「欧羅巴の香り」 (Youroppa no Kaori)
“The Scent of Europe”
Uchouten Kazoku remains a wondrous rumination on all that’s mystical and magical in the world, set in one of the world’s most mystical and magical places. I’ve noted before that uniqueness on its own does not make a series a success, and that’s certainly true. But there can just as certainly be no doubt that Uchouten Kazoku is indeed unique in anime – it follows its own path, and has a remarkable ability to make us want to follow behind it.
There was never any question that Benten was going turn up sooner rather than later. She’s a character who has a tremendous impact on the narrative whether she’s physically a part of it or not – even her absence is a presence. But present she is, turning up to foil Tenmaya’s existential torture of Yasaburou. I haven’t yet figured out whether Tenmaya is truly evil, or merely mischievious – a kind of trickster God (or “cheater” as he calls himself). But he blames Benten for his hellish troubles – though at the same time, hardly denies he’s as smitten with her as every other male in this series.
There will be much more of this subplot to come, of that we can be certain. But for the moment the story takes a rather enchanting detour, as Tousen and Yasaburou head off to Tanukidani Fudoin Shrine to visit her mother. The Eccentric Family is only too happy to give us exposition without explanation, and “Mother” is certainly a mysterious figure – certainly quite unlike any tanuki I’ve ever seen. Is she literally Tousen’s mother, or a kind of general tanuki Goddess?
Whatever she is, Grandmother (Koyama Mami) is full of intriguing wisdom – telling Yasaburou that the flow of the world’s water is constricted, and it will be on him to help fix it. She also tells Yasaburou to cause “plenty of mischief” (one suspects that won’t be a problem), and offers some medicine to help Yajirou regain his transformation skills – which was the original reason for the visit in the first place.
The third act of this free-associative episode brings the Nidaime back into the picture – and Benten, too. Nidaime is another of those characters whose true nature and place in the story remain a mystery. He’s moved into a former tanuki villa belonging to Suou-san, having been sold it by Ginkaju and Kinkaju. He’s the picture of refined courtesy when Yasaburou and Yashirou come to pay their respects, even gifting Yashirou a pair of safety goggles (is the mention of electromagnetism and Yashirou’s interest in it some sort of foreshadowing, I wonder?). But the Nidaime never makes it less than clear that his kindness is just a courtesy, and that his guests should never forget their place.
I suppose it was inevitable that the haughty and imperious Nidaime should butt heads with the egomaniacal Benten at some point (especially given her relationship with his father), and this promises to be a memorable clash of wills. Again we don’t know if there’s a history here – Benten merely arrives at the Nidaime’s doorstep (or more accurately, windowsill) unannounced and stakes out a place on his precious chaise lounge. What follows reeks of foreboding – Nidaime puts Benten in her place (namely the floor) in memorable fashion, dumping her onto the tablecloth. Benten, clearly, is not someone who takes kindly to being put in her place – and she seems sure to respond to this shot across her bow with a full-on fusillade. But it makes a refreshing change to see a male character in Uchouten who doesn’t turn to putty in Benten’s presence…