Zoku Natsume Yuujin-Chou – 01
While his classmates are playing soccer nearby, Natsume Takashi is propped up on a wall reading a book – or at least he was, until he gets slammed in the face with the ball and falls over the edge. His narration reveals that he can see youkai, while most other people can’t. When he sits up after the pretty steep fall, he reaches over to fetch the soccer ball for his friends but finds a youkai waiting for him as well. It wants the yuujin-chou he’s carrying, so Natsume runs away (and in the process, breaks a rope meant to confine a spirit, exactly like what happened in the first episode of the first season). The evil youkai catches up to Natsume and attempts to choke the life out of him when suddenly a cat crawls out of Natsume’s school bag. Instead of helping, Nyanko-sensei entertains himself with a nearby floating butterfly, so Natsume unleashes his incredibly strong punch on both the youkai and Nyanko-sensei – a knock-out punch built up from years of defending himself against such spirits). Nyanko and Natsume each say some pretty harsh words to each other before leaving, but it seems nothing about this whole event was out of the ordinary – concerning not only Natsume’s daily life, but also the usual banter with Nyanko.
Natsume walks home that evening and arrives in time for dinner only to find Nyankichi-kun hasn’t come home yet. He eats with his family (note: Not his real mother and father. He’s been passed around to various guardians after his parents’ deaths quite frequently before finally settling in here), and narrates that he keeps his ability to see spirits a secret from these (and most) people in order to save them from the burden, and also because of his many negative past experiences in revealing the truth to adults.
In his bedroom after dinner, Natsume notices a cat’s face in the window, and opens it to let Nyanko-sensei in. He cracks up laughing when he notices that for some reason Nyanko is pitch black instead of his usual sparkly white, but punches the cat in the head when he becomes aware of the black footprints spreading around the room. He gives Nyanko a bath to clean him up, but the cat doesn’t say a single word the entire time, which is quite out of his nature (yet seems to enjoy the bath quite a lot). After the hot bath, Nyanko is still pitch black even though he’s steamy and clean, and because of the continuing silence Natsume begins to wonder if he’s still upset about what happened earlier. Moments later, a very loud and drunk *white* Nyanko-sensei opens the window, shocked to find a black version of himself in Natsume’s room.
The real Nyanko-sensei tells Natsume that the black cat is definitely an ayakashi, and gets pretty offended at Natsume’s previous inability to tell the difference between them. To date, he’s never seen another fortune-cat walking around, so it’s somewhat understandable. Natsume wonders what black Nyanko’s goal is, prompting Nyanko-sensei to ask if the yuujin-chou is safe. Natsume pulls it out of his bag to prove that it’s perfectly safe, only to find that seconds later it’s been snatched from his hand and is flying out the window in the mouth of the black fortune cat. The stunned moment of shock is palpable, and the two of them race out of the house as quickly as they can to follow the quiet thief.
Because of the pitch darkness of the night, they’re unable to search for the black cat properly. Even though Nyanko didn’t sense any evil intentions in the thief, Natsume panics about losing the yuujin-chou so Nyanko head-butts him in order to calm him down. Natsume notices a trail of lights flowing down the mountainside nearby, where many youkai are walking together. One of the youkai notices Natsume’s human smell, so Nyanko-sensei transforms into his ‘true’ form, (which is much larger and powerful looking) in order to cover up Natsume’s smell with his own so they can hide unnoticed by the passers-by (and also just to introduce this pretty cool Nyanko-feature to first-time viewers). Suddenly, an old acquaintance of Nyanko-sensei’s transforms from a passing butterfly into a beautiful woman and greets him kindly, addressing him as ‘Madara,’ which is his real name. She thinks she’s interrupting his meal (Natsume), but screams out in shock when she mistakenly realizes the “meal” is the infamous Natsume Reiko.
They explain to her that Natsume Reiko is actually Natsume’s grandmother (and he is often mistaken for her since their faces are similar and youkai have trouble distinguishing between humans much anyway). Natsume is quite used to being mistaken for his grandmother by now, despite his claims that he’s obviously a boy. Nyanko asks Benio (the female youkai) if she’s seen a charmingly handsome black cat anywhere nearby, and she says that she saw a piggy-looking black cat following the crowd they saw a few minutes ago. Natsume immediately asks her to introduce them to the group of youkai in order to track the cat down, even though it’s dangerous and they’ll most definitely turn him into dinner if they find out he’s a human boy. After she agrees to take him along to the party, Nyanko transforms back into his pudgy fortune cat form, which shocks Benio more than a little. Nyanko-sensei doesn’t mind, and seems to be looking forward to drinking at the party more than anything else. The black Nyanko watches them walk towards the gathering from the shadows of nearby bushes.
