“I, Shimogamo Yajirou, hope to return from this journey a bigger man than I am now.”
-Yajirou Shimogamo to his family, The Eccentric Family 2, Episode 9
Supernatural stories at their finest ensure that — no matter how grand of a spectacle their conflicts become — they never stray away from intimate experiences with which their audience can resonate.
For example, one of the most affecting scenes in The Eccentric Family is that of an eldest brother holding up a smartphone to the ear of one of his younger brothers, a brother that just happens to be a frog. Visually, it’s ridiculous. Emotionally, it has the power to move a viewer’s heart, becoming an iconic image.
In its first season, The Eccentric Family started big before focusing on the personal struggles and triumphs of one tanuki family. This allowed the second season to immediately narrow its focus with a personal anecdote, then cast a wider net, capturing a few more conflicts before honing in on the personal once more. The problems and warmth of the Shimogamo family remain in the background — including a wonderful scene where Tousen, now the Shimogamo matriarch, visits her elderly mother — but the series has now shifted to include the devilish human trickster Tenmaya, and Professor Akadama’s (tengu Yakushibo Nyoigatake’s) estranged son Nidaime (Junior).
“Humans live in the city, tanuki crawl the earth, and tengu fly through the air. Since the city’s establishment humans, tanuki, and tengu have maintained a delicate balance. That’s what keeps the great wheel of this city turning round and round. And watching that wheel spin is more fun than anything else.”
-Yasaburo Shimogamo, The Eccentric Family, Episode 1
This monologue from tanuki Yasaburo Shimogamo opens the first season of The Eccentric Family. After a season turmoil, warmth, forgiveness, and love, these words close the season as well.
The first episode of The Eccentric Family‘s second season eschews Yasaburo’s monologue about the hierarchy of tengu, tanuki, and humans in Kyoto. It wasn’t at all what I had expected.
But it was more affecting.
“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.
You can choose your friends, but you cannot choose your family, or so the saying goes. By placing them side by side, Uchouten Kazoku is able to explore the various relationships forged between family members, friends, lovers, rivals, and business partners alike, similar to how the ever-rotating wheel of relationships between tengu, humans, and tanuki form the series’ background tapestry of modern-day Kyoto.
As it is with most social systems, this Kyoto is separated into multiple strata, with certain groups controlling different areas of the city. Likewise, within these groups there are inevitably the haves and the have-nots, all in a constant state of flux to out-do each other in order to reach the top. From Yasaburou Shimogamo’s perspective, none are as dangerous, influential, or as irresistible as Benten. She seemingly leads a charmed and incredibly successful life, full of wonderful things, and a bevy of humans, tengu, and tanuki all eager to please her.
How is it then, that she is the loneliest, most isolated, and sorrowful character within the series?