“Autumn Leaf Viewing”
Wow, that episode was informative. Not only did we gain important clarification and insight into the Professor’s view of eating things you love, but we also learned much about Benten’s ambiguous nature and why she acts the way she does. That well is going to get pretty salty at this rate, as we move past the halfway point of this series from confusion to illumination.
First, the professor’s dialogue. It’s pretty weird how Yasaburo can keep calm in practically every situation he’s been in so far–I would personally go crazy if I was constantly under psychological stress from all the talk of Tanuki eating and my dad dying. However, Yasaburo is defined by how he seeks to live an interesting life, a life that he’ll take as calmly as he can. However, even Yasaburo himself is surprised at how calmly he can be around the professor and Benten–even as potential predators that played a hand in killing his father, they seem…likable. The professor sees the world in a “circle of life” sort of view, where we are all eventually destined to return to our elementary states. As such, he believes that it is the greatest flattery to be nourished by the things that you treasure in this world, as well as to nourish the ones that you love. It’s the same line of thinking when people voluntarily donate their organs after death, or how characters in Gin no Saji have to face the fact that the livestock that they cherish will be used to nourish society. It’s an understandable view from the perspective of the top of the chain, but an almost dreadful point of view from anyone lower on that chain with a conscience. If not for the professor’s sadness that he would taste nasty to a Tanuki, such discussion seems completely insensitive to those struggling to avoid consumption. Even with the mutual feeling of wanting to nourish your loved ones, the thought is still fairly insensitive, as the act of eating someone essentially means cutting off their life short against their free will. Although Nise-emon Shimogamo was content with his life, it is clear that his family was not prepared to say goodbye. You could say it was a selfish thing for Father Shimogamo to stay alive, for he exchanged many more years of happiness with his family for one night of pleasure for a small group of people, all because he felt he was content. Alas, if he were not eaten though, it would’ve been another Tanuki that would have fallen to that same fate, and if not a Tanuki, then another living thing would’ve fallen to the hotpot. It’s a complicated decision, one that I personally disagree with, but at least now we have a feeling as to why such a powerful Tanuki didn’t simply escape, and as to why the Professor cherishes eating those he loves.
With that being said, we can now focus on Benten, who actually has a pretty messed up past to back up her current behavior. First, she was randomly kidnapped, without much fanfare, by a certain Professor Akadama who found her to be captivating. Forced to abandon her current way of life to learn the way of the Tengu, it was amazing that she kept her cool, even up to the moment that she first met Yasaburo as illustrated in episode one. However, it seems a variety of events after meeting Yasaburo caused her change of heart, of which we know of at least two. The first would be the Great Demon Cedar incident, which stripped away her captor, but also at that point her teacher and caretaker, Professor Akadama from flying ever again. Though she denies feeling for the incident, it is probably more precise to say that she wants to deny the incident happened, as her feelings on it are probably conflicting revenge and guilt. The second event reveals itself to be more humanizing of Benten, and one that could’ve easily been overlooked this episode–I myself didn’t notice it until someone on a forum emphasized the fact to me. There is a good possibility that Benten was not aware at the time that she would be eating Yasaburo’s father, which would explain much as to why she would so willingly eat the father of someone she loves. The possibility reveals itself in Souhichirou’s actions while in captivity. He stays completely quiet while Benten is around, even though Benten is open to conversation, but as soon as she falls asleep, Souichirou has one last conversation with the Professor, where he even reveals his identity. After this, Benten wakes up, quickly prompting Father Shimogamo to play dumb once more, presumably to hide his identity to Benten.
Why he would allow Benten to consume him is still unclear, but the hints heavily suggest that Benten would only find out afterwards of the gravity of her actions, which probably prompted a serious change in her personality. That is perhaps part of the reason why we see her crying next to the well–she perhaps is unable to forgive herself for committing such an act, and is unable to apologize for her actions. That denial is also probably why she hangs out with the nastier characters of the show, such as continuing to be with the Friday Fellows, hanging out with the nastier Tengu, and of course the nastier part of the Ebisugawa family. It is with them that she doesn’t have to face the reality of her past because frankly, she doesn’t care about them at all. They are merely a means of escape, rather than any actual people her life is invested in.
Hopefully we do return to Benten’s past soon, because now another arc is about to begin–one that will pit the Shimogamo and Ebisugawa families against one another, as well as their supporters, for the important position of Nise-emon. In exchange though, hopefully we finally get to shed some light on Kaisei’s relationship with the rest of the cast and, if we’re lucky, get to see her in a form that’s not an inanimate object!