Benio tells Nyanko that he shouldn’t go in his usual form, since it’s well known that the human who carries the yuujin-chou is always accompanied by such a spirit, so Nyanko transforms into the shape of a high school girl (the form he used a few times last season, which looks remarkably like Natsume Reiko if you ask me). As Benio ties a youkai mask onto Natsume, he reminisces about receiving the yuujin-chou as an inheritance from Reiko, handed over to him by his uncaring guardians who suggested he should just throw it away.
The three of them join the party and share a drink with their ‘fellow’ youkai, and learn that the Lord of the forest has been sealed away. The youkai gathered in order to attack the home of the humans who sealed him up, which causes Natsume to start feeling uneasy. Nyanko reminds him that his goal is to get back the yuujin-chou, and not to interfere in whatever these youkai are doing. There are also far too many of them for Nyanko to fight if he needed to protect Natsume from an attack. Still, Natsume feels a sense of duty on his shoulders to accomplish whatever he can, since only he can hear the voices of both youkai and humans.
Out of the corner of his eye, Natsume notices the black Nyanko lurking nearby and chases him down successfully. He wonders if the cat took the yuujin-chou on purpose to lead them here for some reason. Nyanko asks Benio to use her power to gather information on what kind of youkai is inside the quiet black cat, and she realizes in horror that it’s none other than the Lord of the forest. Natsume realizes he must have accidentally released the Lord from his bindings when he broke the rope earlier, and asks Benio to tell everyone immediately in order to stop the impending attack before it’s too late. But Benio says no one else would believe that he is trapped inside this small black cat’s body. He’d have to return in his original form. Nyanko suggests Natsume use the yuujin-chou to return his name, which would have the side effect of returning the Lord to his original form, but in order to do so they’d need to know his true name. Unfortunately not even Benio knows his real name, but before they can decide what to do, the giant leader of the mob shows up to gather the stragglers before they launch the attack.
Natsume protests straightforwardly that they can return the Lord to everyone if only someone could tell him his real name, but he gets snatched up pretty quickly when the giant youkai realizes he’s a human boy. Nyanko gets bashed to the ground in his cat-form when he jumps up to defend Natsume. As all the youkai reach out to touch/grab/eat Natsume and devour him, he listens carefully to the shouts and voices of the masses of youkai as they call out to their lord, hoping that one of them would use his real name.
At last he hears the Lord’s true name – Rio. Nyanko transforms to his powerful form and in a blinding light he frees Natsume long enough for him to return the name properly. Natsume pulls out the yuujin-chou and meditates until the correct signature stands straight up in the book, then rips it out and puts it in his mouth. Concentrating hard, he returns the name to the Lord of the forest by blowing it off the page, and as it lands into Rio, his true form explodes from within the black cat, revealing a very large but young man in a white kimono with what appears to be angel wings.
All is quiet as everyone realizes their Lord has returned in a very awe-inspiring moment. He seems happy to be released, and as his forehead touches Natsume’s, Natsume receives a vision/flashback of Rio as a boy. He was injured by a bear trap but was released by a man who also wrapped and healed his injuries. As their relationship grew, he became quite fond of that man, and began to trust people. Since then he has grown to love humans, which is why he imposed on Natsume to bring him here, hoping he could stop everyone from causing harm to the people who sealed him away before it was too late. He actually went to Natsume intending to see his very important friend, Reiko, but he realizes now that she’s already gone, so he comments sadly on how quickly a human life passes by. He apologizes to Natsume for causing him so much trouble, and thanks him for his help (and the bath) before disappearing majestically into the night.
The next day, Natsume ponders about the black cat and comments about how cute it was in a tone that suggested exactly how un-cute the other one is. Benio stands up to leave now that she’s confirmed Nyanko’s injuries aren’t serious, and asks him to come with her. After a short silence, Nyanko flatly declines, saying his work here isn’t finished, and he’ll stick with Natsume until the day he receives the yuujin-chou. Benio leaves on a happy note, and Natsume’s thoughts narrate the end of the episode peacefully, looking towards the future.
I enjoyed the OP Song to an extent, but the animation was surprisingly good. And what’s more, it was relatively well thought out. They didn’t just take scenes from within the anime and play them at random, like some shows *cough*. First they showed several scenes of main characters in various places from the perspective of normal people, and then again with all the spirits and youkai walking around that most people aren’t able to see. There were also several hints of what’s to come this season, including what seems to be a new regular character. She looks interesting (I’m assuming it’s a girl..) and it appears that she’ll become a friend of Natsume, based on what I saw in the ED as well.
Within seconds of it starting, I was instantly stunned with how beautiful the ED theme was. It’s a simple, slow song but the vocal quality is astounding, especially compared to some of the usual competition. It’s not even blow-you-away crazy, it’s just totally pure and sweet – a great slow song for an ED if I’ve ever heard one. I thought it was perfectly in tune with the heart of this anime, not to mention the animation of the ED sequence, too. It wasn’t particularly complex, but it was pretty beautiful in its simplicity and theme. It just showed Natsume walking alone, leaving lonely footprints in the snow, followed by many more gathering as his friends begin to walk beside him. Very thematic.
