This is review number two hundred and forty three. This anime is part of the Summer 2013 lineup. The anime I’ll be reviewing is Uchouten Kazoku or “The Eccentric Family”. It’s a thirteen episode anime about humans eating tanuki for their hot pot. Oh wait. It’s something more complex. Um…it’s something a lot more complex than that. Let’s just read on.
This anime is about a shape shifting tanuki named Yasaburou Shimogamo. His life is really interesting because he is a student of a tengu, he is close friends with a human and his father, a once great tanuki by his own right, was boiled in a hot pot by a bunch of humans. His days are busy. If he isn’t attending to his old professor then he’d be fighting with some members of the Ebisugawa family or he’d be with his family enjoying time together. They’re a close knit family and they do their best to make each other happy even through some tough adversities.
Taking the Pants Off
An anime adapted from the novel of the guy that created The Tatami Galaxy. That was really all I need to know to convince me to watch this show. Tatami Galaxy is one of the closest anime in my heart and it was because of the whacky visual presentation and the sophisticated storytelling. I would definitely want to see more works from the guy that wrote one of my favorite shows. Add in the fact that PA Works will be handling the show and Koji Kumeta will be doing the character design then you have a pretty promising show. My mouth puked rainbows when I read the description of this anime in the seasonal lineup. As much as I enjoyed this show though, this is definitely a bit hard to recommend. Its dialogue heavy, and it had an established status quo at the start of the show that you spend the rest of the episodes trying to figure out. If you can patiently try and complete the puzzle then you are rewarded with a satisfying anime experience. The show is definitely complex and trying not to get overwhelmed by it is tough. I can’t help but smile though at the sophisticated story the show offered because it certainly reminded me of the rather complex one Tatami Galaxy had.
The main idea of the show is that…well…the lead character is a tanuki. This was probably the hardest thing to point out in the show. It had a lot of plot points that comes together into one big story. All the plot points are different in their own right but with familiar characters going in and out as it progresses. The thing you’ll notice though is that the show gradually develops into something really intriguing when you realize how one plot point mingles with the other and how they will eventually meet in one fitting finale. When you first watch the show, it will be a directionless mess full of characters and subplots that absolutely makes no sense. You’re not really sure if it’s relevant because you’re still figuring out the story and the anime keeps shying away from it. This is often the big problem with novel adapted anime. They always have a rough start and a concept hard to grasp when you’re only a few episodes in. This was the case for both Shiki and Shin Sekai Yori, for people who have seen the show. They start out really slow with no clear direction until about the seventh or eighth episode. As you keep watching though, it eventually becomes clear and the show just keeps building later on. This was the same case for Uchouten Kazoku. The biggest hurdle here though is that it is only twelve episodes so establishing the main concept in such a short time will definitely be tough. I can assure you though that the show was able to pull it of splendidly. All of the components come together beautifully and really, the only downside is the rather skewered first few episodes. It’s like when most shows are entering the house through the door, this one decided to enter the window so you’re really wondering what the hell it’s up to. The first thing to figure out about this show is to understand the already established status quo of the show.
This is really what made the show a bit intimidating. There was already a status quo built when the show started and you’re asked to catch up. I don’t want to spoil much of it but I think this one needs to be set straight. Okay, the show is about modern day Kyoto where humans, tanukis and tengus co-exist in one place. Tanukis are creatures that can transform into anything from humans to inanimate objects. They live in the forests but they often take human form and mingle with human society. The tengus own the sky. They fly freely and they often hole up in the mountains. They also live among the humans nowadays and all they really have to do is hide their wings. The humans are in their cities living out their lives. Despite tanukis and tengus being powerful creatures, it was always clear that humans always stand on top. One deadly reminder of this is that a group of humans would come together every New Year’s Eve and eat a hot pot made of tanuki meat. This has been a tradition for so long that the tanukis have already accepted that, with the unpredictability of life, being boiled in a hot pot is just among the many ways to die. The three creatures just really keep to themselves even though they live in one big society. The story is mostly about the everyday life of a tanuki named Yasaburou Shimogamo. He is a transforming tanuki and he is also a student of an old grumpy tengu named Professor Akadama. To make things even more complicated, Professor Akadama used to have a human student he passionately taught to become a tengu. She did and she soon left after climbing through the ranks. Yasaburou would often visit Prof. Akadama because he is a very lonely tengu who was once a very strong and fearful one. With old age and an aching back, he has since decided to live in a house and abandon the mountain he used to be in over to a group of douchebags tengu. Akadama is very grateful of the Shimogamo family though because Yasaburou’s dad once saved him from the ridicule of the douchebag tengus. Souichirou Shimogamo is a really wonderful creature. He united tanuki society once he became the Nise-emon, a sort leader of all tanuki. One fateful day though, this great tanuki became a New Year’s Eve hot pot dinner for the humans. The Shimogamo family has been laughed at ever since. Despite this, the Shimogamo family is still a strong group that can never falter. The Ebisugawa family has always hated the Shimogamo. With the death of the former Nise-emon, they would keep rubbing salt to the family’s wound. They’re relentless but the Shimogamo would often fight back resulting in a family feud that would not let up. New Years is about to come and another Tanuki would soon be boiled in a pot. Yasaburou is in a complicated situation where he is acquaintances with one of the humans who’ll eat a tanuki come New Year’s Eve. Benten, the former student of Akadama and a wild spirited woman, has always find Yasaburou fun to be with. However, she’ll still enjoy eating tanuki meat in a hot pot. This society full of tanuki, tengu and humans is really complicated and Yasaburo seems to be in the middle of this craziness.
