I can state a couple of things with some confidence after two episodes of Youkai Apartment no Yuuga na Nichijou. First, that I like it – there’s a good heart here, and no little intelligence too. And second, that this is probably the first series of the season that I’d slide into the bubble. It’s a clear shout ahead of several (like Fate/Apocrypha and Katsugeki/Touken Ranbu) that are extreme longshots, but it hasn’t yet closed the sale. This show’s charms are quite understated, and I haven’t totally bought into them quite yet. But it’s close.
Anime has a robust history of shows like this one – series that one is tempted to call a “poor man’s Natsume Yuujinchou (which may have more “poor man’s” versions that any other anime). That’s not totally fair, of course, because it’s not as thought Natsume invented this genre – manga and anime about the intersection between the human and magical world are as old as manga and anime. Some, like Gingitsune, have the vibrancy and ambition to fully establish themselves in their own right, while others are more like pleasant and soothing diversions. I don’t know which Youkai Apartment will end up being (if either) but I do know that these sorts of anime tend to start slowly and take a while to fully express their charms.
The exposition is a little broad, but we do learn a bit more about the titular apartment – which apparently has a barrier around it which allows youkai to become tangible to “normal” humans inside its walls (mind you, that rather begs more explanation). We meed a number of the tenants as well, both youkai and human – and a few where it’s hard to tell. Among the more interesting is the psychic Ryuu-san, who’s held in such respect by the resident youkai that they bow to him. His explanation to Yuushi is rather more poetic and thought-provoking – the apartment is an “oasis” for youkai. The modern world is starved of grass and trees and dirt – and darkness – and humans hearts have closed to the existence of youkai.
Ryuu tells Yuushi something else, too, which I think comes pretty close to explaining the raison d’etre of series like Youkai Apartment no Yuuga na Nichijou. It’s good for the boy to be at the apartment, Ryuu muses, because it will force him to open his mind to new things. What seemed impossible will become normal – and that’s a good thing for Yuushi (or indeed, any adolescent). I’m quite sympathetic to this philosophy – to quote the motto of one of my favorite TV presenters, “Be curious”. There’s a strong element of it in many of these Shinto-themed manga and anime (yes, and light novels too – and Natsume Yuujinchou).
Of course, like Natsume, this is not wholly a story of warmth and acceptance. There’s a rather scary moment after Yuushi leaves school with a couple of girls from his English Conversation Club, and has a vision of one of them being in an accident. Not only that, after she is he heals her psychically. I’m conditioned by my anime experience to ask certain questions here – was this a latent ability Yuushi always had, or did being in the youkai apartment impart if on him entirely? And was it a coincidence that such a dramatic event occurred involving Yuushi so soon after he arrived? When humans become too entrenched in the invisible world there’s always some kind of cost in series like this one – it might be worth it, but it still must be paid. It will be very interesting to see how Youkai Apartment evolves tonally as it explores this more deeply…