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Uchouten Kazoku – 03 »« Uchouten Kazoku – 01

Uchouten Kazoku – 02

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「母と雷神様」 (Haha to Raijin-sama)
“Mother and Raijin, God of Thunder”

In my mind, I’ve always regarded PA Works with a particular wariness. See, the great thing about the animation house is that they’re consistently one of the few studios, maybe even the only one, with an incredible devotion to telling strongly character-driven narratives. Their near-exclusive focus on emotionally-engaging and human stories makes for a constant balm in an anime landscape lacking in these. But there’s the problem that many of their shows start off with incredible promise and potential to engage, only for the series to ultimately end up flawed. (In my opinion, anyway.) Angel Beats needed more time, but that was just the most obvious of its problems. Tari Tari had a severe lack of imagination and ambition. Hanasaku Iroha was let down by a dismal second act. Even the recent RDG suffered the same way at its end. Before long, I’ve come to associate the studio with a curse: despite all the potential shown, their works could never transcend into true greatness for one reason or another.

But with this second episode of Uchouten Kazoku, I want to believe that they can finally break free of this curse. This week had everything I was originally expecting out of the premiere episode, and it was glorious to behold; Morimi’s quirky-comical nature played to great effect, brilliant exploration of the extremely vibrant cast of characters, and interactions that felt both sincere and poignant. It was whimsical, it was gently humorous, and the plight of the Shimogamo family wringed my heart in a way a PA Works anime just hasn’t done so in ages. Based on what I’ve seen, I’m getting more convinced that they might finally strike gold with Uchouten Kazoku, just so long as they keep the quality here consistently high.

It really boils back down to the one reason I cited last week; for all its quirkiness, Uchouten Kazoku is a very human story, and one that gives its characters an all-too-rare natural dynamic. The second episode moves on to properly introduce us to the Shimogamo family, and I’m glad to see my initial worries for the characters unfounded; each one of them has incredible personality to them, and really worked well with each other. The two new characters we’re introduced to, Shimogamo Mother (Inoue Kikuko) and Shimogamo Yajirou (Yoshino Hiroyuki), are as colorful as the rest of the cast; Mother is a pool-loving Tanuki with an incredible fear of thunder, and Yajirou…well, Yajirou is a literal frog in the well.

There’s a tangible heft to these characters that comes from the varied hints in their personal histories (What prompted Yajirou to get stuck as a frog in the first place?) and from the world Uchouten Kazoku has so sublimely built around them. It’s not like the anime goes out of its way to throw out an exposition spew, thought there’s a thing to be said about Yasaburou’s constant introspection. In fact, almost nothing of relevance to the focal characters are given much focus, but the writing is rich with details; examples include the passing mentions of Kitsunes, the many folklore and cultural references that give life to the Kyoto setting, and not forgetting the Friday Fellows’ habit of eating Tanukies as a hot pot ingredient.

Yes, boiled in a hot pot and eaten. In a story about Tanukies, no less. I didn’t expect something I initially thought to be a passing joke to actually turn itself out as central narrative point; most certainly not in the way it played out with Shimogamo papa, Soichiro, suffering that very fate. As it always seems with Morimi, you can never expect him to play things straight; boiling tanukies as a hot pot ingredient is as surreal an allegory as you’d expect from that writer. Yet I couldn’t believe how something so inherently ridiculous can be made this poignant; the tragedy gives context to the incredibly heartwarming sense of family between the Shimogamos. Ever since their father’s death, the family has been branded losers in Tanuki society; as Yasaburou muses, one’s a frog, another’s an idiot, and the last is a child. Only eldest brother Yaichirou seem halfway decent, but in the shadow of their late father who united Tanuki society, he fails to live up to the Shimogamo honor.

Yet you get the sense that every Shimogamo is trying their best for the family in their own way, be it through action or inaction. Yashirou works in rival family Ebisugawa’s factory, enduring the taunts and bullying; Yaichirou tries to maintain the family honor in Tanuki society; Yajirou spends his days in isolation (for whatever reasons) and listens to people’s worries; Yasaburou seems to take responsibility for the people he knows, checking up on Akadama, Benten (both who clearly have deep ties to the family) and Yajirou in these two episodes. Their mother remains the only one to recognize their efforts, their only believer in a society that has long left the family in the dust.

