The Eccentric Family (Uchouten Kazoku) is an anime series of many strengths. Utilizing Japanese mythology to tell a humble yet sprawling tale of family and community, its characters all stand out in different and interesting ways. Of the cast, arguably the most compelling is Benten, a human woman with the powers of a tengu, a divine creature with control of the wind. The original series establishes her as beautiful, powerful, and able to string characters along with the greatest of ease; in a way, she’s a little too perfect, which is why I’m especially impressed that the sequel, The Eccentric Family 2, devotes itself to showing an heretofore unknown side of Benten: when things don’t go her way.
Benten’s teacher is Akadama, an old tengu with injured wings who is incredibly smitten with Benten—something she uses to her full advantage. The Eccentric Family 2 introduces a character called Nidaime (“The Second”), the estranged son of Akadama. As the fallen successor, Nidaime is an incredibly powerful tengu in his own right, and proves it by actually besting Benten in combat. It’s clear how this impacts Benten, who up to this point has been unchallenged. To make a comparison to Dragon Ball Z, Benten is like Freeza: someone who could fight more or less unopposed and thus when it came time to push herself was unaccustomed to doing so. Upon her first defeat, we see Benten training. Even going so far as to visit Hell and wrestle oni.
When Benten and Nidaime finally have their rematch, they’re far more evenly matched, but another of Benten’s strengths, her beauty, is ultimately her downfall. During the fight, Nidaime sets Benten’s hair on fire, and for the very first time in all of The Eccentric Family, she is emotionally compromised. Her scream of horror as she realizes what’s happened to her is so unexpected that, at first, it seems like she’s just playing both the audience and the characters, like she always does. Then, as she falls into the water, it becomes clear that this is no act.
Moreover, Nidaime’s attack highlights another aspect of Benten’s character: how aware she is of her own attractiveness, and the extent to which she actively cultivates it. She clearly knows that her hair, as part of her overall appearance but also as a symbol of erotic feminine beauty, contributes to her aura. It’s what allows her to manipulate everyone, from lowly tanuki to humans to tengu. Losing her hair is akin to losing a significant part of her power and influence.
Benten, in this Ivan Drago-esque position of becoming self-aware of her own mortality, becomes similarly sympathetic to the Soviet boxing champion. She was already a fascinating character, but now you can see the subtle cracks in her armor. Benten doesn’t seem like the type to change significantly or to turn a new leaf, but she goes from being the pinnacle of perfection to someone who perseveres in trying to maintain that infallibility.