「夏目遊戯帳」 (Natsume Yūgi-Chō)
“Natsume’s Book of Play”

Now that’s the Natsume Yuujinchou I love.

It’s great that season three ended with what I think even the harshest critic would call a superb episode. But it’s as if the gang at Brain’s Base had a direct line to my brain, because they used a story for the finale that tackled all the issues I’ve been kvetching about all season head-on. If the first two seasons were mostly about the past and this season mostly about making the most out of the present, it’s only fitting that it should begin the segue to the fourth (and I suspect final) season with an episode that focused on the future.

If it had done nothing else, I would have been grateful to Omori-sensei for devoting most of the final episode to the youkai in Natsume’s life and for finally bringing the Book of Friends back into play. Whatever else you may think about this season, the youkai – especially as friends of Natsume – have been less important than in the first two seasons. As well, I was pleased to see a large role for Nyanko-sensei and Madara here, in all of his phases and moods. Nyanko-sensei too has been more of a supporting player this year, and Madara has rarely shown his teeth.

There’s an unbroken line of time that connects everything in the short lifespan of a human, and even as Natsume is thinking about what he might do after high school he can’t help but recall his past, and how different his current situation is. The first part of the episode – as has much of the season – served to remind us that Natsume has grown tremendously in his dealings with humans, and even developed something like a “normal” life with normal friends. Even as Taki states her desire to explore his connections to the youkai world, he focuses on what he and his muggle friends (well, and Tanuma) are going to do for fun now that exams are over.

But the bulk of the fun here comes from Natsume’s “dogs”, the ranks of mostly low-level youkai that put up with his meddling and complaining, as well as come crying to him when they’re in trouble. They decide to throw a party for him at an abandoned shrine, and Nyanko-sensei firmly pushes the reluctant Natsume to attend (which is an interesting thing to consider in and of itself). Lots of old friends drop by – Benio (Watanabe Misa), Misuzu-sama (Kuroda Takaya) and even the kappa (Orikasa Fumiko) who Natsume always has to bail out on hot days by pouring water on its plate. Sake is consumed in great quantities, though not by Natsume – ever the good boy – and eventually the gathered youkai become curious as to what humans do for fun during such gatherings. This leads to a highly spirited game of shadow tag and to some of the strongest emotional moments of the season.

What really struck me was the moment when Natsume considered, just for an instant, running away once all the youkai had scattered to hide from him as he was “it”. The flashback was to all the times when human children had refused to allow Natsume to join the fun, and I think this was a hugely important acknowledgement both for Natsume and the series itself. In his darkest hours, youkai were less judgmental of him than humans had been. And these youkai were truly, genuinely his friends and his protectors. Rather than running away (symbolism much?) Natsume joins in the game and has a grand old time with the youkai. We even get to see a drunk Madara lose control of himself a bit when he gets too high-spirited, reminding us of the two-edged sword that even the best of youkai friends are. But when Natsume (who undeniably has a talent for such mishaps) falls down a hole, it’s Madara who gently lifts the boy to safety. Grand slam home run.


ED2 Sequence


Final Impressions:

What a season it’s been for Brain’s Base. The first cour of the difficult but brilliant Mawaru Penguindrum, the smart, sassy, sexy and spectacular Kami-sama Dolls, and another strong season of Natsume Yuujinchou. We’re talking 2007 Production I.G. level brilliance there, and with the decline in the batting average of studios like I.G., GAINAX and BONES, I’m not at all sure Brain’s Base isn’t the best studio in the TV anime business these days. They just don’t miss lately.

Objectively, I think this season has been every bit as strong as the first two for this series. Subjectively, I don’t love it as much as the first two. The dichotomy is simple really, because the show has made a perfectly legitimate shift in focus that happens to be in a direction I’m slightly less entranced by. Much more than in the first two seasons this one has focused on Natsume’s growing connections to the human world – both through exploring the trials that world has given him and the joys that it currently provides. As a result, while most of the youkai in the first two seasons were lonely, sympathetic figures whom Natsume was able to help in some way, most of them this season have been plot devices to show Natsume’s growing connection to humanity or outright antagonists. There’s been more of an "Us vs. Them" theme this year, and I just don’t personally find those episodes as engaging as the heartwarming ones where Natsume and the youkai have their paths cross briefly and bond. It’s like watching Christopher Robin getting ready to leave the Hundred-Acre Wood.

