Generally, anime sequels tend to not be good. Does Uchouten Kazoku break the trend?
Anime sequels have a long history of not being very good, and even when they are, they’re generally not as good as their predecessors. While movie and video game franchises have a history of improved second installments by listening to audience feedback and cutting out the fluff that wasn’t working in their initial experiment, only to get cocky when said second installment is a huge hit and they deliver a mediocre third experience in response, anime likes to front load all of its good ideas at the very start so that there isn’t anything to expand on by the time the show hits its third episode. Even the sequels that get away with being a fun time tend to run on fumes near the conclusion, but despite all that, most anime fans continue to look forward to continuations of their favorites because they don’t favor narrative risks like I do and won’t finish Escaflowne because they refuse to lose their Escaflowne virginity.
Yeah I don’t get that mindset at all, as I’m more of a fan of things getting finished as quickly as possible so I don’t hate it like the later seasons of The Simpsons. But to be fair, the first season of Uchouten Kazoku was very obviously setting up for a sequel, and given how the original novel was a three-part series, it’s not like this wasn’t planned in advance. And if you’re one of those people who’ve never seen this anime before, I’ll fill you in.
Uchouten Kazoku aka The Eccentric Family is a slice-of-life show by PA Works, a company that has established itself as one of the big name studios thanks to evolving the slice-of-life genre towards mature dramatic directions along with supporting Jun Maeda every time he thinks he can write anime, making fantastic horror comedies, and basically recreating Escaflowne. The original novels were written by Tomohiko Morimi, a Kyoto-based writer who was the brains behind critical darling The Tatami Galaxy when people stop slobbering over their non-existent Yuasa plushies long enough to see who else was behind the show’s production, and while it wasn’t quite as critically acclaimed, the show enjoyed a good amount of attention from the anime community upon airing. From what I can see, this second season is equally as acclaimed, although I don’t think there are many people who like this show more than the first season. But it still had the magical production values, accurate depictions of Kyoto, and whimsical family dialogue along with a sense of humor that I can’t quite pin as anarchic or cultural, so it kept the fans who wanted more happy.
But did that something more translate into something I’d find acceptable? Let’s take a look.
The second season follows up after the end of the first season, which dealt with a family of raccoons getting over their father’s death while simultaneously discovering that he was sold out by another raccoon, who never really received punishment for his actions because that’s how it works in tanuki land I guess. Once again, our main lead is Yasaburo Shimogamo, a young playful raccoon who has a knack for getting involved in other people’s problems. And in this installment, his trouble magnet nature involves himself getting acquainted with a tengu named Nidaime, the son of Yasaburo’s elderly cohort and teacher, Professor Akadama, who does not get along with dear old daddy. Somehow this leads to Yasaburo getting involved with an illusionist named Tenmaya before Benten comes back and makes fans of the show erupt into cheers.
After that, the plot gets a little too slice-of-life-y to describe properly beyond the characters live their lives whilst dealing with personal issues and an upcoming election that I didn’t quite grasp the importance of because I don’t know a thing about tanuki/tengu/”humans who eat them” culture. But after a few episodes, Soun comes back to once again make trouble for the Shimogamo family. You’d think after getting his brother eaten and nearly having the rest of the family join him, they’d lock his ass away, but I guess jail time is not in the tanuki code. We also see Nidaime clash with Benten, most likely due to her being raised as a tengu despite being human, but that’s sort of kept to the side in favor of the Shimogamo family getting more focus in regards to their ability to move on after a shocking death that I won’t spoil occurs. What I will spoil though is that said death scene ends up rather meaningless later on in a manner that broke my suspension of disbelief. I know Uchouten Kazoku generally likes to go the peaceful route in regards to its storytelling, but that was just going way too far.
The show eventually reaches a climax where once again, Soun plans to get the Shimogamo family discredited and/or eaten, even throwing his own daughter to the wolves because why not? And yes, it ends pretty much the same way as the first season, right down to the whole “oh yeah, there’s another installment to this series isn’t there?”. Thankfully, Uchouten Kazoku is based on a trilogy, so when the third season inevitably comes, hopefully it won’t end like what happens when Sunrise changes its mind at the last minute. And hopefully the result isn’t as mediocre as the film we got from that.
Do you want to know the precise moment that Uchouten Kazoku 2 lost me? It was that part in the first episode when Yasaburo disguised as Professor Akadama in order to trick Nidaime into making amends, only for it to get resolved with the two having some carefree banter before Nidaime left and Akadama gets to spend his afternoon sleeping in a closet. Because that was when I realized the show was going to be more in love with the setting and character banter rather than any sort of narrative structure, and I kept zoning out whenever a conversation took place for more than a minute, similar to how I felt when I watched the first Sound Euphonium recap movie or when I recently rewatched Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone. It also didn’t help that the episode ended on a cliffhanger with the two tengus meeting on the roof, only for said cliffhanger to get resolved anticlimactically in the next episode and life went on as usual.
