A Person Far and Beyond; Benten and the Power of Snapshots.

Many characters exist in the exciting world of Eccentric Family: from the greedy Ebisugawa twins, to the grumpy but fatherly Akadama-san, to the Friday Fellows group, a circle of powerful figures that challenge the hierarchy of tradition and respect. Every character shares their own shades of color while being caught in the web of family and duty, thus giving shape and form to the insulated community of modern Kyoto. At the beating heart of it all lies the infamous tanuki, Yasaburo, both the endearing hero of the show and its driving force. Much of the show is portrayed from his perspective, and considering his laid-back nature, he more often than not plays more of an active spectator in the day to day events.

2017-05-22_1851

Season one hinges upon this ‘snapshot’ like perspective; the cast of Eccentric Family is large and diverse, and characters cycle in and out just like the mythological creatures they represent. Many of the early episodes are adventures that focus on the other families. Yasaburo, with his playful nature, often ends up involved in these familial activities. As a result, he increasingly becomes our link to understanding the kinds of relationships that take place in the show as he too, pops in and out from scenario to scenario. Eccentric Family plays carefully with this power; the brief periods in which we do meet these characters, something important and nuanced is revealed. It may be as silly as a simple crush, or something more powerful as a terrible secret regarding a beloved father’s death. Contrast these emotional moments with the bizarre situations they are rooted in, and you get the heart of Eccentric Family – Yasaburo himself, wildly humorous, but also full of heart and sincere intent.

Towards the final arc, Yasaburo is slowly driven out of being a commentator as the plot focuses on his family.  As a result, many of the characters that occupied short ‘spaces’ in Yasaburo’s snapshots of society end up playing major roles in the final arc. The show ends on a positive note, having gracefully let most of these characters, whom previously occupied just ‘snapshots’ in the story,  lead their independent and fleshed out lives.

Season two begins differently. Having now formed a relationship with us, the audience, Eccentric Family switches positions. Episodic structure still follows, as we continue to get snapshots of many of the first season’s characters and their current lives. Humorous moments are mixed in with somewhat bittersweet ones. There is only one change in force, and it revolves around the most enigmatic and ambiguous character of them all.

apq061p

Benten, since season one, has defied many of Eccentric Family‘s conventions. By personality, she is reckless, elusive, and unpredictable. By familial bond, she falls into neither tanuki nor tengu factions, being a human and yet having inherited strong tengu powers from her teacher, Akadama-san. By setup, she constantly plays a distant role in many of the main events of the first season. Unlike any of the characters in Eccentric Family, Benten is a force no one reckons with; she is met with reactions of admiration and extreme fear. It is bizarre then, that the most laid back character – our hero, Yasaburo – is considered Benten’s ‘favorite’, being able to pursue a strange, terse relationship that is different than many of the already-eccentric ones in the show.

Even then, Yasaburo’s ‘snapshots’ of Benten are unusual. They are often melancholic and devoid of warm and humorous narration.  He has no control over Benten or the forces around her. She is in many ways a Tengu, known for their connection of roaming the skies and heavens. Coming and leaving as she pleases, she is bound to nothing and no one. No disguise can fool her; no trick can manipulate her. For all of Yasaburo’s quick, witty moves that make him the endearing protagonist and hero of the show, when it comes to Benten, he is rendered powerless. She will never fully be in his view; he will always be looking from behind or above. It is a melancholic relationship, tinted by the tragic revelation that Benten played an integral role in the death of Yasaburo’s father, and the fact that Benten will have to eventually eat Yasaburo as part of the Friday Fellows. Continuously bewitching him, we are left to decipher Benten through Yasaburo’s perspective and the show’s breadcrumb trail in the ending theme.

2017-05-22_19372017-05-22_19382017-05-22_1939
Season two of Eccentric Family changes into a more straightforward perspective as the scenario shifts from Benten being an outside player in many of season one’s events to being the main focus and instigator of the events in season two. From the very beginning, Benten is far more direct; her reappearance is a blunt drop from the sky as she swats away Tenmaya and comes to Yasaburo’s rescue. She asks Yasaburo if he’s missed her. Last but not least, spurned by arrogance, pride, and perhaps some familial feelings, Benten’s luck run out when she actively declares a war against Akadama’s son, Nidaime. It is this central force of conflict that drags Yasaburo and many other characters into another war as the two ‘children’ of Akadama  (ironically, bonded by a shared betrayal and need to leave the populated setting of Kyoto) battle it out in a test of power, status and belonging. From this point onward, Eccentric Family makes a shift:  our main character no longer needs to play the active photographer in capturing Benten’s fluctuating moods and mysterious personality – she takes to the spotlight with Nidaime acting as the perfect foil: equally driven, disillusioned, powerful, but seemingly lacking in impulsion and recklessness.  It is almost a surprise then, that when Benten challenges Nidaime, she loses in one of the most humiliating ways.

2017-05-22_1948

Throughout the show, Benten’s power and ability to exist around Yasaburo’s ‘snapshots’ of life have been marked by a conscious entry/leave and her flying out of the frame.

2017-05-22_1948_001

For the first time however, she is flung out against her will, not even granted the power or time to show her departure. Her presence is empty.

2017-05-22_1950

From here on out, we don’t need Yasaburo’s photographer-like perspective to understand Benten, but in this specific scene, we see it anyways. This is the unframed, unmasked Benten, caught in the spectator’s view. Yasaburo stops himself from interfering not because he doesn’t want to – it is out of sincere respect for the Benten he loves, and the Benten he fears.

Alone and quiet in the middle of a pond, we see her desperation, frustration, and powerlessness. In the clouds, Benten is powerful, frightening, alluring, and confident. But dethroned from the skies, Benten is nothing but painfully human; a girl who is forever stranded between worlds, desperate to find a place to call home. In season one, she flew far away and escapes from Yasaburo’s perspective because she could never belong in the frame. But Eccentric Family season two is different: it respectfully peels off Benten layer by layer, revealing a far more emotionally vulnerable person underneath.

2017-05-22_2000

2017-05-22_2015

One of the most interesting departures of the second season’s ending in contrast to the first one’s is the kinds of snapshots it takes of Benten. Season 1 displayed her past as yet another way of showing us Benten’s ability to avoid the camera and tangled web of family affairs. Here, in Season 2, we see her past, present, and future, which can be seen as a mark of her active role in the events of this season.

Whereas most shows would display this as an act of weakness, Yasaburo – and by extension, Eccentric Family – displays it as a tender moment of humanity. For Benten, losing is a chip in her pride. But to us, it’s a signal of love, loss, and loneliness.  For better (or for worse) Benten is no longer an enigmatic wanderer – she now firmly remains within the confines of the frame, deeply intertwined with current events.

2017-05-22_1949_001

 

Advertisements

3 responses to “A Person Far and Beyond; Benten and the Power of Snapshots.

Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s