Kyoto has been populated by groups of tanuki and tengu for years, living alongside humans who are oblivious to the existence of these creatures. Yasaburou Shimogamo is the third son of an influential tanuki family who spends his carefree days taking care of an old tengu, observing humans through his ability to shapeshift, and dealing with the mysterious woman named Benten.
Behind the peace and tranquility, however, is a painful memory from long ago as Yasaburou's father, head of the tanuki community, was killed and eaten by a group of humans known as the Friday Fellows. Uchouten Kazoku follows the trials and tribulations of the Shimogamo brothers as they struggle to avoid their own grisly demise while coming ever closer to unraveling the truth behind their father's death.
Among the many stars in the sky, there's always one that shines brilliantly. But from this summer 2013 lineup, there's also series that shines among the group as well. Perhaps one series that might of slipped under some people's radar is Uchoten Kazoku. (also known as the Eccentric Family)
From P.A. Works comes forth a new anime this summer. Based on a novel written by Tomihiko Morimi (The Tatemi Galaxy), Uchoten Kazoku takes the setting to Kyoto with an eccentric family. Why is the family eccentric? Perhaps one of the reason is that none of them are not actually human. Rather, they are unique or more
specifically categorized as tanuki. The series details the family, and in particular one child by the name of Yasaburō Shimogamo - the main character and the third son of the Shimogamo.
To start off, the setting of the show takes place in Kyoto. As such, expect an old fashioned and traditional city in a modern life setting. There's the Japanese like atmosphere but combines that with elements of fantasy. That's because the characters of the show are tanuki; Japanese raccoon dog beings native to Japan. But in this story, we have this child named Yasaburo Shimogamo who stars as the main character. He has the ability to shape-shift and plays on a gender bender role in the some of the episodes. Even when we first meet him, he is in the clothes and body of a girl. Oddly enough, Yasaburo plays the role of an ordinary boy with abnormal powers. We also find out that exactly how he lives his daily lives ranging from observing human behavior, engaging in extended conversations with others, and even to warming his butt. Now, that is abnormal.
It's hard to be original these days in the anime industry. Many ideas have been explored but I find this show to be quite refreshing. It takes the Kyoto setting and transform it into an urban fantasy without violence, shounen battles, or a guy being the hero to save the day. Rather, we have dynamic character relationships with the eccentric family being a center of the plot. As for the plot itself, the majority of the series takes on an approach similar to a narrative. Yasaburo is the main character so naturally, we get to see his life from his point of view. The relationships he has with the other family and characters are explored throughout the series. Among one of these relationship that is most noticeable involves with Benten, a member of Friday Fellows. This relationship can be described as very peculiar as maybe on the lines of love/hate. From the surface, we can assume that Yasaburo has a crush on Benten even from the very beginning. On the other hand, Benten is a woman with a mischievous personality and hard to read. Most of the time, viewers will have a hard time figuring out what she's thinking. In one particular moment, she teases that Yasaburo will be her dinner all the while putting on a poker-like face with a noticeable 'smile'.
The show explores the eccentric family so naturally, we get to see their backgrounds as well as their past stories. Some of these stories could spawn emotions especially later on when some truth is revealed regarding Yaichirou and his generation. Perhaps most importantly though is how the characters deal with revelations. Eccentric Family takes on the approach of sadness and presents in a way that seems to be more natural. It's obvious that there are moments when characters wishes something that has happened never happened. However, it's too late now to change anything. Instead, the characters moves forward and accepts the truth but with a silent tone.
As with most family goes, there's also fun and comedy as well. Tomhiko Morimi's Tatemi Galaxy had plenty of comedy presented in an absurd yet very entertaining way. As for this show, it similarly has that style of comedy but presents it in a more sensational way. Yasaburo indeed has character relationships with many of the characters, some more striking than others such as Benten. On the comedy side though, Akadama is perhaps the guy that makes up one half of that duo with Yasaburo. The silliness can also be traced with the family origins in regards to their shapeshifting abilities. Yasaburo can shapeshift and takes form of a girl effectively making him a trap. But more figuratively, he likes to do so especially when visiting Akadama as a way of teasing. Speaking of Akadama, he also sometimes denies what's really there. It's silly in the way of comedy rather than being forced. There's no random scenes of awkwardness in terms of compromising positions to present its comedy. Instead, it's natural and fun. Now, that is effective comedy.
