TV Review: ‘The Eccentric Family’: Tanuki, Tengu, and Hotpots, Oh My!

The Eccentric Family
Directed by: Masayuki Yoshihara
Written by: Ryou Higaki and Shotaro Suga
Voice cast: Takahiro Sakurai, Atsushi Ono, Ayane Sakura, Bon Ishihara, Hideyuki Umezu, Hiroyuki Yoshino, Junichi Suwabe, Kikuko Inoue, Kosuke Hatakeyama, Mai Nakahara, Mamiko Noto, Mutomu Kiyokawa, Nobuo Tobita, Ryoukichi Takahashi, Takehiko Higuchi.
Yomiuri Telecasting Corporation (YTV)
Air Dates: July 7, 2013 to September 29, 2013
Streaming Free on Crunchyroll

This summer, I had the distinct joy of discovering one of this year’s true gems of anime, The Eccentric Family. The production, directed by Masayuki Yoshihara, whose resume includes Angelic Layer, Dragonball-Z, and Ghost In the Shell-Stand Alone Complex among many others, ran live from July through September on Yomiuri Telecasting Corporation and was simulcast on Crunchyroll, where it now streams free for all users.

The Eccentric Family, or Uchoten Kazoku as it’s known by its Japanese title, takes place in modern day Kyoto and revolves around the trials and tribulations of the Shimogamo family, who are all tanuki, or raccoon dogs. Anyone who has seen Isao Takahata‘s film Tanuki War Pon-Poko knows that tanuki are shape-shifters and tricksters who have learned, somewhat reluctantly, to live among humankind. In this production, however, the tanuki are more than willing participants in society, although still somewhat cautious, and with good reason.

Yasaburo Shimogamo is the third son of Souchiro Shimogamo, a famous local tanuki who mysteriously ends up as a hotpot meal for a secretive group of humans who call themselves the Friday Fellows. Yasaburo lives on with his mother and two of his brothers, Yaichiro, the eldest, who longs to reclaim his father’s title of Nise-emon, or tanuki leader, and Yashiro, the youngest, who is painfully shy and prone to having his ears or tail pop out at the slightest provocation. The second eldest son, Yajiro, has transformed himself into a frog and remained so for so long that he cannot remember how to transform back. He lives in a pond at the bottom of a well, where he gives advice to the other members of his family.

Yasaburo has a close friend and mentor in the unkindly guise of local tengu, Akadama-sensei, who has been a teacher of the Shimogamo family for many years. Tengu, in Japanese folklore, are bird-like forest and mountain goblins that can fly and also shape shift at will. Akadama-sensei has somehow lost his ability to fly, and his back has a tendency to get thrown out. Yasaburo checks in on him frequently, helping to clean his dirty apartment and buy him liquor, which he drinks with great relish. Yasaburo is also friends with Akadama-sensei’s fetching acolyte, the human, Benten, whom Akadama has taught to fly like a tengu. Unfortunately, she’s also a member of the mysterious Friday Fellows as well, and the end of the year is coming up.

If that isn’t trouble enough, Yasaburo’s life is complicated by the presence of his uncle’s famly, the Ebisugawas, who are rival tanukis, and try on a day-to-day basis to make the Shimogamo’s lot a miserable one. Soun Ebisugawa, the family’s patriarch, has designs on the Nise-emon title himself, and is willing to do anything to get it. Meanwhile, Soun’s twin sons, Kinkaku and Ginkaku, are constantly tormenting little Yashiro, who works with them at the Electric Brandy factory.

The Eccentric Family is a fun-filled and touching romp through the days and nights of one of Japan’s most enchanting cities. To say anymore than I already have is to reveal too much to the reader. You simply have to experience this series for yourself. The combination of comedy, mythology, folklore, and modern day skullduggery that permeates this story is enough to make anyone a fan. I’ve added a trip to Kyoto to my bucket list. I want to see if I can catch a glimpse of a tanuki or a tengu in the crowd, and hopefully, a knowing wink in return.

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