So. Incredibly. CUTE! …But don’t be fooled.
When I said I was hoping that the next episode of Natsume would be better than the first in my last entry, I was being optimistic. What I had really hoped for is that episode two would be just as good as the first one, that it wouldn’t be a disappointment after a fairly strong introduction. First episodes can be extremely misleading, especially when they are designed specifically to rope in a new fan base.
And what of second episodes? Those with enough exposure to semi-episodic anime (not completely episodic anime or the type that hits the ground running) will know by now that as a rule, the second episode tends to be a bit slow. Think of a rollercoaster. Just stepping foot onto one of the cars and being strapped in like you’re about to leave the Earth’s atmosphere can be exciting by itself. But once it starts slooooowly climbing the steep hill before the big drop, it can be a bit boring for a few minutes. That is, unless you’re about to wet your pants. Anyway, you get the analogy.
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Right now, Natsume Yuujin-chou is climbing the proverbial ‘steep hill’ in preparation for a (hopefully) enthralling drop. I give episode two credit for crafting a worthwhile sideplot because it’s not often that an anime can be episodic, even temporarily, and maintain depth and singularity. A masterful episodic series (e.g. Mushishi) is much, much harder to create than one with a linear plot; harder still is one that ‘puts you in the mood’ to enjoy the serene moments in between the action, such as Seirei no Moribito. Let me be honest, at the beginning of episode two last night, I was not in the mood to make acquaintances with another no-name youkai and its emotional baggage. One-shot sidestories all too often degenerate into half-assed fillers, and sometimes the only difference between a boring sidestory and a filler is when it rears its ugly head — before a major story arc, or in the middle of a major story arc.
But to my delight, Tsuyukami’s flashback was deliciously short. In fact, Tsuyukami’s struggle to retrieve his name from the Yuujin-chou was a sidebar here. Most of the episode was used to examine various, microcosmic subtleties — an awkward conversation between Takashi and his classmates, Takashi’s fumbling response to Ms. Hana’s pleasantries, Madara sleeping on his chest in order to protect him through the night, Takashi passing out from exhaustion after returning a name to a youkai — all the while quietly and industriously assembling the cadre of a deeply personal tale. Episode two ends on a maudlin note, but thankfully, no tears are shed.
Surprise, surprise, Takashi is being chased again by a one-eyed demon. But the chase scene itself isn’t so important. More significant is the situation that precedes the chase, or rather, the manner in which the youkai affects it. The opening scenes zoom in on Takashi’s school, where Class Rep and her two lackeys are asking Takashi to sign a petition that will give their class permission to hold a Test of Courage at, ironically, a haunted house. The one-eyed youkai lurks several feet down the hall, watching Takashi as he speaks. When it gives chase, cutting the conversation short, what we get is another vivid cross-section of Takashi’s troubled social interactions. Episode two is a montage of several of these meaningful snapshots.
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I’m going to scream if they play that card again! At least give it two eyes next time!
Eye. Have. You.
Form-changing mascots, take note.
Takashi has been making rapid progress with his name returning. Word has spread among the youkai community (that sounds funny, doesn’t it?) that he is returning names from the Yuujin-chou, so the demons flock to him day after day. It’s a little bit less exciting than him having to go out in search of the youkai, but it does make for a more realistic story — after all, he is in school and has a ‘real life’ to maintain. Takashi indiscriminately returns the names to both good and evil youkai, although I’m not quite sure how that works out for the ones that are after the Yuujin-chou. I imagine that whether or not their names are in the book has little effect on their ability to (ab)use it. So even if the evil ones vanish after reclaiming their names (why this happens is yet to be explained), I wonder if they can’t just come back another day to mug Takashi-kun? Guess we’ll find out!
Business as usual.
All that hand-clapping must be hard work, eh? Speaking of clapping, can anyone explain to me why Edward Elric’s non-automail hand didn’t fall off by the end of FMA?? Oh, right, I’m getting off topic.
Really though, why is it so exhausting? I’m curious to know…
Tsuyukami’s introduction at the dinner table was the FUNNIEST thing I’ve seen in a minute. No joke, I almost fell out of my chair! Just had to include it here.
“Honey, call pest control!”
Return of The Borrowers :-F
Spit-take lulz, muahaha. Classic jokes can only work in the most appropriate of situations.
