Friday, 15 August 2014

続夏目友人帳 / Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou / Natsume's Book of Friends Continued (Season 2)

Perhaps appropriately, given that it is the only season to be titled as a continuation rather than being given a number like a sequel, Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou is the only time a season starts without an opening episode that repeats the exposition to explain the premise...which is why I didn’t notice when I started watching season 4 that it wasn’t the beginning.

The second season is really more of the same. It kicks off with an imitator of Nyanko-sensei, who turns out to be a powerful youkai, and generally the series goes on exploring Natsume’s situation and developing his relationships extremely slowly. We also begin to have the theme of everyone else but Natsume wanting to choose a side – abandoning humanity to spend time with the youkai like his grandmother Reiko, or treating them like tools or animals like the exorcists. 

There are even humans who will use a youkai as bait to catch another. Natsume spends more time with the famous actor Natori – including a hot springs trip with him, a new level of homoeroticism. Otherwise, things are generally episodic again – Natsume might buy a painting that turns out to be the object of obsession of a kind-hearted spirit, or meet an old lady who met a mermaid in her youth and fears she cursed another with immortality.

Though the cute fox boy is not back in this season, he will return in the next. Instead, there’s a little dragon-boy who hatches from an egg who is quite absurdly cute – especially as powerful demons want to eat him – and another somewhat emo young spirit whose name was taken by Reiko and tied to a tree. 

There’s also a very interesting young boy called Kai who is prickly but of course warms to Natsume – and in the two-part season finale turns out to be more than he initially appears. His design seems almost a nod to Mushishi, but grey/white hair and a fringe that covers one eye isn’t exactly unique. It’s a little unconvincing how he departs to neatly round off the story, but it was interesting to watch nonetheless.

As the series gets closer to the present day, the animation marginally improves, but it’s never really what one would call stunning. Still, Brain’s Base get the art style nicely, and a slightly less bombastic style suits it.
The only thing I’m starting to find unconvincing is that Natsume’s supposed spiritual power manifests generally in one punch to the face whenever he’s in trouble, and that always seems to sort out even the most terrifying threat – before, of course, Nyanko-sensei intervenes.

I suspect that looking back, I’ll consider season 2 the most underwhelming of the Natsume Yuujinchou seasons, but I thoroughly enjoyed it nonetheless, and will happily continue with season 3.

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