Did you follow all of that? I hope you did because that’s even more intimidating in the anime. It will eventually become clear though as you keep watching the show so a little patience is greatly rewarded later on. Let me now talk about the different plot points of the show. I think there are four of them and they all have different focuses. Despite that, they still combine into one singular story. The first plot point and the very first one explored by the anime is the complicated relationship of Yasaburou, his master and the human named Benten. The show is very character driven so the focus of the plot point is simply the personality of each character and how much they care about each other. Professor Akadama is a grumpy old tengu but he has a really soft spot for Benten. Yasaburou finds it troublesome to deal with the old fart but still very much care about the old guy because he knows he is very lonely. Benten is a woman that makes a lot of men sweat and she has a wild personality that attracts both his master and the little tanuki she is friends with. With Benten joining the Friday Fellows, the tanuki hot pot eating group, the relationship between the three has gotten very much complicated. As the show slowly reveals more information about the characters, you really slowly get a sense of exactly what they are thinking. There was a nice fleshing out of the characters that made this particular plot point very well rounded. The subtle hint of a love story, the interesting past between the characters and the personally vulnerable side each characters display really made this first plot point really fun to watch. Of course, there really isn’t much going on with it though. It doesn’t have that much strong of a focus but the emotion behind it is pretty fascinating.
The second plot point and I think the main focus of the show is about the Shimogamo family. After the death of their father, the four brothers have done their best to stay strong and keep their mother happy. With all the ridicule the family endures and the brothers being branded as losers, there was a really nice theme of family togetherness in this plot point. The characters made this show special as well. The older brother trying his best to be like his deceased father, the second oldest stuck in the form of a frog in the bottom of a wishing well, the third son being a laidback idiot and the youngest one trying to be as brave as the rest of his family. There is also the loving mother that accepts all of her sons’ weakness and still gives them so much love you can feel it seep out of your screen. This plot point really just highlights the family’s ups and downs in a really wonderful way. Even when the rest of the world would point and laugh at them, the Shimogamo family would really do their best to protect each other and make each other smile. As the show progresses, you get a sense of how each member function in the family and how they make every moment fun and lighthearted while also having some serious and sad moments on the side. It’s a simple plot point but almost every scene involving the family has so much heart and emotion that it really makes the viewing pretty worthwhile. There was a really nice form of sincerity in the way the show presented the family togetherness that I can’t help but adore.
The third plot point is about the feud between the Shimogamo and the Ebisugawa. When their father died, the ones that really rubbed the salt on the wound harder is the Ebisugawa family. When their father died, the Ebisugawa has considered the Shimgamo family a laughing stock and they even went as far as breaking off a plan marriage simply because they wanted to insult the other family. Throughout the anime, you see the two families clashing. It starts out pretty comedic. The Ebisugawa characters are often just doing some childish pranks on the Shimogamo brothers. They’d bully the brothers for no reason and the brothers would often retaliate with a childish gesture of their own like biting the asses of one of the Ebisugawas. As the show progresses though, you truly get an insight at how nasty the Ebisugawa has been towards the other family. They aren’t afraid to play dirty but you soon get a clear picture at how dirty they’ve been playing this whole time. This feud also intensifies when the leader of the Ebisugawa family, and owner of a popular brandy label, decided to run for Nise-emon against the eldest Shimogamo brother. The little banter between the two families eventually grows into something much more serious.
