Saturday, 6 December 2014

夏目友人帳肆 / Natsume Yuujinchou Shi / Natsume’s Book of Friends season 4 (plus OVA)

It’s been two and a half years since the end of Natsume Yuujinchou season 4, which is the longest gap yet between seasons, with only the OVA about a weird snowman creature at the beginning of this year since, but I’m still hoping there’ll be more made yet, because I very much enjoy this world, these characters and the bittersweet atmosphere throughout.

As I made clear in my reviews of other seasons, this is actually where I began watching. I simply assumed the action started in medias res and until the appearance of Natori – clearly known to Natsume but lacking a proper introduction – I didn’t even realize I hadn’t started at the beginning.

So yes, the first and the last Natsume Yuujinchou I saw was from this season, but I don’t regret that. I saw some of the best episodes early on, because this is a good series and I’m glad I got hooked. The extreme cuteness of the opening sequence helped, too – because it, like much of this season, is focused on finally fleshing out some of Natsume’s past.

There are plenty of smaller-scale episodes: one with a little furball resembling a tribble, one where Natsume gets shrunk and put in a jar so Nyanko-sensei has to go to school looking like him. Then there’s a slightly more serious couple of episodes where he has to impersonate a god and take part in a contest to prevent an environmental disaster.

But the heart and soul of this season are links to Natsume’s past. Links through old friends and old mementos, but chiefly a visit to his old home, where he once lived with his late parents. It’s very sweet, really – this somewhat damaged young man who now has good friends thinking back over his difficult past. He was always ostracised for his strange behaviour when he was forced to interact with invisible spirits in front of other people. He made the other kids in his foster homes ostracise him and would often disappear. His coming-of-age story is particularly significant not just because he found a loving home – which is touching enough – but because he’s also at an age where he can have a degree of independence. He may well still behave oddly at times, but he doesn’t need to be protected so much.  

While this is progress, it still feels like there’s a whole lot of real story yet to be revealed. I know there’s a manga to read, and one day I may go seek it out. But I’d like to see more animated. Brain’s Base got progressively...gentler with how they animate this show. Things looked more and more clean, smooth and delicate and that made things just a little prettier with each season.

We still have more to learn about Natsume’s parents, about the guild of exorcists who have taken an interest in him, and of course – though we may never get there – whether or not Natsume will keep his end of the bargain up when it comes to giving Madara the book when the time comes. It would be a very sad epilogue if the series ended there, and I don’t think it would need to, but it could certainly be very affecting done well.

I grew to very much like this anime over its four seasons. I sincerely hope I get to enjoy more. Especially of the lil’ fox boy! GODDAMN HE’S TOO CUTE.

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