Natsume Yūjin-chō Shi 01-02: Natsume Vs Matoba Round Two
Huge fans of this series rejoiced when the fourth iteration was scheduled to air right after the new year, rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of meeting those lovable characters like old friends reunited after years after separation. (Although this one only lasted only a few months.) There’s Nyanko sensei who never fails to entertain with its drinking and childish antics; there’s Natsume’s unofficial cheerleading team, consisting of the bumbling cow and one-eyed demons; the adorable fox-spirit; and of course Natsume himself, quiet, thoughtful and ever-maturing.
I however had my doubts before watching it. The previous three seasons have shown that the Natsume series are formulaic and repetitive with its subject matter, theme and story. You have essentially the episodic ones with lonely Youkai seeking closure after their interaction with Natsume. Those were heart-warming, but repetitive, and after the umpteenth time of having that poignant message drummed into the watcher the whole thing starts to grate. And then you have the Tom-and-Jerry-I-am-gonna-catch-you-and-eat-you-and-take-your-book-of-friends arcs that I honestly have very little time for. I would have been fine with Tom and Jerry, at least it’s funny in that lowbrow slapstick way. But Natsume lacked that heart-pounding action and suspense and there’s a big fat deux ex machina at the end of it because we all know that the fat cat will transform into that fearsome dragon and save the day. It’s bordering on becoming Pokemon, and I don’t meant that as a compliment (“Team rocket is blasting off again” anyone?).
Finally, I was getting rather frustrated with the lack of back-story of Reiko and Madara. 39 episodes later and I still know no more about those two than when I first watched it. Well, I didn’t read the manga so I have no idea on how the production team adapted it, but I am giving the Yuki Midorikawa the benefit of the doubt. I’m hoping this season would finally shed light on them and end on a high.
With those predisposed negatives out of the way, I am glad to say that Natsume Yūjin-chō Shi have started off pretty well. While it’s still pretty predictable in many aspects, there’s plenty of potential themes and situations to be explored and developed from this two-episodic arc.
These four fearsome creatures are about to run away barely seconds later.
The series started off with the continuation of the conflict between the Matoba clan and Natsume. Only this time it’s a three-way standoff with those monkey-masked spirits added into the mix. These creatures act all tough and strong, but they were really just useless cowards that couldn’t wrench the book from a single human being (A pet peeve I have with other similar scenarios in the past. Come on, cut the crap and snatch it for once!). The plot unfolds in a standard manner, with Matoba the evil exorcist ultimately the culprit who wants to capture the ruler of those monkeys to add to his limited powerful demons collection. Nothing surprising so far. But what intrigues me is the manner in which he attempted to manipulate Natsume into joining his clan. “But do they know everything and accept everything about you?” It’s a simple question enough to shock Natsume into retorting that “it’s none of your concern!”
Natsume confesses about his Seikai-ichi inclinations.
Because it cruelly tosses him out from that imagined reality where he could forever balance the world between Youkai and the humans, playing the agent whereby the two worlds would never meet and clash. Those in the know such as Tanuma and Taki are accepted into that circle but ultimately play peripheral roles, judging by Natsume’s continued reluctance to proactively ask them for help. Although the previous seasons have matured him into accepting Youkai as friends (and vice versa), childhood demons are hard to banish. The Fujiwara family would never react like the kids who teased and ostracized him in his youth; they would love him still.
But it would never be the same again.
And Natsume wants to keep everything status quo, but as he reflected at the end about the “frustrating happiness” and the need to “stop looking away and know for real”, Matoba isn’t going to let him enjoy his party. I envision a nearby future where Fujiwara family and Natsume’s other friends would finally find out about that secret, and this would make some damn good drama. But first up, another fillery episode about cute furry creatures. Damn.
Yes, Nyanko-sensei. They don’t need much in food and drink department. And they probably can do Puss-in-boots impersonations. You are out. Cheers.
On a sidenote, a little thumbs-up to the humor quotient. This season seemed to have raise the bar quite a fair bit.