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.
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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.

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.