Shape-shifting tanuki and soaring tengu, huge ears, and atypical animation are the pillars on which Uchouten Kazoku is built. It's an intriguing mishmash of elements that certainly don't sound as though they could work well together, but I was pleasantly surprised to see a series with such seemingly disjointed elements tell a story that seems as though it could blossom into something beautiful.
While I wasn't particularly enamored with every bit of the first episode, it laid the groundwork for what has the potential to become a sleeper hit of the summer season. Fans of The Tatami Galaxy may find themselves immediately drawn to Uchouten Kazoku, though the two series feel inherently different. In fact, the tale feels just like what a Tomihiko Morimi story should. There's a note of quirkiness in the way characters interact, their mannerisms, and their likenesses. You'd expect tanuki to be mostly playful and exuberant, but there's a darker side explored via the tengu.
Our hero, Shimogamo Yasaburou, is a tanuki who prefers to shapeshift into an alluring young girl. There's a deep history between his old master Professor Akadama, and that of a shared love interest for Suzuki "Benten" Satomi, a gorgeous lavender-haired human with the tengu power of flight. The trio are tied together through an event known as the Demon King Cedar Incident, during which Akadama broke his back and lost the ability to fly.
The fractured relationships between the characters is due in part to the fateful day, and despite the playful banter, there are some darker feelings at work here -- understandably so. The complex interactions are what kept me watching, even when the semantics of tanuki vs tengu vs human became lost on me. A young and graceful Benten of the past grew into a cold-hearted beauty, for instance. Why's the past so mysterious? Despite some slower moments, I genuinely want to know what's coming next.
P.A. Works' animation is fluid and excellent, though characters' ears are large, oddly-placed, and distracting. I chalked this up to whimsy, as they do seem to fit the overall aesthetic, but they are extremely jarring at first. Perhaps that's something I'll get used to in time.
The energetic opening is a good indicator for how I think the series will play out, though at present it's much different from my initial expectations. It'll be interesting to see this Eccentric Family will get along in the future. I also think it's unique that our lead Tanuki-san retains a male voice and male persona despite a penchant for taking a shapely female form. As long as the show keeps me on my toes in that way, I'll be in it for the long haul.
[Watch The Eccentric Family simulcasting on Crunchyroll!]