Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Eccentric Family Review

"Humans live in the city, tanuki crawl the earth, tengu fly through the air. Since the Heian era relocation, humans, tanuki, and tengu have maintained a delicate balance. That’s what keeps the great wheel of this city turning round and round. More fun than anything is watching that wheel spin. I’m what you’d call a tanuki, but too proud to be a mere tanuki, I admire tengu from afar and love imitating humans. For that reason, my daily life is so dizzyingly busy, there’s no time to be bored."

The Eccentric Family is a 13 episodes Drama/Comedy based on the 2007 novel written by Tomihiko Morimi. The anime from director Masayuki Yoshihara and animation studio P.A. Works aired during the summer 2013 season. As of this review, NIS America is the only known licenser.

In modern day Kyoto, humans live in the city, while Tanuki roam the earth and Tengu, the sky. The story surrounds a family of Japanese tanuki, the Shimogamo family. These tanuki have the ability to transform into anything they wish. They can change into normal members of human society or any animate/inanimate object. The third son, Yasaburo, enjoys a bustling daily life. He often visits Akadama-sensei, a tengu. Through him, Yasaburo is acquainted with Benten (Satomi Suzuki), a woman whom Akadama taught to fly like a tengu. As the story unfolds, the members of the Shimogamo family are still dealing with the foggy past that surrounds their father's untimely death prior to the series start. What more is that Benten is a member of a social group called "the Friday Fellows" who enjoy a meal of tanuki hot pot at the end of the year. So they must balance between living carelessly, maintaining relationships among other tanuki families, and not getting put into a hot pot by the Friday Fellows.

The animation for Eccentric Family is a bit of an odd ball. P.A. Works, the studio behind the series, had an interesting 2013. For those who don’t remember, here’s how it went. In the Spring of 2013, P.A. Works released their adaptation of Red Data Girl. That Summer season was The Eccentric Family, followed by Nagi-Asu: A Lull in the Sea in the Fall. A few other series that P.A. Works produced in recent years include Tari Tari, Another, and the recent Glasslip. The reason I’m bringing up all these different series is because the animation style of Eccentric Family is very different then most of P.A. Works’ recent series. The series is much more colorful, and has a different style compared to these other series. This series is part comedy so it makes some sense to see a different animation style compared to the more romance or shoujo style that these other series have. But, with the good does come the bad as there are a good amount of drops in quality every now and again. The best example I have for this is there’s a scene where Yasaburo and his older brother Yaichiro are sitting next to each other talking and, not only does Yasaburo seem a little taller than his brother but, Yaichiro’s head looks a little too small for his body. Although the series has a different style and can have those animation problems every now and again, the series does have some very beautifully animated moments that will stand out to the viewer. As for the soundtrack, it’s simple and works for the series. Even though I don’t really have a favorite track from the OST, it did manage to flow rather nicely with the series overall. Also, the opening is a bit of odd fun and managed to be rather catchy. Now I understand why people complained about me not having it for my Top 20 Anime Openings of 2013.

The story, at first, was a little confusing. When I was a guest on The Five Point Podcast and talked with Bobcat about this series, we were both a little confused. Based on the first three episodes, it was hard to tell what the focus of the story was going to be. Honestly, I thought it was going to be about the relationship between Yasaburo and Benten, but I was wrong. The story, at it’s core, is about a family trying to live their lives in this society after the death of their father. That’s really all this is! Just add some politics and family/racial drama and you have this series in a nutshell. Throughout the series, we are constantly reminded of Yasaburo’s father and the affect he had on their lives. This, in turn, helps drive the four brothers in their various directions and various pieces of development over the course of 13 episodes. Those first three episodes hint at that a little bit, but it’s more towards the second half of the series where everything comes into play and the dots begin to connect, albeit sometimes in a rather predictable way. By the end of the series, you will have felt different emotions at some point in the series. Whether it may be a face palm kinda of moment, a laugh out loud moment, or even a moment where you are brought to tears, this series and it’s story is really simple to follow and is one of those where it’s more of a character driven series rather than a story driven series. But having a decent story isn’t a bad thing either. It’s actually rather helpful.

