Expecting Reiko: Natsume Yuujinchou Season 3 (夏目友人帳参)

Currently at episode 8, the third season of Natsume Yuujinchou (referred to as NatsuYuu) inherits essentially everything from the previous two: nature-filled countryside scenery, casually paced story, short-lived (and usually half-hearted) suspense and the ever so plushy Nyanko sensei. And there are few elements added in case you wonder. I am quite sure that it is impossible for NatsuYuu 3 to impress everyone, so what is the source of its extraordinary popularity, as shown by the ranking at NEC BIGLOBE’s アニメワン, a major PC/mobile anime broadcast service provider in Japan? (#1 as of August 27, 2011)

You are constantly reminded of the reason why Nyanko sensei is your fav character

Fan audiences of NatsuYuu often refer to the series as “healing”. Exemplified by the lush scenery typically consist of green fields and clear blue sky, the atmosphere depicted is decidedly clean, bright and full of nature, almost reminding me of classics from Hayao Miyazaki. The story rarely has anything intense, most “battles” with ayakashi mono (general Japanese term for ghosts, goblins, spirits… etc.) ends with a hit on a head (yes, Natsume could be so violent when necessary!), or a friendly rock-paper-scissor game according to Reiko’s (Natsume’s grandma, creator of yuujinchou who passed away long time ago) unique definition of “duel”. The world of ayakashi mono is depicted as overall friendly and calm, though “to eat somebody” seems to be accepted as normal (poor Natsume, always stuck between getting bullied and bullying back). Even in the most dangerous situations, the ultra-powerful Nyanko sensei would invariably jump out (literally) to save the day with least amount of trouble… In short, the “nonbiri” (at ease, lazy-casual) feeling of NatsuYuu is much of what makes it an attractive work, and gives the entire series a soothing touch.

In a surprising change of pace and tension, EP6 and 7 tell a continuous development when Natsume is pitched against the powerful leader of Matoba clan, the Harai ya (祓い屋, hunter of ayakashi nomo) who often adopts less than noble means to achieve his goals. EP8 though, completely revert back to norm: the story picks up an old encounter of Natsume back in season 1. The keyword for this episode is “time”: through expecting Natsume and the teaching of an old rock spirit, the little fox get to understand that all species have their own unique scale of time, all acquaintances would eventually be temporary, and are precious for exactly the reason. EP8 is delivered in an slow-paced, almost informal way. If you have always liked the series, you get the point; if not, you are most likely to be bored.

Lush countryside landscape and the ayakashi mono on the tree — seasons come and go, yet alone they stay

The central idea of NatsuYuu, including that of season 3, is loneliness and the passage of time. Natsume’s grandma Reiko had no human friends for her ghost-seeing ability, and that in turn caused the creation of the Yuujinchou. The poor ayakashi monos in that “namebook” (ok, I admit this is a play on Facebook) are then locked in the not-so-harsh hell of waiting: expecting to be called by Reiko. However as a human, Reiko eventually dies (the detail of which the series hasn’t touched upon, yet), and the Yuujinchou is left without an owner. Rather than a lord of the rings, the Yuujinchou is more of an evidence of Reiko’s existence and the hope of many to whom time has no meaning and life is a lonely, never changing view of mountain, river, and sky. Loose and casual as it is, the story of NatsuYuu in deed has all the classic “kandou” (touching) factors in Japanese culture: back to nature, inherent goodness of beings, passage of time and the resulting loneliness, and a healthy dose of nostalgic feeling.

Reiko’s epic battle with ayakashi mono!!!!! (too right mate, she wins and always does…)

I expect future episodes to continue its never changing nonbiri-ness, and bring more slightly emotional moments. However personally I would like to see more of Reiko and her background story, how she died, etc. Also, till EP8 Natsume’s friends are mostly reduced to minimal appearances, which greatly weakens the “make friends” storyline built in season 2. At the very least, I would definitely prefer to see more scenes of Taki “torturing” Nyanko sensei…

Finally a full size poster from official site. Please question yourself whether Natsume looks decidedly more feminine on each official poster…


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