It reveals a deep-seated trust in this family, and this bond shows itself through their actions in the episode. The moment Yajirou notices the arrival of Raijin, every Shimogamo’s thought turned towards their mother and her fear of thunder; Yashirou runs out of his part-time work at the factory, Yaichirou panics in his unsuppressed worry, and Yasaburou, calm and collected as he is, takes the lead in finding their missing mother. When obstructed by Ginkaku and Kinkaku (Kosuke Hatakeyama & Shuya Nishiji respectively), their enmity with the Ebisugawa family didn’t matter; Yasaburou suggest a tactical retreat, while Yaichirou quickly steps in and resolves the fight in a jiffy, both clearly trying to get past the issue as fast as they could. Getting to their mother’s side was the priority at that moment. The message is made clear: this family couldn’t bear to lose another of its member, and when they were finally reunited –thanks in part to an Ebisugawa, Kaisei (Sakura Ayane)– the relief of the family was palpable. In just a single episode, Uchouten Kazoku managed to establish a truly genuine bond of family in the Shimogamos, and it has utterly captured my heart.

I grew up with primetime family dramas on the local stations, and there’ll always be a special place in my heart for them. Thus far, Uchouten Kazoku has the pieces laid for an incredible one, so consider me won over for now. With these two episodes, PA Works has in their hand a very strong narrative foundation, and an incredibly engaging cast of characters to work with. We’ve barely made any headway into the show, and there’s no telling how its plot could develop from here, but Uchouten Kazoku’s start already feels much stronger than most of their previous works I’m familiar with. Come curse or no curse, I’m going to be following this till its end.

Full-length images: 04.

 

Preview

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July 15, 2013 at 5:49 pm
34 comments »
  • July 15, 2013 at 6:02 pmSmith

    dat entrance… then dat family scene

    This series really seems like the sleeper hit this season.

    • July 15, 2013 at 6:09 pmAsobi

      You honestly have to give credit to a show that can give the FEELS with a sentence like this:

      “Please, anyone but you. Never get boiled in hot pot!”

  • July 15, 2013 at 6:56 pmJelly

    Tanuki family. Cuteness overload!

  • July 15, 2013 at 7:09 pmWuz

    http://randomc.net/image/Uchouten%20Kazoku/Uchouten%20Kazoku%20-%2002%20-%20Large%2032.jpg

    Imagining someone as kind-looking as him, ending his days in a hotpot, the feels ;_;

  • July 15, 2013 at 7:20 pmBear

    They keep adding more and more lunacy (the good kind). Mom, as a pool playing prince (what is it with cross-gender transformations and this family?). The Ebisugawa’s showing up as giant maneki-neko. That rickshaw! (I nearly choked when I saw the dummy). And Kaisei? Wonder why they didn’t show her?

    This show has promise, but will it deliver? I agree. P.A. looks good coming out of the gate, but just can’t seem to go the distance.

    • July 16, 2013 at 5:25 amstarss

      With all the prejudice against the family, I want to see what a SUCCESSFUL tanuki is like!

  • July 15, 2013 at 8:56 pmHaseo

    Man this was just so touching. It didn’t really get this good until around the ending for tatami galaxy. Great anime can’t wait for more.

  • July 15, 2013 at 9:17 pmKaioshin Sama

    I can’t help but completely agree with the authors first paragraph about this show. It’s like the concept of the show itself is entirely more interesting than what transpires within these opening 2 episodes. This one feels content to slow burn the heck out of it’s story with a bunch of sub plots that sort of kind of result in stuff happening, but there’s a feeling of a lack of purpose here. It’s honestly kind of frustrating and altogether too common in Japanese literature and writing.

    Regarding the tone of the show, if it’s to be a comedic I’m not really laughing, if it’s to be heartwarming I can’t really say any of the interactions within the family give the sense of anything other than some sort of bizarre tension within, if it’s to be intriguing with regard to the Tanuki Society hidden within the backdrop of modern Japan it really hasn’t tackled anything relating to that topic. Just really not sure what to think here, it feels almost like nothing has been accomplished within these sets of episodes other than a very vague minimalist sense of world building.

    It’s the kind of show that you sort of have to have faith that it’s going somewhere interesting and it and P.A Works track record have given me no reason to suspect that will be the case. It has the building blocks of a memorable tale yet it feels like it’s made no attempt to assemble them so much as quickly muse over them one at a time.

    So far the only really consistent plot line I find engaging which really hasn’t been explored all that much is the one with the Tengu and Human women, but again it’s the lack of willing to actually explore anything that leaves me kind of feeling disinterested in the show when I probably shouldn’t be given it’s premise. I think at best this is one of those shows I’d be better to put on hold and pick up again for several episodes and then decide whether I want to see it out or quit while I’m ahead.