It’s been years since I’ve seen the first Uchouten Kazoku, so while I remembered the basics of how the plot worked along with the whale (or was it dolphin?) and fireworks scenes (which come back in S2 to fans’ amusement), I didn’t remember my actual feelings for the show. However, as the characters continued to banter in this installment, I remembered how much they liked to talk in circles without actually saying anything beyond setup for the major plot elements, which I’ve always considered to be an inherently flawed storytelling device regardless if it’s better executed in this show than Garo: Crimson Moon. And because a lot of conflicts tend to get resolved like a soulless live-action Disney film as if they were just put in there as a sneak preview for the real meat of the story, the whimsical nature started to get less engaging and more frustrating over time.
A lot of time is devoted to the characters confronting some personal demons before moving on from them in order to find happiness. That’s a good baseline for dramatic storytelling, but the problem with Uchouten Kazoku when it does it is that it’s not always clear what said personal demons actually are. I can easily see that the raccoons are moving on from the trauma that their father’s death caused in order to live a new life, but that sort of redemption story is usually saved as a conclusion rather than a basis for a reason: because unless you’re the one personally experiencing it, watching the actual new life is really boring. Benten deals with some personal issues of her own and we discover that she’s not so invincible, but while I agree with fans that she’s probably better off as an ambiguous character less she become the Other M version of Samus, you could have at least clarified what her issues actually are.
But by far the biggest problem I have with this show is in my inability to understand the tengu storyline along with how the one storyline I did understand was just a rehash of the first season’s conflict. And even if I did have knowledge of tengu, it’s still not very involving because Yasaburo doesn’t have any personal involvement in Nidaime’s troubles beyond being friendly with the people involved. I understand he’s supposed to be one of those main characters who’s mostly our eyes in regards to the more interesting characters on screen, but since said characters are too obtuse with their feelings to be involving, that story method falls apart. Not helping at all is that said tengu storyline just sort of fades into the background for the one involving Soun and his inability to stop being an asshole, which is almost a note-by-note retread of Season 1’s climax. A few details were changed, but mostly along the lines of how the first Amazing Spiderman movie differs from the first Sam Raimi Spiderman movie. If you’re not going to give me anything different in your new installment, then why don’t I just watch the previous installment instead?
The setpieces are also not very fun to watch either, falling under the trap in that it feels like the plot was written to accommodate them rather than the other way around. There’s a rather overlong shogi tournament scene in the fourth episode that’s not fun to watch and the only thing it leads to is Yaichiro trying to mend things with a girl he likes. And I’m not really sure why we needed Yasaburo to get thrown into hell, only to see Benten trying to make it as an MMA fighter, because it’s never brought up again, and it wasn’t a very exciting depiction of hell to begin with. A lot of culture is definitely put into them, but unless you consider “I love Kyoto” to be an acceptable basis for a story, then you’re going to have the same reaction to this the same way I reacted to Luke Cage and its depiction of black culture. Yes, you depict Harlem quite well and managed to throw in a lot of Civil Rights movement metaphors within your show, Marvel. But what exactly are you using these metaphors for?
In the end, I just did not get Uchouten Kazoku 2. I couldn’t wrap my head around any of the tengu politics or anything revolving around Nidaime because they were too oblique to be involving. I didn’t understand why I was supposed to care about Yaichiro finding love in his life because there didn’t seem to be much reason behind it other than giving him happiness after all the shit he’s had to put up with. I don’t get why Soun just won’t fucking die given how completely unlikable he is. I don’t even know what’s supposed to be appealing about Benten’s ambiguous nature because it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
I understand this is supposed to be a slice-of-life show, but what kind of excuse for the lack of coherent narrative is that? Was My Neighbor Totoro just an empty slice-of-life film? Did Tsuki ga Kirei spend the majority of its runtime with the characters just meeting and falling in love? If it wants me to get absorbed into its world, then why isn’t Uchouten Kazoku 2 letting me into it? It just dumped a load of cultural toys on the floor and figured as long as they looked nice, it didn’t have to actually play with them. And when it does play with them, it only does it for a short burst before putting the toys down and spending a long time pondering what it’s going to do next.
If you’re a sakuga fan or a Kyoto fan, you’ll probably get soaked up in the atmosphere and all that. But if you’re the kind of guy who had his standards for Japanese family dramas set too high by Studio Ghibli and Yasujiro Ozu films like I am, Uchouten Kazoku 2 is just a middling entry by comparison.
- Yep, new review format. Got to keep the new semi-professionalism of this blog up.
- If the third season ends with another clash between the Friday Fellows, I’m going to think someone has been watching too many American action films in his spare time.