Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Natsume Yuujinchou Shi – Series Review

[RS] Natsume Yuujinchou Shi 1 [720p].mkv_snapshot_01.08_[2012.01.02_23.26.21] [CrunchySubs] Natsume Yuujinchou Shi - 02 [720p].mkv_snapshot_19.25_[2012.01.10_01.55.20] [HorribleSubs] Natsume Yuujinchou Shi - 42 [720p].mkv_snapshot_07.58_[2012.01.16_17.18.41]

There’s not another manga writer out there with the emotional accuracy of Midorikawa Yuki, and no director better suited to communicate her vision than Omori Takahiro.

I've already written a series review for Natsume Yuujinchou, and a lot of the same things I felt when I wrote that one apply here.  And this doesn't seem like an end, really, though this week’s episode works splendidly as a finale.  This series is a miracle of consistency, and that applies to both quality and profitability.  Volume after volume sells 10,000 copies, give or take a few – from the DVD age to the BD age, it doesn’t seem to matter.  There’s something in this series that people respond to, series after series and year after year, and there’s no sign of that changing.  With the manga still ongoing, there’s absolutely no reason to suspect Brain’s Base won’t produce more anime until the complete story has been told (although that “The End” end card is a little disconcerting) so consider this post more a status report than a goodbye.

When I say “miracle of consistency” as regards quality, I mean it.  In 52 episodes, there’s never been a bad one – they range from good to very good to excellent to life-changing – but while some are forgettable, they’re never poor, and most are genuinely powerful.  The themes of the show have evolved over four seasons of course – there’s more of a focus on Natsume’s past and his human connections over the last two seasons – but the feel of the series has been remarkably consistent.  It’s an episode show, this one, but the spine of the story is Midorikawa’s keen eye at exposing the emotional heart of what makes us who we are.

If pressed, it would be hard to pick a favorite season.  I think I liked the third – “San” - the least of the four by a small margin, and perhaps the first just a hair better than the second – but these are small gradients, truth be told.  There were moments of epiphany in every season, and this one is certainly no exception.  If anything stands out it in this one it was the somewhat odd nature of “Shi”, which started and ended very strongly with a string of mediocre (by this high standard) episodes in the middle.   I do tend to prefer the standalone heartwarming episodes where Natsume’s path intersects with the youkai world to the “canon” eps focused on the human world, which tend to be more plot-driven - and there were fewer of those this season.  But the episodes focused on Natsume’s past really provided a new depth of exploration for the character, and his all-important relationship with Nyanko-sensei.

In addition to the first and third parts of the concluding arc, I especially loved the story of the lonely youkai who impersonated a human to spare the human woman he’d fallen in love with from hurt, the conclusion of the story of the twin Gods whose matsuri has been forgotten by the humans that once worshipped them, and the hilarious episode where Madara impersonated Natsume – a fabulous showcase for the limitless talents of Inoue Kazuhiko.  I would have loved to have seen a Kogitsune episode of course – even the anime-original episode featuring him have been superb – but alas, the Little Fox appeared only in the OP this season.  But that’s a small quibble, really – and a reminder that one of the incredible things about Brain’s Base’s adaptation is just how seamlessly the original material had fit in with the adapted.  This is that rare case (Masahiko Ohta’s work with the first season of Minami-ke is another) where a director captures the feel and spirit of a manga perfectly, yet manages to make it even better.  Brain’s Base gives us beautiful art and beautiful music that make the pages of the manga feel more alive and more pitch-perfect than ever.

I think sometimes we – and I include myself in this – take Natsume Yuujinchou far too much for granted.  It’s not easy to do what this series has done for four seasons – no real letdowns, and consistently profound emotional connection with the audience.  I’ve been a fan of this series since the very beginning (a love letter to it was one of my first posts on this blog) and it would be hard to overstate the level of affection I have for Natsume, Nyanko-sensei, and this amazing world they inhabit – a cross between the Hundred-Acre Wood and the youkai folk tales of Japan’s long history.  If the manga isn’t completely adapted by the amazing talents at Brain’s Base, that would make me very sad – but as this is one of those happy instances where stellar quality is rewarded with popularity, I think it very likely that whatever Midorikawa writes will eventually see our screens.  I hope the wait isn’t too long until “Natsume Yuujinchou Go” – for a powerful meeting of art and the heart, there’s just no substitute.