So, the ‘youkai-of-the-week’ introduces himself as another victim of Reiko’s mischief who has come to get his name back. Tsuyukami is a spirit that inhabits a shrine near a small village that was victim to a drought. As the village youths came to the village to pray for rain (which it did) and subsequently, to make offerings of gratitude to the deity that supposedly resided there, Tsuyukami’s strength and magnificence grew. He is once again small because all except for an old lady named Ms. Hana have ceased their worship.
Damn sticky rice.
I have to say, I’m quite satisfied with the brevity of the sidestories. Nothing bores me to tears more quickly than random, protracted flashbacks that I don’t care about. And I don’t care how pathetic the character’s plight is — if the anime doesn’t make a convincing case for them (hard to do in half an episode), then don’t expect an ounce of compassion from me. My heart generally resides with the main character. Anyway, so, Tsuyukami wants his name back. But there’s a problem. Tsuyukami’s name page in the Yuujin-chou is stuck to another page because of Reiko’s poor table manners (sticky rice; keep in mind that any damage to the names in the books will manifest on the owners.) Takashi turns him down the first night, but sets out the next day to pay him a visit, in anticipation of a collaborative solution.
Takashi’s brief encounter with Ms. Hana adds another shade to his social ineptitude. So far, the parts of the story that focus on developing Takashi’s character are the most engaging, even though they play a supporting role. This is probably an intentional directing decision that will help to arrange the episodes along a common thread.
You don’t seem to have a problem talking with Madara. I’m not convinced yet!
My absolute favorite part of this episode was the artful transition from Ms. Hana’s narrative about loneliness (in reference to Tsuyukami), to Takashi’s thoughts on his own feelings of loneliness, and then to a scene of Takashi whimpering about the pain of loneliness in his sleep. Switching the subject from loneliness to heaviness, he wakes up a few moments later to find himself face-to-face with Madara’s gaping, toothy maw (who had released his true form while sleeping/sitting on top of Takashi.)
The shock value was there, but Takashi’s brief exchange with Nyanko-sensei next morning is what makes this important. Madara has been a slightly difficult character to pin down because we know nothing about his intentions behind protecting Takashi or his history with Reiko. So far, he has made an effort to protect Takashi, but he often talks about how convenient it would be if Takashi bit it so he could get his hands on the Yuujin-chou early. I didn’t catch it at first (perhaps due to the ambiguous translation), but I think Madara heard Takashi’s sleep-talk and moved on top of him in order to protect him from opportunist youkai. Let’s be realistic here; if Madara wanted to eat Takashi for lunch, he could have done it a very long time ago. If I’m interpreting this correctly, we can assume that Madara is on Takashi’s side and doesn’t plan to betray him… for now.
Lay off the manjuu, dude.
The other awesome thing about this ep was the youkai whose name page was stuck to Tsuyukami’s in the Yuujin-chou. It was the creepiest, most frightening thing I’ve seen in a good long time. Here’s hoping that more youkai will be as intense-looking as this one.
Tsuyukami’s criminal sketch.
You laugh now…
The real thing.
Not so funny anymore, eh? That shit is fucking creepy.
The harsh truth.
Takashi discovers that he’s not alone. There is another with the ability to see the unseen.
Shokkeru’s Humble Opinions
I have to admit, I wasn’t anticipating such a great second episode. I’ve said before that Natsume would probably be one of those shows I’d probably watch at my own pace and not be one of those edge of your seat shows. But after watching episode two, I have to say that I can’t watch to watch the upcoming episodes. There’s not much going on, but the sheer beauty of these past two episodes makes me crave more. Also, with the added mystery of a new character who can apparently also see spirits, my curiosity is leading me to want to see what this is all about.
What started as a pretty light-hearted introduction to Mr. Tsuyukami turned out to be a much more emotional subplot. I almost choked up when Tsuyukami started to disappear despite how short we knew him for (no pun intended). I hope to see more friendly spirits like him show up as it brings a pleasant mood to the series. Of course, the occasional “evil” spirit is probably necessary to keep things moving along too.
It’s pretty obvious that Madara doesn’t want Takashi to die yet since he probably would have let him die off a long time ago if he did. This is kind of interesting since Madara wants the Book of Friends and would obtain it if Takashi dies. However, Madara still continues to protect Takashi either for his own purposes or perhaps because of something that happened between him and Takashi’s grandmother. At any rate, I’m curious to see what kind of story Madara has that he hasn’t shown yet.
Overall, it’s been another great episode and I can’t wait for the next one.