First Impressions – Uchouten Kazoku


The story of an eccentric family

spring13-lvllnPA 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.

spring13-highwCompared 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?

Tatami Galaxy


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.

The main 3

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

Everyone's scared

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.

Teasing Yaichiro

Not that Yaichiro had no reason to be mad at Yasaburo

More PA Works Beauty

Show ▼


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.


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23 Responses to “First Impressions – Uchouten Kazoku”

  1. JPNIgor says:

    Too much fun with Tanuki trasformations XD Well, at least the basics, I did understand. I just couldn’t understand why there was a random giant tanuki statue sweating like hell was burning beneath him when Satomi appeared at the bar XD Too funny.

    Well, I like the animation. It looked pretty fluid most of the time. I just thought that the character design is a little weird, mainly because of the square ears and it’s been a long time since I last saw two nostrils on anime noses. But it’s not ugly by any means.

    Well, I expect a lot of weird things to happen here. What can go wrong on a city where Tengus, Tanukis that can transform into people and humans live together can go wrong? Everything \o/

    • lvlln says:

      The giant tanuki was the bartender, being nervous about that woman. I don’t know why he was in tanuki form instead of human, though.

      • skylion says:

        I think he read his casting call wrong. He should have been on set for Samurai Masters…but I guess he didn’t want to fall on someone…

      • Highway says:

        I’m gonna guess same reason that Yajirou’s tail popped out earlier: straight up being scared of Satomi.

        • JPNIgor says:

          So… That’s a tanuki in it’s true form? Maaan, he is huge .-.

          And a mexican tanuki to top it all.

  2. Liza says:

    I’ve got to say, Yasaburo is a very funny character. The scene where he shrunk his boobs to just fire the arrow was hilarious. XD

    What I’m confused about is Benten. She is stated to be human but she makes tanuki nervous and she can fly. 0_o So what is she?

    • skylion says:

      That’s the thing, innit? As an audience, she clearly isn’t entirely human, but to the tanuki/tengu world she very much is…and is dangerous, given the reactions. That is the thing.

  3. AllenAndArth says:

    Yasaburo was great, very funny character, not just though, the rest of the characters have their charm…Benten is a rather simple character with some background that is also complex(got it?!),apparently whatever it was the prank she and Yasaburo made, the old man can’t fly so she decided to give up on being a tengu, i think?!by the way… Benten=Sexiness, i’m barfing rainbows for her :K

  4. skylion says:

    Yes, this is a damn fine start. I love it when en media res works out. It evokes a world that has been going long before and long after you’ve been watching the scant 20 or so minutes you’ve been privileged to see.

    I also enjoyed how we aren’t asked to make sense of a story, so much as empathize with a mood. We may not know any details, but we do know that how these characters feel about one another.

    Wow. When they mentioned the Demon Tree Whatever? I’ve done tricks like that when I write. Mention something big in passing, don’t say a thing about it that would give a detail, but just let the damn thing hang like a rock from the cliffside. That will need pay-off in future. That trick isn’t cheap in the long run.

    Excellent review Team.

    • Highway says:

      It was a well-done exposure of Chekov’s Gun. It’s not lording it over our heads, but it’s not so sly that everyone would miss it.

      • skylion says:

        Leave it to the Enterprise’s navigator to know foreshadowing…

  5. BlackBriar says:

    Nice review, you guys. There are similar elements shared here with Inu x Boku SS about the characters being more than human.

    The scenery animation is definitely done by P.A Works but I had trouble saying the same for the character designs because they didn’t match those of Another and Red Data Girl.

    • skylion says:

      I was gonna say Inu x Boku, but that show was contained to a single location, contrasting with nearly all of Kyoto here.

      • BlackBriar says:

        Well, that single location housed people of various supernatural species from different places so it’s not farfetched if one is to say they’re as spread out in Inu x Boku as they are here.

  6. Soliia says:

    I really liked it! The characters are all amusing so far, particularly the protagonist. The setting and mood are also quite nice. I don’t know what’s really going on, but the fun is watching the story unfold. The Zetsubou-sensei character designs are also good.

  7. Gecko says:

    I really liked this first episode. I’m happy to see an anime where we get flung into the story rather than seeing all of this play out step by step. I’m really liking how we have a MC who transforms as he wants and seems to enjoy it, rather than someone who only uses it when necessary.

    Also, great review guys!

  8. Overcooled says:

    That was a really strong first episode. I’m kind of so-so on Tatami Galaxy (I loved what it was trying to do, but ultimately found each episode tedious) but I really like Uchouten Kazoku. It has a lot of similarities, but it’s definitely its own piece of work. I want more!

    On a side note, I like that although Yasaburo was in female form he still maintained the mannerisms of a dude for the most part. Girls never (well..usually) kneel or squat with their legs wide open that when they have a short skirt on. He only acted the part (“kyaa, pervert~”) when he had to.

    • skylion says:

      Yeah, him acting like a dude was a great character moment. It shows that, yeah you got the form down pat, now you just need to know how to use those legs.

      Wasn’t it kind of awkward when his little brother grabbed him fully on the the thigh when he was scared by that dog? I cannot imagine any girl letting that happen…

  9. Joojoobees says:

    I was expecting something more superficial. Instead this had a depth that makes me think it will turn out to be a very good series.

    • BlackBriar says:

      I’d give it two more episodes before even beginning to consider that possibility.

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