If we talk about dialogues though, this show has what it takes. The dialogues in this series can be taken in as impressive in the way of its style. The words being spoken can be taken with both a sense of realism and also fantasy. It also mixes in the a sort of complexity as family origins are explored that details to their generations. As such, viewers should absorb and take these dialogues for granted as they can be important to recall later on. Finally, the dialogues has a sense of maturity to it. At times, it might come out as silly but its presentation makes it dramatic to listen to.
The term 'fantasy' spells out many ideas. In recent years, anime series have taken on the fantasy to the virtual world, to ghost haunted schools, or to a dark age when Titans are the dominance of its land. However, Uchoten Kazoku takes on the fantasy theme and conveys it in a more traditional way. The tanuki is just one prominent example relating to traditional Japanese folktale based on its raccoons possessing the ability to shapeshift. In such legends, the tanuki uses such ability to cause mischief. This folktale legend can be seen as parallel to this series in the case of Yasaburo. Then, there's also Benten whose character spells out mischievous all over her face. There are also other mystical creatures such as youkai and tengu.
Though the show has an impressive stance and presentation, there are sometimes I scratch my head and wondering what's really going on. The drama around the show sometimes also becomes almost overdramatic and focuses too much on Yasaburo. Additionally, there's a certain lack of diversity in terms of its mythological creatures. Along with that, some of purpose relating to the characters are also vague as a narrative often explores them in concrete details. In this case, narrative takes on a more textbook approach where we sometimes have to go deeper with what Yasaburo sees the modern world as. Finally, there's bits of fan service showing in the case of Benten as a form of tease. Heh, maybe she' just a femme fatale or something but good luck reading her. She's not a textbook with an answer key.
Uchoten Kazoku is adapted from P.A. Works. As a production studio, fans should be aware of their works by now. Their most recent project, Red Data Girl also takes on some Japanese traditional themes and transformed it into anime form in modern era. As for this series, P.A. Works once again puts their talents at work. It does look a bit different though with the character designs looking more simple with nothing breathtaking. The raccoons of the show has an innocence to them while Benten is designed with a mischievous figure. Masayuki Yoshihara's direction of the series also takes on that narrative style so some characters talking might give them a more direct way of speaking; sometimes as if conveying to the audience of their feelings. The backgrounds looks interesting enough though to convey the modern setting of a Japanese folktale lore.
A less noticeable factor of the series could be the soundtrack. As far as music goes, Uchoten Kazoku takes on a natural style of tone with its smooth OST. Yoshiaki Fujisawa coordinates the music and makes it calm to listen to but at the times forgotten since the dialogues and comedy dominates the music base. The OP song also presents an odd feature of an opening while the ED song ("Qué Será, Será) has a more catchy tone. But for all else being said, I give praise to Yasaburo's VA Takahiro Sakurai for voicing the main character. With over a decade of experience, we can clearly see a talent in his character as Yasaburo as whether being a guy or a girl. Additionally, Benten's VA Mamiko Noto gives her character that mischievous tone of voice.
Overall, I would describe this series as fascinating in the sense of its narrative. It's not every day where we see raccoons running around in a human community. But more importantly, we can see a main character's point of view in a modern Japanese city. The dialogues spoken in this series may be difficult at times to interpret or absorb. However, make no mistake as they tie in with a lot of the themes together. As one of the underrated series, I definitely recommend giving Uchoten Kazoku a try especially if you're a fan of comedy-drama or if you've previously enjoyed The Tatemi Galaxy. It's a tale of family fun, storytelling, relationships, and brilliance.