    • July 16, 2013 at 4:52 pmronbb

      It seems like you prefer plot-driven shows. If that’s the case, Uchouten Kazoku may not be your cup of tea — this is quite a character-focused show although this episode gives us both the characters and a bit of the plot. I actually find that the feelings the characters have for one another are conveyed quite clearly and movingly already — it’s not loud like, “mommy, I love you…” kind of way but is definitely there in the dialogue and actions of the characters. If you can’t see that, maybe the subtle narrative of this show isn’t for you. Also, the success of a show isn’t solely depended on a studio — White Fox surprised us with Steins;Gate and I.G with Guilty Crown. Who is doing the series composition and directing matters a lot as well. Here we have veteran Suga Shoutarou, and he gives me confidence for expecting a well-written story with engaging characters from Uchouten Kazoku.

      • July 16, 2013 at 7:27 pmPocarisweat

        I’m assuming you meant IG surprised us with how mediocre Guilty Crown was :p

      • July 16, 2013 at 9:53 pmronbb

        Yup, that’s what I meant. A studio isn’t always a determining factor to a show’s success. I.G. is one of the powerhouses that produces many good shows but surprised and disappointed us badly with Guilty Crown.

  • July 15, 2013 at 10:13 pmEmD

    She ate his fucking dad. She cray.

    • July 16, 2013 at 1:30 amNKNKN

      Was Benten and her Friday Fellows group explicitly the ones who stewed the Shimogamo papa, though? I know the shot clearly showed her, but I’m sort of confused; would they still have a relatively amiable relationship like we saw in the first episode if she was basically his father’s murderer? Is the whole thing of tanukis getting boiled in hot pots something like a “live and let do” thing that can’t be helped so he’s not keeping the grudge? Or am I just too tired and reading everything wrong?

      • July 16, 2013 at 6:28 amEmD

        He flat out said he hates her, didn’t he? And he only went to see her because the professor asked him to.

    • July 16, 2013 at 7:02 pmagr0n

      She might not of been part of the Friday fellows when that happened.

      • July 16, 2013 at 8:01 pmBeedle

        Or, his dad was her inauguration meal…

  • July 15, 2013 at 11:59 pmPocarisweat

    PA works reached greatness with their debut series True Tears in early 2008 (if you ignore the butthurt shippers) but they reached their peak with that and was never able to go beyond it. Although I did enjoy Hanasaku Iroha and Tari Tari a lot, I agree with the author that in the former it had a lacklustre second-middle half (though the end episodes were fantastic) and in the latter, there was a lack of ambition. RDG, Canaan and Angel Beats had too many flaws to be considered a good series. Professor Layton movie was good but it was a kids movie and for a completely different demography (not anime audience, but general populace). Nonetheless, I have a bias for the studio because there’s something about them that shows they put in a lot of effort in trying to have an image of itself – a less sellout version of Kyoto Animation that doesn’t quite cross the finish the line but is willing to take risks. For example, PA Works has more anime originals per capita than any other TV focused studio (excluding movie centric ones like Ghibli, Comix Wave and the like) and instead of dabbing into the light novel market for adaptations but actual noel adaptations.

    Uchouten Kazoku so far has great potential and its first two episodes are as good as it can get, but we will see if the potential can be met. Past history says no, as PA always seem to have trouble finishing and has a weakness for anything that isn’t slice of life/drama or an adaptation (their anime originals are usually of higher quality).

    • July 16, 2013 at 2:48 amPocarisweat

      *novel

  • July 16, 2013 at 12:05 amAlchemist

    Doesn’t the Mother look like a Male Actor from the Takarazuka Revue? To me she sure does.

    • July 16, 2013 at 10:16 pmjalla

      she is supposed to be huge fan of some actors group, maybe even that Takarazuka. its stated on ANN in some of the topics about this show.

  • July 16, 2013 at 12:33 amTaka

    Excellent episode. I really do look forward to this anime each week.

  • July 16, 2013 at 2:43 amsto

    This is currently my surprise favourite of the season. I really want to see this series keep this writing quality up right to the end, but I think that is going to be an uphill battle with PA Works’ past history and the super strong start that we just had in the first 2 episodes; they might just burn out towards the middle like Hanasaku Iroha…

  • July 16, 2013 at 5:19 amstarss

    I find it funny how some of the tanuki transformations involve being made of inanimate material, such as the two waving cats, or the dummy cart-pusher, which I laughed at audibly when I first saw it! Clever! Clever.

    I read a synopsis over at MAL. It appears as though the deceased dad will be central to the plot, and that, THIS IS NOT A SPOILER, JUST MY SPECULATION, that they find out he’s actually alive and go looking for him. We’ll just have to see.

    … I want transformation powers! They look so fun!

    • July 16, 2013 at 7:05 pmagr0n

      I want their powers too, but that cart wasn’t a tanuki I don’t think, I’m under the impression that it was a device the eldest brother made.

  • July 16, 2013 at 5:22 amstarss

    One more thing. The characters in this show already have a history to them, with only little of what’s been revealed to us so far, and they all talk about what had been in the past! ….. I feel like we’re watching a second season to a show we missed out on. It’s weird.

