Uchouten Kazoku, Reviewed

Greetings, peeps. This is Harubro, the second of three dudes with things to say about Japanese cartoons. On top of being a WordPress rookie, I’m also probably the least talented of the three at writing, so please bear with me as I improve on my newfound craft. As Yata explained before, the three are of us starting off with reviews of some of last year’s standout shows. Fortunately for me, I have the privilege of reviewing Uchouten Kazoku (also known as The Eccentric Family) , the masterpiece by P.A. Works, which aired in the summer of 2013.

tanukiUchouten Kazoku is based off of the 2007 novel of the same name written by Tomihiko Morimi, the genius behind another masterpiece known as The Tatami Galaxy. The story follows the eccentric Shimogamo family of Japanese tanuki as they interact with the locals of Kyoto and gradually uncover the mysterious circumstances surrounding their father’s death. Our protagonist is Yasaburou Shimogamo, the third son of four, a laid-back tanuki who obsesses over the daily interactions of the people who inhabit the city, the tanuki who crawl the earth, and tengu who fly in the sky. The city’s tanuki society is quite the bustling one, seeking to re-elect a new leader in the wake of the death of Yasaburou’s father, Soichirou, the previous head of the tanuki. The tanuki live in constant fear of the gentleman’s club, the Friday Fellows, who tossed Soichirou in a stew and ate him as part of their yearly tradition. Yasaburou and his three brothers tend to be regarded within the tanuki community as ne’er-do-wells. They regularly deal with harassment from their estranged uncle Ebisugawa and his two sons. Whilst his family seems to look to appease the tanuki community and their societal norms, Yasaburou blows these norms off, his only desire being the need to have an interesting everyday life. He looks after his master, a boisterous old tengu by the name of Yakushibou Nyoigatake, but mainly referred to as Professor Akadama. Amongst the membership of these Friday Fellows is a mysterious magic-using woman who goes by the name Benten. Her and Yasaburou were both students (willingly or unwillingly) under Akadama. The two now share a tenuous relationship as Benten laments that she will one day stew Yasaburou in the hot pot.

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This show’s first half wastes no time throwing us right into this fantastical depiction of Kyoto, building up the world around them, from the local bars or sunken clock towers in the middle of strange lakes inside teahouses. The two prominent tanuki clans are very quick to take to their antics, be it a lion-vs.-tiger transformation showdown to an explosive firework battle in the sky during the Obon festival. This family feud really comes to a head during the election of the new tanuki leader, the Nise-emon, with the eldest Shimogamo brother Yaichiro and and his uncle Soun Ebisugawa vying for the position. Another of the central themes to the series is how each character, especially the brothers, wonders how to carry themself, how they respond to adversity. Be it the eldest trying his best to stay politically correct and just calmly bear through it (as much of a farce as it seems to be for him) , the second son’s decision to withdraw from the world and become a frog in a well, or the youngest son’s inability to react because of his young age. Yasaburou himself is said to be the most like his father, almost carelessly choosing what’s the easiest or most fun (and not necessarily the best) option.

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While the first half of the show mainly centers on the introduction of characters and world-building, the second half is where the show really starts hitting its stride. The second half starts off with the second brother’s crushing revelation to his brothers concerning the night their father disappeared. The familial moment at the end of the eighth episode was, for me, one of the most beautifully written and hardest-hitting emotional moments that I’ve seen in a show, and one of the very few scenes in an anime to actually get me choking tears back. In the midst of all this, the bitter Nise-emon electoral campaign takes a sudden turn into a life-or-death situation for the Shimogamo family. Without spoiling how it arrives there, the situation ends up resolving itself fantastically and a great bit of hilarity.

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Uchouten Kazoku is by far and wide the best anime of 2013 – forget Attack on Titan, THIS is it. It flew in way under my radar at first, from the first moment this show was breathtaking. Every single moment of every episode goes unwasted, every interaction thoughtfully planned out. Unlike many, many other shows, the comedic moments are particularly well-timed and don’t come off as a distraction the way others tend to go. The scenery and animation are lovingly made. Every episode from beginning to end makes a mesmerizing use of a vivid range of color palettes and tastefully done visuals. Yes, Uchouten’s simple, unorthodox art style may seem sort of unambitious at first, but for this anime, it didn’t have to be. Personally, I think the unusual character design only adds to the overall whimsical flavor of it all. The understated soundtrack of the show never distracts from the moment at hand and only accentuates the show from beginning to end. The stylish OP and ED are both two of my very favorites, and were also very thoughtfully chosen for this series. And the story, man oh man, the story. A heartfelt comedic drama about living life, accepting the death of loved ones, the responsibilities the ones left behind carry in the departed’s absence, of the expectations of family and finding one’s place in society, and the different responses people have to them. A story of a family seeking peace, closure and a fresh start, one of realizing one’s true priorities in life. This series strikes particularly close to home for me, and speaks to me in ways no other show has done before.

Uchouten Kazoku is a rarity, the wonder of 2013 and one of the all-time greats. It’s damn near perfect, one of the true masterpieces of anime. So far, I can confidently state this is P.A. Works’ best piece, and the way the studio seems to be headed, it looks to stay that way for a long time coming. This is what the summit of the medium of anime looks like.

My rating of Uchouten Kazoku is easily a 10/10.

Uchouten Kazoku (The Eccentric Family) is licensed by NIS America and available on Crunchyroll. Do yourself a favor and watch it.

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