Under the umbrella of the third plot point involves the weird yet cute relationship between our main character and the daughter of the Ebisugawa, Kaisei Ebisugawa. She was supposed to be engaged to Yasaburou but the leader of the Ebisugawa broke it off. She seems to be fond of the Shimogamo though and clearly doesn’t think like the rest of her family. Throughout the anime, she would often help out the Shimogamo by spilling the beans on what her family is up to and hoping no damage can be done because of her stupid family’s plan. She does all this without ever showing her face to Yasaburou and I really love this part of the story. There is this playful banter between the two despite their family’s having a huge feud. Every moment the two spend alone together is really cute and you just can’t help but the excited till we get the big reveal of Kaisei finally showing herself to Yasaburou. This was different from how Benten and Yasaburou interacts. There is a heavy air of flirting and fascination between Benten and Yasaburou while there is a cute puppy dog love kind of setup between him and Kaisei. It’s really cute.
The fourth plot point and the one thing that connects all the other plot points together is the former Nise-emon, Souichiro Shimogamo and the wonderful life he had. Every plot point talks about this wonderful man and you really get an idea of how awesome he truly was. He was a caring friend and a selfless hero. He was a loving husband and a warm hearted father. He was a powerful tanuki and he was able to unite the tanuki society during his rule. He was also an ingredient for a New Year’s Eve hotpot. Through the various characters praising his existence and various flashbacks about the events before leading up to his death, you really get a beautiful picture of how this guy lived. This is also the best part of the show for me. There was a lot of sincerity in the characters whenever they talk about Souichiro and there were some powerful emotions on every scene he is in because the fact that he is dead despite being such an amazing person is a bit sad sometimes. The anime really build every scene up where one after the other packs a strong punch within you. I was honestly crying during some of the scenes involving his final moments before he became an ingredient in a hot pot. I was seriously making a whimpy sad sound of a guy crying that I’m pretty sure the neighbors can hear. As the show progresses, the flashbacks and the stories told by the characters soon became a big part of the story. It became a strong component for the anime towards the end that I can’t help but smile at how the anime pulled it off. It was fun yet sad and a little bit exciting at the same time.
I really enjoyed this anime. The sophisticated storytelling was smart and the buildup was really fun to watch. I’m a bit conflicted though because I can’t seem to explain properly what makes the show special and faulty at the same time. It really is just a lovely show about family togetherness and a whole lot of fun in modern Kyoto where the three beings interact. It starts and ends there, sadly. You can honestly scratch hard and see something more special but it really depends on how you experienced the anime. The slow buildup of the anime really felt like a downside to me. It denied us of some great moments in the first half simply because it was trying to make a big bang come the second half. The ending was pretty special but I honestly think that it wasn’t worth the wait. I think the show could’ve done something much more grand in a sense that the twelve episodes build up was worth sitting through. This is where it gets really tough. The show seems to be a bit complex that not a lot of people will enjoy watching. I truly understand if you dropped the anime because you felt impatient. I think back to Tatami Galaxy and it honestly had the same unfulfilling ending yet it was elevated by the director’s crazy presentation. I think this show was missing something else to make the experience complete and I’m not really sure what it was. It’s a simple story with amazing characters. I think anyone who watched this will realize that and love it for that fact yet I really think it wasn’t enough. The show was good but I have this itching feeling that it could’ve been great. Did it need a more sophisticated production value? I’m not really sure. If the show decided to plainly present the story for what it was and alter the novel’s way of telling the story, would it have made the show better? I’m honestly stumped. The comment section is below. Can someone set it straight for me?
Like I said, this was a character driven show so they really made the show special. In fact, the personalities of the characters and their eccentric attitudes is so closely tied to the story that it’s hard to do a review separating one from the other. I won’t go into detail about each character. Figuring out who they are and what they’re like is actually part of the fun in this show. One thing I can tell though is that all of them are nicely developed. There are some characters that needed to stay the same for the story to have a natural flow but almost every important character is given a nice fleshing out. Some characters may strike you as odd or weird but the show eventually reveals more about them that makes them a lot more interesting. Your first impression of a character doesn’t last because the show made sure they don’t stay one dimensional.
