Hey everybody, and welcome back to Why It Works. This spring season offers a variety of fresh new shows, as I briefly explored last week. But for me personally, the event of the season is the sequel to a quirky, lesser-known show from back in 2013. This season I’m ecstatic to welcome back The Eccentric Family, and I’m eager to share my love of this show with all of you.
Unfortunately, The Eccentric Family’s first season is no longer available streaming, making it a little tricky to dive into the new series. But the show’s first season told such a self-contained story that I don’t think it’d be such a terrible idea to jump in with this new one. Of course, there are still things you should know about The Eccentric Family before taking the plunge, and so bridging that gap is my goal for today. Let’s get everybody up to speed on one of the most charming, beautiful, and imaginative series of the last few years!
The Eccentric Family takes place in the midst of Kyoto, a city that itself often feels like one of the show’s main characters. Speckled with regal bridges and unexpected alleys and looming shrines, the city is a source of constant wonder to our hero Yasaburo. Yasaburo is a tanuki - a shape-shifting raccoon dog, one who enjoys mingling with humans and even tengu, the self-serious creatures who rule Kyoto’s skies. Yasaburo is also the second son of Soichiro Shimogamo, a great man who once presided over all of Kyoto’s tanukis as the Trick Magister, and whose unexpected death set all the drama of the first season into motion.
Family is central to The Eccentric Family, and Yasaburo’s family is its fuzzy and cold-nosed heart. Along with his ever compassionate mother, Yasaburo has three brothers: the constantly high-strung eldest son Yaichiro, the bedraggled Yajiro, who spends most of his time transformed into a frog in a well, and the youngest Yashiro, who hasn’t quite got the knack of hiding his tail yet. All of these brothers are lovable dorks in their own way, and though Yasaburo would never admit it, he’s probably the one who’s most likely to carry on his father’s legacy. After all, not every tanuki gets trained by an actual tengu.
Yasaburo’s dealings with the tengu and humans of Kyoto are a constant struggle to him, them, and everyone else. His teacher Akadama is a cranky tengu who’s lost the ability to fly, meaning he really doesn’t qualify as much of a tengu at all. His crush Benten is a human with tengu powers who actually collaborated in the killing and eating of his own father, so clearly there’s a lot of baggage there. And his relationship with the Friday Club, who make a seasonal habit of eating tanuki as a delicacy, could not possibly be more strained. There’s a whole lot of strings attached to Kyoto politics these days, whether you’re rummaging with the tanukis or soaring with the tengu.
All of that forms the general background for The Eccentric Family’s overall world, but the actual show’s day-to-day events are noteworthy in their own way. Yasaburo respects his family, but values his freedom, and much of The Eccentric Family’s story involves him doing his best to simply enjoy Kyoto without getting overworked, eaten, or anything worse. The first season ran through a dramatic saga regarding the election of a new Trick Magister, but more often than not, the events of a given episode were something like “Yasaburo gets roped into running errands and chats with the girl he likes before she flies off to pull on a whale’s tail,” or “the whole Shimogamo family enjoy a fireworks festival from a flying teahouse, before getting caught in an airborne battle with their jerk in-laws.” The show adopts a whimsical tone that makes it feel almost like a Ghibli movie aimed at adults - the destination is important, but the journey is the prize.
So far, the show’s second season seems to be keeping a solid grip on everything that made the original special. The return of Akadama’s son Nidaime is bringing fresh trouble to Kyoto, and Yasaburo messing with the Friday Club last season seems to have brought him to the attention of the trickster Tenmaya. But dramatic turns aside, it’s wonderful to return to The Eccentric Family’s lovable cast and rapturous perspective on Kyoto itself. The Eccentric Family perfectly captures the exhilaration of young and reckless adulthood, offering consistently alluring snippets of Yasaburo’s hectic daily life. The show is a twenty minute escape to a world of warmth and wonder, and I hope you give its charms a chance.