Michaele Jordan is the author of the period occult thriller Mirror Maze and her stories have appeared in Redstone Science Fiction, Buzzy Mag, The Crimson Pact, Volumes 4 and 5 and Fantasy and Science Fiction. You can visit her website at MichaeleJordan.com while waiting for the upcoming steampunk adventure Jocasta and the Indians.
by Michaele Jordan
I have discovered what may be the best sit-com ever! Yes, it’s an anime series. That doesn’t mean it’s not a moving yet comic family drama. And yes, since it’s being reviewed in SF Signal and not The Saturday Evening Post, it’s a fantasy, one could even say an urban fantasy, set in modern day Kyoto. Nonetheless, it is not about magic but about personal relationships-not inter-species romances, but the bonds between brothers and cousins and fathers, and the mystery of making these absurd connections work.
The Eccentric Family (or Masayuki Yoshihara) started as a novel by Tomihiko Morimi, and published by Gentosha. It was produced as an animated television series by P.A. Works and directed by Masayuki Yoshihara. It aired from July 7, 2013 to September 29, 2013 and was simulcast by Crunchyroll. Thank you, Crunchyroll. It is also available on Hulu.
It depicts the three residential levels in Kyoto. Humans inhabit the city, while Tanuki roam the earth and Tengu, the sky. Tengu are well-known bird demons in Japanese legend. Here they are presented as flying wizards. Tanuki are raccoon dogs. Much like foxes, they are supposed to be mischievous shape-shifters.
And our tanuki protagonist, Yasaburou Shimogamo (voiced by Takahiro Sakurai) is most emphatically a mischievous shape-shifter. His motto is, “If it’s fun, it’s good.” He likes nothing better than to take on the form of a teenaged boy and explore the city, although he is happy to take the shape of a teenaged girl when he’s going shopping with his beautiful mother (voiced by Kikuko Inoue). For that matter he will cheerfully turn into a ceramic pot or a chest of drawers if he wants to snoop on a private conversation. He is very good at shape-shifting, even by tanuki standards.
His timid little brother Yashirou (Mai Nakahara) is not as gifted, and he frequently forgets to hide his tail when he is nervous. But that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Any tanuki will lose his assumed form when frightened. Unless, of course, they should happen to get stuck in the assumed form. That happened to Yasaburou’s elder brother Yajirou (Hiroyuki Yoshino), who now lives as a frog in a well
The eldest of the brothers, Yaichirou (Junichi Suwabe), is above all such nonsense. He is a serious young man, determined to assume the responsibilities of their late father who was the leader of the tanuki community. His chief rival for the job is their father’s estranged brother S?un Ebisugawa (Nobuo Tobita).
The tanuki cast is rounded out with a tengu and a human. The brothers all studied under a tengu, Professor Akadama (Hideyuki Umezu). They still take care of him, now that he is retired, due to a crippling back injury. They see also see a lot of the Professor’s former human protégé, the beautiful and morally ambiguous Benten (Mamiko Noto), who seems to wield more than all the others put together.
Despite the light hearted portrayal of daily life, there is a dark undercurrent. For all their charm and their ability to pass as human, the tanuki remain food-animals to the humans. Much of the story revolves around the Friday Fellows, a club which hosts an annual dinner featuring tanuki stew. Yasaburou’s father perished in that hot-pot, and the chance that he or Yaichirou may end the same way lurks in every scene.
There are no easy answers available for this situation. Kyoto is not taken over by non-humans. The Japanese do not suddenly take a vow of national vegetarianism. Much as in any main stream comedy/drama, the story concludes with the world very little changed beyond a few lessons learned. Some might therefore find the ending insufficiently conclusive, and therefore weak. Personally I found it realistic-and hysterically funny. Please, do yourselves a favor and check this out.