This is an anime that draws inspiration from Japanese folklore. The main characters are mostly tanuki (Japanese racoon dogs), who are able to transform into anything they want, but most of them seem to spend the majority of their time looking like humans. Our focus character is Yasaburo Shimogamo, and the “eccentric family” of the title refers to Yasaburo, his mother and his three brothers. His father passed away, and the circumstances surrounding his death are explored throughout the series. Yasaburo’s brothers are an interesting bunch. The eldest is Yaichiro, who aspires to an important position known as “Trick Magister”, and the youngest is Yashiro, who amusingly can’t stop his tail from popping out when he is in human form and gets scared. Yasaburo is the third son, but my favourite was Yajiro, who suffers from such crippling guilt that he turned himself into a frog and lives as a hermit at the bottom of a well. The reason for his guilt is revealed towards the end of the series, and makes for a great storyline, probably the best of the series.
There is also a rival family, the Ebisugawas, to whom the Shimogamos are related. The head of the family is Soun, the uncle of the Shimogamo brothers, and he’s not a pleasant person at all. Neither are his twin sons, Kinkaku and Ginkaku. Most stories need antagonists, but I found those two very unpleasant to watch. They are condescending towards the Shimogamos, and delight in bullying Yashiro. I found them quite disturbing. The only Ebisugawa I liked was Kaisei, who used to be engaged to Yasaburo. The reason that fell through is also explored throughout the series, but I didn’t feel like she got enough screen time, considering what an interesting character she is. A stronger focus on her story would have also helped the gender balance, which is skewed a bit too much towards the males. Luckily there is a very strong female character: Benten. She is an interesting character, and quite mysterious. It’s often hard to figure out her motivations, and she is emotionally complex, so she’s probably the best character in the whole thing. Although Benten is human she has magical skills including flight, which she learnt from the Shimogamo brothers’ old teacher, Professor Akadama. He is a tengu, a type of yokai. I have mentioned yokai a few times in my anime reviews, but they are various kinds of spirit beings, central to Japanese folklore. The Shinto faith has a similar concept, referred to as kami. Most anime fans will have some experience of seeing yokai depicted, most famously in Spirited Away, which has a tengu as the main antagonist. Oddly, Yubaba from Spirited Away never seems to get referred to as a tengu in articles about the film, but that’s surely what she’s supposed to be, with her transformation into a bird and her long, hooked nose when she is in human form. These are key characteristics of the tengu.
At the heart of The Eccentric Family is the balance between humans, tanuki and tengu. To a certain extent they each have their own territory. The humans have the cities, the tanuki have the countryside and the tengu have the skies, but of course life isn’t that simple and the three groups have to co-exist. Once a year a club known as the Friday Club has a feast where they eat a tanuki, and the series builds up to one of those moments. Apart from the presence of Benten as one of their members, their club reminded me of a British Gentlemen’s club. The danger of one of the tanuki getting eaten each year adds some much-needed excitement to the latter part of the series, which meanders along for far too long at the start with nothing much happening, simply introducing us to all the characters. My wife lost patience with it and stopped watching, but I was glad that I persevered. At times I found it a bit of a disturbing series to watch, and it’s definitely not one for newcomers to the world of anime. It is so steeped in Japanese folklore that there is a bit of a culture shock watching this series, like a glimpse into an unfamiliar distortion of our world, and there isn’t even a dub to offer any kind of sense of familiarity to a Western audience. I would struggle to say I particularly enjoyed it as such, and I’m in no hurry to see the second series (apart from wanting to see the relationship between Yasaburo and Kaisei properly explored, which apparently happens in Series Two), but I did find it a fascinating series and I think I learnt quite a lot from watching it. The Eccentric Family was perhaps a little too eccentric for my tastes, but sometimes it’s good to push the limits of what we usually watch. It is a series that took me out of my comfort zone, and that’s not a bad thing to do. RP