It’s easy to imagine the majestic temples, gardens and palaces of Kyoto as home to folkloric figures of beauty, mischief and chaos. Being the animated translation of Tomihiko Morimi’s 2007 novel, The Eccentric Family offers just that. It’s a city divided into a hierarchy of Tengu, humans and Tanuki and, roughly speaking, in that order. Humans still steadfastly top the food chain, and one group, known as The Friday Club, round off every year with a Tanuki hot pot. As their dad was once the unfortunate main course, the Shimogamo family know more than most their lot in life.
To mask their racoon-like natural states, Tanuki are able to transform into humans. For most, that’s about where the ability ends. Third son Yasaburō Shimogamo, however, who trained under grumpy tengu Akadama-sensei, can switch from one form to any other with ease and abandon. We’re first introduced to him in schoolgirl form, demonstrating his devil-may-care run amok attitude, and enjoying the chaos of the everyday and ordinary. Whether that’s irking his old master, imitating humans or side-stepping the half-human Benten, he’s usually at the root of some misfortune.
As it evolves, the series opens up a dark and festering secret embedded in Tanuki society. Even in amongst the darker shades of its story, The Eccentric Family is filled with optimism, boosted by the celebratory opening song and the luscious animation. It’s a granular patchwork of dazzling colour in motion, like a twinkling sea or clouded sky. There’s a kind of refreshing simplicity to the impish look of the characters - block coloured and beautifully basic – all dotted nostrils and sticky-out ears.
It’s not that the characters are unusual, it’s that they ring true to real life: their interaction, yearnings, hurts and ambitions. The weirdness is saved for elsewhere, and there’s plenty of it. Take the bamboozling soundtrack, part jazz and part . . . well, eccentric. The breath-taking sequences and vistas see director Masayuki Yoshihara at his absolute best, from Benten waxing lyrical to the moon, or swimming naked with a whale, to the floating tea houses like something conjured by Hayao Miyazaki.
Because of the literary origins, individual episodes can be less eventful than others, following as it does the structure of a novel in the way the story unfolds. But the complexity of the drama, superior voice acting and thoughtful story ensure The Eccentric Family covers life, death and everything in between without shirking its sense of wonder and mischief.
Special Features: Clean opening and closing / TV spots / Trailers
THE ECCENTRIC FAMILY: COMPLETE COLLECTION / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: MASAYUKI YOSHIHARA / SCREENPLAY: SHOTARO SUGA / STARRING: TAKAHIRO SAKURAI, JUNICHI SUWABE, HIROYUKI YOSHINO, MAI NAKAHARA, KIKUKO INOUE / RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 23RD