「大文字納涼船合戦」 (Daimonji nouryou-sen gassen)
“Daimonji Luxury Liner Battle Continued”
I think the Nise-Eizan Densha specialty of Yajirou is a fitting metaphor for Uchouten Kazoku, because more than almost any anime I can think of there’s a train-like sensibility to the narrative. But not a full-speed, straight line powerhouse like the Shinkansen – no, this is the ambling, winding line that cuts through back yards and the backside of little shrines and temples. But meandering though it is, it’s one continuous stream of thought – the breaks between the episodes may be stops, but there’s never a disconnect where one ends and the other begins. Episodes of The Eccentric Family are no more self-contained than the distance between two stops on the Eizan Densha – what matters is the entire route.
I guess it shouldn’t have been surprising that the wormhole in Souichirou’s shogi board led straight to Akadama-sensei’s apartment – though I confess I wasn’t expecting to find Yashirou making curry for him. The old tengu and the great tanuki were close – it’s no coincidence that in his final stop on this plane (which remains as mysterious as it was the day it aired) Souichirou asked Akadama to look after his family. Superficially it seems as if it’s more the other way around, and more than superficially that’s true I suppose. But there are always hints here and there that it’s a reciprocal relationship, and this episode is no exception.
The Gozan Farewell Bonfire is once again a signature moment in Uchouten Kazoku – it seems to be the premier event on the tanuki social calendar. Here’s Akadama’s first opportunity to help out the Shimogamo brothers, as Yasaburou has invited Gyokuran along for a viewing party – not knowing that the “luxury liner” Yaichirou was to borrow from the Nara tanuki has been co-opted by Ginkaju and Kinkaju. But the old tengu is in possession of the
ashtray tea-kettle engine (surely you remember). And that, in concert with Yajirou’s signature move, can make for a sort of homemade alternative.
Akadama-sensei is utterly tsundere towards the brothers – “I’ll only let you borrow it on the condition you don’t invite me” indeed – but really, this is all a dance where both partners know the steps. Indeed, the entire tengu-tanuki relationship seems to be that way – both parties follow the routine, the tanuki are resolutely deferential and the tengu haughty and dismissive. But in their heart of hearts I don’t think the furballs feel inferior to anybody – they just know how to play the game. Isn’t that all part of being a tanuki?
The surest sign Akadama is looking after the brothers comes during the Gozan Farewell flight (with Yashirou acting as engineer). Tousen doesn’t dispute the old man’s tale of how he locked she and Souichirou up until they pretty much decided to get married, and he more or less demands the same thing from Yaichirou and Gyokuran. Things are looking up – even Yajirou is feeling upbeat with his belly warmed by the events inside it (“A fun thing is a good thing” indeed). But you just know Kinkaju and Ginkaju are going to crash the party, and indeed they do. It’s easy to blame them for continually provoking Yaichirou, but Yaichirou is the one who continually allows himself to be provoked. Tanuki really can’t help being fools, it seems.
There are other party-crashers here too, though – starting with Benten, who lands atop Yajirou in the Nidaime’s beloved chaise lounge. Where that lounge goes, Nidaime is soon to follow – and Nidaime and Akadama in the same place is going to lead to a very different sort of fireworks than when tanuki do “battle”. I don’t know what happened in London, but that there’s a history between these two is beyond obvious. Tanuki mixed up in tengu disputes and vice-versa – that can’t be doing anybody any good…
To me, one of the most interesting elements of this season is the Nidaime’s role. It’s tempting to class him as the villain, but I don’t necessarily see him that way. Frankly I think Benten skates by a lot of pretty reprehensible behavior based on her charms, and the fact that she and the Nidaime are in opposition doesn’t incline me to consider him a bad guy. That he’s formidable there can be no doubt – he vanquishes Benten wish shocking ease when she attacks him. It’s understandable that Yasaburou is so shaken at seeing Benten brought low like that – he’s in love with her, after all. But I think it’s telling he refused her entreaties to tell her he liked her better than the Nidaime. This Benten-Nidaime-Akadama triangle is a complicated one, involving infatuation and inheritance, and it seems certain to be one of the biggest stories of this season.