Blood of the Wise, Blood of the Fool

We often want to go back home, but where is home now? As we live, cities change, the mighty of yesterday fall, new players rise, and unthinkable things happen. Our little worlds become increasingly unrecognizable, things just go on without a clear narrative, and one day, it’s our own time to go. That’s just life: the gradual collapse of all our certainties, referents, and dreams. Or is it?

In Masaaki Yuasa’s The Eccentric Family, the wacky and colorful contemporary Kyoto where shape-shifting tanuki, flying tengu, and ordinary humans cross paths daily, is marked by one big absence. Some years ago, Sōichirō—father of four, patriarch of the Shimogamo family, elected leader of the tanuki, and a man known to be wise, joyful, and unstoppable—died while still in his prime.

Sōichirō was a remarkable tanuki, a visionary who could see what others couldn’t and inspired unexpected hope in them, almost like a prophet. He was also a true leader, a father for the entire community, like the wise kings of legend. And suddenly, he was gone. Even after all this time, the loss still feels unreal for those he left behind. 

His eccentric sons and his no less eccentric wife continue to live in their stratified city, now fallen from their position, coping with what happened as best they can, but widely considered by the tanuki to be disgraced. None of them have been able to take up the mantle of Sōichirō Shimogamo. It’s kind of like how, after Christ, subsequent Christians have been unable to take up His mantle. Or… have they?

Under its crazy surface, Yuasa’s The Eccentric Family is such a wise show that it may even help us understand the eccentric family of God, namely the Church, including us today.

On empty seats and brother’s squabbles

Immaturity, absurdity, painful memories: for Yaichirō, Yasaburō and Yajirō Shimogamo, their twenties just suck. Even for Tōsen, the widow, and Yashirō, who was just a baby, being a Shimogamo is tough. And yet, when the tanuki have an impossible problem, who do they go to? Who honors the bond between tanuki, human, and tengu? Who keeps traditions alive, invents new things, or cultivates the tanuki ways? It’s these youths, the eccentric Shimogamos. 

But why? Unlike their cousins the Ebisugawas, with their fake Denki Bran factory, the Shimogamos are not winners by any worldly standards. They are not rich, or powerful, neither do they have an army of followers. They are flawed, and their flaws are on open display. 

The Shimogamos crumble under pressure, do strange things and get into trouble. The feeling of absence is too strong. Guilt is mixed in there, too. Yaichirō, the current head of the family, and Yasaburō, the easy-going trickster who resembles Sōichirō the most, are always arguing about his legacy, as the overly serious ways of the former clash with the free spirit of the latter. 

Something much like this, I’m sure, must have been felt in the Church when Christ, having lived for three years with the disciple community, was suddenly with them no more. We know that, even before Christ’s Ascension, there were rivalries between the Apostles, fights, misunderstandings, differences of opinion. How could this unlikely family, who had imagined itself ruling Israel, deal with the comedy and the tragedy that unfolded instead, with the feelings of orphanhood and inadequacy?

No Apostle, no Christian even, could ever fill the shoes of the Messiah, just as the Shimogamos cannot live up to Sōichirō. And yet, they were entrusted with His saving mission. And we are too.

But see, Christ’s departure wasn’t a random accident: like Sōichirō, He spoke about it specifically beforehand. The undercurrent of light, of truth, of newness we find when we walk with His family is by design. 

This is as far as I can go without entering spoiler territory, so you have been warned: spoilers for season 1, and for the Acts of the Apostles, too.

Toward the end of the first season, we come to hear Sōichirō’s last conversation, his final words. In it, the tanuki patriarch accepts his own impending death as the conclusion of a happy life, and he speaks of his four sons as the future “pillars of the Shimogamo family.” His blood is strong in his four sons, he says. But here’s the key: each of them has inherited a different gift from their father.

What are these gifts? You see, in The Eccentric Family, Sōichirō is a pretty Christlike figure. He embodied the tradition of its people while keeping a free spirit, inspiring those around him and becoming a referent inside and outside his community. He lived a life of sacrificial love. And ultimately, he consented to an act of violence and unjust treason, transforming it by that acceptance into a sign of that same love.

The patriarch of the Shimogamo had the talents and the virtues that the world of The Eccentric Family needs to escape its bleakness. He was a good leader, husband, and father who could build a family and a community with love at their center and awaken a sense of hope and wonder in its members. 

Likewise, Christ embraced His death, turning it into a loving sacrifice that gave death itself a new meaning, showed us the true meaning of the laws and customs of Israel, and created such a community encompassing Heaven and Earth. He also had what was needed to truly bring that about: the powers of the King of the Universe, those of the Word of God, and those of the true High Priest. 

Are those essential virtues lost now? No. But like the powers of Sōichirō Shimogamo, they have been divided.

