I was hoping my last anime review of the year would have a distinctly Japanese feel, so I was very pleased when I got my hands on The Eccentric Family from MVM Entertainment. This is a quirky little series set in a modern-day Kyoto populated by tanuki (Japanese raccoon dogs), tengu (demons) and humans.
The Eccentric Family focuses on the tanuki Shimogamo family, whose famed leader met an untimely end at the hands of the Friday Fellows, a group of humans whose year-end bash involves making a tanuki hotpot. Yasaburo, the third Shimogamo son, wishes not for revenge but a carefree life. Along with his glamorous mother posing as a Takarazuka-type ‘prince’, an older brother struggling to succeed his father as leader of the tanuki, another brother living out his days as a frog in a well, and two foolish twin cousins, you have the makings of a very eccentric family…
Before we delve deeper in the plot, I think it’s necessary to briefly explain what on earth tanuki are. These fox-like creatures often appear in Japanese folklore as mischievous shapeshifters with supernatural powers, and were indeed hunted for their meat and fur in the past (although tanuki hot pot doesn’t seem to really be a thing). You’ll see plenty of tanuki statues dotted around Japan – with the trademark goofy grin and a straw hat, said to protect against trouble and bad weather. The tanuki family in The Eccentric Family also shapeshift, appearing largely in human form in the series, and Yasaburo has a lot of fun taunting his eldest brother by transforming into a schoolgirl.
Rather than being a story of revenge, The Eccentric Family is a charming portrayal of tanuki, tengu and humans living alongside each other – not always in perfect harmony. The Shimogamo family’s revered teacher is Akadama, a grumpy elderly tengu with a penchant for whipping up a storm, who has a border-line creepy softspot for his ex-student Benten, a human with tengu-like powers who has defected to the Friday Fellows… the same Friday Fellows who ate Yasaburo’s dad. You would think this would give the tanuki enough of a reason to despise all humans but they are in fact suspicious yet tolerant of them. Yasaburo certainly questions the bizarreness of this on several occasions but accepts that being a tanuki means there’s always a risk you’ll be a human’s dinner.
The series starts out as fairly silly and purely entertaining, but the real plot develops after the first few episodes. How did Yasaburo’s father really end up in a hot pot? What is Benten’s agenda? Why is his brother hiding away in a well as a frog? Everything culminates into a hilarious and tear-jerking finale, complete with lots of fluffy tanuki!
For me, the moral of the story in The Eccentric Family is that it is certainly possible to live alongside all kinds of people, not just those who share your beliefs or look like you. That’s quite a nice message in time for Christmas, right? This is a funny and charming series, and very worthy of an 8/10!