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Uchouten Kazoku 2 – 09

「それぞれの二代目」 (Sorezore no Nidaime)
“Each Second Generation”

I think it could pretty reasonably be argued that Uchouten Kazoku has been building up to this moment of crisis since its very beginnings. Benten has always been a character that divides the audience, and it’s not hard to see why. She’s beautiful, charismatic, a powerful female character who takes shit from no man. But she’s also imperious, arrogant, and a bunch of even worse things I won’t list here because at least a few of them could still be called a matter of opinion (though I think the jury has returned its verdict).

If you’ve been reading my Eccentric Family posts since those beginnings, it’s safe to say you know I’m not especially fond of Benten – as a person. As a character she’s great, one of anime’s best femme fatales. But I don’t see her as especially morally ambiguous – I think she’s flat-out nasty. Her delight in consuming tanuki hotpots is part of that, but I’m always highly suspicious of people who get turned on by their ability to frighten other people. And let’s be clear – in the context of this mythology, tanuki are people too. She’s bad news.

There is some time taken for unfinished business at the start of the episode – no, not Kaisei and Yasaburou, but Yajirou’s departure from Kyoto. Tousen is too broken up about it to attend (just as well, as Yajirou turning into a furball on the platform would have been awkward) but Gyokuran steps in as a sort of de facto matriarch (what’s with the clacking stones? That’s a tradition I’m not familiar with). This journey is one Yajirou clearly must make – even under normal circumstances the second son is a difficult role to play in traditional Japanese culture, and Yajirou’s circumstances are hardly normal (or ideal).

The meat of the episode, though, is absolutely the building crisis with Benten – and it again displays Uchouten Kazoku’s aptitude at creating an extremely tense atmosphere. The trigger to bring all this to a head is the election of the Trick Magister, a highly important position in the tanuki social hierarchy – an election which by tradition involves a tengu being the observer. Sullen old Akadama-sensei refuses the duty, and worse still, he appoints Benten to do so in his stead. The tanuki are understandably reluctant to have a member of the Kin-youbi Club act in this important role, and turn to Yasaburou – the “tengu expert” – for help.

Yasaburou’s role in all this is very interesting. I see a fundamental difference between he and (to the best of my memory) pretty much every other tanuki we’ve met, in that Yasaburou is fundamentally unafraid. He certainly knows how to grovel, but it’s never less than obvious that he’s playing a role when he does so. Tanuki are expected to be subservient, to be humble – to cower in fear of what tengu and humans might do to them. Yasaburou, really, isn’t afraid (Kaisei aside). He knows the rules, but ultimately he trusts his own ability to manipulate others and think his way out of trouble. Maybe that makes him the biggest fool among all foolish tanuki, but that’s a side of him I deeply respect.

Initially Yasaburou tries to persuade Akadama to play his part, as the tanuki elders have asked – but it’s clear soon enough that the old man is genuinely resistant. He may also have an ulterior motive – to try and get Benten in a position to succeed him as head of the Kurama Tengu. That in itself would be bad for the tanuki, but there may be other reasons for Yasaburou’s plan to have the Nidaime take the observer role – perhaps it’s a bit of payback for the way she manipulated the Friday club and caused Soun’s death. Yasaburou’s relationship with Benten is obviously complicated – he’s probably in love with her, he respects her power (though doesn’t fear it as his fellow tanuki do), and he generally amuses Benten. In that sense all these machinations can be viewed as a kind of 6th-grade courtship, but Yasaburou is clearly playing with fire here.

For me, the Nidaime is a character who’s become more and more sympathetic – not coincidentally as Benten and Akadama-sensei have become less so. He, like Yasaburou, knows the role a tengu (he still denies being one, of course) is expected to play in the tengu-tanuki relationship. But he treats the tanuki he interacts with in a more respectful way that any other powerful figure in this story. He and Yasaburou are much alike in fact, it seems to me. I wonder now if the Nidaime will act as a true defender of tanuki now that it seems this is escalating into a genuine crisis.

Perhaps this is a time when Yasaburou’s bravery crossed over into genuine foolishness, because it’s easy to see why tanuki are implored to never get caught up (much less cause) tengu disputes. But what was he to do – allow Benten to preside? For all his infatuation with her I think his (considerable) tanuki pride wouldn’t allow that. There’s a lot of history between Nidaime and Benten, though, seemingly dating back to that finally-glimpsed encounter in London. And that means this particular conflict (with all its implications for both tanuki and tengu society) is personal. And as anyone could tell you, those can be the worst – and most vicious – kind.

 

Preview

June 5, 2017 at 7:57 pm
15 comments »
  • June 5, 2017 at 8:11 pmUrahara

    Please god don’t let this be resolved in an anticlimactic way , we have been waiting for waaaaay to long

  • June 5, 2017 at 10:18 pmCTT

    The issue seems to be that Yasaburou invited the Nidaime to preside with the full knowledge that it would bring tensions to a head among the tengu. He did not inform his brother that the election might be disturbed, yet he didn’t seem all that surprised when it happened. It could be that he manipulated events to make something ‘interesting’ happen, and which might be construed as his way of blowing off steam.

