Monday, October 21, 2013

Anime Review: The Eccentric Family

And now for the last summer anime review (well, sort of, I'll explain next week) I tackle one of the blogosphere's darlings, an anime based on a book written by Tomihiko Morimi (the author of the The Tatami Galaxy as well) which gave it an odd sort of nerd-cred in the circles I run in. This was one of the shows I was most excited for when the summer started and even though it didn't end up being my absolute favorite show I was pretty happy with it by the end.

The Eccentric Family (Uchoten Kazoku)

Summary: In the city of Kyoto there are many different kinds of people who live there. Humans of course but the city has also been populated by tengu and tanuki since ancient times and the three of them maintain an odd balance, even if the humans are barely aware of it. Yasaburo is a young tanuki from a tanuki family with a foot in each world it seems, masquerading as a human for fun, his teacher is a tengu (and quite possibly his crush, his master's former student), and he has deep ties to his tanuki family. But as with all families there are stresses there are stresses and problems with it and it seems like some of their problems have their roots far outside his family in the rest of Kyoto.

The Good: I'm finding it a bit hard to articulate why I enjoyed this series since I didn't like it for the usual reasons. There's no grand sweeping plot, a setting that is a character in it's own right, or characters who undergo deep, transformative journeys, although I'm sure people will argue with me on the last two points, Eccentric Family is in some ways a simpler series than that but to call it simple would be a gross misrepresentation. Unsurprisingly it's largely centered around the theme of family, both within Yasaburo's immediate family and the feud with his uncle and cousins, and watching his family change and begin to grow again, frozen as they were after his father's tragic death, is where I feel the show's true strength and heart lies. It's true that I enjoyed a lot of the whimsy in the show as well but since nearly every example I can think of involves Yasaburo and other members of his family I think that only serves to reinforce just how central the family is and if you don't like those characters or their dynamics then you're not going to enjoy the show.

The Bad: My only real complaint about the series is that I wish it had explained a bit more just what Benten is. We know she was born human, stolen by a tengu and able to use tengu powers but it's never quite explained how and, since the characters are a tad confused by it as well (ie, this isn't something we're supposed to simply accept is part of their world and move on), I was a bit surprised that the story didn't have a small reveal about how this happened towards the end. My personal theory on all of this was that she stole the teacher's powers (making him a human and her a tengu instead) but that's a wild guess on my part, not backed up by anything and I haven't seen anyone else out there with the same theory. I was also a bit sad that the titular family wasn't more, eccentric and filled with whacky hi-jinks as I expected, although I'll note that regardless the title is perfect, I merely expected something a tad bit different.

The Production Values: It was rather amusing to watch this show right after PA Works' spring show Red Data Girl and right before their fall show Nagi no Asukara because the art style is so different from what they normally do. There are no big eyed moe characters here with stunning landscape shots that have the same liquid feeling as a Ghibli film, everything here feels much flatter with less detail but you know what that's not a bad thing at all. To make it clear, this does not feel like a cheap show nor does it feel like the studio was trying to conserve resources after working on several shows in a row, in fact I can't really imagine this show being done in their usual style. I'm sure it would have worked yet I feel like the fact that they weren't going for a semi-photo-realistic style made the all important supernatural elements (which were more central to the plot than even those in either RDG or NnA) fit in better with the story, there was no obvious break where the mundane ended and the fantastical began because it all looked a bit mundane yet oh so slightly strange. As for the audio, I really wish I could have found a good subbed version of the opening to check the lyrics (since the song either starts off with "the world is interesting" or "the world isn't interesting" which is a rather large difference) but I liked the opening and ending regardless. All the voice acting seemed spot on too, the actors hit just the right high and low points for the characters and even though some of the situations were a bit absurd if you were to step back and think about them it was never the voice acting that drew you out of the situations.

For this show I'm going to give it 3.5 out of 5 stars and I'm also going to say that even though I'm probably in the minority, when comparing the two I do think that The Tatami Galaxy was a bit stronger. Of course, TG takes a favorite trope of mine, following a pattern to the point where it becomes mundane and then breaking/elevating it to the point where it becomes symbolic of something greater, which also means it was a bit more heavily plot driven by the end (as weird as that sounds) so of course that's going to give it the edge for me. However, this was still a good show and by far a more accessible one too which is certainly a good thing. There hasn't been an official license announcement for the show here in the US but, considering all but one of the episodes suddenly popped up on hulu with NIS America's logo splashed quite prominently on the page, it seems there will be one soon. In the meantime however interested parties can check out the show both on hulu and crunchyroll (which does have all the episodes still).

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