Summer Split One — #5: Forging Bonds

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Tragedy strikes some new highs in this week’s first half of Summer Split!

Uchouten Kazoku Episodes 7-9

illegenes: Summer Season has had its highs and lows, but for me, Uchouten Kazoku has been the consistent highs. This includes possibly the best episode of the season for me – Episodes 7-8, which were absolutely remarkable.

Loss in anime is not an uncommon subject. It’s been constantly used here and there as a lever for character development and interaction, and in this respect, Uchouten‘s reflection of how loss can tear people apart as well as bring them together is not unusual. What is unusual however, is the way it’s done. I’ve said before that there’s a magic in every scene of Uchouten to the point that it’s hard to put into words. That same magic is used in these two episodes as things take a turn for the more serious and introspective when it turns out that Yajiro is partly responsible for for the father’s death.

It’s clear from Episode 1 that the Shimogamo family is a very unusual one –  they have quirks here and there and have no regards for both human and tanuki rules. But I think what we can take away here the most is that these characters are more than the sum of their parts. As Yasaburou says himself, “When saying goodbye to this world, our father split his blood into four: the eldest inherited only his responsibility, the second eldest inherited only his easygoing personality, the little brother only inherited his innocence, and I only inherited his idiocy.” With each son being a representative of a certain attribute of the father, what we have here is a somewhat dysfunctional father. Like an incomplete puzzle, the Shimogamo family was ‘broken’ in the sense that it never had something to really unite them.  Each character was unconventional in the way that they never followed traditional tanuki rules and maintained some distance from one another. It is ironic then, that the most devastating event that separated these pieces is the final puzzle piece that unites them and makes them cohesive again. But perhaps the most emotional surprise is how close this family actually is. I am of course, talking about the way Yaichiro handles the deception but also how the mother knew all along about Yaijiro’s secret and yet kept it from the rest of the family out of love and care (just like how she keeps the secret of So being unable to transform in front of Benten, but more on that in a bit).

Yaijiro’s guilt was one of the most powerful moments of the series; from the way he just let himself float in the stream to the very likely possibility that he purposely transformed into a frog for a long period of time to get away from the world was just heartbreaking.

Despite the differences maintained, these brothers know each other the best and share each other’s pain. That in a sense, I think, is what it truly means to be a family – not just forgiving but empathizing and understanding and loving the other to the very end.

There’s also the touch of surrealism that is still incredibly human enough not to alienate the audience from the emotions flowing through each scene, but rather to unite them.  We may not necessarily understand the cultural meaning of the Eizan Electric Railway or the relevance of these anthropomorphic transformations, but there is a raw presentation of love and filial bonds that is expressed through quiet dialogue and action. From the way So laughs while he boards the train to the tiny shake of hands between him and Akadama who wishes him farewell at the gates of heaven – these are tangible, culpable bonds rooted in realism that still reach out to us and make us understand quite easily how nuanced and real these characters are, and the relationships they share with one another. There is grace, delicacy, and care in the way these scenes are handled. It is this sort of finesse that shows like AnoHana could only wish it had, and it’s this kind of writing that only spurs my desire to check out more of Tomihiko Morimi’s works (The Tatami Galaxy is on my list, but Uchouten Kazoku has definitely moved it up further in terms of priorities).

Episode 9 is where we return to the usual nostalgic but lighthearted moments of the story. As Yaichiro runs head to head with the Ebisugawas, we finally meet one of the most mysterious characters of the show. No, it’s not Benten –  it’s actually the cute and charming face of Kaisei finally appears as we learn a little more about her perspective and life. Granted, Episode 9, which I thought would solely be about Kaisei was not all about her, but I did enjoy it nevertheless as it was more about the way she interacts with others, specifically Yasaburou as they have their wonderful conversation. This is because of the fact that it’s become increasingly clear that while “Eccentric Family” refers to the Shimogamo family, it’s really about the ‘family unit’ of the city – from the Tengus, to the Tanukis, to the Friday Fellows. In that sense then, it’s only logical that Kaisei is one of the more interesting links as she ties into the very toxic relationship between the Ebisugawas and the Shimogamos, but also because she’s at the center of a love triangle (or angle, really). Kaisei obviously harbors feelings for our main protagonist, but it’s also been said that Yaijiro deeply loved Kaisei. I personally really enjoyed Kaisei’s performance in this episode as it’s clear she harbors affection for the Shimogamo family, but she also has enough honor to defend her brothers, despite how ridiculous and low they can be at times.