  • July 16, 2013 at 5:51 amNierTevra

    mystique ain’t got nothing on these tanukis

    …mama tanuki is kawaii

  • July 16, 2013 at 7:02 amBeedle

    And here I thought last week’s exchange between Benten and Yasaburou was merely sarcastic banter…

    I’m getting more curious about Yasaburou and Benten’s past.

    On a vaguely related note, you know what just became disturbing? Hanazawa Kana/Roromiya Karuta’s ending song from Inu x Boku SS, “Sweets Parade”. When I first heard the song, I thought it sweet how Karuta was choosing between her likes (food) and her love interest, Watanuki; sweeter still (in a goofy way) when, towards the end of her song, she starts fantasizing about Watanuki dishes.

    After this episode, I’m hearing that song in a morbid tone.

  • July 16, 2013 at 10:02 amHarpy12

    Oh man, the mother is just great. Those freaking platforms! Loving all the shapeshifting shenanigans this show has to offer.

  • July 16, 2013 at 4:31 pmronbb

    “…Uchouten Kazoku is a very human story, and one that gives its characters an all-too-rare natural dynamic.” Well-said, Asobi, and happy to see you writing for this wonderful show again.

    It’s true that we can form certain expectations of a studio based on their past works. For instance, what would you expect out of a show produced by ARMS?

    However, the success of a show also depends a lot on who is doing the directing and series composition. Here we have Suga Shoutarou taking charge — the veteran who did Seirei no Moribito, one of the brilliant shows in the last decade that offers engaging story and characters. We see his magic working in this episode already, introducing us to the rest of the Shimogamo family, painting us the kind of world that they are in, hinting to us where the plot will progress, and diving deeper into the feelings that the characters have for one another — all told in a tightly composed, intricate, mature and subtle way. As an anime viewer, I don’t think I can be happier, and I find myself wanting the week to go faster for next episode to come.

    I like the overarching theme of family surviving together, regardless of the differences in their history, views or choice of life. What I love the most is the deep feelings — either hidden in their dialogue or shown behind their actions — that the characters have for one another. Uchouten Kazoku is simply wonderful adding so much quality and colour to the Summer season.

  • July 16, 2013 at 4:32 pmKanon

    I definitely have to agree that one of the true marvels to this show thus far is having PA Works behind it as there really isn’t a studio that is quite at the level they are when it comes to creating an atmosphere that is truly driven by the characters and their developments. There was no hurry to dive into much plot as a foundation continues to be laid down with the introduction to more of a brilliant cast in the Shimogamo family and the exposition we get in this episode was a marvel in my opinion. As always, it’s a treat for the eyes and it definitely has what you’d call the norm for a PA series but here’s hoping they can break away from what has also been routine for them in making this the success it has proven it can be instead of coming up short near the series end.

  • July 16, 2013 at 11:44 pmbolton

    nice write-up. i too am looking forward to this show ending well. the first two episodes are really something, in my opinion. uchouten kazoku is all about contrast, the simplistic backdrop accompanied by the rich and developed character relations is really awesome. from the opening to the ending, everything has a sense of style, and the pacing is all about trying to settle you into a seat of a moving vehicle.

    the shimogamo family is truly interesting. papa shimogamo, glorious as he was, ironically meets his end in the friday fellows’ hot pot. this leaves the remaining shimogamo family distraught, with multiple reactions spurring from the shocking event. mama shimogamo keeps herself busy by playing pool. yaichiro does his best to fit into his fathers’ shoes but also becomes very anxious in the meantime. yajirou completely abandons both his family and his form as a tanuki to be an open ear to other peoples’ worries. yasaburo’s focus is aimless, but at the same time all about trying to make his life interesting while also trying to keep tabs on his friends and family. and lastly, yashirou, the youngest of the shimogamo family, is trying to train for something, probably fitting into human society, which i think is some form of a tanuki’s success.

    the genderbending shtick seems to be tied to tanuki’s trying to be something they’re not. the people in the poolhouse did not know mama shimogamo was a tanuki, and there seems to be a sort of weird tension about tanuki in human society. perhaps all humans eat tanuki? or do they just not like being fooled by regular tricksters?

    looking forward to seeing how regular tengus fit into all of this. i think i look forward to this show the most, it’s really calming and refreshing.

  • July 17, 2013 at 12:00 amAndré

    The tanuki… I want one. Freakin’ cute!

  • July 17, 2013 at 2:44 amAnanas

    Saso tojou! Kurofuku no ouji!

  • July 17, 2013 at 9:54 amGenesis

    I doubt their Tanuki father is boiled dead.. he might be still alive…