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Uchouten Kazoku 2 – 08 »« Uchouten Kazoku 2 – 06

Uchouten Kazoku 2 – 07

「金曜倶楽部、再び」 (Kin’you Kurabu, utatabi)
“Friday Club, Again”

It’s funny – as soon as the cold open for this episode kicked in, there was a buzz about it, a tension in the air. It wasn’t immediately clear from the plot that monumental events would be taking place, but somehow you knew something big was going on. I can’t fully explain it, but the closest comparison I can make with the viewing experience is to a “fight or flight” reaction – that heightened sense of awareness and anxiety when you’ve sensed that danger is present.

The truth is, Uchouten Kazoku has always had another gear – the ability to lift its game to levels where other series rarely attempt to trade, never mind succeed. The most obvious example is the first season’s eighth episode, which was among the finest half-dozen or so anime episodes I’ve ever been privileged to watch. This one wasn’t on that level, but it was certainly the most riveting and heartbreaking of the season – and fittingly, both of these episodes dealt with the passing of a brother into the world of the dead.

Mind you, even in it’s “regular” mode The Eccentric Family is nothing if not exceptional. It’s a beautiful production by P.A. Works, so utterly different from anything else in their catalog and an obvious labor of love. But the wellspring of that specialness is Morimi Tomihiko. He’s a writer of tremendous intelligence and intellectual curiosity (and no, those two are not the same). He bandies big ideas about in his works, and he never makes the answers easy for us to find because, clearly, the act of writing these stories is his way of looking for them himself. That’s why, while the way some elements of this series defy explanation sometimes vexes me, I accept them – the world we live in doesn’t always make sense, and doesn’t yield the big answers easily.

The Friday Club is, in its essence, the ultimate paradoxical enigma of Uchouten Kazoku. Why do tanuki so readily accept the idea that they should be eaten in a hot pot for the pleasure of a social elite of humans and tengu? Why do seemingly intelligent and non-psychotic people think it’s all right to eat clearly intelligent and sensitive beings capable of human-level emotions? Why does Yasaburou love and admire a woman who was complicit in the murder and consumption of his beloved father? It’s not enough to simply say “tanuki aren’t people” – but that they are alien to us is something we, as viewers and readers, need to accept. While the feelings at the core of the Shimogamo family couldn’t be more elementally human, we can’t allow that to fool us into thinking they’re the same as we are. Yet we, as intelligent creatures, can’t simply accept what seems in irreconcilable behavior at face value. And that’s where I am with Uchouten Kazoku.

It’s certainly no surprise that Soun would be willing to consume tanuki in order to restore his social climber ambitions – he was willing to murder his own brother out of envy and resentment. But Yasaburou’s attitude is harder to reconcile. Good and evil are not fixed and easily identifiable constructs in Uchouten Kazoku – Benten (and the interpretation of her character) is ample evidence of that. All of the scenes leading up to the “reconciliation” banquet were magical and beautiful – the stroll down the path of bamboo, the underwater handshake, the arrival of Benten (let’s not forget that before the introduction of Western social mores, co-ed bathing was the norm in Japan), the steam rising off Yasaburou’s head as he leaves the baths. But through it all was that buzz, that sense of wrongness – something terrible was about to happen, that much was obvious.

What happened at the banquet certainly bears discussion. Soun’s greed was transparent – it seemed transparent to me, also, that Juroujin and Benten were playing him, or at best humoring him. Poor, earnest Yadogawa-sensei’s rant – and Juroujin’s reaction – were sad and terrible, but what happened after is what demands contemplation. Why did Yasaburou do what he did – seemingly sell out his friend and his ideals? Speaking of transparent, I’m certain that he was doing it to save Yadogawa’s life. Even if Yasaburou believed the things he said (which I don’t think he does) he’d never forget that Yadogawa saved his mother’s life. In that moment, Yasaburou saw that breaking Yadogawa’s resolve was the only way to diffuse the situation without violence. He was both right and wrong, as subsequent events proved.

I don’t think Yasaburou wants the Hotei seat, and I think it was rather wicked of Benten (who is, in my view, a very wicked person indeed) to maneuver him into it. Soun’s reaction was predictable – he was in the end a small man, driven by small desires. But like many in this cast, I don’t see Soun as evil – just weak. Soun, Ginkaju and Kinkaju, Akadama-sensei, Yadogawa-sensei, Benten, even Yasaburou – everyone is hungering for something life isn’t giving them. They’re all aware of the ways they fall short of their own expectations (and those of others) and it makes them unhappy. And that unhappiness makes them do foolish and unkind things sometimes (some more than others, of course). I think that’s what made Souichirou so special and revered – he, more than anyone in this story (apart, perhaps, from his wife), seemed to be at peace with himself.

The death of Soun – a small, weak man responsible for much of the sadness in this story – should not itself have been as sad as it was. In the end he was just a furball, and one his children surely loved, even if they (certainly Kaisei) knew his weakness. Yasaburou’s agonized reaction to Soun’s final moments cut me to the bone, because it revealed so much about him. He took no joy from seeing his father “avenged” like this – all he saw was his uncle, all his tanuki artifice and ambition stripped away, slowly bleeding to death at the foot of a dead tree in a lush forest (a gorgeous image). This was a beautiful, terrible sadness just as Episode 8 was – but in this instance, in stark contrast to the first, the sadness sprung from all the unfulfilled promise and emptiness in the life of the brother who passed from the world of the living.

 

Preview

May 22, 2017 at 6:04 pm
23 comments »
  • May 22, 2017 at 8:08 pmsealouse

    you summed that up quite nicely. what an episode.

    • May 22, 2017 at 9:05 pmguardian enzo

      I really, really love the symmetry of the two brothers’ deaths and how they bookend each other. So sad, and for such totally different reasons.

