This is one of the series that I have been most anticipating for the Fall season, and, truth be told, if I were not blogging Show by Rock!! 2 I would probably have chosen this series. There are so many things about it that are as if deliberately suited to my taste, including animation style, story elements, setting the story takes place in, and so on. In my Fall 2016 Preview one of the things I thought characterized the season was the focus on was “shinto based themes” … by this I meant in part things like old Japanese folklore and “mythological creatures”. Natsume Yuujinchou Go is a good example of this, but this one is too, with one of the main characters being a child tanuki.

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The story itself seems straightforward at first: a thirty year old man who has left the home town he grew up in to go to “the big city” (aka Tokyo) and made his living as a web designer returns home after his father dies to help put the house and its belongings in order. As so often happens with the death of a close one or a family member, one of the natural catalysts it brings about in the mind and heart of those close to them is the mode of “remembrance” in some way, shape or form. And not only just remembering things, but very often assessment and evaluation on some (or many) level. This is almost biologically hardwired into us, and the main character, whose name is Tawara Souta, is not an exception to this. His return home has him remembering and mulling over his parents (his mother died when he was still a young child), his time growing up in the sleepy, backwater town, and most importantly and yet also extremely naturally – the person and legacy of his father.

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It’s never really spelled out what the name of the town is in the first episode (at least, not that I caught), but the prefecture is clearly named: it is Kagawa. Kagawa has the distinction not only of being the smallest of the prefectures in Japan, but it is located right next to the incredibly lovely Seto Inland Sea (fans of Tamayura and Kamichu take note!) and is well known for it’s Udon. In fact, Souta’s father was an Udon chef, and ran a restaurant in the front portion of their house, it seems – watchers of last season’s Sweetness and Lightning are familiar with this common layout. We can almost feel the slow percolation of memories, impressions and things he has forgotten (or ignored?) coming to the surface throughout the episode, all presented to the viewers through the visual prism of the lovely, soft, almost watercolorish color palette of the art and animation – this series is indeed visually quite lovely!

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So far so good, but it is when he visits the now empty home of his family that the story kicks into gear. He discovers in one of the “old school” storage container pots a sleeping child, who slowly befriends the … well … one might almost say “quietly empty” Souta for much of the episode, a child who to his great surprise he finds out is actually a shapeshifting tanuki straight out of the old folklore tales. The child, named “Poko” (with a tiny nod to the Ghibli movie, perhaps), begins to slowly worm it’s way into Souta’s affections before unexpectedly (for Souta) transforming into its racoon’ish form. It very much looks as if Souta’s natural process of re-evaluation is going to be “seasoned” with the impulse to “give out” in an unselfish way to little Poko as if he were a parent (and it is quite true that the impulse of the parents to support, protect and care for their children can be a wonderful method of maturation). The two elements of the death of Souta’s father and the unexpected presence of Poko may indeed serve to bring Souta “out of himself” and drive the core of the series as it is laid before us….

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There will likely be other elements as well … I am sure that parts of Souta will resist changing – it is a curious thing that even if we are unhappy (assuming we realize the fact) part of us would rather remain “safe” than “change”. I also would not be surprised if the locals would not also work some sort of change in Souta’s life as well. The impression I got from the first episode was not that he was a nasty or ill disposed or even necessarily a “selfish” person, per se – but rather he seems more of a “small” person who gave way to very human weaknesses and fears and inexperience, not being able to fully appreciate what he had been exposed to while growing up … something that is all-too-human and which almost all people are “guilty” of to one degree or another. I am totally and thoroughly looking forward to seeing Souta’s slow process of growth and change, and if it is able to be presented with the same power and beauty and … gentle touch … of the first episode the series looks to have the potential to be one of the best of the year.

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Currently the “oji-san” of the staff members age wise (in his mid 40’s) yet the most recent addition, he is also a Japanophile from his teen years while not quite an “otaku” who lives in the United States. Came to actively following anime late in life (in 2008), but in general loves the traditional arts, history and culture of Japan as a whole, both ancient and modern.

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