August 30th, 2009

haiku

Finished series: Natusume Yujinchou

We've finished watching Natsume Yujinchou. My first episode review is here.

Natsume is a quiet boy who was orphaned at a young age. He has a secret: he can see spirits. As a young boy, he didn't try to hide his ability, which made his foster parents think he was creepy -- and so he moved from distant relative to distant relative. He hasn't much connection to the people around him: a real loner.
However, now he moves to a small town where his grandmother Reiko used to live. She died recently, and Natsume came into possession of her belongings, one of which is a book with page upon page of caligraphy -- seemingly weird names. This turns out to be Reiko's "Book of Friends": she could see spirits too, and instead of hiding her ability, she battled the spirits and forced them to write their names into her book. This powerful spell obligated the spirits to do her bidding.

Natsume's similarity to Reiko gets him in all sorts of trouble: the spirits mistake him for Reiko, and hunt him down in order to get their names back! It is only after the spirit Nyanko (a huge white wolf-like thing) explains this to Natsume that he knows the worth of it. And obviously, the holder of the book has tremendous power over all the spirits in the area, which is why Natsume is also targetted by spirits whose names aren't in the Book too!
Nyanko turns himself into a fat cat (he had been sealed away in the image of a maneki neko) and starts to live with Natsume -- he protects him, but when Natsume turns old, Nyako says he'll eat him and take the Book of Friends for himself. And while he doesn't want to show it, he warms up to the fearless awkward boy as Natsume resolves to return the names to their rightful owners.
The difference between Reiko and Natsume is that the latter has genuine compassion for the spirits his grandmother trapped. We get to see flashbacks from when Reiko defeated the spirit -- sometimes she pulled quite a rotten trick on them.

But Natsume also spends lots of time with humans -- mostly his foster parents and his classmates. He somehow fits in, and his 'weirdness' slowly gets accepted. He even helps out some of his schoolmates with spiritual problems they have. It is very interesting to see Natsume slowly carving out his own space and settling down in this small-town village, but there are some moments of comedy as well.

The series uses a washed-out color palette that makes it seem like you're watching a moving watercolor painting -- that somehow goes very well with the nostalgic and small-town feel of the series. The character designs are not much special, but the spirits appear in a bewildering variety of forms and shapes -- and not two are the same. That's pretty interesting.
The voice acting is very good. Natsume has the slow and thoughtful voice of a boy who always watches what he says (apart from the moments when he and Nyanko-sensei are alone in his room and Natsume can tease him without being overheard).

Good points:
- Really interesting look on the spirit world;
- Lots of subtle character development;
- Great nostalgic look and feel.
Bad points:
- Slow moving.

All in all, a very enjoyable view. I'll give it a solid 8.5.
haiku

Finished series: Zoku Natsume Jujinchou

We've finished watching Zoku Natsume Jujinchou. My first episode review is here.

It's the second season of the series, and the theme is still the same. There is a bit of a subtle shift though: Natsume starts to see more and more how other humans interact with the spirits. Sometimes they simply use them as tools, sometimes they're hunted by them -- and this shapes the way Natsume sees his own role in the grand scheme of things.
Also, not every spirit he encounters is in the Book of Friends anymore. As he roams further and further from home, he sometimes gets into trouble that simply giving back a name won't solve.

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There's lots of bitter-sweet meetings and partings in the series. Lots of melancholy as spirits and humans alike reminisce about the old days. Natsume doesn't feel at home amongst the humans, but he can never be a spirit either. He does manage to deepen the friendships that he has and even forge some new ones, which gives him more self-confidence as time progresses.

Good points:
- Good mix of action and quiet scenes;
- Great character development.
Bad points:
- Turned into a more 'generic' supernatural series.

If you liked the first series, you'll like this one even better. Again, an 8.5.