At the start of episode 4 of Eccentric Family 2, there is a straightforward summation of one of its morals; “the transformation… is strongly connected to the idea of freedom.” Tanuki lose their powers in captivity. In its own way this becomes a sort of freedom, a kind of mythic superiority over humans; tanuki play at changing roles even when unable to change shape to make a game of being zoo animals. The idea of zoos in an urban fantasy world is not one that I believe much media in the genre considers; fantastical creatures existing within a modern urban society must contend with modern attitudes of animals in captivity, and ultimately a talking animal is something ordinarily non-sapient granted humanlike sapience.
The returning native as a disruptive presence in a traditional society is the focus of Eccentric Family 2; it brings with it ideas of modernisation and a hermetic society being opened up to foreign influence. Tenmaya, the man who beat the devil, no longer fears demons because he has a gun. Modern technology exists within the setting; it is set in a contemporary Japan. However, Yasaburo complains the use of guns in a supernatural battle of wits is unfair; modern weaponry does not sit nicely within a romanticised – if that is the right word – mythic world. I am reminded in a way of The Wind in the Willows, which takes a not-specifically-folkloric but definitely idyllic world of talking animals and has Toad go mad for novelties such as cars, completely upsetting the pastoral idyll and serving, arguably, as a simple morality-play about the importance of humility and good sense.
It is good to see Eccentric Family back on the screen; its first series was an interesting, whimsical and yet surprisingly cutting take on mythology and family and the second series has set up an interesting dynamic to build on this basis; the second episode sets up a sense of powerlessness and a changed world that feels a more interesting take on ideas of a woeld losing its sense of wonder. Youth rebels against authority as the dandy Nidaime mocks older tengu as “frail, old [things]” spending their “last days meaninglessly” and “reliant on… pity” – and his worst insult is that the father he has rejected is “not worth killing.” Nostalgia and longing for absent things – centrally the woman Benten, so important in the previous series – has created a void.
Urban fantasy – those stories where the supernatural interacts with the mundane, modern-day takes on the intersection of myth and reality – has a tendency towards emphasising the relationships between specific humans and supernatural entities; romances between human and vampire, the role of the vampire hunter in a modern city, etcetera. To have a series which largely sidelines humans – seeing them as an annoyance and threat but not focusing on some ancient war – is thus a very interesting perspective. 2013’s animé Eccentric Family has a human central to its story – Benten, a woman who touched the life of the elderly tengu, or bird-spirit, Akadema – but its perspective is strictly a mythic one. It focuses on the rivalries not only between tanuki (raccoon-spirits) and tengu (crow-spirits) but between subfactions and families within the two species – they are presented not as allegorical or representative monocultures but as fully-fledged societies living their lives on the fringes of human society.