Uchouten Kazoku Is All Plot And No Story (And It’s Not Even A Good Plot)

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I’ve been meaning to revisit Uchouten Kazoku aka The Eccentric Family for a while now. See, when I wrote my first review, I was going through a phase where my tastes were sine-waving between exploitation lover and dirty elitist, which didn’t go over well with a lot of my readers at the time. And man was that phase bad to look at in retrospect. I mean did I really say the show sucked by comparing it to Utena? That’s like saying Texhnolyze sucked by comparing it to Legend of the Galactic Heroes. My views on the show haven’t changed since then, but now that I’ve mostly embraced some sort of middle ground between enjoying Ingmar Bergman and Russ Meyer at the same time, I thought I’d give a second shot at describing why I wasn’t into PA Works first “good” anime, as most people call it.

Let me just reiterate before I start that I by no means hated the show when it was finished and that I was exaggerating for comedic effect as well as to counteract all the unanimous praise regarding an anime that I desperately wanted to like and yet it failed me more than a racing horse that kept farting tires out of its ass whenever it ran half a mile (don’t think too much about that metaphor. I certainly didn’t). With original source material written by the man behind The Tatami Galaxy and an artstyle completely different from PA Works’ usual stuff, something that not even PA Work’s second elitist-bait show could get away from, you’d think nothing could go wrong. Well this show and Kyoukai no Kanata sure showed me.

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Sometime around the show’s end, I read an excerpt that stated that Uchouten was adapted from a book that was actually the first part of a planned trilogy that hasn’t been completed yet. And by Christ did that show, because the way this anime played out was like Durarara channeling Ghost Hound in every single negative way imaginable. The anime starts off by throwing you into its fantastical world with no explanation and letting the character interactions do the talking; which sounds cool at first until you realize that by the end of the premiere, they forgot to give you a reason to care and expect the audience to just go along with the whimsy with the promise of paying off at the end.

See, I’m really opposed to this style of storytelling. Just because a good groundwork is required to make an engaging show doesn’t mean you’re supposed to rely on said groundwork for said engagement. Because more often that not, said groundwork isn’t actually as good as it wants you to think and by the end of the show, you realized you got hoodwinked and all you can do is cry whilst Stephen King laughs at you. Every scene should have momentum. It should have a point. And hopefully at the end, said point is actually interesting.

This problem is that you need a plot to have an interesting point and when I realized by the second episode that Uchouten is all story and no plot at all, it just lost me. I know it’s a style of storytelling that a lot of people seem to not mind considering the stuff that makes it onto MAL’s top 30, but I personally tolerate said style at best and despise it at worst. Characters talk with each other in an attempt to build something up, but they forgot to give me a concrete reason regarding why I should care about the build-up in the first place. And no, I didn’t dislike any of the characters or anything. But as much as I like the cast of Rocky, that doesn’t change the fact that the fifth film was a giant dull turd.

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The show never really gave the tanukis, the Friday Fellows, and especially not Benten anything to do besides talking about their lives whilst building up to a story that doesn’t seem to be in service of anything really meaty. Sure Benten riding on a dolphin whilst nude before participating in a fireworks battle is cool to look at, but to what end? Well the end is revealed in the last stretch. It’s just that said end is predictable as fuck, and it doesn’t even conclude in a satisfactory way, coming across more as sequel-bait to something that hasn’t even been written yet. So even if you were into this show for the pure storytelling, Rage of Bahamut-style, I’d argue that the show still falls flat. Did we really need thirteen episodes dedicated to a fizzled climax and family themes that are the same standard “family must always stick together no matter what” stuff you see everywhere? I personally don’t think so.

Yeah, the dialogue is nice and the presentation is good, but they should inform a plot. Not be the plot. Even the “good” animation showcases have more going on in them underneath “yes, this guy can direct”. I mean take Cat Soup (the OVA) for example. It also had great aesthetics and a subtle storytelling method, but in addition to being much shorter, what really makes it stand out as one of the best anime short films in the medium is that the story was about how if you screw with the universe, it’ll screw you back. That’s an interesting message. That’s something I can’t learn from high school. “Fun things are fun” is neither of those things – unless you apply said message to something really ironic like Jake Gyllenhal’s “I screw people to get the story that’ll allow me to obtain money, women, and power” character in Nightcrawler or something. But we’re delving too far into subjective territory even by my standards right now, so I should probably wrap things up before I end up trapped in a black hole of no escape.

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All in all, the reason I didn’t like Uchouten wasn’t because it didn’t make anything exciting happen week after week (well okay that is the reason, but I didn’t necessarily need sword fights occurring on a sinking ship to keep my attention). The reason I didn’t like the show is because for all the creativity going into the aesthetics, the actual core is just too safe in its goals to really be filling. It’s comfort food anime at the end of the day, and in my screwed-up universe, comfort food anime is about as comforting as morphine anesthesia. You’ll feel better after waking up, but you were supposed to pick up your girlfriend an hour ago.