That said, Natsume absolutely deserves happiness and it’s totally valid for both Midorikawa-mangaka and Omori-director to show the growth and maturing of his character. For many fans that’s the best part of the series, and I suspect this season will have been their favorite. My favorite episodes of “San”, by contrast, have been the ones more reminiscent of the first two series – the anime-original “Little Fox’s Watch”, and the early run of eps that dealt strongly with memories of Reiko and helping tragic youkai figures deal with their pain as a way for Natsume to deal with his. Because most of the season has been about the present, the future and the human world, Reiko and the Book of Friends have been all but forgotten.

With the announcement of a fourth season in January, many interesting questions come to mind. It was never in doubt that we’d get a fourth season – Natsume Yuujinchou continues to be a powerhouse in BD/DVD and merchandise sales. But the fact that this turnaround is so much faster than the last two leads me to wonder if the timing is due to Midorikawa planning to finish the manga, and if a plan is in the works to have both anime and manga end simultaneously. In any case, for much of the season it’s seemed to me that Midorikawa had telegraphed where things would eventually end – with Natsume choosing the human world over the youkai, and eventually saying goodbye to Nyanko-sensei (a possibility I believe is hinted at by Natsume’s forlorn “So if you step on my shadow, it’s over?” in the finale). While for two seasons the story seemed to endorse Natsume’s worldview in terms of youkai, I think this season has hinted that it might be Natori who was right all along – that Matoba is far too cruel, but that Natsume is too naïve.

With the finale, though, it’s very hard to say. Natsume’s last words of the season – “Right now, both humans and youkai are equally dear to me” – are both moving and extremely ambiguous, and I wonder if we might be headed for a “have the cake and eat it too” kind of ending. It’s a real dilemma for me, because of course I want Natsume to grow and to be happy, but he’s such a good kid that I really don’t want him to fundamentally change. There’s also the huge question of when and if he’ll finally muster the courage to tell the Fujiwaras about his true nature, not to mention the great unknowns of Reiko’s death and Natsume’s birth parents’ identity.

It’s just a big plateful of mysteries and possibilities waiting for us in the fourth season. I’d have been anticipating it anyway, but both the quality and tone of the final episode heighten my excitement greatly. I’d been fairly confident I knew where things were headed, but now it’s a thrill to be quite unsure about it. And really, any season with Natsume Yuujinchou is a good deal better than one without. Even if this wasn’t my favorite season, I still loved the series and it holds a special place at the heart of who I am as an anime lover.


  1. I think the ending said it all that both worlds will always be important to him and that it will most likely lead to him clashing heads with other people involved in the youkai world. I don’t think he will ever choose because his way of thinking is different from most people. Even the youkai have said they will protect him from whatever happens later on. He is moving forward with both his friends from both worlds. I don’t think natori is necessary right either in how he views the youkai but that is the differece between him and natsume but regardless of their differences of opinion they can still work together in any situation.
    I guess its safe to say no one is right and that each has their own way of dealing with the world and with the introduction of matoba its more clear how different the world is for humans who have a more organized connection to the youkai world. Natsume will always be that fine medium and it will be up to him to deal with how to practice this view. But he is still kid and still has alot more things to do lol anyways cant wait for season 4 YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!

  2. Very wonderful episode. It focused on both world’s of Natsume and how important and dear he holds both worlds and because of that it was such a heart-warming episode.

    3 months until the 4th season. Can’t wait 😀

  3. If the series really is ending soon, then the next season really will be more plot centered rather than the types of stories in the first couple of seasons. There’s so many loose ends to tie up.

