Natsume Yuujinchou Go – 01

When it comes to me and Natsume Yuujinchou, time is an elastic concept.

OP: “Takarabako“(タカラバコ) by sasanomaly

natsume-yuujinchou-go-01-7There’s nothing in my life, anime or otherwise, quite like Natsume Yuujinchou.  Over the years I’ve noted certain similarities between this series and Mushishi, to the effect that Natsume is the warm side and Mushishi the cool side of the same coin.  There are many common traits between these shows, I would argue, but perhaps a sense of timelessness is the most important.  It’s many-faceted with Mushishi, and much more literal.  With Natsume Yuujinchou it manifests itself most strongly for me on a personal level, in that the series always manages to take me back to the same emotional place no matter how much time has passed.  This is one of the first anime I loved, and I’m always that same fan whenever I watch it.

natsume-yuujinchou-go-01-8Some things have changed with Natsume Yuujinchou, in fact.  Director Omori Takahiro has left Brain’s Base for Shuka, taking its signature franchise series and most of its key staff with him (he’s promoted Natsume veteran and Gin no Saji director Deai Kotomi to a co-director role on “Go”).  And perhaps the animation isn’t quite at the same level it was in earlier versions, though given that Omori and his team are still in charge and that Shuka just delivered its finest work by far in 91 Days, I’m not much worried about substance.  And the series took some different turns in Natsume Yuujinchou Shi, focusing more on Natsume’s human relationships and becoming more conflict-driven.

natsume-yuujinchou-go-01-9For all that, the experience of meeting the series again with this premiere is very much stepping into a time machine.  Omori and longtime Natsume writer Murai Sadayuki have chosen to open with a very low-key and quintessentially “Natsume-rashii” episode, focused on a youkai named Kayatsubo who lives inside a clay pot (which may actually be her body) and goes to sleep every day when the sun sets.  Like so many youkai we’ve met over the first four seasons she mistakes Natsume for his grandmother Reiko, whom she calls “Reiko the thief”.  She demands Natsume return what Reiko stole from her – her “treasure” – or she’ll take away Natsume’s own treasure (which is of course Touko and Shigeru).

natsume-yuujinchou-go-01-10We’ll get back to that story, but I want to talk about the subtext for a minute because I suspect that was the clue as to what the main thread of this season might be.  Reiko has always been a major presence in Natsume Yuujinchou (sometimes more literally than others) and the tea leaves say that something we’ve been slowly building towards is finally going to happen.  Namely, Natsume is finally going to seriously try and learn more about Reiko’s life – and death.  He actually approaches an adult from his dark days when he spots her on the street to ask for information, despite his obvious discomfort.  And we learn than Reiko gave birth to Natsume’s mother out of wedlock, and that the whole family was considered “not right in the head”.  I suspect Reiko’s past is going to be a major theme of “Go”.

natsume-yuujinchou-go-01-11Still – one thing that Natsume Yuujinchou (like Mushishi) is remarkably good at is telling complete little stories every week.  Each of these self-contained episodes has an arc – a beginning, middle and end, and themes all to themselves.  The vary in quality of course, but the best of them are truly remarkable and they almost always feel complete and satisfying.  And so it was here, as Natsume learns the truth of the interaction between Reiko and Kayatsubo and meets a couple of helpful youkai (large and small) who help him get to that truth.  We also see Nyanko-sensei turn fiercely protective when the Fujiwara house comes under threat, further evidence he’s come to think of it as a home every bit as much as Natsume does.

natsume-yuujinchou-go-01-12In the end, it all boils down to this – it feels wonderful to go back to the place Natsume Yuujinchou (and only Nastume Yuujinchou) takes me.  I must especially praise Inoue Kazuhiko – one of the best ever generally speaking – because his performance as Nyanko-sensei/Madara is one of the very finest and most layered in anime history.  We also get a little glimpse of Kogitsune in the OP, which makes me dream that we might just get another “Little Fox” episode at long last (I can feel the tears welling up already) – he has a couple of appearances in the manga that haven’t been adapted yet and hope springs eternal…

ED: “Akane Sasu“(茜さす) by Aimer

 

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16 comments

  1. Ayup. What else can one say except – that was a classic example of Natsume? Episode 1 aired and it felt like there had not been a couple year pause from season four ending.

    It’s so nice to have this series back! ^^

  2. Five years (almost)!

  3. J

    This season is going to be something special for me, is what I can already say. I only discovered the franchise in late 2014, so it’s the first time I can watch it as it airs. I wasn’t really worried about the quality beforehand, giving how wonderfully consistent it has been before throughout it’s four previous seasons, and I felt right at home upon watching this episode. I’m glad I didn’t cave in and read the manga yet, as the episodes will all be fresh for me this way.

    I’m definitely looking forward to what else this season has in store, and considering that the manga should have more than enough material that hasn’t been adapted yet, hope that it won’t end with S5 either.

  4. I wonder if they will tell us who Natsume’s Dad is and now he ended up with Reiko (can he be a Youkai?)?

  5. Natsume’s Dad was a big part of “Shi”, actually.

  6. M

    Thank goodness for Natsume. Everything else so far has been underwhelming compared to last year. I mean there are some alright shows but they’re no Subete Ga F or Concrete Revolutio… Here’s to the rest of the week’s offerings.

  7. The big possums walk late.

  8. S

    It was a good episode and it’s nice to hear that a man was actually kind towards Reiko-san: was he her lover-to-be? Still I’m looking forward to another appearance of Matoba-san. When he is involved I truly feel that Natsume is in danger and it thrills me. Has someone noticed that Nyanko sensei’ s eyes turned yellow when Tanuma and Natsume were talking about Reiko-san? I can’t figure out quite well what of a bond it is (if there is a reason for that) but surely Takashi, Reiko and Madara are the only ones to share that same eye color. Perhaps it is a symbol of equal spiritual strength.

  9. D

    It’s been a long time since the last season, but when I settled down to watch, it seemed like no time at all, so soon did I slip into Natsume’s world. The show I looked forward to the most this season, and I am totally pleased with it.

  10. R

    It feels like coming home. I don’t know how or why or really even what I mean completely by that phrase but that’s just how Natsume Yuujinchou feels to me, despite all the years between this episode and the last one I saw. It just feels like that.

  11. H

    Words cannot express just how happy I am that we are getting another season of this show. It has been in my top five favorites for years now and I expect great things. I really do hope that questions concerning Reiko will be answered at long last. She has been a great mystery to me from the get-go. But regardless of whether or not my curiosity is sated in that regard I am guaranteed to love this from beginning to end.

  12. F

    You said it all. Both Natsume and Mushishi are my favorite animes, but Natsume is the one that makes me cry the most. It’s so calm and yet so impact full.
    Thank you so much for covering it!

  13. K

    And next year (probably) we have the 2nd season of Uchouten Kazoku, life is good 😀

  14. M

    a study in nostalgia. its good to have it back :’).

  15. I stopped watching anime years ago. An hour ago I somehow found out that a new season of Natsume Yuujinchou is airing and I immediately watched the first episode.

    “the series always manages to take me back to the same emotional place no matter how much time has passed. This is one of the first anime I loved, and I’m always that same fan whenever I watch it.”

    True for me! I’ve had difficulties explaining to people why this is one of my favourite shows, and you’ve perfectly described the emotions that show never fails to give me.

  16. C

    Who play roles of Kayatsubo and Acorn-Eating Youkai?

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