「運命の赤い糸」 (Unmei no Akai Ito)
“Red String of Fate”
Every so often when a series ends what strikes me most is “that was a labor of love”. Tsuritama and Kyousougiga spring immediately to mind, but there are others – anime where it’s very clear that the full heart and soul of the staff was behind the idea that this had to be great. You can hear it in his voice when P.A. Works founder and president Horikawa Kenji talks about this show – no one at PAW was under any delusions that Uchouten Kazoku was going to be a commercial success, but everyone there loved the material and wanted it to be the signature work from the studio. And after two seasons, I think it’s pretty clear they’ve succeeded (and, just maybe, broke even in the process – if they were lucky).
I’ll confess that this finale had me a bit worried at first, because it seemed to be heading in directions I was neither expecting nor especially liking. I didn’t want a big, epic finale for this show (though it does epic very well) – it’s always the interior character moments that define Uchouten Kazoku. And I was worried for a while there that we might see both a “deathbed conversion” for Benten, turning her into a good guy, and the tossing of the Nidaime under the narrative bus.
Soon enough, though, it became clear that none of those things were going to happen. In The Eccentric Family things are both complicated and simple, and paradoxes are everywhere. As Woody Allen once said, the world would be a wonderful place if it weren’t for certain people. But of course, there are certain people – and tengu, and tanuki. In a sense I think this story could be seen as the struggle of the rest of us to have wonderful lives and of the world to be wonderful, in spite of the bastards whose greed and vanity and petty vindictiveness screw it up for the rest of us. And in true Uchouten fashion, I think tanuki are both the wisest and most foolish among us in this context.
To be sure, this episode does start out looking like going out with a bang – a kind of battle royale featuring every conflict that arose over the course of the past twelve episodes. Yasaburou and Benten manage to crash Jyurojin’s flying rail cars onto the roof and into Nidaime’s house, which leaves him seriously pissed off. Pissed off, too, is Soun – when he finds out that Kaisei has been caught up in his scheme (there’s that answered – thought so). Jyurojin directs Tenmaya to toss every tanuki onto the roof into a hot pot, further cementing his status as the closest thing this series has to an outright villain. But before that can happen, a giant hand reaches up from Jigoku and snatches Tenmaya (and Soun, who’s throttling him at the time) back down to Hell.
That’s really just the warm-up though, for the main event – one which I think we’ve all been expecting for a while. In the end, for all his exaggerated dignity, Nidaime is just a man who – like most – can be unmade by a woman. As best I can guess, it seems as if Benten looks just like the woman (a flapper) he fell in love with a hundred years or so ago, and fought (a losing one) with Akadama-sensei over. My guess is that both he and Benten were human disciples of Akadama, and if indeed he’s been at it that long, it’s not surprising he has the edge in power over her. Their battle is ugly – flames and wind, degenerating into nose-gouging and hair-pulling. But Nidaime puts an end to it by setting fire to Benten’s hair, which was a pretty dark moment to say the least.
“Do you pity me?” is the question Benten asks Yasaburou when he comes to visit her at her mystical lake retreat later, to find her curled up in bed, locks shorn. Yasaburou does – he loves her, after all – but do I? Are we supposed to? In the end I think Benten is a sad and lonely wretch, and this was a fitting way for her story to finish (for the moment). Benten is powerful, and uses her power to tease and titillate and massage her massive ego. She ran up against someone more powerful and was laid low, but in the process he also was laid low by her charms and by his own human frailty (though even in his dark despair, he had the detach to summon the rain and douse the blaze he’d started). The Nidaime may have ended up in a less disheveled state than Benten, but the both of them end up coming across as pitiable.
The B-part of the episode returns us to the Uchouten Kazoku I love best, and how I hoped and expected it would end its run – with humor, warmth and wry wisdom. Ginkaku and Kinkaku are left to reflect on their sins (Kureichirou is making sure they do) though it seems that they too were ensnared by Soun’s trickery. Dear old Yadogawa-sensei returns to his Thoreau-like life in the woods, the tanuki population seemingly safe (for now), where someone (I’m guessing it’s Tousen) leaves him care packages regularly. And Yaichirou and Gyokuran tie the knot at Heian Jingu, where Akadama-sensei comes to pay them his respects (and is no doubt thinking about Souichirou as he does so).
