Beautifully envisioned in magical Kyoto, The Eccentric Family tells a masterfully wrought story of a family healing after the death of their father and learning to come to terms with the lives they’ve been given.
Yasaburo Shimogamo, a fun-loving tanuki capable of transforming at will into the shape of a human, is the third son of Soichiro Shimogamo, once the preeminent leader of tanuki society, now but a memory after being eaten by humans. Although it’s been a year since his father’s death, Yasaburo and his family are still feeling the loss, as is tanuki society as they prepare to elect their next leader. Yasaburo, a carefree soul, has little investment in the battle, preferring to spend his time wandering the streets of Kyoto, visiting his aged tengu instructor, and fratinizing with the dangerous human woman Benten. But as the election grows nearer and the truth about his father’s death surfaces, Yasaburo may be called on to act before the end
The Good and the Bad
When I first watched The Eccentric Family while it was airing during the summer 2013 season, I named it the best anime of the season. Had I not seen Monogatari Series: Second Season later in the year, I’d stand by that declaration, but that says much more about Monogatari that it does about The Eccentric Family because P.A. Work’s adaptation of Tomihiko Morimi’s novel is truly a fantastic show. Poetic, whimsical, sensitive, funny — all these words describe The Eccentric Family with equal accuracy, for it is a tale that resists classification into a single genre or single category.
The Eccentric Family is actually pretty difficult to write about, if only because the show is built around these incredible set pieces — like Benten surfing on a whale or walking through the autumn leaves trailing smoke behind her or Yajiro finally getting back in the game as the False Eizen Electric Railway — that both enrich the smaller moments that occur in between and are given weight by those same small moments. Delicately circular, perhaps, would be the phrase I’d use to describe the storytelling of The Eccentric Family. Rather than taking the direct, straight path from start to finish, the series rambles, turns back on itself, stops to reflect, and then proceeds. In lesser hands, the frequent use of flashbacks and seemingly inconsequential detours of Yasaburo’s locally itinerant life might have collapsed into a mess of slowly paced, meaningless advances, but under Shotaro Suga’s guidance the circularity simply demonstrates the validity of The Eccentric Family’s message.
In facing down their father’s death and their idiosyncratic reactions to the passing of the great tanuki who guided their society and their family, each member of the Shimogamo family comes to their own conclusion, but the philosophy of their great father seems to truly be the concern of the show: what will be, will be, and those who have lived a fulfilled life need not fear death. It would be wrong to call The Eccentric Family fatalistic or depressed — rather, the show presents a worldview of optimistic realism. Indeed, tragedy may strike us and others may lash out at us and seek to do us harm, maliciously or not. But as it is sometimes the fate of the tanuki to be eaten, sometimes it is the fate of the living to suffer and feel pain. Does that hurt preclude us from delighting in the good things of life? Does the promise of a future ending deny us the pleasure of the present? The Eccentric Family refuses such an ideology and, furthermore, rejects passivity. An active pursuit of life’s experiences, whether they be bitter or sweet, is the path to an interesting life.
Of course, such thematic threads would be pointless without strong writing and characters to communicate them, both of which The Eccentric Family has. Starting with Yasaburo and his easy-going life and moving on through his frog-in-a-well brother, his uptight and responsible brother, his kid brother, his grouchy tengu professor, his cross-dressing mother, and his alluring love interest (to name only a few), The Eccentric Family is populated with diverse personalities — a reminder of how patchwork families can sometimes be and how special they are even so.
Visually, NIS America’s Blu-ray release of The Eccentric Family is nothing short of stunning. The colors are vibrant and lush, the detail truly astounding in places, and the animation smooth. And could this show look any less beautiful and still work? Frankly, I don’t think it could. The lyricism of the writing necessitates the gorgeousness of the visuals and P.A. Works really rose to the occasion here.
The Eccentric Family hosts a beautiful and varied soundtrack, ranging from bouncy electronic sounds to lovely piano/strings pieces to triumphant orchestral tracks. The soundtrack itself is used with grace, complementing scenes in splendid fashion and falling silent when it needs to. The opening song, “Uchoten Jinsei” by Milktub, is an energetic exclamation of Yasaburo’s attitudes towards life, while fhána’s decadently gorgeous ending, “Qué Será Será,” wistfully expresses one of the show’s core themes — what will be, will be.
On disc extras include clean versions of the opening and ending songs (both fully deserving of the creditless presentation), as well as Japanese TV spots and trailers. The premium edition of the release also include a 64-page hardcover art book, which was not available for this review.
The Eccentric Family is a beautiful show. I’m aware of how much I’ve used that adjective already to describe it, but there are few other words that can really adequately describe it. NIS America has truly done this show the justice it deserves with this release. Highly recommended without reservation.
Final Grade: A+
This review was initially published on The Otaku Review. The original article can be read here.