Kamisama Hajimemashita 2 – 07

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Botanmaru’s wretched state (he passes out from the mundane world “poison” and has welts from lashings) convinces Kurama to return to his home mountain from whence he descended seventeen years ago, when he wasn’t much bigger than lil’ Botan. I like how he admits he’s far more into the mundane world scene because of all the cute girls.

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One of those cute girls insists on tagging along in case she can support Kurama. Nanami constantly referring to her damn white talismans is a nice little running gag, but it’s also a more serious sign that she’s no longer one to sit on the sidelines as friends—or even mere acquaintances—face challenges. And fixing the problem on the tengu mountain is definitely a challenge.

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Kurama didn’t just hesitate to return because there are no women on the mountain. When he says he’s a failure, he means it; and not only did he flee the mountain, but he fled after his beloved brother Suiro, who was the fastest tengu on the mountain, saved him from a cruel trial, costing his mentor his wings, which, for a tengu, are everything. The one who put Kurama thorugh that trial is now poised to succeed the dying leader.

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The mountain is also covered in thick, nasty misasma in which evil spirits lurk, one of which exploits Kurama’s weakness and takes Suiro’s form. At first I was like “Okay, this guy is kind of lame for spouting all this exposition like this” but it turns out he was an imposter. The real Suiro is much kinder, though notably cold to Nanami, sending her on a trek to the outhouse.

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The somewhat mannerless Yatori has slinked his way into Jiro’s court, which is troublesome, since we know Yatori aims to hand this mountain over to Akura-oh. As friendly as he’s being with Jiro, this guy is no ally. Jiro, all puffed-up and tough; the yang to Suiro’s yin, doesn’t see Yatori as a threat, which could prove fatal as the crisis on the mountain worsens.

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The change of setting would be refreshing if it weren’t essentially a bunch of thick green-gray fog and dead trees. The mountain is a very dreary place right now, though Nanami is hopeful she can bring some light and joy, if only to a few wary fledglings, one of whom had his orphaned boar piglet slaughtered by Jiro while cradling it in his arms.

Jiro is all about tough love and strength; he has no time for the weak or sentimental. But it’s not at all certain Jiro is the right one to ascend to leadership—especially with Yatori hanging off of him.

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Jiro is built up throughout the episode as a bit of an ass, but these are dire times and he has cause to put up a hard line. So when he spots Nanami under the cherry blossom tree she temporarily restored and seems to be instantly smitten (and why not; Nanami is a cutey), it’s clear this guy isn’t your normal villain/usurper. But while I realize this is the introduction to a more tengu-focused story arc, I was still miffed by Tomoe’s exceedinly scant presence.

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Kamisama Hajimemashita 2 – 06

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Following the Divine Assembly, this week’s Kami-Haji is a bit of a disjointed grab bag, with some parts superior (in terms of my interest in them) to others. I’ll get right to my favorite part: the aftermath of Nanami’s talk with Mikage. Despite Mikage’s blessing, without knowing explicitly why Mikage wants Tomoe to “choose” her so badly (beyond wanting him to be free of him), Nanami remains hesitant in her courtship of Tomoe, especially when Lord Okuninushi recommends against it.

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Nanami even travels home separately from Tomoe in order to give her situation more thought, but thankfully, she gets another viewpoint, and one she should give more weight than Okuninushi, who as far as we know hasn’t ever truly loved a human. That other viewpoint comes from Himemiko. It only takes one look at Nanami to sense her uncertainty, and wastes no time setting her straight.

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Nanami thinks she’s being reckless and foolish to cultivate a romance with Tomoe because she knows she’ll die long before him, and thus knows she could break his heart when that day arrives. She’s doubly concerned with the fact this would be the second time in Tomoe’s existence that he’s survived a human lover. But I, like Himemiko, think Nanami has it all backwards.

It’ll do Nanami no good to conceal her love the rest of her days, or settle for someone she doesn’t love. Rather, she should treasure what time she has in the living world with Tomoe, expressing her true and unfiltered feelings, not letting those years go to waste and lead to regret. Himemiko speaks from experience: the pain of one day losing her human love Kota will pale in comparison to the regret she’d have in her heart had she never pursued him.

