Natsume Yuujin-chou San – 01
OP: 「僕にできること」 (Boku ni Dekiru Koto) by HOW MERRY MARRY
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「妖しきものの名」 (Ayashiki Mono no Na)
“The Name of a Monster”
Years ago, Roger Ebert (from my hometown of Chicago) wrote the following review of the abysmal film “North”: “I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie.” Well, I love Natsume Yuujinchou. I love love love love love Natsume Yuujinchou.
Therefore, I won’t claim for a moment that I can be impartial about this series. Months ago, before a third season was announced, I wrote a recommendation detailing why I think this is such a great show. So while I’m going to try and give balanced criticism, be forewarned – I’m biased to love Natsume Yuujinchou San.
The first episode of the third season feels, in every way, thematically and spiritually tied in to the first two. If anything, we see an extension of what was happening towards the end of the second season in that the lifelong loner Natsume Takashi (Kamiya Hiroshi) is starting to feel more attachments than he ever has in his life. He loves the Fujiwaras, who have taken him in. He’s made friends his own age for the first time in his life. And his relationship with the irreplaceable (and incorrigible) Nyanko-sensei (Inoue Kazuhiko) has developed to the point of mutual affection, though Madara (his ayakashi form) himself would deny it. Natsume recognizes that emotional involvement is a weakness, for danger follows him everywhere – but he’s no longer able to stay the isolated person he was.
The plot of the first episode is very much in the classic mold for the series. Loneliness is always at the heart of the matter with Natsume Yuujinchou, and the lonely and abandoned of the youkai world seem to be drawn to Natsume. This time there are two – first, a tiny teacup which Nyanko-sensei informs us has taken on some of the Earth’s power and become animate, as particularly well-crafted ones sometimes do when discarded. They take up residence in a house, craving company, and warn the owners of impending disaster. Sometimes, they even sacrifice themselves to save them. The second is an old lady, nearly blind, who tricks Natsume into assisting her at the roadside. Actually a God, she threatens to curse him unless he helps her find the “youkai” who gave her a mirror many years earlier, which helped her save a tree that was her sole joy in life – her own shrine having been abandoned and forgotten.
Natsume and lonely Gods are kindred spirits – he just can’t seem to resist helping them. He even prompts the frail old God into remembering that her name is in the Book of Friends, the collection of Youkai’s true names that Natsume inherited from his Grandmother Reiko. Reiko is the other character always present in this story, though she’s long dead. Like Natsume she could see and interact with youkai and Kami, and like him she was lonely. Though she was meaner and rougher than he, more often than not her involvement ended up helping the youkai she interacted with – and very often it is finding Natsume decades later that brings closure to their meeting with Reiko.
Everything I loved about the first two seasons is still present. The beautiful animation from Brain’s Base, the background music, the terrific work by the voice cast. Most of all, the same sense of wistful sadness that instantly makes the viewer feel emotionally connected to what’s happening on-screen. This anime is a perfect marriage between a great mangaka (Midorikawa Yuki) and a great director (Omori Takahiro) and the result is a timeless, genre-busting modern classic of anime that has deservedly found a huge audience world-wide. You probably don’t need to watch the first two seasons to be able to follow the third – but as great as they are, why wouldn’t you? If you love good anime, there can be few better ways to spend twelve hours of your time.
ED: 「君ノカケラ feat 宮本笑里」 (Kimi no Kakeru feat Miyamoto Emiri) by 中孝介 (Atari Kousuke)
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