I’m back! I have this huge backlog and very little motivation at the moment, so it may take some time for me to catch up.
Since I saw four episodes at once, I had more of a chance to think about the show’s larger themes than I usually get. At its core, Uchouten Kazoku is a story about how to live and how to die.
There comes a day in every tanuki’s life when he’ll be made into a hot pot. So it is with Tanuki, and so it is with humans. Everybody dies, and absurd and pointless reasons. What are we to do about it?
The answer which Uchouten Kazoku suggests is to be an idiot like a tanuki. To live as if death were not, or as if it is both inevitable and of little consequence. To live a life of freedom, freed from everything that enslaves one, even free from death itself.
The father exemplifies this ideal lifestyle perfectly. He is completely unperturbed in the face of his upcoming death. His only concern is that he might ruin an otherwise tasty hotpot.
Tanuki have an image of being free-spirited, playing tricks on people and being generally irresponsible. But Yasaburou, who is seen as the tanuki closest to his father, certainly isn’t irresponsible or selfish. He takes care of his family and the professor, and even befriends and helps out the man who ate his father. I see this care and responsibility as affirming rather than denying Yasaburou’s freedom. Because he is perfectly free, from death and all other constraints, he is able to love others selflessly without concern for himself. Just like his father, who is free to love the man who is about to eat him and worry over the taste of his hot pot.
In turn, the professor is moved by the father’s words and is able to wish he could be eaten and enjoyed by tanuki in the event of his inevitable death.
Contrast this freedom from death with the freedom that Benten has. Benten is unpredictable and won’t let herself be tied down to anything. She ignores the professor and others unless it suits her. Both she and Yasaburou have a great deal of “freedom”, but Benten’s is fundamentally of a different sort. Her freedom is in service to herself, and she is in truth a slave to her own fickle desires. This is made explicit in her mourning over the fact that she likes Yasaburou and hence is going to eat him. She acts free but she isn’t really free at all: if she likes him, she has to eat him. I can’t imagine her going without regrets to her death, hoping that the people about to kill her will enjoy eating her. Instead she sits crying by the well at night, alone and miserable.
And I just wrote an entire post on Christian theology without mentioning it until the end.
I like how this show slowly reveals things piece by piece. This incident with the father turning into a mountain has slowly become more and more epic since the first episode. And only now does the show mention (in passing, as if it’s no big deal) that the professor literally kidnapped Benten when she was a child.
Each character acts differently depending on who they’re with, and aren’t constrained by a one-size-fits-all personality. Much is said without needing to resort to words. For example, notice how Yasaburou acts to prod the professor along, jumping through all these hoops without getting angry. And further note how the professor acts like he dislikes Yasaburou while nothing could be further from the truth.
The meal with the Friday fellows was surprisingly non-awkward. I was expecting something nefarious and evil but they’re just a bunch of friends who like to hang out for dinner. Very friendly too. The only question is why does Benten bother hanging out with a bunch of old guys? I’m guessing the two missing guests will provide the answer to that…
The fireworks battle was hilarious. This family feud has blown up to ridiculous proportions. (By the way, I’m shipping Yasaburou with their sister pretty hard… I hope we get to see her eventually.)
One last thought: the animation can be gorgeous.
I hope PA Works continues to do more shows along these lines and gives up on the Hanasaku Iroha clones.