“He’s my younger brother. I understand him too. I understand him, that’s why it hurts.”
-Yaichirou Shimogamo, Uchouten Kazoku, episode 8
Growing up, my brother and I were close friends. This was borne of necessity as, for a few years, we were the only children close in age in our neighborhood. As we grew older, other families with children our age moved in; however, my brother and I remained close. Often, both our friends and their parents would comment on how rarely we fought compared to themselves, or their children, respectively. To anyone who met us, we appeared to have a fantastic brother-sister relationship. The reality was often far different than the image.
Uchouten Kazoku surprised me with how well it portrayed subtle familial emotions and relationships within the Shimogamo Family. Opening with the various ways that four brothers, and their mother, are attempting to deal with their father’s death the series – in spite of turns to the dramatic – takes great pains to show the complexity that can accompany one’s feelings for their family members.
The obvious emotional height of Uchouten Kazoku is in episode 12, when Yajirou Shimogamo is finally able to put his feelings of self-loathing and guilt aside, transforming for the first time since his self-imposed seclusion as a frog in a well. This lays to rest any sort of animosity that he may have felt towards his brother Yasaburo over his arranged marriage to Kaisei Ebisagawa – showing the two brothers able to come to an understanding instead of allowing feelings to fester and poison their relationship as Soun did with his brother Soichirou – and allows him to accept the circumstances surrounding his father’s death. Uchouten Kazoku sets up the parallel to Yajirou’s narrative, (Soichirou and Soun’s relationship as brothers) and his method of redemption (transforming into the false electric railway for the first time since Soichirou’s death) almost too neatly. I loved cheering for Yajirou; however, the character that I most empathized with was Yaichirou.
Yaichirou’s narrative in Uchouten is equally well bookended, but far more subtle than Yajirou’s redemption. In his attempt to take up the mantle of his deceased and powerful father, Yaichirou falls far short of his own expectations. He is bound by the various laws of tanuki society that he tries to uphold, leaving him unable to bend the rules as he wishes like his younger brother Yasaburo. Yaichirou shows his strength as the head of the family against more lowly opponents, the bumbling Ebisugawa brothers, but is unable to keep his composure when attempting to find his mother in episode two. This continues throughout the series as Yaichirou dives deeper into the rabbit hole that is tanuki society, all the while struggling, and failing, to take his father’s place. He is shown as someone who doesn’t have the respect of his brothers when he seemingly wants it, although they do humor him a few times, demonstrating that they do care for Yaichirou’s feelings. While Yaichirou does scold his younger brothers, particularly Yasaburo, on their lack of effort and serious nature, they rarely come to blows or even verbally argue, leaving the depth of their individual relationships unspoken.
I eventually grew apart from my brother once I moved out of the house and attended university. Our relationship was hardly strained, but we didn’t speak to each other often. Personally, I have a hard time keeping up relationships with others. I never know when to reach out to people, and am often afraid to, for fear of annoying them. Recently, I have begun to realize that this is additionally due to my own fear of opening up to others fully, as I am a deeply-flawed individual. In spite of all of this, and in spite of not keeping in contact with my brother as I should have, I arrogantly thought that my relationship with my brother would always be a good one. He is my younger brother, after all.
Following my university graduation, and my move across the country, I called my brother to catch up. In that conversation, he said something that really struck me: “We don’t have to be close, if you don’t want to be. I won’t hate you for it.” The longer we spoke, the more he opened up about his relationship with me, and how he had once worshipped the ground I had walked on, only to find out that I was extremely flawed and made a great deal of mistakes.
While I had been struggling mightily with my own shortcomings, apparently so had my brother, as the younger sibling.
For Yaichirou, the respect he so desired from his brothers comes when he is able to put the restraints of tanuki society behind him and act, without thought of consequence, on behalf of the best interests of his family alone. In episode 13, Yaichirou transforms into a tiger to not only protect his immediate family, but attack his treacherous uncle. He holds this transformation – and in this way he surpasses his father, who was unable to stay transformed in front of Benten – in front of Benten as well as the Friday Fellows, who are also responsible for his father’s demise.
Essentially, by eschewing his ideals of what an eldest son should be, Yaichirou upholds these ideals perfectly, simply through his actions, coming to the aid of his family when it matters most. The Yaichirou present when the dust has barely settled towards the end of episode 13 is calm, composed, and unconcerned with whether he will be the next leader of tanuki society or not, even in his necessary apology to his mother. He seems to simply be enjoying his time with his brothers and, in accepting their flaws, is able to reconnect with them on a far more personal level, going as far as officially reuniting his wayward brother Yajirou with their mother. Similarly, when I actually opened up to my brother – allowing him to open up as well – instead of letting our feelings go unspoken, we were able to have a far better relationship. Our communication exponentially improved once, much like Yaichirou and his brothers, we were able to accept our own personal shortcomings as well as each others’.