Saturday, March 14, 2015

Uchouten Kazoku

Uchouten Kazoku (the eccentric family) is an anime series with a pretty unique premise.  The basic premise is that supernatural beings live among and mix with humans routinely.  Among those supernatural beings are various tengu (demons) and a fair number of tanuki.  Tanuki are raccoon-like creatures, and in this series they have the ability to shape-shift and become pretty much anything they want.

The series takes place in Kyoto and follows one tanuki family in particular, the Shimogamo.  This family contains a Mom and four sons.  Their father was killed a few years before the story begins, although he plays a large role in the story.  The eldest son, Yaichirou, is an upstanding member of the tanuki community and hopes to lead it, as their father did before his death.  The second son, Yajirou, spends his time as a frog in the bottom of a well, giving random advice to random people who stop by.  

The third son and main character of the series is Yasaburou.  He leads his life mostly transformed into either a teenage boy or girl and looking for entertaining things to do.  He’s mostly carefree, but has a talent for getting into trouble.  The youngest son is Yashirou.  He’s shy and frightens easily, at which time his tanuki tail pops out.  Mom takes care of all of them, and when in human form she goes around as a good-looking male “prince”.  She’s also deathly afraid of lightning and thunder.

The other main tanuki family in the series is the Ebisugawa family.  They are related to Yasaburou-tachi, with the head of the Ebisugawa's, Suoun, being the brother of the deceased father of the Shimogamo family.  The Ebisugawa also include a pair of twin sons and a daughter.  The Ebisugawa are the bad guys, with the father also trying to lead the tanuki clan, and the sons creating as much evil and havoc as they can.  The daughter, Kaisei, was at one time engaged to Yasaburou, and she tends to side with and help the Shimogamos whenever she can.

Two other characters are integral to the story.  One is an old tengu named Akadama, who Yasaburou both takes lessons from and tends to when he gets drunk.  The other is Benten, a young human woman.  Benton was kidnapped by Akadama as a young girl and he taught her tengu magic.  She left him and leads her own life, using her magic for her own ends.  She’s moderately friendly with Yasaburou, who’s a little hooked on her.  She helps him out several times in the series.  She’s also a member of a syndicate called the Friday Fellows.

This series starts out like it is intended to be a comedy, but actually most of it is drama, and a lot of it is tragic as hell.  The Friday Fellows have an annual meeting/celebration in which they eat a tanuki as a hotpot, which is how Yasaburou’s father died.  Through the course of the story it comes out that Suoun set up his brother to die that way, because he was jealous and wanted both Mom and the tanuki leadership.  Benten helped capture Dad and kept him caged until they ate him.  Yajirou lives as a frog in the bottom of a well, because he and Dad went out drinking the night Dad died, and he left his Dad alone and drunk and went off by himself.

This is the back story and all comes out as everyone is living their everyday lives.  The plot of the series is that Yaichirou is trying to become the tanuki leader and Suoun and sons are trying to finish destroying the rest of the Shimogamo family.  A lot of plots and cross-plots and scheming goes on.  In the end when things look worst for the Shimogamo's, Yajirou leaves his well and helps to rescue of the various other family members.  

So in the end everyone gets pretty much what they want.  But still, a lot is left up in the air.   Benten’s motives are never explained.  She alternately helps Yasaburou and threatens to feed him to the Friday Fellows, and it all seems to be mostly whim on her part.   She's one of the more interesting characters, but never really delved into.  Still, this is a short, 13-episode series, so as you can see, a lot happens very quickly.  The series is moderately entertaining, with all that’s going on, but also very sad in places.  If you watch it, be prepared for the tragedy.     

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