Uchouten Kazoku opens with Shimogamo Yasaburou, an energetically laid-back shape-shifting tanuki, giving us a quick rundown of his hometown of Kyoto. This is a city with a storied history of mostly-regular humans, proud tengu magicians, and oh, playful tanuki shape-shifters, of course and here, he tells us, there are endless quantities of amusement to be had. As the camera follows him deftly navigating the beautiful cityscape, he declares with conviction that while he is a tanuki, he's far too proud to be a mere tanuki and is instead one who passes his days admiring tengu and imitating humans. He assures us that he is so
busy that he doesn't even have time to be bored.
The introduction now complete, the opening theme plays.
And with that, the frenetically paced Uchouten Kazoku is now over. As if to drag the show back down to earth, his younger brother appears and bestows upon our main character that which is most dreaded by every magical shape-shifting bohemian, a responsibility—and one from his mother, no less! It quickly becomes apparent that although he neglected to make mention of this in the introduction, he is in fact the third of the four sons of a once-prestigious and close-knit family of tanuki. Although you might suspect, due to the now-conspicuous absence of this little bit of important information in his introduction or simply just due to his nature, that he is somehow resentful of this, he in fact makes no real effort to escape from these bonds. And so we have settled into the basic premise of this series.
Though not without frequent bursts of excitement, this is now a much slower show and its many strengths begin to reveal themselves to the viewer. With its vivid reds and yellows that perfectly capture the fall season, saturated yet earthy greens, and fantastic nighttime blues, this show likely has the best color palette of any anime from 2013. (The doubtful are invited to consider episode 6, titled "Taking in Fall Colors," which is about just that: taking in fall colors.) Combined with the excellent way that texture is used in the visuals of this show, this makes for amazing backgrounds; as the viewer may have already noticed during the introduction, Uchouten Kazoku's Kyoto is an inspired city of lively streets, fanciful props, and amazing interiors. Also worth noting is the way that the animators expressively use the body language of the whimsically designed and deceptively minimal characters. For an obvious example of this, you could watch the way that Yasaburou moves even after taking a female form in the first episode, although it's really something that deserves your attention throughout the entire series.
The strongest aspect of all, however, is the writing, and as such Uchouten Kazoku features an amazing cast of characters. While Yasaburou doesn't completely embrace his familial obligations—certainly not to the degree of the eldest Shimogamo brother—his relationships with his immediate kin are shown early on to be his most significant and enduring ties and as they should be, they are all great characters, from the eldest—the comically severe Yaichirou, to the youngest—the endearing Yashirou. But the best non-Yasaburou member of the Shimogamo family might just be the unnamed matriarch, who plays many roles over the course of the series but is always a fun character due both her quirkiness and her naturally likable demeanor. All of the main characters are given the development that they deserve, and Uchouten Kazoku deserves credit for doing so in such a way that it feels like part of a natural progression where the viewer is increasingly drawn into the lives of its characters. Although this can be mostly attributed to the thoughtful way in which the story progresses, some credit should be given to the production for the excellent way in which all of the flashback scenes were executed. Flashbacks can easily feel tacked-on and tacky, especially when silly effects, bad transitions, and other such missteps are involved, but the flashbacks in Uchouten Kazoku are not only well-integrated, but also executed to a standard that is higher than much of the rest of the show, lending them emotional impact and narrative strength. The main characters aren't the only fun and interesting ones, however, as almost any given supporting character from the scheming Ebisugawa brothers to the perpetually grumpy Akadama-sensei has the ability to steal the spotlight for entire scenes. Both the writing and the production deserve to share the credit here, as the supporting characters are not only written in a way that makes them instantly likeable, but are depicted on screen in a lively and colorful way that is on par with the main cast. (If you've been keeping count, you may have noticed that I've neglected to mention one of the four brothers. Well, he's currently a frog in a well and for the purposes of this review, there isn't too much more that I should say about that, but I suppose that it should be noted that he is both one of the funniest and most interesting characters.)
