「薬師坊の奥座敷」 (Yakushibo no Oku Zashiki )
“Yakushibo’s Inner Parlor”
I think it’s testament to the brilliance of Uchouten Kazoku that three episodes in, it remains a spellbinding experience; and in fact, every episode has progressively gotten better since then. It’s easy for me to say that Uchouten Kazoku has by and large become my favorite show of the season, with a quality only matched by the amazing charm of Silver Spoon’s farm life.
When I considered this, it’s pretty funny that my favorite two shows of the season are slice-of-life; these are about as far placed as you’d get from the intellectually-driven narratives or the sublimely executed comedies that seem to have made up most of the better anime series in recent memory. It’s not to say they don’t have those elements; both have an appealingly quirky sense of humor to them (which I find charming as hell) and there’s an overarching character plotline focused on the protagonists of both shows. But in trying to place my fingers around what’s been making the show thus far, those aren’t the traits I’d single out as the definitive ones. I’m also loathe to say it’s the sum of its parts; though in the case of Uchouten Kazoku’s case, that certainly wouldn’t be a wrong statement to make. After all, the slice-of-life genre has such a vague interpretation that almost anything remotely mundane could easily be classified as one; and what makes a good slice-of-life is even murkier a topic to breach into.
I guess I’d call back that same reason I’ve been using (for the last time I swear) that similarly to Silver Spoon, there’s an incredible human quality to these shows, which has always been a huge differentiating factor to me. Trying to define this quality is the tricky bit; but at the core, it’s always been about having the show emotionally connect with the audience. Take this episode for example: the fantasy of the show is running at its highest since the premiere, with flying teahouses, fans that whip up the storms, Tanukis shapeshifting into mountains and a half-submerged European clock tower that feel more at home in a fantasy world; but however outlandish it gets, that human factor is always there for us to connect. It’s in the way dialogue unfolds, in the natural relationships of the characters, and it’s in that relaxed -almost ethereal- atmosphere that lulls us into Uchouten Kazoku world, and that’s what I believe has been making every episode so captivating for me. This what previous PA Works animes have always been trying to do (Hanasaku Iroha and Tari Tari being their most clear-cut attempts) and finally, I think they’ve managed to hit the right formula.
I’ve already professed my love for the Shimogamo family, the main propagator of the brilliance in this show thus far; they’re a group of characters with a tangible, relatable bond, but still remain very distinct characters. When Yaichiro comes to Yasaburou for in help in securing the “inner parlor”, the bad blood between them surfaces as Yasaburou demands a kowtow (as you should know in Asian cultures this traditionally is a very, very big deal) and Mother promptly knocks Yasaburou off his pedestal for going too far with family. We next find Yasaburou complaining to Yajirou about him being forced into the role, to which Yajirou plays the neutral man in the family. It’s all stuff everyone’s familiar with in the typical family dynamics, but also makes the Shimogamos that much easier to connect strongly with.
Then there’s also the dynamic between Yasaburou, Akadama and Benten, which remains as enthralling to watch as the family is; just like in episode 01, there’s a great chemistry between the Yasaburou and Akadama in their quirky student-master relationship. I’m finding a lot of gentle humor here in both character’s romantic fiaxation with Benten -where Akadama purportedly gave up everything of Tengu value to her- and to see them both banter off it. Akadama with his jii-san tsun was particularly charming to watch; as his visiting tengu friend steadily picks at his words, Akadama continuously adds to his absurd reasons for not returning to the mountains. It leads to a very interesting conversation between Yasaburou and the old Iwamayama tengu that brings out the layers in Uchouten Kazoku’s dialogue; the old tengu eventually piece together the story between the lines, much to Yasaburou’s chagrin.
While Benten remains the show’s enigma, watching her through Yasaburou’s lens never seems to get tiresome. The two share a most unusual relationship; Benten is purported to be involved in Tanuki hotpot boiling, which is a pretty sensitive topic to the Shimogamos (whether or not she’s involved with the death of Shimogamo papa remains to be seen) and she strikes fear into every Tanuki’s heart. Yet with Yasaburou she share an extremely playful, flirtatious relationship that’s completely at odds with their situations, where she even shares jokes about Tanuki boiling; not to mention of her acquaintances, Benten also seems pay particular heed to Yasaburou, teasing him about his request to borrow the inner parlor before she finally relents. It really makes one wonder what their fixation with each other is about; and in Yasaburou’s case, I’m suspecting it could be her way of life. As we see in this episode in the clocktower scene, Benten is the very definition of a free spirit; what else would you call someone who jumps into the water buck-naked to pull on a whale’s tail? In the middle of a storm she whipped up herself? Based on how much we see Yasaburou champion his everyday life, there’s seems to be admiration for Benten in there, admiration that translates into his romantic fixation with her. And still we’re no closer to figuring out Benten, except that she really does seems like a good person at heart -she did lend them that inner parlor, after all- and the mystery surrounding her is just misdirection; you can color me surprised if she actually did deliberately play a part in orchestrating Shimogamo papa’s death.
At this point, we’ll have to see if Uchouten Kazoku can really go the mile; these first three episode really was really about setting the mood, introducing the world, and getting that human quality of the show in there; we’ve yet to see what might happen once the drama sets in and answers are revealed. But it stands that this first 3 episodes really was a captivating experience, and I really do hope that it can bring that quality across its run.
-For those of you following my Danganronpa and Gatchaman coverage, some word on the delay. I’ve been packing and flying over the past weekend, and only just found time to settle down to get this post out ASAP. (So please forgive the half-assed grammar) As for Danganronpa 03 and Gatchaman 02, I’ll be grouping them with this week’s episodes and make double posts for both shows later in the week.
-Finally, Zanibas is coming back! And perfect timing to save me, I think I’ve exhausted what little I could think of saying already, if you didn’t already figure that out. (How many times did I repeat “human quality” again?) Still, thanks for putting up with my random ramblings these few weeks!