13 responses to “Uchouten Kazoku Is All Plot And No Story (And It’s Not Even A Good Plot)

  1. Hmm. Anime is hardly a medium known for high-quality storytelling to begin with, though. We all know Kazoku has an underwhelming plot and story at best, but once you compare it to its contemporaries it still stacks up pretty well. I certainly can’t fault people for lauding PA Works for aiming higher than they usually do, even if I’m also underwhelmed and find myself enjoying it more for its style than its substance. If I was only watching anime for their storytelling merits, I would probably despise the medium. How often do we even get a well-delivered message in an anime?

    • Anime is hardly a medium known for high-quality storytelling to begin with, though.

      I’m fully aware that anime has some inherent qualities to it that make me unable to take it 100% seriously (mostly the fact that my tastes are very Western) along with the fact that aside from mecha, the film industry has done everything it has done better. Isn’t going to stop me from demanding high-quality from it though. Usually, there’s at least one anime a season that satisfies that demand decently – I like last season’s Garo and Yuri Kuma/Death Parade have potential.

      but once you compare it to its contemporaries it still stacks up pretty well. I certainly can’t fault people for lauding PA Works for aiming higher than they usually do, even if I’m also underwhelmed and find myself enjoying it more for its style than its substance.

      I don’t really like that “good by comparison” thing very much. It feels like an excuse to crown mediocrity.

      If I was only watching anime for their storytelling merits, I would probably despise the medium. How often do we even get a well-delivered message in an anime?

      I brought up Tatami Galaxy and Cat Soup as examples of anime I liked because I thought they had great stories and messages. And despite (or because of) being an anime fan, I think most anime are plain bad and think picking them apart when they fail me is fun, so I don’t really care too much that most anime don’t fulfill my demands provided I like at least one a season. That’s not to say I think Uchouten is “bad”. I just think it’s worse than either Gatchaman Crowds or Shirobako, both of which I think are average at best.

      • >I don’t really like that “good by comparison” thing very much. It feels like an excuse to crown mediocrity.

        Then wouldn’t “bad by comparison” also just be an excuse to be bitter, if you’re going to limit the comparison to story/plot, which Uchoten isn’t particularly strong at?

        I mean, if you are just comparing based on story/plot, so be it. But I don’t think that people liked Kazoku for those elements so much as the characters, setting, and visual aesthetic. I’d rather not dismiss those other elements, because anime isn’t just about story and plot (as much as I often wish it would try harder with both).

        But how the heck are we supposed to compare Garo, Shirobako and Crowds? Garo is the only one that I’d say is driven by a (relatively) compelling plot/story, while the others are compelling for other reasons (though none are all THAT compelling to me personally).

    • Then wouldn’t “bad by comparison” also just be an excuse to be bitter, if you’re going to limit the comparison to story/plot, which Uchoten isn’t particularly strong at?

      We have to draw the line somewhere and according to Sturgeon’s Law, 90% of everything is shit, so I have the advantage here.

      And it’s not like I necessarily need mind-blowing stories. I’ve enjoyed the occasional shallow fun thing. The first half or so of Rage of Bahamut: Genesis was cool (second half not so much). And I thought Witchcraft Works last year was alright despite the story being kinda weak because it was pretty funny.

      But how the heck are we supposed to compare Garo, Shirobako and Crowds? Garo is the only one that I’d say is driven by a (relatively) compelling plot/story, while the others are compelling for other reasons

      Pretty sure people see a plot in Shirobako. Not so much Crowds.

      • Alrightty. Your site, your rules. Every new anime you mention in a positive light makes me wonder more and more though 🙂 I think it’s starting to sound more like you’re just more disappointed in Kazoku, and are just more generous to worse anime you didn’t have any expectations for. Otherwise Witch Craft Works wouldn’t even bear mentioning, and your senses for finding Shirobako’s plot should easily have been able to find a plot in Kazoku. But we’ve argued this to death now, so I’ll concede.

    • I’ve yet to watch the show, but if it’s anything like Kyousogiga (which I’ve heard comparisons to many a time), it probably isn’t very interesting, at least to me and most definitely to Flawfinder here. Solid character writing backed up by whacky/beautiful visual style just isn’t enough to entertain me (look at Rolling Girls which actually only has the second one). If you’re a literary critic, that’s the sort of thing you’d love. Unfortunately we aren’t and character writing isn’t particularly entertaining. If you have plot at the forefront, you can create situations that’ll make us care for the characters. When you don’t have a plot, it’s like sitting in a park and watching kids play with their parents. They might have a whole history as to how they can play like that together, and what they’re doing might develop them as people, but damn if I care for them let alone be entertained.

  2. Finally someone who didn’t think that Uchouten is AOTS. I find this anime so underwhelming. It just character screw around, and it’s not even good at that. The character’s action never amuse me.

  3. Usually I can get past this kind of storytelling, but with this show the lack of plot made the moments where it seemed like I was supposed to really connect fall flat. If I had to guess I would think it was because the tone just didn’t work in a lot of scenes. Since the plot doesn’t really take anything to different places it felt like they were treating the same things with completely different levels of seriousness at different points in the show. I think I liked this show more than you, but I did kind of forget about it after a while.