The Eccentric Family takes some of the most notable hallmarks of Japanese mythology and invigorates them in a twenty-first century retelling. What’s old is new again as traditional Japanese folklore finds a new home in modern Kyoto.
I decided to marathon this anime before the fall season after hearing other bloggers’ rave reviews. As a fan of Natsume’s Book of Friends, it was to be expected that I’d instantly fall for this close-knit tanuki family. In both shows, supernatural themes eventually take a backseat to the far more fulfilling drama of human relationships—between siblings, lovers, teacher and student, father and son.
The Eccentric Family focuses on Yasaburo, a shape-shifting tanuki, and the people he loves most. His dangerous crush on Benten, a human woman who eats tanuki hot-pot without a twinge of remorse. His curmudgeon professor, a tengu who can no longer fly. And the mystery of his revered father’s untimely hot-pot death, which he and his family struggle to solve for the duration of the series.
That’s the plot. But what really grabbed me was the vibrant Kyoto backdrop against which it takes place. The Gozan Fire Festival. Urban settings and modern clothing alongside traditional kimono and tatami rooms. The background music, with traditional Japanese strings and flutes. And on top of all of it, the pervading superstition of supernatural creatures that walk among humans.
The Eccentric Family is the latest from Tomihiko Morimi, a manga artist perhaps best known for Tatami Galaxy. A Kyoto native, most of Morimi’s works take place in the Old Capitol. Designed for a Japanese audience, perhaps he’s trying to capture the nostalgia, the old mixed with new that Kyoto is supposed to merge.
But watching as a foreigner, it’s also a fantasy portrayal of a Japan that doesn’t really exist. No more than a show set in the American West with elements of tall tale mythology would have anything to do with America today.
I love the line in Peepo Choo in which Milton discovers that Japan is nothing like his Japanese anime. “Don’t arbitrarily make our country your weird Neverland,” Reiko tells him. It’s a wake-up-call for American otaku who think our problems would be solved if we moved to Japan. It reminds me that I can watch anime all day and still not know a thing about the country it came from.
The Eccentric Family gets as close to that false otaku Neverland as you can get, mixing the best of modern and ancient Japanese humor and beliefs. In some ways, it’s the picture of Japan I see in my head.
I just can’t wait to actually visit Japan some day and see how wrong I was.
You can watch The Eccentric Family on Crunchyroll. Click here for a free Premium trial.