After reading all that, if you’re still asking yourself whether or not I will be following this series, the answer is an irrevocable YES! Maybe it’s selfish, but I love this series, and I don’t care if it’s not the most popular thing out there and won’t receive a ton of comments. It’s consistently heartwarming and beautiful, despite a blatant lack of some usual anime staples. The relationship between Natsume and Nyanko is far more interesting and complex than the relationship of yet another pussy boy and big breasted girl who will never ever kiss, etc, etc… Besides, even if you haven’t seen season one, this is totally easy to digest because of how they reintroduce ideas in the first episode to make sure everyone’s on the same page. And hopefully, if you enjoyed this episode you will watch season one as well. It’s worth it, in my opinion. The pace is slower (think: small town) than a lot of other stuff out there, so it requires going into it with a fresh state of mind. At first even I wasn’t crazy about it, but after a few episodes I became quite a fan before I even realized it. Give it a chance. (I’m looking at you, Omni.)
Notes for New Viewers
For those who haven’t seen this anime before, you don’t have to go watch season one but I highly recommend it. There’s usually a full-out well written plot rise *and* fall to this semi-episodic anime each week. I say semi-episodic, because even though the stories really are pretty episodic, it doesn’t start over at page 1 each time. The characters grow and change, and many of them return to have an impact in future episodes. I believe it’s called “character development” or “quality” or something like that, but that’s just my humble and biased opinion. There is an overall plot, with plenty of mysteries on the table, and a lot of cultural insight regarding youkai and such. I’m particularly interested in the significance of all the various masks, but it’s pretty hard to find detailed information in English.
For sequels, you can almost always expect to have a lot of story reintroducing and character summarizations for those who haven’t seen the first season, and who the creators don’t want to isolate. From the first scene alone, you can grasp a whole lot about Natsume: his strength and abilities, his quiet and thoughtful disposition, and his relationship with Nyanko-sensei. Occasionally the animation quality for background-nobody youkai’s isn’t so great, but most of the time I find the animation to be beautiful and stylish in its own right.
Also, you’ll have to forgive me if I sometimes use different names for Nyanko-sensei/Madara/Nyankichi-kun/Buta-neko etc… Every character in the series has a different way of calling him, and I find it hilarious. Some of them are cute, but some are pretty insulting, and wound his pride pretty frequently.
Thoughts on the Episode
Watching this new episode for the first time after a long break was like crack to an addict, feeding my addiction. This is a show that I can watch over and over because it just has that pervading peaceful, nostalgic quality in a setting that almost makes you wish you could see youkai, too. I’m a sucker for genuinely heartwarming stuff, and this anime is filled with it. I didn’t want to admit it at first, but I can’t help it. It’s that sweet.
I laughed outloud at Natsume getting smacked in the face with the soccer ball in the first few moments. I thought that was a good way to start things out. It set the tone nicely, and from there you can see that many themes and actions from the first episode of last season were repeated here on purpose. Even though it was repeating, it was done meaningfully, and I thought they pulled it off quite well, making things both new and old at the same time. Now, if they did that every episode I would be annoyed, but I don’t think that’s the case at all.
Benio’s word choice when she greeted Nyanko makes me think that perhaps Madara once had a different form. Yes, I mean yet another one. It wouldn’t surprise me considering we’ve seen several already. The depth of his power is actually quite unknown, yet definitely surprisingly strong – but that mystery makes it even more intriguing and so I really love Nyanko’s complicated character. I also love his easily wounded pride and rude mouth, but that’s a different thing.. Also the whole black cat being sealed event makes me wonder even more that perhaps Madara did something really ‘bad’ and was sealed in a similar fashion before Natsume released him accidentally. They made suggestions to that end that still remain a mystery, which will probably be revealed much later. Since he’s a main character, I’m very interested to know more about those juicy details that he clearly wishes to remain a secret.
Regarding Natsume, I just want to point out what a refreshing main character he is. He’s not a pussy, he doesn’t have any major character flaws, and yet he’s totally just a normal guy. He doesn’t lead a harem, he has normal friends… And all this despite his ability to see youkai which gave him an incredibly difficult and very lonely childhood. I hesitate to say it since it’s so rare in anime these days, but I think he’s a mature, decent person. Gasp! Or maybe he just seems that way compared to his constant companion. He’s still believable as a high school student, I’m just quite impressed with how much ‘character’ this main character has. So rare these days.
Next Week: Snow Bunny Youkai! I’m sold.
Divine will link up the OP and ED videos for me soon, he just doesn’t know it yet. Thank you~!