Arguably even more impressive than it's cast, however, is the way that the it can effortlessly evoke meaning from absurdity. For example, I did not expect to truly feel bad for a frog in a well—that is to not just have a meaningless emotional response due to some cheap puppy-kicking, but to actually really truly feel bad for a frog in a well. Though Uchouten Kazoku presents itself as a slice of life comedy with whimsical supernatural elements, it flexes its storytelling muscles in a big way on an episode-to-episode basis, so is not only thematically rich, but crafts a meaningful emotional narrative over the course of its thirteen episodes. The key to this is perhaps the way that elements of the story are quietly and thoughtfully built up over the course of the slice of life portions of each episode, leading to catharsis much more naturally than is obvious to the viewer.
I want to finish by talking about yet one more important character that I've intentionally avoided even making a passing reference to thus far, and that is the cryptically beautiful figure who is now only referred to by the name of the god Benten. Though she makes appearances as early as the very first episode—the world of Uchouten Kazoku is a small one after all—she remains an enigma for much of the series. This is largely due to the fact that as much is said about Benten by the other characters in the show than is said by Benten herself, which leads me to why I chose only now to bring her up: Benten frequently serves as the focal point of all of the strongest elements of this series. Captivatingly beautiful to almost every character in the show, the impassioned moments that she inspires are many (but not all) of the most powerful scenes of the series. But Benten isn't just your archetypal muse character who sits around looking pretty while legitimately interesting characters swarm around her and do legitimately interesting things. She herself has a hand in almost every single major plot event of the series and is furthermore the main actor in, or at least an active participant of, many of the best scenes, so while her appearances are sometimes infrequent, they are always memorable. The best aspects of Uchouten Kazoku just seem to become even more apparent whenever Benten is involved. Indeed, everything from the quality of the writing to the quiet strength of the soundtrack and the ability of P.A. Works to deliver sublime visuals seems to be on display during moments like late in episode 3 when Benten waves her fan, and as if on-command, everything immediately comes together to create one of the best scenes of the entire show.
As something with no significant flaws that come to mind, I wholeheartedly recommend Uchouten Kazoku to anyone whose interest is even slightly piqued by this review. Though often restrained in its pacing and contemplative in tone, the show is much more engaging than you might think. Even if you think that you will find it difficult to appreciate the writing or the humor, P.A. Works does a great job of creating an immersive experience for the viewer with the superbly-crafted setting and soundtrack lending the series strong atmospheric qualities as well. Just watch it—I'm sure that you won't be lacking in things to appreciate.
In this day & age it's sometimes very hard to find something original, the anime as a form of art has now become so generic & predictable with typical shounen & typical ecchi spewing around us from all direction that it is really hard to remember sometimes that this is not only a form of entertainment (or rather shameless fan service) but it is also a form of art. And fortunately there are still anime's like "Uchouten Kazoku" still being made to remind us just that.
This was actually based on a novel by Tomihiko Morimi which is the story of a family, of a certain
peculiar family at that, cause the members of this family aren't human. This is a story of a "Tanuki" family. Early on our protagonist tells us about the world he lives in, a fictional version of modern Kyoto, where Tanuki, Tengu & Humans co-habit, humans are obviously at the head of the food chain, and Tengu's are creatures that can fly. So what are Tanuki's? They are shape-shifting raccoon dogs (bet you didn't see that one coming). This is the story of four brothers of a tanuki family , their mothers & their friends; the head of the family that is their father was eaten by a group of human called "Friday Fellows" who eat tanuki every year as a tradition in their year end bash. I know this seems confusing so far, but believe me under this weird exterior there is a really beautiful story. We get to observe the life of this family through the eye of one of the brother's, our main character Yasaburo. We get to know this beautifully imagined fantasy world, face the challenges you have to face by being a shape-shifting tanuki, and get to know the truth behind how the head of the Shimogamo family really died.
From the small little funny bits like Yasaburo warming his butt (or else he will catch could); to his weird shape-shifting practices; to all the allegory about an actual loving family-life, the nature of humans & the corruption in our political circle now-a-days everything is written in a almost flawless way. There is layer upon layer of details on every scene & intelligent dialogues throughout the show.