Finally, we have Yasaburou and Kaisei, who meet (back-to-back) at Tanukidani Fudoin, where Grandma (who apparently is literally Yasaburou’s grandmother) wanders over to pay them a visit. She’s wonderful, as she was the first time – full of mirth and kindness and wise words, and it’s clear that Yasaburou and Kaisei are indeed tied together by the red fur of fate. This really is the distillation of everything Uchouten Kazoku believes about life – have fun, have kids and make trouble. This is the true wisdom of tanuki – to always keep the child alive inside yourself, no matter how old you may be. Life is only overcomplicated when we allow ourselves to be distracted from what’s important. And, of course, by certain people…
What does the future hold for Uchouten Kazoku, then? Well, the first two seasons have more or less completely adapted the two novels by Morimi Tomihiko, so we’re certainly done for now. Morimi-sensei is planning a third, but it was eight years (2007-15) between the release of the first and second so it may be a while before we see it. Once the novel trilogy is complete, will there be a third season of the anime too? Who knows where anime will be by then – where the world will be, for that matter. I can pretty much guarantee that P.A. Works would love to complete this adaptation if there’s any conceivable way to do so, and it’s not impossible – Morimi’s novels are very popular, enough so that the anime sells a few discs and merchandise and enjoys a bit of cross-promotion (mostly in Kyoto, but also the cafe in Tokyo). If there’s any way to make it happen, Horikawa-san will make it happen.
These days every time a series like Uchouten Kazoku ends I find myself wondering “Is this the last anime like this we’ll ever see?” So far the answer has always been “no”, but it gets harder and harder to keep the faith as anime becomes more and more narrowly-focused and creatively stagnant. But this show does teach us to be optimistic, so I’ll do my best. As long as there are people in the industry willing to take the massive risks required to produce smart, challenging and subtle material like this, we have a chance – because there’s no shortage of brilliant written source material to draw from. In that sense Uchouten Kazoku isn’t unique, but it’s nevertheless exceptional in every way – brilliantly wise, funny and warm – and the anime P.A. Works has crafted from it is every bit as exceptional.
“A fun thing is a good thing”, right?
I believe the Nidaime is a real tengu, not a human raised as one, since I don’t think he could have lived this long and not aged otherwise. Season 1 showed that Benten still aged even after being trained by Akadama, after all. I also think that Akadama was the one who called the rain, since he shows up right after it starts.
My take on the whole Nidaime-Benten thing is that they’re two people from opposite circumstances who were stuck in the same place emotionally. As Nidaime himself said this episode, humans, tanuki, and tengu are all fools; but while most of the ones we’ve seen in the series embrace their nature and are at peace with their own foolishness (some tanuki like Yasaburo even revel in it), Nidaime and Benten are in denial, which perhaps makes them the most foolish of all.
Benten wants to be a tengu but isn’t meant to be one, Nidaime wants to not be a tengu but is meant to be one. They both put on airs and pretend they’re something they’re not (fake it till you make it, basically) and they hate each other because of what they represent to each other. To Nidaime, Benten personifies his folly as a tengu for falling for a human, being humiliated by his father, and then being further humiliated when she left him anyway. To Benten, Nidaime personifies her folly as a human for trying to be a tengu, because no matter how much she tries he will always be better than her since he’s a true tengu and she’s not. That drove them to want to destroy each other to the extent that they ended up ruining themselves.
Nidaime comes out better for it, though, as shown by him saying “I will not become a tengu” rather than “I am not a tengu” as he used to. He’s no longer outright rejecting what he is and is instead acknowledging it while still striving to be better, which is much healthier in my opinion; you’ll never learn from your past mistakes if you refuse to really look at them, after all. Benten hasn’t gotten there yet, and if we’re lucky enough to get a third season someday, I think a big part of that will be seeing if she ever does.
