I didn’t post anything yesterday because I went on an anime binge.
I guess I’ll do it now.
Uchouten Kazoku or The Eccentric Family is a 12 episode 2007 anime series directed by Masayuki Yoshihara. The anime itself is based on the novel (not manga but novel) written by Tomihiko Morimi. Enough with the facts.
The anime is set in modern day Kyoto where tanuki, humans and tengu co-exist. Tanuki are raccoon dogs that according to japanese beliefs are gifted with the ability to transform into various forms. Tengu are legendary beings that are gifted with the ability of free flight. They are depicted with both human and bird-like characteristics.
So in the anime, the story revolves around the balance between the three species. The Tanuki who can transform into any form, most commonly humans, tengu, who live among humans but can fly and control the winds and the lowly yet all powerful humans.
The anime, when I first started watching, reminded of the Studio Ghibli film Pom Poko. It’s a film that was NOT directed Hayao Miyazaki but by his colleague, Isao Takahata. What’s similar is the background. Both feature tanuki and in keeping with Japanese beliefs, tanuki can transform. They both also involve tanuki trying to live alongside Humans. But whereas Pom Poko was a film about saving the environment, Uchouten Kazoku is not.
Thematically, Uchouten Kazoku is simple. It’s a story about how a particular society called the Friday Fellows have a year-end bash with a Tanuki Hot Pot as the main dish. So the entire 12-episode anime is basically an exploration of how humans tend to victimize animals. But amidst this is also a story of how the tanuki society is divided into two factions and the upcoming election for leader of tanuki. And another side story is about an old tengu struggling to remain relevant after becoming weak and mostly powerless.
So even though the whole thing feels rather simple and comical, it’s not. It addresses animal cruelty, societal norms, family ties, growing old as well as political upheavals. And when you think about it, that’s some heavy stuff. But never does it feel heavy. The production of the anime remains light and refreshing, even when the main character’s family is in danger of being boiled in hot pot.
The anime, on other sites, was criticized because of its character animation. The character animation and drawing is actually rather simple, almost pre-1980s. Compare it to eye-catching and amazingly detailed animation from anime like Baccano and even old anime like Cowboy Bebop, this is kinda sad. The backgrounds and environments are a whole other story though. They all look like watercolor paintings, lush and green and amazingly detailed. Which gets you wondering if they couldn’t bring some of that into the character animation.
But maybe that’s what the producers were going for. Who knows?
The characters themselves are pretty interesting, if a little one-dimensional. But I found this easy to forgive because the characters themselves are aware of how one-dimensional they are. They literally profess themselves to have only one characteristic so the fact that sometimes they are very predictable doesn’t hurt. As much.
Now inevitably, the small number of episodes means that some plot lines aren’t covered completely by the end. We have no idea what happens to the girl who Yasaburo, our awesome main character, was engaged to. We also have no idea why the villain for the first few episodes became bad as she used to be quite a good human.
But I like that unlike other animes, there’s no really huge sense of glorified triumph at the end. The characters manage to avoid getting turned into a hot pot by the skin of their teeth and that’s it. They don’t punish the villains. They don’t punish the evil humans. They just continue living. And for some reason, I like it. The ending is relaxing and satisfying and instead of trying to show a scene in the distant future and maybe destroy the viewers’ expectations, the anime simply ends.
When I started watching this anime, I was actually bored. The anime starts off slow and truthfully, there isn’t a whole big change of pace in the middle. Everything happens at a certain steady pace and even the climax feels slow and steady. There was not sense of urgency anywhere. So even with Yasaburo’s family in IMMEDIATE danger, I really didn’t doubt that everything was gonna be alright.
So if you’re not into anime that takes its viewers on a slow ride that more about looking around and enjoying the scenery (sometimes literally) instead of the thrilling drops and loops, then don’t watch this because you’re not going to like. But if you do have a tolerance for a quirky story about interspecies harmony, animal cruelty, family ties and political upheavals with some artful fan service nonsense thrown in the middle (basically everyone just goes to the bathhouses), then relax and enjoy the ride.
This anime is a study in pure and blissful simplicity.