The story is almost flawless in what it tries to achieve, it gets 9 out of 10 from me.
The characters are so meticulously imagined by the writer that it really shows the amount of dedication & care he really gave his work. From the responsible yet too much trying older brother Yaichiro, to the carefree yet guilt ridden Yajiro, to the "most idiotic of the blood" Yasaburo, to the timid and shy Yashirou all the brothers are so well developed characters. There is their loving mother (who is one of the most realistic mother figures I have seen in an anime); the mysterious & unpredictable Benten (who you will be constantly wondering about, if you should love her or hate her); their angry & irritable sensei Prof. Akadama; the loveable Kaisei; and many other artistically written characters.
Most of the characters are so well written & well developed that is really unique in this times cause now-a-days most of the animes have 90% generic characters (even some good ones do lack in this department).
It gets another 9 out of 10.
This anime also features very unique art, all the character designs are delicate and drawn with style, the backgrounds are colorful, all in all it does portray the wacky & weird image we get from the story quite nicely. Occasionally there are some scenes which are a bit flawed or feels out of place but overall the art & animations fits the nature of the theme that the writer tries to convey almost perfectly.
It gets 8.5 out of 10.
The opening theme is "Uchouten Jinsei" by milktubIt & the ending theme is "Qué Será, Será" by fhána,. I really like the opening song which fits nicely with the sense of wackiness this anime first tries to establish in its viewers, I get where the ending song is coming from, it was definitely aiming to get in touch with the other side of the story that was the beauty of it but I don't think the song does add that much on the total experience. It might seem a bit unusual but I liked the sound effects used in the actual anime much better than the actual opening and ending theme, there is a bit of keyboard (or other instrument) piece in some of the intense sequences which is quite beautiful, and the other bits used on emotion sequences were quite exceptional to me too.
The sound gets on the whole solid 9 out of 10.
This is the kind of anime that reminds me of why I am still sticking with this genre of entertainment. Just when the anime world is filled with generic hero fights endlessly to save the world or a girl or closet pervert hero gets caught in between lots of big breasted & scantily clothed females if you really look hard enough you find gems like this. This kinds of stories rejuvenates the believer in me (on a side note it also makes me sad that I don't know Japanese, or I could have read the original book).
This is a must watch anime & one of the best of the season and of 2013. Don't waste your time reading this review just go watch it.
I frankly admit that I enjoy every single anime I watch. In fact, I will go one step further and admit that I enjoy every single thing I experience, regardless of what it is or what its outcome turns out to be. But when I rate something critically, I shrug off my sense of enjoyment and I try and look at things from an objective perspective. In Uchouten Kazoku's case, I will gladly say that I am neither surprised nor unhappy about the fact that this anime receives full scores across the board.
To begin with, Uchouten Kazoku is the rather meandering story that follows the
adventures of a young tanuki named Yasaburo Shimogamo. A tanuki is a raccoon dog, which according to Japanese folklore is capable of shapeshifting. The Uchouten Kazoku universe also includes another species from Japanese folklore: the tengu; part-human/part-avian legendary creatures capable of flight. In this anime, the tanuki are presented in both their raccoon dog and human forms while the tengu appear to be completely human (albeit with rather long noses).
On its own, the plot is almost non-existent. It simply presents the events that take place over the course of a year or so. Yasaburo is tasked with taking care of an old (and rather cranky) tengu and is at odds with the mysterious and beautiful Benten. He is at odds with her because the half-human/now trained tengu is a member of the Friday Fellows and had feasted on tanuki hot pot for which his father was the source of tanuki. The fact that he is rather attracted to her only serves to make the situation worse.
Yasaburo is presented as 'idiotic'. This will have to serve as the official description because according to the story, his father's blood (implying personality traits) was split into four parts, with each of his four sons inheriting a particular trait. The eldest son inherits his responsibility. The second inherits his carefree nature. Yasaburo is of course, the idiot and finally, his youngest inherits his innocence. Rounding out the family is their mom who is a rather calming presence in the anime (thanks to seiyuu Kikuko Inoue's smooth-as-still-water voice) and also the glue that holds the family together.
