When building my list of the five anime you should be watching this summer, there was only one anime out of the dozen I watched that I knew would make the list before I reached the first episode's credits. This is because The Eccentric Family is so magical that it excites a sense of wonder like few other anime can.
The Eccentric Family has the same whimsical, magical feel that permeates through Ghibli classics like My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away. Taking place in Kyoto (the traditional cultural center of Japan), The Eccentric Family follows a family of shape-shifting tanuki (Japanese raccoon dogs) as they interact with tengu, humans, and other tanuki families. This makes for lots of shape-shifting antics and cleverly escaped dangers as we get to explore the mystical Kyoto behind the modern city.
Yasaburo, the main character of the show, and his brothers all live in the shadow of their deceased father—who was the greatest tanuki in living memory. Much of the plot of the series is spent deciphering who their father really was and the mysterious circumstances behind his death.
Undergirding the plot is an emotional exploration of how the father's death has left his family shattered. Each of the brothers has dealt with his death in different ways. Yasaburo has dedicated his life to having fun—only doing what he wants to when he wants to do it. One of his elder brothers has become overly serious, trying to live up to his father's legend; the other elder brother has withdrawn from the world and lives as a frog in the bottom of a temple well.
As the brothers learn more about their father over the course of the series, they are forced to grow and change. But this emotional exploration is only one point where The Eccentric Family proves to be something special.
Benten is easily the series most enigmatic character—which is what makes her so thoroughly enjoyable. While neither tanuki nor tengu, she has mastered tengu magic and is not afraid to use it on a whim. Moreover, despite the appearance of obvious bad guys, she remains the series’ most threatening character; no one is capable of stopping her.
At first glance, her actions seem random. Sometimes she rescues Yasaburo; sometimes she hunts him; other times she just shows up to talk. But if you look beneath the surface, Benten’s motivation becomes clear: She is bored; life itself bores her. She longs for new experiences—be that eating Yasaburo’s father or quite literally grabbing a whale by the tail and dragging it out of the ocean. But once the experience has ended, she returns to her perpetually bored state.
What Yasaburo doesn’t understand is that by the very nature of his carefree way of life, he is never boring in her eyes—and is thus the one person safe from her power. Even when he loses one of her most valuable possessions and goes into hiding for months, it is a great, exciting game to Benten. And when she finally does catch him, she simply forces him into an awkward situation that grants her even more entertainment.
By the show’s climax, the stakes are truly life and death. Kidnappings and murder plots are in their final stages and a high profile murder from the past has been uncovered as well. It makes for some excellently dramatic final episodes. Unfortunately, no one suffers for their crimes in The Eccentric Family.
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In fact, after murdering his brother in front of two witnesses—not to mention masterminding the attempted murder of his eldest nephew and the kidnappings of the rest of his nephews and his sister-in-law—the bad guy simply retires to a hot springs in the mountains. The bad guy's twin sons—who participated in the kidnappings (though they were only accessories to the attempted murder) get off with a dunk in a cold river.
The fact that there are such minor consequences for such heinous crimes is so laughably unbelievable that, for me at least, it threw the whole ending into question. Yes, it's implied that no tanuki has ever killed another before, but they have proof that it was done. And more than that, you'd think that tanukis, who are more concerned with having fun than anything else, would find kidnapping—aka the robbery of the freedom required to have fun—the worst possible of crimes.
In the end, The Eccentric Family is a complex, multi-layered anime. On one level, it is a carefree adventure in the magical world hidden within our own. On another layer, it is an emotional tale, diving deeply into the concept of loss and how it affects a family. On yet another layer, it is an exploration on how to live life and find what is truly important.
To put it another way, The Eccentric Family is an amazing anime that manages to be thought-provoking and endlessly entertaining at the same time. Without a doubt, it is not only one of the best anime this season but also of this year. If you like emotional exploration, amazingly well-developed characters, or just watching something fun, you owe it to yourself to watch The Eccentric Family.
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