Before this season, I found Benten an interesting character but wouldn’t have said that I liked her, but that’s changed now. She’s not an upstanding person by any stretch of the imagination, and I don’t exactly pity her either, but I would love to find out where she goes from here. I think Nidaime’s addition was a great move both for the story overall and her character specifically, and the two of them were the highlight of the season for me. But really, all of the characters have been wonderful, and from the big moments to the little ones, Uchouten Kazoku has continued to be a joy to take in. I’m so grateful to PA Works for giving us more time with this amazing story.
Nidaime being a full tengu is definitely possible. But I don’t think we can conclude that based on the evidence. It’s equally possible that tengu powers can be learned (as evidenced by Benten) and that the acquiring of them brings with it a much longer lifespan and dramatically-slowed ageing process. Even if Benten has only been a tengu student for a much shorter time, how do we know she’ll age like a normal human?
Such questions are the fodder for the third novel and season, I think.
Assuming his character description on Uchouten Kazoku’s Japanese Wikipedia page is true to the source, whether Nidaime (which really should be translated as “the Junior”–it’s not a name, it literally means second generation, Akadama II) is or isn’t a true tengu is made quite clear in the second novel. Not sure why the anime decided to keep it ambiguous. I’m not going to spoil it here, Googletrans spells it out well enough for those interested.
By the way, am I the only one who got the impression that the appearance of the oni hand from Hell wasn’t accidental at all and Benten was the one that made it happen? I thought this was telegraphed loud and clear. So yeah, she’s indeed a horrible bad person who saves friends from hell and sends those much deserving to it.
I just have two words for this episode. SO CUTE. I was “awww” on the entire wedding scene and Yasaburo/Kaisei. I felt so sorry for both Benten and Nidaime, as you said, they were utterly broken from the final confrontation. I wish we can have a third season so we can know more about Nidaime’s lover and the life of Yaichirou and Gyokuran. I would love to see a little new addition to the fool’s family. Uchoten Kazoku will be missed. Thank you so much for your wonderful reviews.
Thanks much. This series was amazing to write about for two seasons.
The Nidaime, Akadama, and Benten’s relationship is rather interesting.
The Nidaime fell for what appears to have been a human woman, earning the wrath of his father in the process. The fallout of that led to him forsaking his Tengu heritage and running off to Europe/England; likely in pursuit of the Woman who left who, given that the events look like they took place in the first half of the 20th century and her blond hair, was not native Japanese.
Akadama, years later kidnaps a young girl who’s a near reflection of the woman who left: training her to be a Tengu. (fun conjecture: Benten is the daughter or grand daughter of the other woman – she stayed in Japan, married, and never returned to Europe). The girl grows to be Benten, gains power, and eventually travels to Europe. There she crosses the Nidaime who’s immediately taken aback by this new woman who resembles his past love but has embraced being a Tengu. That’s a combination abhorrent to him.
So, he returns to Kyoto to confront his father and convince her to step away from this life.
Benten, meanwhile, sees someone who’s a potential suitor and rival. Someone with power, who refuses it. Remember that her one wish at the end of last season was to finally meet the one she was destined to be with? But, he doesn’t accept her as she is so she needs to establish that she has every right to stand along side him.
Because Benten wants to fight and the Nidaime wants very much not to be a Tengu, both have to confront their own limitations.
In between, is Akadama stirring the pot in his own unique way – telling both sides to get stronger. After all, Akadama being Akadama, he could never formally admit he wants his son back nor that he made a mistake that pushed him away.
The titular “family” might actually be this tengu family.
Akadama is the central figure. The Nidaime is the rebellious, angst-ridden son. Benten is the adopted daughter and tragic foil.
Benten weeps piteously. Is it really because she lost a fight? The Nidaime weeps bitterly. Is it really because he won a fight? Is their bone-deep frustration really with each other? Earlier in the story, when Akadama goes to spy on their meeting, is it really out of jealousy?
Show Spoiler ▼
Why does Akadama congratulate Yasaburou on his good work, when all Yasaburou has really done is make trouble?