Uchouten‘s power, first and foremost however, is the balance between what it chooses to tell and what lies in secret, and that’s clearly shown with how the show chooses to conceal Kaisei’s appearance until the bathtub scene. Why the show would keep Kaisei’s face a secret is a question I’d like to know the answer to myself, but I do think that it was an interesting way of building up curiosity but also the importance of Kaisei in the show. Which leads to the last example of how Uchouten does such a good job of leaving scenes to be interpreted by the audience: the final part of Episode 9 when Kaisei only murmurs “I’m sorry” before vanishing out of sight. Whether this is an ominous forewarning of the Ebisugawas’ future mischiefs for the election, or whether it has to do with the Friday Fellows’ plan of obtaining a tanuki for their hot pot, or whether it’s just a sincere apology because Kaisei understands that Yasaburou is in love with Benten – a love that he can never share for Kaisei – is unknown, but there is something tragic and foreboding about it at the same time.  It only makes me wonder if there’s more to Kaisei than meets the eye; nearly everyone else has had this kind of structure to their development, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she plays a bigger part later on in the story.

There are three episodes for Uchouten to close on in, but I’ll be patient for my conclusions; Uchouten has yet to fail me with them, as it understands best – the good answers, just like with everything in life, only come with time.

(Natasha’s Note: Due to the length of this post, Watamote will be covered this week in the second half of Summer Split, sorry!)

Free! Episodes 8-9

gallifreyians: It seems like everything connected to the race between Rin and Haru is hilarious. The moment where Haru is standing in the shower looking down at the tiled floor going “DOUSHITE????” was so melodramatic that it became comedic, which had an impact on the mood of the rest of the episode; the entire thing was less a drama and more a farce.

KyoAni’s writing teams seems to have gotten better at the their job however in the span of a single episode. While one of my major complaints about the previous episode was that the race was dull, the medley relay in episode eight was a joy. There was a sense of anticipation and action in the events that unfolded on the screen that kept me rooted in my seat and my eyes glued to the screen, excitedly waiting for what was to happen next.

I especially have the praise the narration given by Rin during the medley, as it had everything that Makoto’s lacked in the previous episode. Rin was able to help enhance the action of the event and give us a certain insight into the mechanics of what was happening on the screen. In addition — and still unlike Mako — it felt as though Rin was an actual person watching what was going on, as he had actual feelings and thoughts about what was going on; in the narration, Rin’s personality and background was brought to the table. In fact, considering the differences in quality between the two races, and the differences between their outcomes, I am almost tempted to say that making the first race was made boring on purpose to illustrate the differences between swimming by oneself and swimming with others. This is mere speculation on my part (and I don’t particularly think that the people at KyoAni have the skill to think about something like this and pull it off).

The show also seems to be growing less ambivalent about Rin, which I think bodes well for construction of future plot lines. Makoto’s confrontation with Rin seemed to me to be a huge wake-up call for him about the nature of swimming and Rin’s own personal reasons that he loved to swim; the episode then follows this up extraordinarily well with the thematic and emotional ramifications of the medley on Rin. The show almost screams at Rin “This is why you used to swim, this is why you loved swimming, this is what you’ve lost, this is what you chose to leave behind”, and Rin’s reaction is to be emotionally distraught, as we see a bit in episode eight and episode nine. Perhaps we are finally moving to have Rin’s feelings articulated in a textual manner and have him actually take a full step forward into the action of the show, and I sincerely hope we are.

But this wouldn’t be a proper review without me criticizing a major aspect of the show, now would it! Twice now the show has organized the plotline such that an episode ends at the height of the action, which the next episode finishes off before moving to a completely new topic. Instead of having, say, ONE episode about the first day of the tournament, we have two episode of which half are devoted to the events of the tournament. The same goes for the day of the medley, it spans two episodes, but both of those episodes are only in part about those events. It seems to me that Free! is taking an episode of material and making it straddle the break between each episode. This is an incredibly ineffective way at writing that creates increasingly fragmented stories with trite cliffhangers that accomplish nothing due to how commonplace they are. Episode nine seems to have ended itself conclusively, and I get the impression that episode ten will be able to start with a clean slate, so I think things are really looking up for Free!.

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