Thursday, 16 October 2014

夏目友人帳 参 / Natsume Yuujinchou San / Natsume’s Book of Friends season 3

I didn’t realise until I went to Japan a couple of months ago how popular Natsume Yuujinchou is over there. With Nyanko-sensei toys in every arcade, little models everywhere there were gachapon and the manga prominently displayed in bookshops, it was probably the most visible I’ve seen any non-Jump anime be there since I went over at the height of Fullmetal Alchemist’s popularity – and it doesn’t have the hot-new-property quality Danganronpa had when we visited last year. 

The fact is that the funny fat cat who acts like a petulant middle-aged man and the pretty-boy sidekick who is meant to be the show’s main character clearly resonated, and the show is more successful than I had realised.

And yes, I got a couple of little gachapon toys, featuring both Natsume and Nyanko-sensei.
Series 3 was effectively more of the same, but there were subtle changes, both in presentation and in story. The art seems to be simpler and effectively looks cheaper, yet somehow small changes have made Natsume himself look much cuter. 

The series isn’t scared of broaching homoerotic elements, while trying desperately to avoid being vulgar about them, for example by letting Natsume be possessed. We also see more of Natsume’s lonely, misunderstood past, and the overall message of the show – especially its final episode – that it’s good to have friends and comrades is sweet. Even if they’re a bunch of weirdoes. 

His human friends are also given greater insight into how he lives, now, especially those who also have some sense of the supernatural, and essentially this is a series about strengthening bonds.

Gotta say, though – sorry, humans, but when your bonds are with hilarious huge-faced spirits and giant awesome horse-spirits, that’s gotta stand for something.

There’s also an episode devoted to the ridiculous adorable little fox character, learning to stand up for himself and rely less on others – though he still has his enormous boy-crush on Natsume, bless ’im. I’d happily watch a whole anime about fox-shota adventures, but I’m afraid that’s not really what’s on offer, haha.

If there’s a problem with this series – and especially having already watched half of season 4 by accident I know this won’t be rectified – it’s that there’s no real progression. The show has always reminded me a lot of Kekkaishi, which similarly suffered from stagnation, but at least Kekkaishi felt like there were big loose ends dangling that needed to be tied up, and immediate tensions with Yoshimori’s family members. 

With Natsume Yuujinchou, there’s the huge question of what happens if Natsume returns all the names – not that I think it’s even vaguely likely that Nyanko-sensei will truly become a vengeful murderous beast, formidable though his true form may be. I like this set-up and I’m actually a little upset that it will come to an end because it’s so fun and comfortable to watch, but before too long I’ll think the show really needs a strong direction to head in, and the only way I can think of for that to happen is for the tensions between Natsume and the organised exorcist household to really come to a head.

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