The Eccentric Family

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Sunday, March 9, 2014

I’m happy that NIS America has been grabbing recent shows from P.A. Works, as the studio always seems to have something different to offer with each series that they produce. One of their more recent acquisitions is The Eccentric Family, which aired in Japan this past summer and is available for streaming via Hulu and Crunchyroll. The title is based on the 2007 novel written by Tomihiko Morimi (The Tatami Galaxy), which explores the unique co-existence of tanuki, tengu, and humans and modern day Kyoto. Although it took a few episodes before I really started to appreciate what The Eccentric Family had to offer, once everything began to sink in it did leave an impression.

Rather than jumping right into talking about the storyline and characters like I usually do in my anime reviews, I think it’s best to discuss the animation first. The Eccentric Family continues to demonstrate P.A. Work’s ability to create some of the most visually appealing backdrops in anime, and right from the very first moment viewers will be drawn in by the extremely bright and colorful look. Since this series revolves around traditional Japanese fantasy/folklore elements like tengu and tanuki the animators were able to let their imaginations run wild and really bring their ideas to life. Not only are the environments some of the most detailed and eye catching the studio has done yet, but almost every scene is bursting with color. The character designs are a bit quirkier than normal, particularly because the tanuki and tengu have shapeshifted to have human appearances for the majority of the episodes, and this gives The Eccentric Family a feeling of its own. In fact, I think this may just be one of the most visually appealing anime that I have seen in the past year. However, there was one thing that bothered me while I was watching, and it was the way the subtitles were presented. They use a bright yellow font, which during some of the flashier sequences makes it a little hard to see. But this is ultimately a minor flaw overall, and it isn’t that big of a deal to occasionally have to go back a few seconds to catch up on missed dialogue.

The storyline pulls from elements of Japanese folklore and transplants them into modern day society. Tanuki are known to be shapeshifters and tricksters, but resemble raccoons in their original form, while tengu are spirits associated with the mountains and forests that have the ability to fly through the air and manipulate wind. In The Eccentric Family, both the tengu and tanuki maintain human appearances and have integrated into human society. The story revolves around the Shimogamo family, whose father was eaten in a hotpot during the Friday Fellows’ end of year bash (a group of humans that have a tradition of eating a tanuki once a year). Yasaburo, the middle son, is the main character and narrator, and he has interactions with the tengu Professor Akadama and the mysterious Benten, a human that was kidnapped by Akadama when she was young and has the ability to fly. The first episode doesn’t spend a whole lot of time explaining this information, as it simply jumps into the middle of the action and forces viewers to make their own inferences about what has happened in the past as events occur.

Earlier episodes led me to believe that this would be a quirky slice of life/comedy, as there are some amusing moments mixed in with a good deal of character developments. Viewers are introduced to Yasaburo, who is fairly carefree and spends the majority of his days interacting with his family members, Professor Akadama, and Benten. His relationship with Benten is a bit strange, as she is part of the Friday Fellows who ate his father during their year-end bash. The first few episodes introduce the viewers to these characters as well as the Ebisugawa family, the rivals of Shimogamo family. There’s a good deal of comedy as Yasuburo and his younger brother Yashiro compete with their Ebisugawa cousins Kinkaku and Ginkaku, and plenty of outlandish transformations ensue. However, despite the more outlandish nature of some of the earlier storylines and the mystique surrounding Benten, the show transitions into a drama after a few episodes and focuses heavily on what it means to be a family and the events surrounding the death of the head of the Shimogamo family.

While The Eccentric Family ultimately managed to hook me and draw me into its world, it wasn’t until a little after the halfway point that this occurred. The transition from the comedic to serious side was a bit abrupt, and a few of the exposition episodes dragged and didn’t truly have my full attention. However, once some of the mysteries about character backgrounds were revealed and the show kicked the action into full gear, I found myself glued to the screen and watched the last five episodes in rapid succession. If you were hoping to get additional explanations as far as who the Friday Fellows are why Benten acts the way she does you may come away disappointed, as the series reveals some of its background elements but leaves a good deal open to interpretation. The final climax is also a bit disappointing as well, as there is a good deal of conflict and build-up between the Shimogamo and Ebisugawa conflict and the threat of being eaten in a hot pot that ultimately fizzles out. I think a second season could really help to further flesh out the overall world and give viewers a greater appreciation for each of the characters, as it seemed difficult to fit everything into 13 episodes.

Some of the story elements may not have fully won me over, but The Eccentric Family does manage to succeed when it comes to its characters. Yasuburo is a very likeable lead, as his carefree attitude and ability to transform into just about anything grabs your attention and results in plenty of amusing situations. The rest of the Shimogamo family has their quirks that stand out, such as Yajiro who spends the majority of the series as a frog, or the eldest brother Yaichiro who is hot-headed and far too serious compared to the other members of the family. Benten wins some points for having an air of mystery about her as well as a seductive side that isn’t always common in an anime of this type. Although there is room for additional background development should a second season happen, it does feel like a good amount of care went into fleshing the main cast out and making them feel real despite the fact that the majority are not human.

The voice cast for this series has a number of veterans that anime fans will likely recognize from other shows, and they were able to really sell me on each of the characters. Yasuburo was voiced by Takahiro Sakurai, who has been in more series over the years than I am capable of keeping track of, including Cromartie High School and Bleach. Benten is voiced by Mamiko Noto, who continues to be one of my favorite anime voice actresses as she is able to play both the innocent shy girl role and seductive temptress depending on the series and really entice the viewer to pay attention to that particular character. The Eccentric Family also has some great background music that adds emphasis to specific scenes, and what I found interesting was how different in tone the opening and ending themes were. The opening number is an outgoing rock track that has a lighthearted feel, while the ending piece is a softer pop song that has a more somber feel that ties in with the drama of the series. Overall, voice acting and music is an area that this show did well, and when combined with the stunning visuals you have a series that stands out in both the audio and visual departments.

There were some episodes that dragged during the move from lighthearted comedy to serious drama and a bit more character background would have been nice, but The Eccentric Family still managed to be a heartwarming series that explored the connections between family in a fantasy subtext. It helps that it had absolutely gorgeous animation, as this makes it easier for the show to draw in viewers. While I didn’t quite find The Eccentric Family to be one of my favorites from last year, it’s still one that I found to be worth watching and a change of pace from P.A. Works’ usual fare. I plan on re-watching this one when NIS America eventually puts out a box set to see if it makes a stronger impression the second time around, but for now can still give this one a recommendation for those of you who want an anime that feels a bit different from the usual fare.

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