put a face to the voice of the girl stuck between two feuding families (though Yasaburou still can’t see her) She acknowledges her brothers are jackasses, but also makes an effort to defend them from insults. She also looks down on Yaichirou as Shimogamo’s nominee for Nise-emon.

We were thinking this isn’t just politically prudent for an Ebisugawa to not like him, but because she might actually think Yasaburo would be the better choice. We know when Kaisei says he “doesn’t have what it takes,” we know it, because Yaichirou only inherited one part of Soichirou, and is missing the others. But then, so is Yasaburou, and as lovely as a match as Kaisei and Yasaburou were, there would be no guarantee their marriage would have repaired the rift between the families, any more than So’s brother Soun’s marriage did. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • We enjoyed scene with the swarm of tanukis keeping their distance in half-sincere deference and fear from a stubborn Akadama, Yasaburou’s deft handling of him was also impressive.
  • In that scene, Yasaburou learns his father couldn’t transform around Benten.
  • We want a Yuzu bath…
  • Kaisei’s character design is suitably elegant and cute, and the whole tit-for-tat over-the-wall conversation with Yasaburou was lovely to behold.
  • A Yashirou-lit Christmas tree and fried chicken with the family…nothing better than that.

Uchouten Kazoku – 07

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Yaichirou, Yasaburou, and Yashirou drag Akadama to the bathhouse to clean himself up. The Ebisugawa Elite Guard barges in and Yaichirou is confronted by Kinkaku and Ginkaku, who want him to drop out of the race for Nise-emon. If he doesn’t, they’ll use their ace-in-the-hole to seal Ebisugawa’s victory: information that Soichirou got extremely drunk with Yajirou the night before he was boiled in a hot pot. Yaichiruo disperses the twins and rushes to confront Yajirou in his well, who admits that he got wasted with dad and left him behind, and ultimately to his doom.

All the strife and uncertainty swirling around the wounded Shimogamo family can all be traced back to the sudden boiling of their patriarch in a hot pot, and the mystery of how such a great tanuki ended up meeting such an ignoble fate. This week that mystery is revealed to Yaichirou and Yasaburou, and the truth they get stings all the more because it comes first from their feuding relatives, not Yajirou. Instead of ever telling them what happened after he stumbled home and passed out, Yajirou became a frog and never changed back, shedding his tanuki existence and all the baggage that comes with it.

Last week Yasaburou learned more about how his father faced his demise from the guy who ate him, but his father would have never even ended up in that cage had he not gotten drunk with Yajirou. It could be argued Soichirou died before Yaichirou was fully prepared to succeed him. Now Yaichirou’s election as Nise-emon on his own merits is threatened by the scandal the Ebisugawas will use as ammunition. Knowing how dearly his mistake cost him and his family, no one can blame Yajirou for preferring to live in the bottom of a well. Not for his sake – even as a frog he can’t escape his guilt – but for everyone else’s, taking himself out of the game lest he make another costly mistake.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

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 – 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).

 

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.

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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.