I will admit that Uchouten Kazoku is enticing visually; I have had an issue with PA Works’ previous endeavors which not only shared almost copied aesthetics, but also felt plastic to a point. Uchouten was a fresh breeze with stunning landscapes and, as illegenes pinpoints, the directing subtly matches seasons with situations and feelings.
I will also admit that it’s very rare to see a series dealing with family as its main theme. Family usually makes a brief appearance in certain settings in order to set obstacles and very rarely to be a positive supportive power. When it’s a central theme, things are most often than not idealized and sugarcoated.Uchouten avoids siding completely with these two extremes. Ajthefourth, for example, analyzes Yaichirou’s character development in relation to his brothers and parents and I can’t disagree with her about how suberb he was handled in the show.
But I still have many issues with the characters and the ideas the series tossed at us. PA Works has a remarkable record of annoying me one way or the other with what it produces the last few years -and I perhaps foolishly continue hoping they’ll change their bad habits. Since the series managed to make me feel frustrated enough, please bear with me being once in a while negative, especially since it was hailed so much.
I think I’ll start with the irritating characters and then move on to the problematic concepts.
First goes Professor Akadama, the elder tengu, who is, from the little we can infer, the master/teacher of both Benten and Yasaburou, and apparently held the leadership of a tengu clan in his early years. Except for his relationship with the Shimogamo tanuki father, of which we see very few things, his behavior to other individuals is nasty and bratty. And I’m afraid that you can’t really excuse him due to his age: firstly because I don’t think we can give pass to any kind of rude behavior and secondly because he has the same sour mug when he was seen in a flashback. He’s been quite full of himself all his life and now with his flying disability things just got worse. It’s more than annoying how everyone keeps saying that he really likes Yasaburou and appreciates what he does for him, when he only throws tantrums and acts childish. The director wanted to make sure, you see, we comprehend that being a jerk means being fond of someone, thus shoved it down our throats at every chance.
Plus he’s a kidnapper of an underage girl (6 years old is stated on MAL) whom he probably fancied a bit too much to salivate for her up until his late years. I can assure you that I don’t have issues with the third age falling in love and having sexual needs; it’s the way he drools and demands attention like a kid from Benten that disgusts me. In the last episode his shameless alcoholism blends with his pervertedness to elicit an eyebrow-raising reaction from me, when he makes a mess of everything because the Professor of the Friday Fellows ‘sexually harassed’ her (a last minute lie from Yasaburou as a solution to the general mayhem going on). I bet he wouldn’t react like that for any other woman, but God forbid anyone from laying a hand on his delicious Benten.
Next is the femme fatale of the series, the former Suzuki Satomi, now Benten, a divine name for a creature as dangerous and capricious as a goddess. I liked her a lot at first, because she is both charming and a woman clever enough to use her captor and his knowledge to her advantage. She learns how to fly and gets miscellaneous magical presents from Akadama, and when the time is right, she gives him a ‘kick in the butt’ and returns to the human society again. I thought it was pretty cool how she broke free and turned the tables on the person who forcefully took her away.
Yet the cynicism and hypocricy that manifested in that period of her life made me dislike her guts. I can understand that survival and climbing the social ladder isn’t a way paved with roses, but that doesn’t equal necessarily with losing your humanity. Because eating tanuki, much more one with whom she was acquainted, isn’t like eating any other animal: she’s fully aware that tanuki are of equal intelligence as her and can talk in her language. The lavish illustration of her melancholy made me laugh, and I couldn’t be touched by her crocodilian tears at Yajirou’s well. She made choices that obviously had consequences. She could try persuading the Friday Fellows to feast on something else or she could quit and find another way to associate with influential people. Her theory ‘to eat is to love’ is sugarcoating of her -immoral- actions. Besides, her facial expressions at the banquet showed apathy, amusement or smugness and not a single shred of regret or sympathy.
Some bloggers speculate that the ending of the series implies she returned to her previous ‘foster’ family, thus changing her way of life. Despite that I can’t conclude from this if she broke her ties with the Friday Fellows completely and if as a character became a better person. I can’t also see as positive her re-association with her kidnapper (Stockholm Syndrome anyone?). It doesn’t seem very logical to me.
Then, we have the sweet Kaisei, one of the Ebisugawas, who wants to be mysterious, and appears a tough girl. You’ll wonder why she’s here, since she was always so helpful and good-hearted. Yes, she saved and reassured the Shimogamo tanuki mother when it was raining and the claps of thunder scared the latter; she offered a helping hand to Yasaburou many times by transforming to various objects; she sneeked out of her house, informed Yasaburou of her father’s malicious plans, and fought the guards to help Yashirou escape. She’s strong in her gentleness and I won’t deny this. Nonetheless, I can’t help but think her as a fool for defending her brainless and mean brothers in front of others while dissing them privately, as if they are worthy of anyone’s respect. And that’s negligible in front of the fact that she kept silent about her father’s atrocious deeds, namely betraying his brother, setting him a trap and handing him over to humans to eat him.
It’s fiction, I know. She’s young, I know that, too. But keeping silent to such a serious crime means you become accomplice to it. A whole year passed, so she had enough time to act and either directly give in the criminal or indirectly spread a rumor (which with her transforming powers wouldn’t be that difficult). She could have found shelter to the Shimogamo family whom she liked a lot. She wouldn’t feel that bad among other ‘outcasts’? And in the end what was more important? Her pride or the punishment of such a serious crime? Her hesitance, cowardness, call it what you like, almost cost another tanuki life and the freedom of one more. Not to mention we don’t have an idea of what Soun would do to the other tanuki kept hostages.
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