Uchouten Kazoku – 01
OP: 「有頂天人生」 (Uchouten Jinsei) by Milktub
「納涼床の女神」 (Noryo Yuka no Megami)
“Goddess of the Noryo-Yuka”
I wasn’t exactly blown away by Uchouten Kazoku’s introductory episode, but don’t take it the wrong way. I was still captivated by it. Everyone should take note; the potential for an incredible sleeper hit definitely lies here.
Before all this, I was declaring Uchouten Kazoku to be a breakout hit of the season to whomever would hear me out. It’s no surprise, given the incredible pedigree behind the anime; With the typically well-received PA Works helming a bestseller from Tatami Galaxy’s author Tomihiko Morimi, there’s always been a huge potential for success here. Sure, the director’s a fresh face, but the formula was already established for a thematically and artistically exciting show. So you can imagine my surprise when the general hype for this was utterly lukewarm, even after PA Works showed off its tremendously enticing trailer. Maybe now that this first episode has aired, I can understand the reaction a little; Uchouten Kazoku doesn’t exactly blow your mind with a sensational first episode that packs the best of comedy and drama. It opts instead instead for an introduction that lulls us into its world. But like the slow-to-start Tatami Galaxy, the depth of imagination and creativity on display makes watching Uchouten Kazoku a captivating experience, and I have high hopes that it’ll turn out to be one hell of a sleeper hit this lazy summer.
Being a fan of Tatami Galaxy has definitely helped here, since Tomihiko Morimi’s brand of whimsy and surrealism in his stories isn’t exactly the kind of thing that immediately draws people in. And make no mistake, Uchouten Kazoku definitely feels like a Tomihiko Morimi story. His quirky-comical influence is present not just in the premise and setting, but also in how the narrative carries itself, as well as in the light banter between characters. I’ll admit to being a fan of his unique style, and devotees like myself can definitely jump into Uchouten Kazoku heartily, expecting more of the same we got from Tatami Galaxy. But then, there was always that camp that found the tone slightly excessive, maybe even a little self-indulgent. To them, I say take heart; Uchouten Kazoku is noticeably restrained compared to its spiritual predecessor. Both the indulgence in abstract storytelling and quirky comedy feel much more subdued, and to that end, Uchouten Kazoku feels much more accessible –if less unique- a story than Tatami Galaxy ever was.
If anything, it’s symbolic of the kind of story Uchouten Kazoku wants to tell: a more nuanced, subdued story compared to the exaggerated comedy that Tatami Galaxy was. Not to say that the premise wasn’t pretty silly from the start. Take for example Shimogamo Yasaburou (Sakurai Takahiro), our shapeshifting-tanuki protagonist with a penchant to assume the form of the fairer sex. And he’s not the only wacky character in the bunch. But it’s in Yasaburou’s relationship with his old tengu master, Professor Akadama (Umezu Hideyuki), that piqued my interest greatly as I watched this episode. There’s that refreshingly light banter between them as teacher and student, but their relationship obviously goes deeper than that; both are shown to have romantic feelings for Suzuki “Benten” Satomi (Noto Mamiko), a human that has gained the tengu power of flight. All three are purported to be involved in the Demon King Cedar Incident, which seemed to have caused Akadama to break his back and lose his ability of flight. And the incident seemed to have resulted in the atypical master-disciple relationship we see between the two; Yasaburou helps Akadama with his odd requests, silently watches over him, and helps the old tengu back home from his escapades. I’m throwing out one of my favorite buzz phrases again, but I like how there’s a sincere quality to the way their relationship play out, and the conversation in the taxi was especially representative of this; Akadama, noticeably depressed, muses about his lack of the tengu’s flying ability, to which Yasuburou sympathizes and offers a few gentle words. It’s a very natural exchange between the two characters -a result of an excellent script and incredible voice acting- and this compliment can be extended to much of the character dynamics here; the exchange between Yasaburou and Satomi, for example, carries the various nuances -from animosity to intimacy- you’d expect out a complicated history.
As a result of Tomihiko Morimi’s tone, there’s incredible life and vibrancy to the way the show carries itself. To talk about Uchouten Kazoku is to also talk about the thing of beauty that is PA Works’ art and animation. Spectacular art has become a trademark of theirs, and this wasn’t any different here; Kyoto is depicted as a lovely, beautiful city, packed with moving crowds, and full of the flourishes you’ve come to expect from a PA Works production. But perhaps the most surprising aspect for the animation house is that Uchouten Kazoku’s visuals carry with it a touch of whimsy. Their history of animated works generally prioritized photorealism, so I’ve never quite seen them subscribe to such a playful, loose, and incredibly vibrant style of art before. Does it work? Hell yes it does. Honestly, I think it might be the best looking PA Works show to date, if only for how adverse it is to the sterile feeling their art usually gives me. (But then, that’s just my opinion.) It’ll be remiss to not also acknowledge the influence of (in)famous character designer Kumeta Kouji (Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, Tatami Galaxy) whose original artstyle for the novel have been largely adopted by PA Works.
Maybe the thing I’ve spent way too many words trying to get at is this: there seems to be a lot of genuine heart to Uchouten Kazoku, both in the presentation and in the way it depicts its characters. There was a lot of promise shown in the character dynamics shared between the focal three here, and even then, we’ve hardly been introduced to Yasuburou’s family – only little brother Yashirou (Nakahara Mai) and older brother Yaichirou (Suwabe Junichi). Seeing as how the title itself is literally “Eccentric Family”, I expect a core part of the narrative is going to shine the emotional spotlight on a family drama. If they can carry over that sincerity of these relationships across, we might just be in for a real treat here.
As we mentioned in the schedule, I’ll be covering Uchouten Kazoku in Zanibas’s place until he gets back from his…um…what was it again, Stilts? Bigfoot Hunting Expedition? Yup, that. Hope to have a few good weeks with you guys!
ED: 「ケセラセラ」 (Ke Sera Sera) by fhána