Yasaburo is probably going to be one of my favorite protagonists. His character is used so extremely well. Never did I have the feeling that he was hogging screen time or doing something uncharacteristic. He was weak where a person like him would be weak and he was strong where you'd expect him to be strong. The 'idiot' tag is made use of masterfully too. The anime states that tanuki are some what idiotic by nature and Yasaburo is especially idiotic considering what he inherited from his father. But this is never overdone and it also ensures that some otherwise weird reactions of his become meaningful. For example, he is almost super calm when he's talking with a member of the Friday Fellows about eating tanuki. On the other hand, he is shown as being agitated when his mother is in trouble. This ensures that the level of immersion is constant. You will never have to pause watching and puzzle something out. Also, personally, I'd say that Yasaburo is about as idiotic as the average guy on the street. So you'll need to have a pretty pessimistic view of your fellow humans to come to a conclusion that is to the contrary.
The art is outstanding. I have no other word to describe it. Well, I actually do, but they'd all just convey just how impressed I was with the art. When I say 'art', I'm not just referring to the quality of the drawing here. The way scenes, tones, themes, styles and colors wove in and out was truly a pleasure to behold. One of the best scenes in the anime was when Benten takes Yasaburo and the professor (from the Friday Fellows) to this garden on a full moon night. The visuals were spectacular. I could go on to describe this scene but I won't. Even if you aren't going to watch the anime, hunt this one scene down and watch it. I clapped at the end of that scene. One guy, alone in his room, clapping at his monitor. That's how powerful this scene was.
If audio side of things are well done too. The voice acting is top notch. Every character is cast perfectly and the female seiyuus are a treat to listen to. I said it once and I'll say it again, Kikuko Inoue is a damned fine voice actor. Damned fine. Every line she spoke felt like honey in my ears. Now whether having honey in one's ear is a good thing or bad thing is debatable but the fact remains that her voice acting lent this certain warmth to her character which I've never felt before.
If you've read this far, you'd have probably noticed that I left the story hanging. I really didn't talk about it much. The truth is that there really isn't anything to talk about. Nothing to talk about which won't end up ruining your viewing experience that is. This anime simply follows a couple of events, shows us some life-slices (has this become a word now?), raises a few issues, throws in some rivalries, heartaches and the works; and voila - you've watched thirteen episodes. It's just enjoyment. This anime isn't about making a statement. It's simply about presenting a story and evoking emotions. And it does that -I've been waiting to use this word for so long- marvelously. If you came in looking for a "Hey Shinji, your motherisactuallythesoulofthegiantmechthatyoupilottofightweirdaliensandohnakedAsukabtw", you might be a tad disappointed. Only a bit though, because this anime still has quirks of its own. But frankly speaking, this is mostly a "sugar, spice and everyth- Oh my god I added Chemic- Woops added some chemical Y too" kind of anime. Sit back, relax and let the episodes flow. You will enjoy it.
Honestly, I don't think there's anything to criticize here. Partly because I don't want to pole holes in this splendid experience I managed to have (take a look at my other ratings) and partly because I really didn't find anything to comment about. The only punch the anime probably missed was the Yasaburo-Benten/Yasaburo-Kaisei hook up, but it still works out because that sort of a thing might have made this too corny. Look at how good the anime is. I've written a huge review and I think I'm probably biased in the anime's favor!
Would I recommend people to watch this? Definitely. If you just want to have a few laughs, feels and a complete package, go ahead and watch this. I am glad I did. This was actually recommended to me by a special somebody and I am happy it turned out to be something I cherished. The anime made my heart race and leap with joy and I felt my neck burn every time Benten cast a smoldering at me from the screen. It was that good. The anime's (unsaid) motto would be something like, "All life needs to be is, well, somewhat interesting." and that notion being embodied made this a treat to watch.