    • June 5, 2017 at 10:47 pmGuardian Enzo

      How was Yaichirou any less able to guess that the election would be disturbed than Yasaburou? He knows the principals well enough to figure that out.

    • June 6, 2017 at 5:28 amDave

      Nah, that’s essentially what the whole scene in the Van with his brother and the elders was about. Everyone knew it had the potential to cause conflict, Yasaburou thought he could mitigate it.

      The end of the episode was him realizing that maybe he bit off more than he could chew.

  • June 5, 2017 at 11:09 pmPO

    So this question may not be relevant to the current conflict at hand and get on some folks’ nerves…
    but why are everyone’s nostrils so far apart?

  • June 5, 2017 at 11:16 pmChris hall

  • June 6, 2017 at 12:09 amDenscafon

    I’ve had the “clacking of the stones” ritual done to me once when I was in Japan leaving a pretty expensive dinner. The restaurant host took out 2 white gem like rocks and clacked the rocks over each of my shoulders letting the sparks go on me. From what I was told, some areas in Japan (Akita being one of them) do this when people go on long journeys to give them luck/safety and ward off evil spirits. The rocks are called Kiribi I believe.

    • June 6, 2017 at 8:11 amMunchkin

      http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2010/12/16/reference/kiribi/

      “One reason, he said, is a story in the Nihon Shoki, an early chronicle of Japanese history and mythology that was completed in 720. According to the story, a noble named Prince Yamatotakeru was leaving on a perilous mission when his aunt presented him with a pouch containing a striker and stone. It saved him in a dangerous spot.”

      “The idea of purifying something with sparks probably spread from the yamabushi (mountain ascetic hermits) to the common people, and mixed with other beliefs,” said Sekine. “Over time, people came to believe that sparks could also drive away evil and bad luck.”

  • June 6, 2017 at 12:19 amJT

    I’m more surprised by Yajirou showing up the trailer. It’s nice to know that by his style of being a ‘frog in the well’, he still has a part to play in this entire crisis. I look forward to how he will once more establish his father’s belief that he’s one of the four keeping the equilibrium balanced. (Like how he did in S1E12)

  • June 6, 2017 at 4:40 amMistic

    Ah, Benten. When it suits her, she’s a (wannabe) tengu, and she’s a tanuki-eating human when it suits her too. No wonder she believes herself to be untouchable, since she can use the set of rules she wants whenever she feels like it. And the tanuki don’t have any other option but bow to it. Still, I can see why Yasaburo is in love with her.

    Tengu-tanuki relations are certainly messed up.

    Ironically, Nidaime is in a similar situation, so no wonder that Benten sees in him her equal and her rival. But while she only cares about the privileges of her dual position, Nidaime seems to pay more attention to the responsibilities. Now, clash of titans!

  • June 6, 2017 at 9:08 amBear

    Yasaburou is fundamentally unafraid

    That does explain why he didn’t revert to tanuki form
    http://randomc.net/image/Uchouten%20Kazoku/Uchouten%20Kazoku%202%20-%2009%20-%20Large%2038.jpg
    when the others did. It’s not that he isn’t unafraid, it’s that it doesn’t turn into panic. If you’re going to survive as a fool you’d better have good survival instincts cause you’re going to need them.

    The thing about Benten is that she was kidnapped by Akadama as a teenager and given powers that set her apart from other humans. We don’t know what else Akadama did to her either. Got to warp you when something like that happens.

    I still think Nidaime is telling the truth that he’s not a tengu. I think he’s a human who was trained by Akadama as was Benten.

    I don’t think he’s afraid of Kaisei (though maybe he should be). He’s afraid of how she makes him feel when he sees her. He just loses control of himself.

  • June 7, 2017 at 10:50 amBeedle

    Wishful thinking on my part, but I wonder if, more than implicitly naming Benten as his successor, was Akadama trying to bridge the divide between Benten and the tanukis? Akadama has been shown to have a soft spot for the tanukis– or at least, the Shimogamo household.

    I’m curious as to what has troubled Benten. I think the hint from this episode showed that Benten did not go to London impulsively– she went to clear her head. It was also mentioned previously that Benten regularly went into the painting to fight onis as a form of stress-relief. As of this episode, two scenarios struck me: the first (and likely scenario) is that Akadama was becoming firmer in his desire for Benten to become his successor (and maybe Nidaime returned to Japan to stop this from happening, either due to Benten’s own desire not to become the successor or for other reasons). The second, echoing back to my earlier wishful thinking, is Benten feeling guilt for eating dad.

    I get the feeling Benten intentionally manipulated events to get Soun killed, thinking it a favor to Yasaburou, only to become perplexed that he wasn’t delighted by the act. Whatever the case, the plot is surely heating up.

    • June 7, 2017 at 5:40 pmGuardian Enzo

      I got the impression the main reason she was fighting oni was to collect their horns, which presumably have some magical properties.

    • June 8, 2017 at 7:54 pmCamus

      I don’t think Benten would go that far for Yasaburou. Plus that scheme is quite twisted and I don’t think she’s that warped.

      I think there is some feelings that Nidaime has for Benten, we just don’t know what yet. From that flashback it’s clear he’s startled by her. But that could be a red herring making us think he doesn’t have romantic feelings for her. He might be in love with her.

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