  • May 22, 2017 at 10:57 pmUrahara

    Why isn’t anyone watching this show ?

    • May 22, 2017 at 11:48 pmguardian enzo

      Well clearly, quite a few people are – in Japan. It has pop-up cafes and stamp tours, and the sites in Kyoto where the show is set are seeing a bump in tourism. Stalker indicates the disc sales won’t be too bad (just like the first season). It just doesn’t have much of a following in the West. I just don’t think it’s what most Western fans (perhaps with the exception of the French) think of an anime.

      • May 23, 2017 at 12:40 amUrahara

        So unless it’s full of action/romance nobody is watching it on our side of the globe ?

      • May 23, 2017 at 4:56 pmguardian enzo

        I think it’s more that it doesn’t fit one of the increasingly narrow templates that anime has to squeeze into to be commercially successful.

      • May 28, 2017 at 12:56 pmBlackBriar

        I’m anguished to say so but I must confess the West’s standards are rather too high and picky.

    • May 23, 2017 at 4:02 amDave

      I think Season 1 being no longer available for streaming so it’s hard for people to catch up hurts it this time around. People don’t like to jump into the middle. It’s a shame because this and Kyousougiga were my favourite shows of 2013. It was a great year for dysfunctional family anime.

      The good news is that Kyoto was focusing on using Anime to drive tourism the last time I was there: setting up shops focused specifically on shows set in Kyoto (why you’ll see them as a producer in the credits). So, it’s highly likely that this will get adapted as long as the author keeps spitting out novels.

    • May 23, 2017 at 2:18 pmSmokex365

      I don’t think a lot of people watched the first season and got that attachment to it. For me, having seen the first season when it aired when I heard there was a second that I wasn’t expecting it was a must watch. Could also be just that there are simple so many more decent shows per season then there used to be.

      • May 26, 2017 at 5:18 amPaci

        Really? The first season of Uchouten was the best of the season, and one of the best shows of that year.

    • May 23, 2017 at 2:19 pmDmonHiro

      Because this type of story isn’t really appealing outside of Japan. I, for one, cannot get over the fact that the captured tanuki that get eaten once a year don’t simply escape. They just accept it. Why?

      • May 24, 2017 at 7:35 pmvinny

        it was explained in this season why they can’t just escape. it has to do with the nature of tanuki.

      • May 26, 2017 at 2:53 amDmonHiro

        That explination was bullshit. It boils down to “they can’t escape if they’re afraid”, but what the hell do they have to be afraid of when they can escape?
        You have the power to survive but it doesn’t work if you are afraid.
        You get captured but you shoulnd’t BE afraid since you can just leave.
        It’s a cop out.

      • May 26, 2017 at 4:34 pmvinny

        traditionally in order to discover a transforming tanuki you scare them with dogs. or surprise them. transformation require inner peace. when thrown into a cage they become restless and unable to transform. and the more they try the more they realize they can’t, creating a negative loop. Yasaburo explained all this between ep 2 and 4. remember, the best parts of this show are in the seemingly minor details. this show doesn’t spoon feed you the answers you want. it allows you to draw a limited picture of the lives of this eccentric family.

    • May 24, 2017 at 8:21 amAthrum

      To the west if it isn’t typical shonen or something more moe people don’t like it.

  • May 23, 2017 at 1:08 amChris hall

  • May 23, 2017 at 1:16 amBlue

    Soun’s death was a shocker to me. I never actually thought there would be on-screen death in this show. I never thought I would be so sad to see sucha scoundrel go.

  • May 23, 2017 at 3:48 pmKana-chan

    I’m quite sad that he was shot and died in such a horrible way. In Season 1 I really disliked him because of what he did to his brother obviously, but still I don’t think he deserved that. I was hoping they find a way to live in harmony in some way…
    The more I watch this show I can’t really tell If I like Benten or not. She is so hard to read. After Nidaime beat her last time I think she doesn’t really know how to handle defeat and is behaving like this just to let out her frustration.
    I actually shed some tears after Kaisei still didn’t wanted to be seen by Yasaburo even though her father just died and she wanted to say goodbye. The only family she has left are now her two annoying brothers. I hope she finds comfort by Yasaburo and his brothers and especially their mother since they seem to have a very strong bond.

    • May 23, 2017 at 4:58 pmguardian enzo

      Benten is a femme fatale. She’s delicious poison that men can’t resist. I’m not saying she’s evil per se, but she’s the most dangerous person in the cast as far as I’m concerned (and she sure as hell ain’t good).

    • May 23, 2017 at 10:17 pmLizu

      Don’t forget Kaisei also has another older brother that outranks the twins. So she is not entirely alone and this older brother seems to be reliable and trustworthy unlike their father.

  • May 23, 2017 at 8:16 pmMike

    Guardian, I have to disagree about Yasaburou; more than any other character on this show he knows who he is and accepts that. I think it may be his strength as a main character, as he is still a fool, and short tempered etc, but he is at peace with himself.

    I agree that what he did at the club was solely an attempt to save the professors life.
    I do hope he realizes how much Kaisei cares about him though, as I am an incurable romantic.

    • May 23, 2017 at 8:23 pmguardian enzo

      I think he does more than most. But there’s an element of frustration there, because he knows he’s always being measured against his father (including by himself) and coming up short. As he said in voice-over in the first season, each of the four sons got part of Souichirou’s greatness – but none of them are the complete package. And I think Yasaburou is always wondering what he has to do to become the man his father was.

      • May 24, 2017 at 7:46 pmvinny

        All he really needs is time. He is already showing signs of maturing little by little. Show Spoiler ▼

        all of these experiences and how he deals with them shows how much he has changed from a brat flipping his skirt at his brother.

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