In modern-day Kyoto, tengu rule the sky, tanuki explore the earth, and in between the humans still top the food chain in this folkloric comedy-drama. The story follows the Shimogamo tanuki family, who mask their racoon-like natural states by transforming into humans. That is, except for the second son Yimojirō, who got himself stuck as a frog. Yimojirō came to be in this unfortunate form in his grief after his father Soichirō died, cooked by the humans of the Friday Club in their annual tanuki hot pot. So while the third son, Yasaburō, would rather breeze through his life imitating humans, he must also manoeuvre around saving face with the tanuki community, and avoid his father’s ‘blood of the fool’ leading him into the hot pot too.
Although the number of characters, with their swirling rivalries, loves and family politics, sometimes threaten to leave the viewer lost in a haze of names, the literary source material is well-crafted into a tight thirteen episode arc without falling into confusion. What seems to help most with this is an almost spoken-word feel of characters having their bold traits and repeated phrases to mark them out. But more as the story intertwines with the mystery of Soichirō’s death, these phrases take on a connection with the truths of our daily lives. And the relationships between the characters involved don’t seem quite as cut-and-dried as before.
The archetypes that helped us learn where the characters stand within their society, and how they feel about their world, fall back to let us glimpse how they found themselves in their respective positions. The most remarkable character to watch in this regard is Benten, the Friday Club member whose outer layers are the first to start falling away, though she still takes the majority of the series to step free of her femme fatale branding. She is torn between the worlds of humans, tanuki and tengu, and has the tragic loneliness of being without a true home to return to. But in standing at the centre of the three realms, she also shows us their magnificence with a childish selfishness and abandon; she grabs onto a whale’s tail for fun, marvels at the moon’s sad beauty, and slinks across the city’s rooftops in search of its hidden brilliance.
Moving through the seasons of summer, autumn and winter, changing colours, themes and tones to suit each one, The Eccentric Family is a story that with the passing of time, and what we learn in our day to day lives, is always leading us back to what truly matters. We’re taught to take a cue from Yasaburō in his curiosity for the excitement taking place every day, even if it does land him in trouble more often than not. Magical happenings aren’t something we should see as being reserved for midwinter, and nor should be treasuring home, family and friends.