Back to Sōichirō and to the world we see in the show. Perhaps not all of what the great patriarch embodied is gone after all. His imagination, wisdom, and warmth still permeate the absurd everyday life (and the more serious problems) of Tōsen, Yaichirō, Yasaburō, Yajirō, and Yashirō—and through them, their world, masterfully depicted by the magicians of P.A. Works in real-life Kyoto locations, festivals and traditions. But how so?

The show deals, mainly, with Yaichirō and Yasaburō. As is often the case with brothers, these two have a unique way of ticking each other off. But as Sōichirō thought (and as their mother, the eternal mediator, suggests), the family needs them both, each with his own gifts, inherited from Sōichirō. With these gifts, they keep doing what their father did in the midst of magical Kyoto.  

On Servant Kings

Sōichirō was a father to his sons and his community, and Yaichirō has inherited this noble ambition. Despite his flaws, he is trustworthy, loving, and fierce in defending others. He values virtue and wants to help people grow, to be a point of reference, a solid rock on which others may build. 

Yaichiro’s servant-hearted leadership echoes that of Christ, who had said to His disciples: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant…” 

A rock on which to build. A shepherd defending the flock. An opener of doors. That’s how He understood true leadership, and how He described it to St. Peter.

If Yaichirō gets to be elected Nise-Emon, head of the tanuki, he will be a bridge between the past and the present, between the various groups that exist in Kyoto and in the tanuki community. He will fight against evil. Like Jesus and unlike his uncle Sōun Ebisugawa, he will serve, confirm his brethren in the way of what is good, and help them grow.

On Strange Prophets

Sōichirō was more than a leader, though. He was a living revolution, a larger-than-life icon of tanuki joy. He understood that there’s more to our lives than what we ourselves may do, think, or be able to digest. In a world where inconceivable situations are thrown at us one after another, baseball-style, he played the game with all his heart. Tanuki called this attitude the “blood of the fool”: the ability to live with true simplicity and wisdom. 

Thus, he was able to transcend personal and social limits, to inspire true hope in those around him. His son Yasaburō gets that. He hasn’t inherited Yaichirō’s gift for leadership, but his gift is just as important. He, too, has the “blood of the fool.”

You see, our thoughts and concepts and plans, even the best of them, are not absolute. Ideas and referents may change, crumble, rise, and fall. But the world is still beautiful, still wise, and keeps offering a way forward and opportunities to live, fight, and love. Losing “our” Nise-Emon election or failing in “our” project is not all there is. You hear, Yaichirō?

Simplicity, freedom, openness to the new, adaptability, the interior attitude of a child and a certain ”wise foolishness” are needed to really live. But why believe that there’s a reason for hope in an uncertain world? Why believe that there’s rhyme and reason to the events that unfold, tragic or comical, big or small?

Many people just experience that it is so, and go along, as Yasaburō and his father before him. Embodying this humble wisdom and openness is Yasaburō’s own mission, which runs parallel to that of his elder brother. For us Christians, the reason for this depth and wisdom of existence, surpassing even that of our plans, is God.

How so? Sōichirō’s hopeful love stayed with his children, even when they couldn’t see him anymore, and so does God’s love. It is His providence that sends us the meaningful lessons and opportunities we may find amidst the daily events of our lives. His truth frees us from powerful lies and gives us courage. We’re living a story, and the Spirit speaks to us, again and again, as we learn to hear His voice. But to hear, we need to listen.

But how exactly do we do this? The phrase “Blood of the Fool” reminds me of Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, a story about prophets. Say what? Prophets. People that, as unfit as they may be, somehow know things they can’t know, and do what Yasaburo does: they show others aspects of their lives and their battles that God can see, but they just cannot. (The beard is optional.)

Why them? That is beyond us. God may choose the small to teach the great, and the fool to teach the wise. To those obsessed with their own plans, even when those plans are good, prophets are indeed the living incarnation of foolishness, saying things they themselves do not grasp, and suggesting projects that seem crazy.

You know how these things go. “You saw what in a dream?” “Why in the world are you wearing camel’s hair?” “Building an Ark? But there’s not a drop of rain!”

But as in the show, when our plans crumble, it is then that we often can suddenly see. Hope lies, precisely, in what seemed unexpected, bothersome, strange. Because something unexpected may break in with all its strength, returning the dead to life or breaking the hold of the hunter. God Himself may be on the march. Riding, perhaps, an Eizan Electric Railway train. 

So how do we hear? By being open to the possibility that God is talking to us through people, through signs, through events, and even in ways we would not expect. And when we discern that it is so, by having the crazy courage of going with the flow.

On the most eccentric family

St. Peter, “the rock,” is the steward of Christ, not his heir. He nevertheless received the fullness of kingship with the “keys of the Kingdom,” a Kingdom which will never be defeated by the “Gates of Hell.” He leads it forward, not to compete with the tengu and the elite Friday Fellows of this world, but to honor them and protect the Christian flock.