If this story was told from the tengu point of view, it would be told more like Hamlet or Macbeth. But it’s told from the tanuki point of view, so instead… imagine if The Lord of the Rings was told exclusively from the viewpoint of Pippin and Merry! The book would consist mostly of descriptions of breakfasts, lunches and dinners and pages and pages of recipes. Frodo would disappear and reappear for no apparent reason, Gandalf would make a few unintelligible and uninteresting speeches, and several perfectly good meals would be ruined by orcs.
Really a neat bit of storytelling.
How old is Kaisei and why is betrothal still a thing amongst the tanuki?
I assume she’s about 14 or 15 in human terms. That’s what she looks to me.
Lol, oh no you don’t. You can’t just write, “I can disprove that” and then run off. That’s cowardice. I’ve lost interest a long time ago as well, and yet here I still am.
I’d lean towards Kaisai being older than she looks. Moe loli’s are the Japanese definition of cutest thing ever after all. She’s either close in age or not much younger than Yasaburou.
As to why betrothal’s are still a thing: ’cause parents arranging marriages for their kids is still a thing in Japan and a lot of Asian cultures although not as common as it was in the past (in Japan at least). It’s exactly the type of thing an old family looking to tighten bonds with another old family would do though.
“cause parents arranging marriages for their kids is still a thing in Japan”
Except it’s not?
I thought Kaisei was around 12/13 years old. Because she didn’t seem to be loli material, but genuinely young. Then again all of the women in here are, for some reason, ageless, except for the really old white rabbit grandmother. Their red-headed mom looks 20 even though she’s probably going to be a grandmother in a couple of years herself (so at least 45+).
But then again, young-looking people are easier and more pleasant to draw.
Actually Omiai (arranged marriages) are still fairly common in Japan – or at least not spectacularly rare. And the tanuki society seems to have many elements of traditional Japanese culture to it, so the idea of an arranged marriage is perfectly feasible.
OP, I think you are missing another point. Tanuki, in mythology, are Hengeyoukai. The human body they change to is not their body. Mother can look like a cute 20 year old until she dies, or like a foreign prince. Kaisei chose her form for her own reasons.
Don’t get caught up on their human forms, I think it is a view of how they see themselves rather than reality.
I’m gonna third this thing about arranged marriages in eastern countries: it’s still a thing. It’s not common or routine as it used to be but matchmakers with a good reputation can still make a very nice living.
And I’ll add:, those human bodies are “trick” bodies. Tanuki are tricksters.
Matchmakers and arranged betrothal are not the same things. Matchmakers only introduce, and does the work of the mutual friend. Arranged is “Go marry the dude.”
Also – let’s not feign ignorance here. Clearly there are correlation between the age of the “character” they change themselves to and their actual age.
Yes. And what they still have in Japan is arranged marriages.
Enzo: Omiai are not arranged marriages. It’s just dating for the purpose of getting married. But either party can back out at any time. Please educate yourself.
Listen, you’re totally, provably, factually wrong here but if you want to beat it into the ground, be my guest. I’ve lost interest.
That’s a shocker….I can’t believe Yasaburo x Kaisei ship suddenly appears out of nowhere! I thought it had sunk right before the first episode of the first season even started!!!
It was a submarine.
I will miss this in my life
A part of me is gone today
i’d get into be with Benten
I wish this Anime would have never ended. I couldn’t be happier about season 2 and I loved every second of it. There are still many questions left unanswered but I guess that’s fine for now. How the fight between them ended was sure unexpected and I never thought we would see Benten like this. I would lie if I said I didn’t want to see her suffering at least a bit…I mean She would have eaten Yasaburo just because she can’t say no. I still don’t understand her logic behind it (just because they are Tanuki?) but well in the end everything turned out fine.
The new characters that got introduced in s2 are as lovely as s1 cast. Gyokuran was probably my favourite and I’m really happy they got married! Following their love story and the fact that we got so many flashbacks here and there was quite interesting and sweet.
In the end I’m very happy about this show and it’s ending. Kaisei and Yasaburo are finally closer to each other and that was one important thing I really hoped to see at least. The red fur of fate didn’t disappoint!