PA Works is definitely a hit and miss kind of studio. It’s safe to say though that this anime might be the black sheep in their lineup. It’s totally different from the style of presentation and visual aspects they are so proud of. This might mean that the studio is branching out and finally trying to step out of KyoAni’s dark shade. That’s totally a good thing. While I’m outraged that I have not seen a Mel Kishida designed PA Works show in a long time, I welcome the opportunity for one of the most promising studios to grow. Adapting a sophisticated novel like this was really a bold step and I hope they continue being this bold in the following lineups. You don’t have to be KyoAni to have a large niche audience and I think PA Works finally realized that. I hope they adapt more novels. I hope it’s as great as Uchouten Kazoku though and not as messy as Red Data Girl. I still have nightmares about the long ass review I wrote of that show that basically described how much it sucked. I’m just rambling now. This show is good. I hope you would get a chance to experience this wonderful anime.
Sight and Sound
Koji Kumeta. At first, I though they got the designer of Tatami Galaxy because both design looked similar. It took me awhile to realize that they actually got Sayonara Zetsubu Sensei’s character designer. His designs are really simple. All the characters have this rounded face with a pointy chin and a really big ear that connects directly to their jaw. It’s a funny design for sure. This is then highlighted with a really long neck and a slender body that accentuates their beauty and hides the whimsical design of their face. The characters all have simple features though. The point of Koji’s design is to set each character apart and further support their eccentric personalities. It’s never really meant to outclass the story’s appeal. This was also the same concept in his Zetsubu sensei designs. Despite that, the characters still had a unique look to themselves that you can certainly appreciate. Anyways, the hair design is really simple. A few shapes and some simple hairdo to compliment the whimsical facial design. The great part about the design though is that the body is actually pretty decently designed. The girls all have great curves; the guys have this slender figure yet some broad shoulders to set them apart and not to mention the detailed designs of their outfits. All the characters have unique outfits on. Some are normally dressed to reflect the modern age they live in, some are in kimonos and such to represent their traditional background while others are in truly whacky outfits that scream eccentric. I’m a fan of how Yasaburou was designed. He often transforms into a girl and the designs were really able to capture the details perfectly.
Animation is pretty great. The show is very dialogue heavy. There were a lot of moments where the characters really did nothing but talk. I think the show was built on the conversations the characters have. The show was still able to sneak some great moments that truly presents PA Works high standard of animation. From characters transforming to a battle in the sky to some CG objects given some complex movements, there are a lot of colorful moments in the show to slightly balance out the heavy dialogued scenes. Just a tiny bit though because the great animation moments were limited and only meant to build up the hype some more.
The background sceneries are probably where the visuals truly stood out. This is where you truly felt PA Works was handling the show. They have high standards when it comes to the background of their shows. The ones in the show are really just real scenes painted over with a nice mix of some digital shading. The visuals were meant to look like a watercolor motif to capture the mood of the novel which was a bit fantasy/slice of life. The heavy dialogued scenes are often in settings where the color palette is light and the scenes give off a really laidback feel to it that draws you in. I am a bit disappointed though that the show never played more on the supernatural side of the show. Moments like the characters entering a door and ending up in a sunken clock tower or a fireworks fight in the sky are great examples of where you could’ve made some really crazy high quality cinematography I think the anime greatly needed. I still admire the scenery in the anime though especially since some of them remind me off some distinct scenes from Tatami Galaxy. Does the bridge below look familiar? It certainly does to me.
The anime’s OP is “Uchouten Jinsei” by milktub. This is a really fun OP song. It’s energetic and the lyrics are whimsical that it really captured the show’s craziness. The singer’s also have a really catchy voice that you often find yourself singing along as you watch the show. The OP sequence involves all the characters and a small presentation of the events of the anime. There is also a nod to the OP of Tatami Galaxy where the characters are presented in their 2D form. I’m not sure if people can see the reference but I’m glad the show was able to sneak them in.
The anime’s ED is “Qué Será, Será” by fhána. This is completely opposite the OP song. This one is more solemn and has a more slow pacing to capture a really sad mood. I love how fhana’s voice made the show even more emotional with how she goes through the chorus. It’s a bit odd of an ED song though, in my opinion. The ED sequence features the three characters of the first plot point gazing up the moon and being all serious and such. It’s a decent ED sequence and I love the way it was presented with the scenes resembling a window pane where the audience is looking up the moon as well.
8/10 “A great story about family togetherness and a lovely show only humans, tengus and tanukis can present.”
While the show may not seem much, there is certainly a lot to love about this one. I urge everyone to try it. I’m sure the story can easily grab you with how compelling it was presented. If you like supernatural stories with a hint of comedy and slice of life then you’ll like this show. If you love some family drama in your anime then you might enjoy this one. If you enjoyed Tatami Galaxy then I’m sure you can appreciate the beauty of this show. If you like PA Works anime then try this show out and witness how they stray off the path of moe. I highly recommend it.