But, much as the rank of Nise-Emon, Peter’s was not the kind of authority that protects you from being eaten. So, after Christ was gone, how could His plan of salvation be carried on by his immature, flawed, eccentric family, lost in a stratified and unforgiving world? Well, His blood, spilled for us, is also strong in us, as Soichiro’s is in his sons.

Why did Christ have to go? He explained it like this: to prepare a new way for God to be present in everyone. He left so that God’s Holy Spirit might come and abide with us. “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. … In a little while you will see Me no more, and then after a little while you will see Me.”

And, as a revolution of joy, newness, and strangeness, the Holy Spirit descended over the Church in Pentecost.

“The Spirit,” Jesus had said, “is like the wind that blows wherever it wants to. You can hear the wind, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going.” The mission was and is fulfilled by people that go with the wind, being carried away beyond what they can see. Somewhat like how Yasaburō goes with the flow.

During the earthly life of Christ, the disciples followed Him, receiving teachings, and experiencing miracles. Unheard wonders, visions and lights, both isolated and habitual, were and are given to various individuals for the good of the whole, and all this keeps happening, even in our days. Prophetic events have taken place and continue to do so.

St. Peter received a vision commanding him to declare all types of food pure, and Agabus and his daughters in the New Testament would prophesy habitually. In the Catholic tradition, you can see the prophetic element in St. Francis of Assisi, St. Joan of Arc (not the Drifters version), St. Therése of Lisieux, or the Fatima children, and in our beliefs about the prophetic power of Councils and Popes.

“Christian foolishness”, as St. Paul puts it, certainly has something that human wisdom cannot fully grasp. But it has the power to transform lives, institutions and entire societies. Because, though the “fools” moved by the Spirit are the instruments, the one acting in a miraculous revelation, healing or event is He who has the real power: Christ.

How do prophecy and kingship fit together? With difficulty, just as with the Shimogamos. Both things are needed, yet they often clash. But without either unity or dynamism—the faithful, constant, and hard work of the flawed heads of the family and all who built upon them, or the unpredictable initiatives of God, carried by the younger brethren—everyone suffers.

Every Christian who has authority, especially in the Church itself, is a Yaichirō who will need to work with an open heart in a wild new world. Every Christian who receives a gift, something brimming with such newness that it clashes with everyone, is a Yasaburō who will need humility, loyalty, and often obedience in serving all of his eccentric family.

And yet, the core element, the endgame, is not faith or hope, but love, which faith and hope make possible. Love is the endgame. The Church, Christ’s true family, has also a loving mother like Tōsen in St. Mary, who may often mediate between various eccentric sons and daughters, bringing the unseen One and the primacy of His love to mind.

With that at the center, the rest will fall into place. In love, in the loving sacrifice of the New Covenant, Jesus of Nazareth goes beyond what Sōichirō could do. He dines with us, He talks to us, and He lives. And thus, He fulfills His promise to be with us, and exercises His kingship, His priesthood and His prophetic power for the salvation of everyone and through His family, until the end of time.

The Church is, thus, a constant, crazy paradox—but in its frailty, it carries inside something that even the proudest among the Tengu and the humans of our world sorely need: the hopeful love of the Father for every human being, fulfilled in the sacrifice of the Son, and brought to us in wondrous ways by the Spirit, helping us love life and even each other. 

We often want to go back home, but where is home now? Perhaps where Christ and His eccentric family still are. As we live, everything changes. Every day, in every age, the Church meets flawed worldly authorities, brothers at the margin, wolves in sheep’s cloth, people who want in, and persecutors that might yet turn into friends—and yet, the family remains, with her Tōsen, her Yaichirōs and her Yasaburōs bantering and walking.

Living as part of it may make us a little odd. It may be messy, ugly, mismatched, strange. But it is hopeful, too. Because, in all that, Christ is with us—in our kingship, in our prophets, in our love. And thus, the way forward is the true way home.

The Eccentric Family can be streamed at Funimation, Tubi and VRV.

2 thoughts on “Blood of the Wise, Blood of the Fool

  1. I recently read a post by Irina on Drunken Anime that had a very similar theme to your post. She was reviewing Gurren Lagann and she also wrote about of a highly charismatic character and the story of how the other characters struggled to fill the void after that character passed away. I think these stories touch the emotions of people because almost everyone can think of someone, maybe a historical figure or maybe a family member, that could just naturally draw people towards them as if they had a gravity all their own. Singular people that are like a keystone that holds a whole group together, and when that person is gone the group struggles and has to work together to stay whole.

    1. I still have not watched Gurren Lagann, but I have heard great things about it. I agree with you, and I love this kind of stories: being able to uphold a good legacy with others and have a positive influence, while doing things your own way, is a very hopeful, true to life concept.

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