The story of an eccentric family
PA Works is second only to Kyoto Animation in churning out ridiculously beautiful and well animated works of shit, exemplified by train wrecks such as Canaan, Angel Beats! and Hanasaku Iroha. But they’ve shown flashes of brilliance in all those shows, and their high school dramedy from last year Tari Tari was actually very good. And with Uchoten Kazoku, they’re working with source material by Tomohiko Morimi, who also wrote the source material for what I consider to be the best anime in the last decade, Masaaki Yuasa‘s masterpiece Tatami Galaxy. Add on character designer Kouji Kumeta, responsible for the manga that spawned Shaft’s best comedy series, and there is more than enough here to get me excited.
Compared to lvlln, I’m personally a lot more in the tank for PA Works shows, having really enjoyed Hanasaku Iroha, Tari Tari, and last season’s Red Data Girl. And while they admittedly have visuals that overshadow the stories, I have always found them to be very nice stories to watch. So with more of a source material to work with, how will Uchouten Kazoku work out?
lvlln// I was hoping for similarities to Tatami Galaxy, but the similarities in the visual style caught me completely by surprise. After all, that one was a production by Madhouse and shared none of the same animation staff with Uchoten Kazoku. But right from the opening, we were seeing many of the same visuals, with geometric shapes reminiscent of the tatami layout maps of the Tatami Galaxy ending sequence, and the zoom effects on filtered live action shots reminicent of its opening. And while the animation in the main show certainly wasn’t as out there as Yuasa’s show, aspects of the cinematography, the lighting and the camera angles, felt similar. Either my research is incomplete, or the folks at PA Works decided to ape the best. Which is fine with me.
Human, Tengu, and Tanuki
Then there’s the story, which is where I was more expecting similarities. The plot is very different, appearing to be a bit more traditional urban fantasy inspired by Japanese mythology, rather than the completely wild time loop fantasy science fiction (though there’s no guarantee that this won’t pivot to something like that). But I can see some of the same themes being played with. Right off the bat, you’ve got a protagonist talking about how he’s so busy mingling with humans, tanuki, and tengu that he doesn’t have time to get bored. An opening animation that flashes text like “Be Interesting!” and “Wonderful Daily Life!” Tatami Galaxy was about following a character through different versions of the first 2 years of college as he sought to grasp that rose colored campus life. Here, we enter right in the middle of things while Yasaburo is leading the rose colored life. But the rose colored life isn’t a state you’re in, but rather a process, a constant struggle, isn’t it? Those challenges are what I’m imagining will be the sources of drama in this work, similar to how finding that rose colored life drove the drama in that other one.
More Going on Beneath the Surface
The reaction from the rest of the patrons sold the scene
Highway// I definitely get the feeling that this story has a lot more boiling below the surface that we perhaps only got a hint of in this first episode. There was definitely tension between Yasaburo and pretty much every other character we saw, as well as tension between Satomi and EVERYONE else. Even the seemingly civil conversation between Satomi and Yasaburo was laden with threat and full of vinegar. To mix metaphors, it gives the impression that there’s a lot of weight that this story is holding up, waiting to drop it on us later. It makes me think there are longstanding feuds between these characters, not just arguments, and that they’re just trying to forestall a big blowup. Add in the three-legged story with tanuki, tengu, and humans (of whom I wonder if there are many that are in on the secrets besides Satomi), and factoring in the stern looks and confrontations that Yasaburo had to endure with Yaichiro, I think we’re going to get quite a lot of conflict throughout this story.
Not that Yaichiro had no reason to be mad at Yasaburo
More PA Works Beauty
I’ve not seen Tatami Galaxy, so to me this felt like a departure from PA Works’s ‘signature style,’ but it was still a beautifully presented show, with a more cartoonish realism than they usually have. Being dropped in the middle of a well established life and universe is something that anime don’t usually do, and it makes for a very unique feel for this show. I’m definitely looking forward to more of this show, and will really enjoy seeing how this story plays out.
Now this is special: a PA Works anime with what could be a story that can finally make good use of their tradition of visual excellence. Those freeze-frame and rotate bits in the cold open really stood out to me, as a fancy special effects technique used fairly often in live action movies, but almost never in anime. I also loved the way Yasaburou’s movemens were animated, such as him hopping over the car at the beginning or diving into bushes when delivering the message to Benten. Anime characters often have such raccoon-like agility and reflexes, but they’re rarely animated in such a believable and natural looking way. They usually look more like how Benten was practically flying from rooftop to rooftop (a fine example of such failure from an otherwise very good show from this year). Of course, PA Works was responsible for the excellent rooftop shootout sequence in the first episode of Canaan, so that shouldn’t come as a surprise.
I like that we’ve been flung right into the middle of things, with relationships already developed and conflicts already ongoing. I don’t feel like I have a firm grasp on the story yet, but this intro episode did its job well enough, giving us enough hints and other information so that we could make sense of at least the immediate issues. This is going to be a story about Kyoto, where tanuki and tengu intermingle with humans without their knowledge. Protagonist Yasaburou is a tanuki and a disciple of professor Akadama who I think is a tengu whose body is failing in old age. Benten is a human who also used to be a disciple of Akadama until some incident, for which both she and Yasaburou are responsible, split them apart. Oh, and it looks like there’s some romantic history between her and Akadama (not to mention the sexual tension between her and Yasaburou in this episode). That’s a promising setup, and I can see drama developing in all sorts of fun ways. I’m also hopeful after seeing the show cover some adult themes like Akadama using Yasaburou basically to send a booty call, Yasaburou using his metamorphosis to excite Akadama, and plenty of smoking and drinking by the cast. These were all handled in a mature and matter-of-fact fashion, unlike the more adolescent handling of them in most anime. You know, the way grown adults actually deal with such things. That was a major strength of Tatami Galaxy, which was similarly matter-of-fact with issues like inebriated sex, obscure fetishes, and masturbation (the Woody doll as metaphor was glorious). It’ll be interesting to see this show build on these themes that are so unusual in anime.
There is still much work to be done in order to construct a good series, but this was a damned fine start. I don’t expect it to match – or even come close to matching – the magic of Tatami Galaxy. But as long as it shows bits of that same brilliance, and as long as PA Works continues its masterful production job, this could be something special. Consider me all-in on this series.