    Then again, that might not be the case. I’m thinking they’ll keep things ambiguous though.

  4. I was expecting another season in the fall because they waited until there was enough material for two seasons and this is the exact same pattern as the first two season. (also summer and the following spring)

    That was a beautiful series. I will not spoil, but I feel they rearranged everything from the manga in a way that might have give you a different impression of the show, but perhaps that will lead to greater impact later on.

  5. I love what they do to this season. This is how adaptation should be. Making an already beautiful tale into a splendid tale. The way they select and rearange the chapters to lead us to this last episode is amazing. The last 2 minutes closure are wonderful.
    My only complain is many episodes felt too rush. Especially episodes that come from the arc type chapters. But, what they do to this episode complete the whole season for me. I love the guys behind this series’ adaptation!

    I can assure you that season 4 is not the last season. There are tons left to tell in the manga. We already have enough material for the 4th season since the 3rd season has started. If anything, I guess we will get a long break after season 4, then welcome them back again in a year or two.

    1. I honestly feel like Natsume Yuujin-chou will end with the Book of Friends being dispelled completely which breaks Madara’s contract with Natsume and the hinted one with Reiko. Not that Natsume won’t stop being connected with spirit world but honetly he has gotten into so much more trouble with that book then without out it. At that point he will be able to chart his own path with everything he has learned.

      Nyanko-sense has been to me a mentor to Natsume rather then a bodygaurd and that feeling has grown with watching how Nyanko-sense chose to not intervene and let things play out. Like his belly walk across the scene when Natsume was being body piled had me in stitches.

      What a wonderful way to end this season with Nyanko-sense giving his blessing to leave his youkai friends behind to make memories with his human ties.

    2. I wonder if they know something I don’t, but I am current up to 55 and it isn’t clear that it will end soon. Spring might be far enough away to bring a satisfying conclusion, but recent plot developements make me want it to be longer.

  6. Funny, you never truely forget a good anime. With the 4 Season coming in Jan 2012 you some how alway remeber the first season the first couple of episode. I think that is what amazes me even now.

    I really love the ending. It was a fitting end for a great season. Like you say it does hold a special place. Thank you for update and constant insight.

  7. The ending shots with Natsume standing in front of all his youkai friends, and then again with him (seemingly) standing alone with only Madara really touched me. From one perspective, it seems like he’s alone but he really isn’t. The character development in this series was splendid. Looking forward to another season if there really is one. 🙂

  8. “the great unknowns of Reiko’s death and Natsume’s birth parents’ identity” thats what I REALLY WANNA KNOW!!! I LOVE Natsume Yuujinchou and I loved all three seasons!!! But I’m just really curious about Reiko too!!
    I don’t think Natsume will ever choose between humans and Yokais. Both are in is life whether he likes it or not! He is a human and has to live like one to survive (work and all), but he see yokai, has been and will always be (or else he’d have gotten rid of his powers earlier). But I think throughout all three seasons, he has learned to understand them, accept them, and really like them so they became both important. I didn’t think he would become like natori and I think this episode was the proof, when he was thinking about the future, he clearly refused to become like Natori although i can’t deny there is a possibility, but his reaction to it proved otherwise
    I really can’t wait for next season, and I wish that (which is an extremely rare) as long they have quality material (like duh :P) that this show go on and on and on!!! But most importantly I want to know more about Reiko and about Natsume’s parents!! 😀

  9. I marathoned the first two seasons after I read the Summer preview, and I have to say that I am glad that I got hooked. The series just has such a serene and understated charm to it that I was always looking forward to the next installment. This season finale just encapsulated the reasons that I love the series; below the surface of “boy who demons solves their problems” it is a coming of age tale as Natsume’s view of both the human and youkai worlds evolves with his interactions and the bonds he forms. I eagerly await the next season.

  10. I liked how this episode showed how different the youkai are from humans in terms of both “common sense” and control of their emotions/desires. Started off strongly but petered out near the end in terms of the emotional feeling of the anime

    Zaku Fan

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