Speaking of characters, this cast is a rather mixed batch. The opening, alone, pegs seven people to be the primary cast so I’ll stick mostly to them when talking here. Let’s start with the brothers. First we have Yasaburo, our leading man…. Or woman… I don’t know sometimes. He’s the third son out of the four tanuki brothers and is referred to as the one who inherited his father’s idiot blood. Out of the four brothers, Yasaburo plays the more calm and cool act and even is the one that bails everyone out at some point in time. He can also be a bit of a smart ass which bugs his oldest brother, Yaichiro, to no end. Through all of this, Yasaburo does care for his family and even the Professor and Benten. Actually, his relationship with Benten is odd and isn’t explored all that well because it seems like he likes Benten but it could be that whole forbidden love between a tanuki and human. Anyways, moving on! Next we have the oldest brother, Yaichiro. He’s the more serious and responsible out of the four, but does have a tendency to panic and over think things when under pressure. Not only that, but he is also rather quick to anger (again, Yasaburo takes advantage of this on occasion) and sees himself as the only one who can do anything right and succeed their father. Like Yasaburo, as well as the other two brothers, Yaichiro does love his family and is willing to protect them from anything and everything. Yajiro is the second oldest son out of the four, and spends the majority of the series as a frog in the bottom of a well. I’m not joking here. Yajiro is much more soft spoken and introverted then his three brothers, making him a confident for Yasaburo at times whenever he visits. Yajiro does play a part in the story, and this actually brings about his character even more with us ending up going full circle by the end of the series. Yashiro is the youngest of the four brothers, and is the most innocent. For a majority of the series, he is kind of there as a bit of adorable for the viewer to aww over. He does, however, grow a little by series end and does contribute to the story, like Yajiro.

As for our other three major characters, we have the Mother of the brothers, the tengu Akadama, and Benten. Mother (the series didn’t give her a name) is a strong support system for her sons, but also isn’t afraid to have a little fun as well. Considering her transformation resembles a man and she is called the Prince a couple times in one episode, that ought to give you some idea. She cares deeply for her sons, and will, at times, bring them out of whatever bad mood they are in or knock some sense into them. She kind of reminds me of my own mom in that way. Professor Akadama is an older tengu who gets easily riled up much more than Yaichiro does. He’s the kind of person who demands respect without ever saying it until no one acknowledges it and then he goes on a rampage. He can be rather stubborn and senile in his old age, with Yasaburo and Benten really being the only ones he’ll listen to. Those outbursts, though, do make for some rather comedic moments. As for Benten, she’s a bit of an interesting character because her story actually is the weakest in the development department. She’s a human who was one day taken by the Professor and just learns from him about being a tengu based on pure lust for her. Benten, in turn, joins the Friday Fellows who eat tanuki hot pots at the end of each year. I say her story is the weakest because hers is the one that the most loose ends and questions I had by the end of the series. I can’t decide whether or not she’s a good guy or a bad guy as she walks that line rather closely. But, again, it’s mostly her development that I have the most issue with. Outside of these seven major characters, there really isn’t anyone worth noting. The only one I can probably mention is Kaisei, but her character is more tsundere than anything.

Seeing as how NIS America doesn’t dub their series, we have some Japanese voice work to talk about. There isn’t anything really bad, but there are some interesting choices. Starting off with Takahiro Sakurai’s (Ace of Diamond, Code Geass) performance as Yasaburo, it took a bit to get used to. Partly because for most of the first episode he’s transformed into a girl and also because I imagined him to sound a little younger based on his character design. Over time, I got used to it and I felt that it was the strongest performance of the series. Hideyuki Umezu (Broken Blade, Le Chevalier D'Eon) was a close second for me as the Professor. He managed to capture his regal standing as well as the kind of child like temper he has rather well. Hiroyuki Yoshino (Baccano!, Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt) as Yajiro was another strong performance thanks to the introverted personality the character has. Benten was a decent performance thanks to Mamiko Noto (Akame ga Kill, Elfen Lied) bringing in some fun to the role, though it can come off sometimes as a bit too seductive. Mai Nakahara (Fairy Tail, Higurashi no Naku Koro ni) brings out the ever adorable Yashiro with ease while Junichi Suwabe (The Unlimted Hyobu Kyosuke, Nana) brings the mix of serious and silly that Yaichiro tends to have. However, Suwabe seems to overdo it from time to time, making his performance the weakest of the group. Overall, the cast played their parts well and it was a good listen.

The Eccentric Family may seem like an odd choice in adapting for P.A. Works, but I think it was a good one. The animation is colorful and exciting, the story is good, and the characters successfully drive the series in the direction it intended to go. The first three episodes may seem a little slow and confusing as to where the direction may be, but after that it picks up a bit more and takes you on a fun ride! I know people sometimes have a three episode rule when watching a series, me being one of them, but stick with it because you will be rewarded!

Next time, we meet a Phantom for Halloween. Until then, otaku on my friends!

Final Rating: 8/10 I swear, it’s a manifestation of my idiot blood…


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