「人ならぬもの」 (Hito Naranu Mono)
“That Which is not Human”
I’ve had many things said about me over the years, but never let it be said that I’ve taken the pleasures of squid away from a middle-aged man.
No, I have no idea what that even means either, Natsume. But I do know what the arrival of Shuichi Natori (Ishida Akira) means. Natori means plot, and how much you like Natori likely depends on how much you like conventional plot in your Natsume Yuujinchou. Like squid or moe, I like mine in small, measured doses. I wouldn’t want every episode of this series to have villains, brisk pacing and a rather conventional structure – even a cliffhanger – but it makes a nice change of pace every once in a while.
Along with the familiar Natori comes a new face to anime fans – Matoba (Suwabe Junichi). He’s the head of the Matoba family of exorcists we met last season, and like Stagger Lee, he’s a bad man. Suwabe-san is a good seiyuu but I’m not crazy about him for the role – he’s too old and a bit too slithery for a youth I pictured as having a seductive, almost feminine air to him. That aside, the Matoba’s are trouble – they make even Natori look like a softy when it comes to youkai, never mind Natsume. They’re in Natsume’s prefecture attacking youkai to drain their blood for as yet undisclosed purposes, as Natsume discovers when he inadvertently rescues a winged female youkai (Nakamura Chie). Natsume is about to be taken down by one of Matoba’s tame demons when Natori’s familiar Hiiragi (Yukino Satsuki) shows up to save him.
This is an unorthodox episode of Natsume Yuujinchou not just for its danger and pacing, but also for some unusually broad humor that’s quite effective. The winged youkai’s pronouncement that Natsume is “less impressive than I thought” and a “wimp” put me in mind of the jibes he received from Kai’s schoolboy friends in the last arc of season two, and Natsume mind’s eye picture of Matoba as a yakuza boss was hilariously inaccurate. Natori still sparkles and has the girls cooing over him, and that darn Kappa who always lets his plate dry out shows up yet again.
Still, at heart this is till the same story and Natsume the same boy – as he goes against Nyanko-sensei’s advice and gets himself involved yet again, it’s as he says “This is who I am, just give up”. As always when Natori is involved the stakes are higher, though, and bringing the Matoba Syndicate into the mix raises them even higher. These sorts of eps generally lead to Natsume having to confront a difficult dilemma about where his loyalties lie, testing his ability to have a foot in both worlds, outsider in both but emotionally disconnected from neither.