Natsume Yuujinchou Shi – 12

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Everything that last week’s Natsume Yuujinchou episode was, this one seemed to embody just the opposite.

If you’ll forgive me for saying so, this was one of the oddest episodes I can recall in four seasons of the series.  Not in a bad way, mind, but still off – for “Natsume” is a series that always seems to retain a very recognizable feel to itself in all of it’s shadings and styles.  This ep was by far the coldest, most distant and disquieting of any I recall.  Even the visual style was different, featuring more still camera shots and a more minimal cinematography.  There was less BGM than normal, too, and the quiet was a presence in and of itself.  It was a very unsettling experience for me, as this is normally a show that thrives on familiarity and consistency.

To say this was different from what I was expecting coming off last week’s heart-melting trip into the past is an understatement.  In a sense, this was Natsume being forced to confront everything that he hates and fears – about himself, about his gift, and about the impact he has on others.  Imagine being a child whose monster under the bed was real – and then being forced as a teenager to confront it again.  This was deeply uncomfortable for Natsume and thus, for us – it’s very easy to understand why he’s always so reluctant to even think about that part of his life.  It was already something we were aware of intellectually, but I don’t think we’ve ever been forced to feel it so viscerally.  I won’t say it was enjoyable, but it was powerful.

The thing is, as always, there are kind people trying to do the right thing, and the relatives Natsume must visit to get the key to his father’s house are such people.  Miyoko was a little girl jealous of the strange little boy who stole kindness from her parents and frightened of his odd behavior, and her parents quite simply kind but unprepared to deal with the baggage Natsume brought with him. In that way he was really a special needs child who was bounced from relative to relative, and not only was his “condition” undiagnosed but he couldn’t even admit it.  In this case specifically there was the added complication of the Mushikui, the shadowy bug-eater youkai living in their house, one of the creepiest creatures in the Natsume Yuujinchou lexicon.  In addition to forcing the child – and adolescent – Natsume into odd behavior, it tries to coax him into drawing it a mouth so it can devour the relatives living in the house.  Nyanko-sensei saves Natsume, but being who he is, he can’t leave his relatives to eventually succumb to darkness at the creature’s instigation, and he draws it away with him despite the risk.

We don’t hear about it enough, but Inoue Kazuhiko’s performance as Nyanko-sensei is truly one of the marvels of modern anime.  If this is the series that sets the bar for consistency, then his work her is the performance that does.  We take it for granted that his Nyanko is probably the funniest week-in, week-out role in anime – it’s a given.  But Inoue-san brings so much to this role, so many subtleties and shadings and so much depth.  The scene where he goes into full-on “cat mode” to save Natsume from the mushikui without revealing Natsume’s secret is subtly, quietly an amazing piece of acting.  Only seconds later Nyanko transforms into Madara, and Inoue-san nails the gravity and dignity and power of that mythical ayakashi’s presence.  He’s hilarious when he pleads for udon, wise and grave when concerned for Natsume’s well-being.  This is a great seiyuu giving a great performance week after week, and I hope people realize just what a miracle that performance is.

Now we’re left with one episode before our next break, and Natsume in some trouble – after apparently having been attacked and/or possessed by the mushikui.  I hope we do finally get to his father’s house, and we’re able to see the impact that experience has on Natsume.  This series has always elected codas to end seasons rather than cliffhangers, and I see no reason to expect them to change that now, with no date set for he first and possibly final season.  While this episode certainly showed off the range of Omori-sensei and the Brain’s Base team, this isn’t the sort of mood piece that would serve well as a season-ender, and I hope next week’s finale returns to a more traditional feel.

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  1. A

    This episode was definitely uncomfortable to watch, but because of that, I feel like it's done its job. I always have so many feelings when watching this show, haha. I mean, the first part of the episode seemed like usual, but it quickly descended into unfamiliar territory after meeting Miyoko's family. Something about them rubbed me the wrong way, probably the father badmouthing the Fujiwaras.

    Not gonna lie, but seeing the Mushikui attack Natsume made me jump, even though I knew it was coming. It was so sudden! And falling down the slope like that, ow man.

    Oh, Inoue Kazuhiko is always amazing!

    I'd actually be fine with the show ending with this arc, just because of the ending, but I guess Natsume Yuujinchou isn't really the kind of show that would go out with a dramatic finish.

    Guardian Enzo, I've forgotten, but do you follow the manga?

  2. Yes, but I'm not current with it.

  3. K

    I am not going to spoil anything but I think once you watch the 3rd part you will see what they were trying to do and everything (the heart warming & these darker scenes) will connect really well.

    Basically don't worry, they picked the absolute perfect story arc to end on.

  4. M

    I also felt that this episode was not the usual heartwarming,which I guess was intentional since it was as if you can feel Natsume's discomfort. It was an episode hard to watch if it was for Nyanko-sensei.
    As for the girl, I can forgive being mean and jealous of Natsume when she was a kid, but it feels she never grew out of it!! I mean she didn't need to mention that "he used to be a liar" even to her mom. It felt as if she was showing off her supremacy to natsume and THAT I felt was unforgivable. I might be to judgemental of her but thats how I feel. And her parents, though they seemed nice, badmouthing the Fujiwaras also felt the same, as if trying to tell Natsume that they treated the best or something, telling him that he's thinner is weird since the guy haven't seen him in a long while.
    I guess I can understand Natsume, in addition to the yokai hunting him, being with a family that act all nice, but aren't really kind at heart like his current family.
    I really don't want this anime to end!! any sight of a 5th season?

  5. I guess I never felt they were "bad mouthing" the Fujiwaras – just that they thought it was strange that relatives who didn't even know the kid involved would volunteer to take him in. Also, it's a way to assuage their own guilt at turning a child over to people they really don't know – to ask questions like "are they feeding you", etc. I don't think the parents are bad people – just not exceptional people.

    5th season will surely come – this has been arguably the most consistent anime ever in terms of DVD sales. I would guess sometime in 2013.

  6. R

    Good episode.

    Some scenes show how much Natsume has grown since he lived in that place.

    "that's my seat" for example. I got a real kick out of that for some reason

  7. A

    enzo,have you seen the movie hotarubi no mori e? i'd really like to read your impression on it.

  8. I've already blogged it on the site, in fact.

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