Thanks for blogging this Enzo. I hope in a few years we can see this show back in action or maybe a movie / ova would be super great.
I wish there were more. I didn’t expect much of season 2 as I thought season 1 told enough, what’s more is there to the story. But they writer and studio outdid themselves. My only issue was that oni hand that grabbed suon and tenmaya seemed too fortunate for the rest if the tanukis because a lack of warning and foreshadowing.
I personally loved season 1 of this series and I really enjoyed this season as well but the first half of this finale was just too random and honestly had too many unexplained situations occur:
1) After Benten crashes into Nidaime’s house, why is Nidaime hiding in the pile of tanukis and randomly drinking?
2) as the Tengu watching over this whole Trick Magister thing, you would think he would be more upset that the main that stole his gun is threatening to shoot the people that have hired him to preside over the vote.
3) So the big reveal of Soun not being dead was unexpected but not explained AT ALL. He said himself that being shot was not part of the plan but how could he fool Yasaborou and Kaisei? Unless Kaisei was in on it which the show does not hint at.
4) In Nidaime’s flashback, is there deeper meaning for the note with the X symbol on it? Or does that just mean “its over/I’m leaving”? Is there some cultural meaning I’m missing here?
5) The next issue I have doesn’t’ specifically pertain to this episode but just in general about Jyurojin and the Friday club and their tradition of eating Tanuki. I don’t really understand how the Tanuki society and Akadama allow such a club to do what they are doing. It seems Jyurojin has some special powers of some sort but is it enough that the Tanuki are fine with some of their family members periodically get eaten and for Akadama to lose a cherished friend and not do anything about it? It seems that currently they can do this more so because Benten is part of the group but this seems to have been a tradition for a very long time, even before Benten joined the club so that doesnt’ make sense.
If someone has read the books, please let me know if any of these are explained better….. put it under spoilers 🙂
1. Having lots of personal power does not make one brave would be my guess.
3. Tenmaya can trick even Yasaburo, I have assumed that Soun and Tenmaya were in on the plot together but it did not go all the way Soun wanted.
5. I had the chance to spend some time with a Mahayana priest a while back and it kind of made me laugh as at the liberal arts university I went to there was a huge infatuation with Buddhism even though no one really knew anything about the way.
This priest said to me ‘getting involved in others troubles is a form of attachment both to you and the person you get involved with’ ‘attachment is improper for a Buddhist’
I do not know but I wonder if Buddhism has something to do with their acceptance?
1. The tanukis were probably clinging onto him out of fear of Benten, to the point they completely overwhelmed him. As for the booze, if I were a drinker and someone crashed a train into my house, Ican see myself being terribly pissed and chugging some down while trying to stop myself from strangling the perpetrator 😡
2. Nidaime does not seem to care much for traditions (y’know, not wanting to be a tengu and inheriting all that) nor tanuki (he’s cordial but not attached to them). It also seems like a very Nidaime-ish thing to sit back and watch as the “unwashed masses” bickered.
3. Kaisei was definitely not in on it. While the whole Soun fake death plot was left pretty ambiguous, the little information that we did get suggests that Soun did not expect to be shot at but managed to adapt the situation in (what he assumed to be) his favour through quick thinking.
4. Also left ambiguous but I don’t think there’s any deeper meaning to it, nor is there a need for a deeper meaning to justify Nidaime’s anguish. Might be explained in the next season?
5. I like Mike’s explanation on this and believe that all parties simply accepted the tanuki hot pot as a “way of life”. I do not agree with the morality of this and would rather fight the good fight, but the show does not glorify this and I’m content with watching them lead their lives and how things play out according to the customs of their world.
A lot of things in Uchouten Kazoku “do not make sense” as in they’re not perfect cookie cutter plotlines/characters, but to me, that is the charm of Uchouten Kazoku. Characters make inexplicable actions that sometimes go against our perceived notions of tsundere/sensei/hero/etc. but they do so in believable ways, just like real humans. They and the world they live in might not make much sense, but then again, so is the real world, and that adds to what makes this piece of work amazing.
