Summer Split One — #4: So Close and Yet So Far

 Uchouten Kazoku - 06 [720p]_Aug 17, 2013 11.48.59 AM

In this week’s first half of Summer Split, we look at the stormy seas and culinary taste!

Uchouten Kazoku Episode 6

illegenes: If Uchouten Kazoku‘s finest creation is Benten, then it’s safe to say that these two Benten-focused episodes have been the strongest yet as we glimpse into the kind of person Benten was – and is – and the effect she has on the people around her.  From the way she was mysteriously kidnapped to the way Yasaburou puts it: “Once she got to the top, she kicked her kidnapper-turned-master to the curb, in one flash of her gorgeous legs,” there’s a certain mystique in Benten’s life. She starts off as a cheerful teenage girl eager to learn, and somehow ends up as a mysterious and dangerously powerful woman who can easily seduce man with the look in her eyes or her high pitched laugh. The transformation is dramatic to the point where even Yasaburou comments that Benten is no longer the girl he once knew. That mystery is bewitching and is painted beautifully in certain scenes: Benten desiring the moon, Benten disappearing in fall leaves and bright smoke….

Whereas the rest of our cast is actually non-human in one way or the other, Benten is actually quite human, with the exception of being able to fly.  And yet at first glance, we could say that Benten appears to be the least human out of them all; she eats tanuki with relish just like her fellow Friday Fellows, leans too far on one side of the morally relativity scale and easily manipulates and beguiles everyone around her. This is obviously proved wrong at the very last scene when Yasaburou and his brother in frog forms witness Benten silently crying at the well (a scene that reminded me of Nanami from Katanagatari), but these two episodes have shown if anything else: the humans in Uchouten‘s world may be the ones who lack supernatural abilities, but are the most mysteriously powerful and human out of the bunch.  This is clearly seen with the ridiculously long conversation between Yasaburou and the Professor regarding eating and one’s tastes in life. Yasaburou comments on how humans have it easy, being at the top of the food chain, but the Professor goes into a little philosophical discussion about how life is incredibly vast, but also brief. “I’d rather get eaten by a tanuki than die as an old wrinkly man; at least that way I’d die filling someone up rather than dying without any nourishment” he says,  and it almost reminds me of the saying, “You are what you eat.” While the Professor’s words sound nonsensical and almost chilling (the way he describes his conversation with Yasaburou’s father is almost too surreal), there’s a ring of truth in it. To take one’s responsibilities for what he or she eats and does in life is no easy thing, and yet, both the Professor – a predator – and Yasaburou’s father – the prey share this view. We’ve always been accustomed to hearing the food chain or cycle of life from a biological perspective, but Uchouten Kazoku gives us the more meaningful and human side of it; simply put, when we die, we still want to be useful.

It may be a bizarre perspective, but this conversation is what made me realize that there’s a certain beauty and depth to nearly every character of Uchouten – human or not – that makes it continue as the best show of the season. From the way it allows its characters to be more than the sum of their parts to tipping the scale of moral ambiguity to the point where villain and hero no longer exist, there’s warmth, sadness, and quiet charm to be found in every moment of Uchouten Kazoku. It’s not a show I crave for every day, but that’s particularly what I enjoy about it. Uchouten Kazoku is the perfect summer show; short, sweet, brimming with emotions, and something to be savored slowly and briefly, not continuously.

Free! Episode 6

gallifreyians: I was quite excited for this episode, I really was, but overall it was a disappointment. The high tension from the previous episode is hardly sustained for five minutes into episode six, after which the show does a strange tonal rotation from high tension and drama to a sort of horror atmosphere, over to a light-hearted spin-the-bottle moment, and then back to the standard tone and atmosphere of previous episodes of Free!.

When you have a golden opportunity to create the perfect storm of drama that is a complete break from the status quo of the characters and the atmosphere, and then you simply don’t push the envelope and seize that opportunity: it’s shit writing. That kind of missed opportunity isn’t just a missed opportunity of something that you could have done, but you (as a writer) showing you can’t even follow up on the things that you distinctly set up to do.

On top of this you have the horrible tone shifts that break up the episode. Even if we disregard the fact that this episode abandons the momentum already in place, these tone shifts themselves are signs of bad writing. The breaks between segments of the episode are so stark and so complete that I am almost tempted to say that the writing team didn’t have enough content for an entire episode and so they simply pieced together a script out of tired and old tropes related to teenagers.

What really tops off all of the suck for me is that after all of the mystery and intrigue surrounding why Makoto is afraid of the ocean, the final explanation that we get is incredibly un-compelling. The old fisherman seems less like someone that Mako cared about as a child and more of what he is: a nameless and faceless cardboard cut out that exists solely to flesh out Mako’s backstory. I characterize the explanation given by the episode as un-compelling because there is nothing in the story to make me think that a young Mako would have had enough of an emotional connection with the old man to have been effected enough to develop a petrifying fear of the ocean. There is so little information given about who the old man was to Mako that we, the audience, cannot readily identify with that relationship. We all understand the relationship a child has with an uncle or a grandfather, and so if the old man had filled one of those roles I would be more inclined to think the story plausible. But since there is no readily apparent meaningful connection between Mako and some random old dude I can’t come to identify with Mako’s relationship or with the loss that he had suffered — and since I cannot identify with it on even the most basic level, I have a hard time believing that this was a conceivable turn of events that rendered Mako unable to swim in the ocean.

The writing staff for Free! really just dropped the ball when they came up with this episode. While each of the issues I had with this show would be excusable individually, when they come together like they did all in the same episode I just can’t overlook those failures. It’s not like I was expecting some Shin Sekai Yori level of script-work, and it’s not like the writing on this show has been aces so far, but I didn’t expect to have this many issues in the same episode. I just hope that history doesn’t repeat itself and that the show’s quality can bounce back from this.

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