As works such as Tokyo Godfathers and Toradora prove, Christmas anime is not always happy and bright, even if a happy ending is in sight. The same is true for P.A Works' 2013 series The Eccentric Family, which follows a family of tanuki living in Kyoto. The Eccentric Family initially plays itself off as a quirky and fun slice-of-life anime before delving into topics such as grief and forgiveness, all centered on a Christmas Eve escapade that has left deep scars on each member of the family as they struggle to accept what they have lost.
As many of us celebrate a holiday without the ones we love, it's important to remember the good times, the fun times and all the times in between. As one character in the show relates, they have done all the important things in life they must do; therefore, the rest of their days are a blessing.
In the world of The Eccentric Family, there are three factions of creatures in Kyoto: the magical tengu, the shapeshifting tanuki and the mostly oblivious humans. The Shimogamo tanuki family had prestige and an abundance of happiness with their father Soichiro, leader of the Kyoto tanuki. However, the previous Christmas, Soichiro was captured by a group of humans known as the Friday Fellows, who enjoy a tanuki hot pot once a year on Christmas Eve. Since Soichiro's death, the tanuki community has been in an uproar and his family torn apart, all struggling to find different ways of coping with their grief. His sons are considered failures in different ways, bemoaned as "idiots who failed to inherit their magnificent father's blood."
The way grief manifests can be intimately relatable for many. The oldest son Yaichiro attempts to take his father's place, much to the annoyance of his younger brother, by attempting to monitor his siblings' behavior and acting as an enforcer. The second brother Yajiro entered an alcoholic-induced depression and now lives permanently shifted into a frog at the bottom of a well, in danger of never being able to change form again.
Yasaburo, the third son and protagonist, acts out and even walks the line of a dangerous relationship with Benten, a woman who is a member of the Friday Fellows and so took part in eating his father. In fact, Benten was the only member who knew the extent of tanuki culture and understood that eating one was consuming a creature just as intelligent as a human, which both terrifies and intrigues Yasaburo. The last son, Yashiro, cannot maintain a human form when frightened, similar to his mother, Tosen, who becomes her tanuki form during thunderstorms but otherwise will oftentimes also try to replace Soichiro by dressing as a man.
All of them are seen as floundering in the aftermath of Soichiro's death, which is fair. However, the issue between them is not that they flounder, but that they cannot understand why they don't all cope the same way. Their inability to understand why Yasaburo acts out or why Yajiro wants to be a frog in a well is the true indication of how they have fallen apart.
As the story goes on, more and more details come out about that night that explains why characters feel such guilt about their father's death, and how Yasaburo's fascination with the woman who directly caused it is no mere infatuation with a beautiful woman but an attempt at imposing order upon a trauma he has never truly allowed himself to feel. There is no way to easily accept what happened and so no way to fully forgive the others for the part they played, yet knowledge of their own guilt prevents them from moving on.
The show portrays this cycle of guilt and blame by showing the awkward relations between the family members, made all the worse as the anniversary of their father's death approaches. For the Shimogamo family, part of this day will forever be the day that their father died, even if they try to cover it up with Christmas tradition. The acceptance that those two dates intercept is vital for the family to finally take steps toward moving on.
Simply because a story takes place on Christmas does not make it a Christmas story. Themes of family, acceptance and healing take precedent over Christmas trees and presents in The Eccentric Family, but perhaps that's exactly why it works. This is a story about a family coming to understand each other and, importantly, understand that without idiosyncrasies, a family really isn't a family at all.
As much as the Shimogamo sons might be criticized for not inheriting their father's blood, their father was also the one who taught them that what's fun is good, because they should be proud they inherited a little bit of his idiot blood too. It's a quirky story for sure, with shape-shifting tanuki causing chaos and frogs in wells acting as wise sages, but the heart behind it of understanding and accepting loved ones makes The Eccentric Family a perfect last-minute watch.
The Eccentric Family can be streamed on Crunchyroll.