The charm factor with this series is off the charts, even if it was a bit unbalanced in favor of the kawaii factor this week. “Bittersweet” is a quality many anime aspire to, but few succeed as well as Udon no Kuni does. This is magical realism put to good use, as a way of shedding light on the human condition. That was one of the things I loved best about Uchouten Kazoku – ironically (though perhaps not coincidentally) another series featuring tanuki that spoke profoundly about humanity.
What I think we see happening here is pretty straightforward – simple yet profound, if you’ll pardon the overused Enzo-ism. Souta is regaining the sense of his own family by forming a bond with Poko (that name is invented under extreme duress). Meanwhile we’re seeing all the various slices of life in Kagawa prefecture, stuff like the adorable Kotoden train, the shoyumame, the down-market and old-school shopping districts. The grass always being greener is definitely a major theme in this series, and we start to see it really being developed this week.
Poko is an interesting creature (it’s only here that Souta realizes he’s a boy). He’s almost surely much older than he appears, yet the childlike side of his nature seems very genuine (he’s certainly a legit crybaby). Poko is the crucible that brings out Souta’s true character – which is a very kind and empathetic young man who’s been deprived of an opportunity to show it. Here we see him meeting up with an old crush from high school, Tanaka Mai (Minaguchi Yuko) while shopping for clothes for Poko. Mai has two kids, including a bratty daughter named Nozomi who gets off on rather the wrong foot with Poko by knocking him off his. But in the end Poko reveals himself to be more mature than he looks – more mature than Nozomi, anyway.
It’s hard to know where Udon no Kuni is going, especially with the manga still a work in progress. This is a heartwarming story to be sure and Poko is adorable, but there’s a lot of pain here already – Souta lives with it everyday. I think the bittersweet tone fits like a glove, and one could easily see this series giving us a rather heartbreaking ending – after all, humans don’t as a rule get to become a family with tanuki (no matter how cute). But whether we get that ending – or indeed any ending at all – in the anime, the journey figures to be one of the warmest and most enjoyable anime experiences of the year.