The Eccentric Family (Uchouten Kazoku, literally “The Ecstatic Family”) (Crunchyroll) is my favorite anime of the new season. It’s a cleverly-written fantasy that is partly a heart-warming family comedy, but with some darker elements. (It could hardly qualify as a Japanese fantasy without at least a few dark undertones.)
The story is set in Kyoto, a very old and very beautiful city. (The background images are part of the charm of this series.) Kyoto has a population of about 1.5 million people, few of whom realize that they share the city with a variety of supernatural beings.
The flocks of birds that pass overhead include tengu, powerful bird spirits who sometimes take the form of humans with long noses. They tend to be arrogant and hot-tempered. They can be dangerous to deal with but according to legend they can be great teachers of magic and the martial arts.
Tanuki (Asian raccoon dogs) are animals related to foxes with bushy ringed tails. Like foxes they are said to be able to change their shape and have a reputation as mischief-makers.
Our protagonist, Yasaburou Shimogamo, is a carefree young tanuki. He seems cheerful and irresponsible though he is obviously loyal to his family and friends.
Yasaburou is a versatile shape-shifter and often takes the form of a human girl. He makes a very unfeminine girl but he seems proud of the technical skill this requires.
Yasaburou’s father, Souichirou Shimogamo, was one of the most respected members of tanuki society, able to transform himself into a mountain. Unfortunately a few years ago he was caught and made into a stew by the members of the Friday Club, a group of humans who make a point of dining on tanuki nabe every New Year’s Day.
Since then his family has fallen on hard times.
Yasaburou’s oldest brother Yaichirou is hard-driven and humorless, haunted by the thought that he can never match his father’s greatness. Yasaburou’s whimsical behavior often makes him furious.
Yasaburou’s second-oldest brother has basically given up. He spends all his time at the bottom of a sacred well in the form of a frog. He claims that he has forgotten how to change back.
Yasaburou’s younger brother Yashiro is naive and easily frighted. When startled in human form he lets his tail pop out.
(The brother’s names contain the kanji for “one”, “two”, “three” and “four”, giving their birth order. This is actually pretty common in Japanese boys’ names.)
Their mother is known among humans as a mysterious pool shark called “The Black Prince.” She is terrified of thunderstorms. Apparently there was some sort of quarrel with Raijin the god of thunder.
Yashiro works part-time for his cousins Kinkaku and Ginkaku. Their family owns a brandy distillery which gives them high rank in tanuki society. They bully him mercilessly.
Their sister Kaisei seems much nicer though we haven’t actually seen her yet–we’ve just heard her voice. She apparently likes to stay out of sight. When they were children she and Yasaburou were betrothed, but her family broke it off after his father died.
Yasaburou is fond of his old teacher Akadama-sensei. He is a cantankerous old tengu who lives in a messy apartment in the Demachi shopping district.
Akadama-sensei is unable to fly, having hurt his back as a result of one of Yasaburou’s pranks. Yasaburou feels guilty about it though he hasn’t admitted his role. Still he makes a point of visiting Akadama, bringing him food and booze and cleaning up the apartment.
Akadama-sensei is besotted with a human girl who calls herself “Benten” though her real name is Satomi Suzuki. He has taught her how to fly and given her valuable magic items.
Benten has a cool and seductive manner. Yasaburou finds her both fascinating and scary. He has good reason to be cautious. She is a member of the Friday Club and the prank that injured Akadama was her idea.
The series so far has been low-key and somewhat meandering but I have great hopes for it. For one thing it is based on a novel by Tomihiko Morimi, as opposed to being based on an ongoing manga or series of light novels. This makes it more likely that we will get a well-rounded story with a proper ending.