Jyurojin gets his name from Jurōjin: the Taoist god of longevity. You may notice some similarities; such as in Episode 10 when he tells Tenmaya that his time may be getting closer. Jurōjin keeps a list of the lifespan of all beings.
That’s a good point, but it bears noting that all Friday Club members take on aliases of Seven Lucky Gods, such as Benten (=Benzaiten). I’m sure it has some meaning (which hopefully will be detailed in the final book), I’m just not sure the alias as such makes Jurojin special. Benten for sure isn’t entirely Benzaiten-like and her special abilities don’t derive from her membership, so Jurojin’s parallels with his namesake may likewise be quite loose. Most of the members (like the professor trying to save tanuki from hotpot) seem to be entirely regular humans.
There’s quite a bit of Buddhist/Taoist imagery and beliefs in The Eccentric Family. While the Eccentric Family supports being free and making the most of your life, it does not support hedonism. There is a limit to “foolishness.” What it does support is accepting oneself and living in harmony with the world, which is a very Buddhist/Taoist belief. While Yasaburo and (especially) Tenmaya may be too self-indulgent, Nidaime (especially) and Benten cling to a social hierarchy (Buddhism was made in reaction against the social hierarchy system that resulted from Hinduism) and thus they are not self-indulgent enough. They are “fools” themselves but refuse to admit it.
One thing though: it often seems there are only two people in that room who seem to know what’s going on at any given time though: Benten and Jurojin. The others just show up to the party. You kinda get the feeling the Friday Club is his show and everyone else (even Benten) is just hanging on.
Of all the humans, he’s also the most mystical (Has a Japanese Tardis for a train car, a picture that doubles as a portal to Hell, collects Oni horns…)
I didn’t mean to dispute all that, I just meant that this doesn’t necessarily preclude him from being another human with special knowledge/skills instead of a possible god as you seemed to suggest.
1. Probably for no significant reason
2. Oh, no, he’s extremely angry. To the point where he can’t control himself anymore and gets in a fight with Benten
3. I don’t really have a big problem with that. He got dragged right back to hell anyways. A fitting way for his end this season (I wonder what that implies about hell…..going back to episode 7 where Yasaburo says “all tanuki go to heaven”, yet Soun got dragged to hell)
4. Nope. He just got dumped. As simple as that.
I’m very confused by the Nidaime-Yasaburo exchange after the fight:
“You truly are an amusing tanuki. You seem to have thought through everything possible, but you also seem to not be thinking a single thing.”
What does Nidaime mean by that?
I love this show, you can feel the effort and love the studio put on it, I enjoyed your reference to my own comment “tanuki are not human” but then again when you’re this close to one, the line does get quite a bit blurry. they got their own culture, rules and traditions. on one side you have Yasaburo and on the other well there is Soun.
Overall the show is a Pleasure to watch and something I would look forward to buy once it becomes available in the states. same with Konosuba. gotta support what you like right ^_-
Great Job covering this show Enzo. Lets hope Next season gives some more works like these.
Kasei and Yasaburo coming together kind of feels forced. I admit, they’re a cute couple, but they’re cute in a way that two 3rd graders say they’re boyfriend and girlfriend kind of cute – you smile when you see it, but you doubt there’s any real bonds that will keep the relationship going for the long haul.
Personally, I’d like to have seen the Benten and Yasaburo relationship develop further – even though it’s ultimately a failed relationship, romancewise. I feel there’s some real complex emotions in that relationship that has quite some depths to it that is worth exploring. The tanuki blood in me thinks it would be one hell of a fun ride right up to the end!
I’m late, sorry. But I want to say that I agree with Grandier. Yasaburo and Kasei felt extremelly forced. I do think Yasaburo is deeply in love with Benten (although I’m not sure if Benten loves Yasaburo), so the whole Yasaburo x Kasei felt like “I can’t be with her because I’m a Tanuki… so I guess you’re what I have left”. It didn’t feel right.
Finally, I’m not sure if I’m wrong, but I do have some memories of Benten sending letters to Akadama with a cross, am I wrong? thanks