The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Natsume Yuujinchou San

Title: Natsume Yuujinchou San
Genre: Drama
Company: Brains Base
Format: 13 episodes
Date: 4 Jul 2011 – 26 Sep 2011

Synopsis: Encountering yokai both good and evil has become a daily routine for Natsume Takashi, and he has learned to live with the ability to communicate with them alongside Madara, a powerful yokai more affectionately known as Nyanko-sensei when in his “lucky cat” form. One day, on his way back home from school, he meets an old lady with poor eyesight. After lending her a hand with her walking stick, Natsume learns of her yokai identity and gets coerced into doing her a favor. She turns out to be an ailing spirit who is seeking a certain mirror that can exorcise an evil spirit from her beloved flower tree. More intriguingly, she mistakes Natsume for his late grandmother Reiko …

The Highlights
Ambience: Maintains the same soothing and lighthearted tone from previous seasons.
Theme: Running theme revolves around Natsume’s reflections on his past, which complements the subplots well.
Characters: Likable and empathetic; some of their stories are poignant, while others are sentimental.
Setbacks: Still not much word on Reiko; lacks the closure I expected.
Nyanko-sensei: He’s welcome to come to my house and laze around all day.

Natsume Yuujinchou San is much like its previous two seasons, Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou and Natsume Yuujinchou: it embodies everything that viewers have come to love about the title, from its ambience and tone to its characters and relationships. The first season won many viewers over with its “iyashikei” style that soothes people with pure, sentimental drama and cheery, wholesome moments. Furthermore, the characters are the likable kind whom the viewers would love to have as their own company, especially the titular character Natsume and his irresistibly cute, porky cat. People generally would want to see more of what they enjoy, so NYS would come as great piece of news for all Natsume fans. I for one won’t deny how it is one of my favorite slice-of-life titles of all time; however, it seems that the third season is showing very faint signs of staleness.

NYS succeeds in doing what many subsequent seasons of other series fail at, and that’s preserving everything that makes the first season a success. Natsume Yuujinchou‘s strongest points are its effective storytelling and down-to-earth characterization, and subsequent seasons share those traits. Furthermore, the three seasons distinguish themselves by having different overarching themes: the first season explores the idea of departure, where its tearful stories mainly involve yokai and humans going their separate ways. The more upbeat second season is about optimism, where Natsume rediscovers his new lease in life and looks forward to every brand new day. In the third season, it’s about reflections, and episodes revolve around Natsume recalling good and bad memories, and appreciating where he is today. The tone varies between poignant and upbeat, the former being illustrated in episode four, while the latter is being epitomized in the final episode.

Aesthetics have always been a strong point of Natsume, and NYS continues its streak by expressing sentimentalism and subtlety with soft animation and pastel colors in its visuals. It has the same approach as most Studio Ghibli movies: the visuals aim to be easy on the eyes and, rather than bombarding the senses with vivid colors and dynamic animation, they make the viewers feel as though they’re gazing at an open field on a beautiful morning. Equally good is the music that is tailored to portray the warmth and calmness of Japanese summer, in particular “Kimi no Kakera”, where folk singer Kousuke Atari returns to lend his voice in a song that is just as sentimental as “Kizuna” in the first season.

However, NYS shows signs that may worry some viewers. As enjoyable as the third outing may be, it more or less treads the same paths as the previous seasons, and therefore loses a sense of novelty. It has somewhat lost the spark that made the first season so memorable, and moreover, only a few episodes hit the mark with sheer poignancy, while the rest are mildly engaging. Then, there is also the issue of Natsume’s grandmother Reiko still being kept in the dark regarding her background. She plays an integral role in the whole Natsume storyline, so to see her remain as a vague figure that the viewers only know through sporadic flashbacks is a bit disappointing. It’s about time that more exposure is given to her since she’s the center of everything that happens in the storyline.

Nevertheless, NYS is an example that proves how narrative and characterization play a key role in developing a solid foundation to any show. It remains an emotional story that explores the co-existence of yokai and humans, and how they are ironically more similar than different from each other. Although it has done nothing wrong or bad per se, traces of it getting stretched beyond its limits are starting to show. I’m strongly of the opinion that all good shows must come to an end before they start to drop in quality, whether I like it or not. NYS has yet to address a few pressing issues in the main plot, most of which revolve around Reiko, and with a fourth installment in the works, I really hope that it’s the grand finale that can finally wrap the story up. After all, a story that has been doing a commendable job in cleaning the soul deserves to conclude on a high note.

The Rating: 7

Reviewed by: AC

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