Natsume Yuujinchou Shi – 01

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Like an old friend you love dearly, Natsume Yuujinchou is always missed terribly, even if the parting is as short as this last one was.

OP: “Ima, Kono Toki” (今、このとき) by Hiiragi

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One thing struck me about the premiere for this fourth season, and that’s how incredibly busy this episode was.  I’m not sure I can ever recall a “Natsume” ep where so much happened – the pacing seemed quite a bit more rushed than I’m used to, and that coupled with the fact that the events of the episode were so, well – eventful – made the whole exercise rather disconcerting in a thrilling sort of way.  Heck, we’ve even opened a season with a two-parter (at least) and those have been pretty rare in the history of this show.

The re-introduction to things was rather brief, a wise choice and probably a reflection of the fact that this hiatus was by far the shortest the series has had at only one season.  The impression is one of a new season that will be very much in line with the third rather than the first two.  What does that mean?  More focus on the humans in Natsume’s world, and less on the youkai.  More confrontational storylines, both between Natsume and the youkai he encounters and more generally between humans and youkai.  And more storylines, period – the trend has been away from the wistful and episodic style of the first two cours and towards a more traditional three-act narrative structure with action, conflict and resolution.

What we did see quite a bit of in this premiere was the Book of Friends itself, which was AWOL for most of “San”.  In fact it was crucial to the plot, as a band of monkey-faced youkai tried to kidnap Natsume in order the steal the Book of Friends from him.  Nyanko-sensei came to the rescue just in time (is it me, or does he look fatter than ever?) but these youkai behave differently than most Natsume (and we) interact with.  They band together, working as a unit to try and capture Natsume and the Book.  They don’t think twice about marching right into Natsume’s classroom and attacking him.  And when they finally do succeed in abducting him, they tell him that they need the Book for their master, so he can restore their forest. 

Things get more complicated when Matoba arrives on the scene, scattering the youkai and capturing one.  It really seems as if Matoba is going to be set up as a true recurring villain this season, something that was hinted at in “San”.  I’m not sure Natsume Yuujinchou needs a traditional top boss but it looks as if it’s getting one, as there’s talk of a larger plan to capture both powerful youkai and humans for some sort of master plan whose details are not made clear, though Nyanko does mention that the exorcism business seems to be in a recession like the rest of the Japanese economy.  Matoba is even revealed to have a secret base deep in the woods, but there’s no Menma or Poppo here – just a lot of cages and servant youkai and Matoba’s human servants (including Nanase) prowling the halls of the old mansion, to which Natsume and Nyanko have been taken as prisoners.

It’s going to be very interesting to see how all this plays out, as this felt quite unlike any episode to date.  Matoba’s arrival cast the monkey-faced youkai in a somewhat different light, as it appears their master needs the Book of Friends to try and fight him, and the moral subtlety of the human-youkai relationship that’s so crucial to the series at least looks to have survived.  Natsume has certainly retained the welcome closeness he developed with his human friends, even relying on Taki and Tanuma a little.  Tanuma even reveals that he asked Natsume directly why he never told the Fujiwaras his secret, and the answer is heartbreaking if not surprising (this has the feel of foreshadowing the series ending).  It’s interesting to note that the OP focuses mostly on Natsume in his elementary-school form, even pairing chibi-Natsume with Nyanko-sensei.  Is this purely symbolic, are does it foretell a greater role for flashbacks (and an unsuspected meeting) in the series?  Kogitsune is in there too, which is a good sign.  I’ve heard nothing to confirm my suspicion that “San” was scheduled so soon after “Shi” so that the anime and manga might end simultaneously, but this first ep certainly had the air of grave and conclusive events to come.

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ED: “Takaramono” (たからもの) by Marina Kawano

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10 comments

  1. L

    From what I gather the manga is not yet finished and I'm not sure how frequently the chapters are released. I think the manga is somewhere around chapter 57 so we might get episodic nature in this series (anime only) and from what I heard from previous fans is that the skipped around alot in order to create a better flow in the narrative for the anime which I dont mind.
    Tanuma answer was really heartbreaking but its the truth when people find out that natsume can really see another world its only natural people will worry for him and he wants to retain those smiles since him revealing the truth hasnt brought him anything good in his life until he met youkai whom understood him and eventually people like tanuma and taki who have some abilities too so they can understand his plight.
    Overall I'm happy that natsume is back and I'm excited to look forward to this series again ^_^

  2. A

    I'm both surprise and glad they start the season with this arc. Will eagerly await for the 'theme' for this season to reveals itself. But now I have high expectation for this season.

    For Matoba, I saw him as an obstacle more than a villian. He is another form of relationship one have to face. If you meet these kind of people, what will you do? Run — or learn to deal with them? And how? — Some thing like that.

    The manga have no end and no conclusion in sight, and we already have at least 5 arcs left to cover excluding episodic chapters. I really can't see how they can end the Reiko enigma, book of friend business, Matoba and so on in 13 episodes while the manga have not yet reveal much about them. Unless they goes for original route and forced-end it. Which will be a shame. The story has shaping up nicely, and has become very interesting.

  3. m

    Oh geez, didn't realize the new season is starting already, that certainly was a short wait (but yes, Natsume was dearly missed the whole time.. at least there was the Doctor Who Christmas Special and the new episode of Sherlock to keep me distracted… and of course the whole holiday family stuff.) – I haven't seen the episode yet, but definitely by far the best birthday present I've got this year.. ;>

    Will crawl back here as soon as I've seen it. :>

  4. A

    Regarding Nyanko-sensei, yes – I also thought he seemed to have gained some weight in this one as well. Glad I wasn't the only one who was wondering about this.

    – Flower

  5. The manga is certainly still going strong with no indications of an ending, so I assume I was wrong in my guess. I personally hope we do get a couple of anime-original eps, as those have been among my favorites…

  6. A

    I'm glad to see you still blogging Natsume Yuujinchou, even if it's not at RandomC. ;A;

    I was extremely giddy about this episode, and really surprised that they chose to start it this way. I love this series to bits, so it's wonderful to have it back.

    Note: Motoba? It's Matoba!

  7. I know some fans love this part of the story best… I just prefer the slower and more emotionally introspective side.

  8. A

    It's quite funny how Nyanko-sensei slapped Natsume…..

  9. d

    thanks¡¡¡
    I love this manga¡¡

  10. h

    Yayyy, Natsume is back!!!! I'm also surprise to see the anime start off with Matoba's arc, but it's still good nonetheless^_^ Can't wait to read your post of chihayafuru 13 too, since it's the best ep of chihayafuru yet>_<

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