[HorribleSubs] Natsume Yuujinchou Shi - 07 [720p].mkv_snapshot_19.26_[2012.02.13_19.06.26] [HorribleSubs] Natsume Yuujinchou Shi - 09 [720p].mkv_snapshot_07.45_[2012.02.27_17.18.00] [HorribleSubs] Natsume Yuujinchou Shi - 09 [720p].mkv_snapshot_09.09_[2012.02.27_17.19.25]
[HorribleSubs] Natsume Yuujinchou Shi - 11 [720p].mkv_snapshot_03.26_[2012.03.12_16.39.08] [HorribleSubs] Natsume Yuujinchou Shi - 11 [720p].mkv_snapshot_19.42_[2012.03.12_16.55.58] [HorribleSubs] Natsume Yuujinchou Shi - 11 [720p].mkv_snapshot_21.52_[2012.03.12_17.38.07]
[HorribleSubs] Natsume Yuujinchou Shi - 12 [720p].mkv_snapshot_20.34_[2012.03.19_15.20.37] [HorribleSubs] Natsume Yuujinchou Shi - 13 [720p].mkv_snapshot_20.32_[2012.03.26_15.54.57] [HorribleSubs] Natsume Yuujinchou Shi - 13 [720p].mkv_snapshot_22.25_[2012.03.26_15.57.15]


14 comments:

  1. You know ... if I had to choose a favorite ep out of the entire four seasons the choice would be easy to select: Season 1 ep 6 (the short about the swallow spirit that was at the bottom of the drained lake). I wept like a baby at the end of that one.

    But if I had to choose a second best I would have a really, really hard time doing so - like you said, so much of it is so continuously of a high quality and ... consistently stable and "reliable" in terms of excellence of content.

    - Flower

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    1. Choosing favorite eps of this series is just brutal. All three Kogitsune eps are great, I liked ones I mentioned from this season, the finale of "San", the "A Chick Hatches" ep, Gen the snow bunny, the two-parter with Kai that ended Zoku... The list just goes on and on.

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    2. Its my favorite episode toooo!!! well not my favorite but my most memorable :D My second most memorable was the second episode of the first season, about the god fading away because his last worshiper was dying. I think those episodes are what made Natsume look at yokai in another way, and start accepting his power.. dunno my they are my most memorable episodes. But your right its hard to choose a "favorite" episode. I love this series so much, that I might be too bias to find anything to criticize :P

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  2. I can't decide which season of Natsume Yuujin-Chou is the best out of the four, but for sure I like the finale of the 4th the most. If we put all four seasons together, it certainly is a very well laid-out, beautiful, and well-told story. I certainly hope for a fifth season, but I am happy to see how much Natsume has grown and how great a place he finally lands at.

    Of the winter season, I can't decide if I like Natsume season 4 better or Chihayafuru...I guess we can tell by tomorrow. However, personally, these two stand far above all others...it's pretty sad to say good-bye to both...feelings still linger within...

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  4. It's really hard for me to pick a favorite season of Natsume (bc when I look at it per favorite episodes each season is pretty much equal).

    However I think Shi by far had the strongest finale for me. I mean this 3 parter was one of my favorite parts of the series yet.

    As for the rest of the season I also agree with you the other stand out ep was the one about the Youkai impersonating the human voice. I also loved the episode of Sensei impersonating Natsume (but unfortunately the 2nd part of that story was not as good).

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  5. I remember my feelings when I watched the first season. I was kinda worried that the pattern of Natsume will be repetitive - i.e. some youkai comes and asks Natsume to release its name, and then he will get very tired, plus Nyanko-sensei scolds him that the Yuujinchou is getting thinner. And/or he's hesitating on which side to take - human or youkai. And so on...

    Thank goodness that it was not the case. Though a bit recycled theme here and there but I tend not to be too nitpicky about it because most the time this series will surprise me, tug my poor heartstrings and even though I feel sad, there is this feeling that I'm somewhat healed inside.

    If Brain's Base is going to produce another season, I'd be more than happy. But then few of my friends would probably scream "Where is the second season of Durarara!!!??" Lol.

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    1. Although more Natsume is always my first priority as for other Brains Base series I'd rather see another series of Baccano (unfortunately Drrr was the bigger hit over there).

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    2. Baccano was the most hilarious series EVER. & the only case where I liked the dubbed version more then the original :P
      There are (RARE) cases where I like both sub and dub, but never more, except for Baccano! :P

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  6. I'd love to see more Baccano! too - I definitely prefer it to Durarara. But believe it or not, if I could pick one BB series for continuation, it might be Kamisama Dolls. It's the one whose anime feels most incomplete.

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  7. I think it would be great if there was a series about Reiko. Any flashbacks in the manga?

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    1. Nothing of real consequence that I've read. I think Midorikawa almost has to tackle that at some point before it's over.

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  8. You know, I'm having trouble coming up with more than a handful of shows that managed to deliver 4 seasons of such high quality storytelling. And I'm including American shows in my count. I think in the future, when people ask me "so what's so great about this anime shit anyway" this is the series I'll be referring people to from now on. It manages to be everything great that a television show should be, animated or otherwise. It's absolute worst episodes are still pretty good by any other standard, and it's best episodes are among the all time highlights of TV viewing throughout my entire 29 years of life. Truly a masterpiece and I'm glad to know that it continues to sell consistently, if the numbers so far have justified 4 seasons I can't see why it wouldn't justify more.

    I bloody hope.

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  9. I loved the first season more than this one, but this one was great, too.

    I wished we could have learned more about Reiko.

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