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As great as Himemiko and Nanami’s day of shopping and love talk is, it doesn’t quite fill a whole episode, which is a good thing, as I preferred the montage (during which a lovely arrangement of the first season’s opening theme plays) to a more heavily-padded shopping scenes. Still, that means the balance of the episode must be filled, and in this case, it’s filled with less compelling stuff.

Kirihito/Akura-oh’s quest to restore himself has promise, but the introduction of Yatori is sudden and shrug-worthy. Sure, I dig Yatori’s Sia Wig and crazy green eyes, and the fact he’s aware Kirihito is really Akura-oh (and Kirihito believes him to be a fool, which he isn’t), makes for an interesting dynamic. But nothing happens yet; Yatori only promises to raise a force and begin a campaign against the tengu mountain of Kurama in Akura-oh’s name. Kirihito’s just, like…“um, thanks?”

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The mention of Kurama calls to mind Nanami’s crow-tengu classmate and sometime-ally Kurama, who just happens to be having a concert that Ami invites Nanami to (Tomoe outright refuses). She then accidentally steps on a little tengu named Botanmaru who just happens to be looking for a fellow tengu who came down from the mountain seventeen years ago.

Botanmaru is specifically after this tengu because he doesn’t believe the commonly-held opinion among his peers that leaving the mountain made him a failure. He also looks up to him as an inspiration, because both of them are late-bloomers (Botan still can’t fly) and hopes he’ll be able to offer some advice.

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To Nanami’s surprise, the one Botanmaru seeks is Kurama. With her extra ticket, she takes Botanmaru to his concert, where he’s in Full Fallen Angel Idol Mode, and not anywhere any guy, particularly Tomoe, wants to be. The episode concludes without the two tengu meeting yet, but it seems the next main storyline will be about this, and I suspect Tomoe will object to Nanami intervening in tengu affairs, for no other reason than it means having to hang out with Kurama.

Nanami’s observation at the end that Kurama never actually plays the acoustic guitar he breaks out on stage for his “ballad”—it was just a prop—is a funny way to close.

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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 – 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 – 08

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After confessing his role in their father’s death to Yaichirou and Yasaburou, Yajirou recounts the last night he spent with father on a secret consultation. Yajirou was in love with Kaisei, and wanted to leave the family, but Soichirou told him to endure, saying he had split his blood into four sons, and it was imperative they stick together no matter what. He felt the best way to seal their connection was to depart.

After Yaichirou went home, Yasaburou picks Akadama up from the bath, and Akadama tells him he was the last one to see Soichirou, who had no regrets about “retiring early” and made the tengu promise to look after Yasaburou. Back home, Yasaburou and Yaichirou learn that mother knew why Yajirou holed up in a well, and doesn’t want them to be hard on him for it.

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Shimogamo Soichirou’s four sons each inherited a specific characteristic: Yaichirou got his responsibility, Yajirou his easygoing personality, Yashirou got his innocence, and Yasaburou his idiocy. Even as he leaves his mortal coil, he leaves knowing as long as his brothers stay together, he will still remain whole in the world through them, and they can achieve the same great things he did as a result. Soichirou wasn’t so fortunate with his own brother.

Ever since Yajirou changed into a frog, the brothers have been out of balance. With the easygoing bit gone tension and resentment took over. With all the truth now revealed, and the realization Yajirou didn’t kill father; but their father met his tanuki end willingly and without regret, they are back on the road to reunion and balance Soichirou strove for. He didn’t care if his family declined in political power; as long as they continue to be a loving family, he’ll rest in peace.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • This was a lovely episode full of emotional, even heartrending moments, but we felt the score overplayed its hand, descending too often into melodrama. There were several instances where little if any music would have been just as affecting, yet there it was, blaring over the dialogue, making sure we knew how to feel.
  • Yajirou turning into an electric train and taking his dad on a ride was just a gorgeous sequence, as was Akadama’s final meeting with Soichirou.
  • While he had no say in his betrohal to Kaisei, Yasaburou seems aware of the fact that if Yajirou blames himself for what happened to their father, Yasaburou can just as easily blame himself for being the cause of Yajirou’s strife in the first place. Both would be equally unfair to blame themselves.
  • Next week: Keisei episode! Will we finally see her in the flesh? Akadama says she’s very attractive, and we trust the old man’s taste.

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.

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 – 01

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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.

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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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