Apologies for a late post. I’ve been busy marathoning a bunch of shows: Koi Kaze, Juuni Kokuki, and Kare Kano to be precise. Yeah, so my precious Chinese cartoon voyeurism hasn’t taken a toll. I’ve also recently got off my lazy butt and am making steady progress into speaking
hieroglyphic moontalk Japanese. Hopefully I stick with it.
When following an anime season and the complimentary disasters that come with it, the overall integrity which frames an excellent work always remains the same—that intuitive yet imprecise criteria which makes one title a farcry superior than the rest of the mutt. Uchouten Kazoku has indicated these traits on multiple levels, and the family motif has been the most conspicuous so far. The work paces slowly and precisely, pervading a natural atmosphere while leaving the cast’s dialogue at fine-tuned tension and ease. The screenplay, particularly the understated behaviors in each character, is faint and subdued. Only two episodes have aired and yet viewers can already understand the many subtleties enwrapped under each relationship.
As a crossdressing tanuki among other characteristics, Yasaburo plays the zany guide into Uchouten Kazoku‘s world. Beyond the eccentricity and general fun of his witticism, he gracefully crafts the show’s foundations by offering piecewise blocks at a time. Visiting each character one by one, Yasaburo slowly imparts the necessary information about each characters’ interrelationships and the general worldbuilding (particularly, the folklorish details and social stratification in effect). This knowledge has been given gently and gradually, so one can comfortably piece the puzzle together at the middle-compromised Goldilock’s pace, one that feels not too fast yet not too slow.
Further, Yasaburo complements each character’s dynamic ethereally, bouncing hilarious one-liners after another, or toning down his campiness when placed with an even more outrageous personality—his mother’s, for one. It’s (bi?)curious enough to see the main character dressed as a flirty cute girl. Yet, he goes further to josh up the contrasts by acting hilariously masculine, leaving his legs wide open and smoking a cigarette. He brazenly breaks gender boundaries purely for the sake of it. Even past the comedy that Yasaburo dispenses, he has been intelligent and calm, holding the fine-tuned details that make him an excellent role model for the Shimogamo family, protecting others and calmly handling any ordeal. He further establishes the characteristics and attitude to which all other characters can be compared and contrasted with, particularly the rest of his siblings.
Moreover, each meeting, each conversation holds meaning—slowly and naturally building upon our cognition of the story. The older brother Yajiro is ironically the polar opposite of his proverbial context (“the frog in the well”). Having apparently been stuck in a rut for at least a year, he shows to be surprisingly intelligent given his, er, stuck situation. He is flagrantly self-aware, understanding his position and the lengths and reasons to why people seek him for advice; this makes him an amusing contradiction of the fable’s moral. Categorically, he is the calm and collected older brother, starkly contrasted by the bizarre situation imparted upon him.
The proverb reversal has not even been the most praiseworthy aspect of this scene. The single conversation between Yasaburo and Yajiro is casual yet profoundly insightful into how every character relates to one another (as are all of Yasaburo’s conversations). For example, the various visits that Yajiro receives tells us of various behaviors; simply stating that the eldest brother Yaichiro came one day but remained speechless and left, already cements his strict discipline that was established from the premiere (that is, when he codemns Yasaburo’s crossdressing as “disgracing the family name”). We also more steadily receive the framework that connects each character to another: Yaichiro the eldest, Yajiro the frog, Yasaburo the “idiot”, and Yashiro the kid. The father figure is finally established as well, hinting towards his death and its effect on each family member. Remarkably enough, all this information is grasped under a casual conversation, with Yasaburo acting as his suave self eating gyudon, while on a routine visit to his brother. This natural presentation is what distinguishes good storytelling from generic (and intrinsically poor) infodump techniques. These details are all there when paid attention to, while one can still enjoy the fun dynamic between the two’s dialogue otherwise.
Even the next scene reinforces these relationships, through ordinary conversations among other cast members. Yasaburo is seen defending the youngest brother Yashiro against the Ebisugawa twins. We’re given enough knowledge of Uchouten Kazoku‘s relationships but not so much that it feels overbearing; and even better, the information is always given congenitally within the script. There’s the brooding sense of conflict between these two families, among the primary dialogue taken place. We also have a more solid understanding of the shapeshifting powers that the tanuki possess, as the characters start to more actively shapeshift.
“I am forever lamenting guys like you who make light of tanuki society rules.” – Ebisugawa Twins
Such a simple line already establishes manifold: the existence of strict guidelines in tanuki norms, the lofty nature one family can take over another, and this strict adherence impressing upon the tanuki society’s conservativeness. This is also what incites the eldest brother Yaichiro into action, establishing his priority for family honor and reptutation above all else (as is continually shown in past events). This sets him as the clear foil to Yasaburo’s complacent and fickle nature. However, Yaichiro’s rash temperament also makes him ill-fit as the family patriarch; he panics when they can’t find their mother, while the two younger brothers are quick to take action in his stead. This establishes the role of each sibling, as well as their dependence on one another. The lack of a father figure solidifies this mutual understanding. A simple shot, which displays the Shimogamo’s holding each other in the rain, grabs the emotive context of the scene: the family feeling lonesome and reliant on each other in order to survive.
Another aspect which fuels this affinity so well has been the finely trapezed balance between comedy and drama. The loss of a father figure holds the hilarious premise of “death by hot pot”, downplaying the resulting depression by floundering solecisms. Furthermore, one now understands the context of the premiere’s brooding conflict with Benten, and why that sense of family betrayal exists. The professor squeezing Yasaburo’s slinky shape-shifting ass also adds an amusing moment; it releases slack under an otherwise melancholic scene. The later reveal indicating this to actually be Yasaburo, enhances both the comedy and drama of the situation: that the professor just felt up his student and Yasaburo’s caring and devoted nature. Moreover, none of these situations ever feel ill-placed. The drama interspersed with comedy seems only natural among the show’s spontaneous and carefree atmosphere. If only every show could coalesce comedy and drama so effectively!
You can also sense the tension between the Shimogamo family and the Ebisugawa family. As expected of the tanuki norms, blood bonds remain the most important. There’s also individual relationships and exceptions being placed, providing complexity among otherwise blunted conflicts. For example, the daughter of the Ebisugawa’s is shown to help the Shimogamo’s mother, a simple action that already adds familial individuality among such an early episode. And while that tension exists, the Shimogamo characters make it clear that they harbor no ill feelings (well, save for the twins being annoying as hell). This frivolous attitude keeps the drama effective yet light, and never ham-fisted.
Above all, the Shimagamo family and tanuki society have only just been established. However, what’s surprising is the abundance in knowledge already placed into the script. The natural tone of the conversations already brings a substantial understanding of the situation through these frequent, small slips of information. Much like Natsume Ono’s Saraiya Goyou, the information is brought so naturally while veiling nuances into each character.
But of course, not everything is told yet. The suffusion of elusive mysteries and untold rules continues to keep the story fresh and inviting. Uchouten Kazoku deftly weaves each narrative element into one another in order to tell something profound and surprisingly realistic. It will be interesting to see how these relationships grow and how more knowledge is gradually achieved upon future episodes. To see this level of family detail already established is certainly something to admire.