Gradual, mellow, and delicately bittersweet, Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou is a perfect follow-up for all the fans left wanting more by the preceding season. Indeed, Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou takes all the staple elements of the first season – similarly themed tragedies infused with tender sentimentality – and then adds some intense conflicts for extra kick. Nonetheless, while the material here will feel mostly familiar, it also offers more giggle-out-loud comedy, more proactive ghost-busting, and more emotionally rewarding developments between the two lead characters.
The plot progresses in a smooth succession of gentle build-ups followed by powerful climaxes; while the majority of stories present recycled themes about youkai and their human friends, there exist two distinct high points that ensure Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou remains a memorable experience. The first is in episode seven, where an unexpectedly compromised Natsume battles one of the spookiest enemies yet. The second is the concluding three-episode arc, arguably one of the most absorbing insights into the series’ Shinto lore. Apart from this, viewers can look forward to episodes involving a secret guild of youkai hunters and several amusing revelations about Reiko’s antics.
Of course, Natsume’s personal development throughout – as evidenced by his more active questioning of his place in the world – adds depth and continuity to the otherwise whimsical, disconnected external struggles.
Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou owes much of its dreamlike charm to the subdued pastels and watercolour haze of its backgrounds. Often, it chooses evocative still shots and beatific scenery over flashy lighting effects or jarring camera work. On the other hand, while character designs are simple, the inherent quality of the animation – smooth motion, idiosyncratic monster designs, pretty concepts – indicates a respectable budget and a creative design team.
As with the first season, the ending theme steals the show; ‘Aishiteru’ by Kourin is a touching, emotionally stirring song with one of the loveliest melodies of 2009. It adds an extra sense of emotional fulfilment to the end of every episode and I never passed a chance to listen to it again.
Much of the in-episode audio comes directly from the preceding season – more whimsical flute sounds, bells, and xylophones that exist merely to bolster the quietness of the show than to enhance the scenes. Since the approach works well by contributing to the mood rather than overpowering it, this is certainly a case of not fixing what isn’t broken.
While the majority of the cast consists of nothing more than walk-on characters with mild but delightful personalities, the three central protagonists deliver wonderfully involving performances and evince new facets and depths.
Specifically, Natsume makes decisions with more confidence, often vocalising his opinions whereas he might have simply stood by and observed in the first season. This is a positive step for the series as it distinguishes itself further from its more successful cousins such as Mushishi, whose central character Ginko remains distantly static across time.
Moreover, Natsume and Nyanko-sensei’s relationship has strengthened to incorporate an easy-going humour rather than the awkward mutual interest of the first season. The script puts new emphasis upon how well they play together, function as a team and, in particular, how Nyanko-sensei becomes subtly attuned to Natsume’s solitariness. Considering their less cosy attitude toward each other in the preceding season, theirs is definitely a dynamic relationship full of all the things that make pairings believable – quiet togetherness, arguments, in-jokes, and meaningful dialogue.
In a surprising twist, the third character who makes this season worth the wait is Natsume’s dead grandmother Reiko. Her retrospective role, viewed through flashbacks, takes centre stage in a few episodes. Many of Natsume’s adventures directly relate to her and, as well as advancing Natsume’s personal journey, reveal a lot about the kind of person she was. Indeed, Reiko turns out to be a captivating individual with a charismatic mix of audaciousness and kindness.
While the story reserves the choicest development only for its chief characters, this biased approach also leads to rich, immediately lovable protagonists whose sentimental journeys come to mean all the more.
It's a really peaceful story, of a boy with a loving heart. While the previous seaon had some episodes that were supposed to be funny, and I hated them, this, Zoku season had no such annoying episodes. All of them are lovely ones.
At first glance, it would almost seem that Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou is nothing more than a second season of Natsume Yuujinchou, but it actually makes a number of interesting changes to the premise of the first series. While a few of these changes are intriguing enough to draw my interest, most were poor decisions that drag down what could have been a major improvement over the lackluster first series.
Story: I'm still a story snob, and the story is still episodic, so that already precludes this anime from getting a good score here in my book, fair warning. The first major change the story made here is that the Book of Friends is back! But not really. While the Book of Friends shows up in the storylines on several occasions, it is always stuck in incongruously in what appears to be nothing more than a pathetic attempt to convince the audience that the Book is at all relevant to the anime that bears its name. This is a case of writers recognizing a problem from the first series (namely the utter insignificance of the Book of Friends) and responding in the wrong way. Instead of creating a plot centered on the Book, the writers just have it conveniently falling out of Natsume's pouch in almost every episode so that a few lines can be dedicated to reminding the audience that it still exists. And then back it goes into the pouch and into the dark abyss where banished plot ideas go.
The majority of the series is based on the clichéd episodic anime standards of blahblah selflessness, blahblah friendship, blahblah self-realization, blahblah corny life lesson. It's just irritating in its mediocrity. I've never understood the appeal of episodic storytelling. When you're forced to create an entirely new plot every 24 minutes, there are bound to be holes. It's just impossible to have a plot of any sort of complexity with the fragmented style of episodic storytelling.
Oh, and remember how there were only about 2 people who could see spirits in the first series? Pretty much every human character introduced in this series can see or hear them, which does severe damage to the "Natsume overcoming the loneliness inherent in his ability" theme.
All of that said, there was one glaring and surprising sucess in terms of story in this series. In the middle of the series a plot was introduced that actually spanned two episodes. You may laugh but that actually blew me away. Imagine how I reacted when the final three episodes of the series all shared the same plot. Tears may or may not have been involved... Actually the last three episodes of the series were very impressive. They showed just what these two series should have been. An organization is introduced that forces Natsume to discover whether it is better to be pragmatic or idealistic and just how he values the life of a spirit against that of a human. These three episodes showed how you can be both episodic and still have some sort of direction for your plot. It would have been interesting if they had spent these two series exploring this organization, but they didn't have enough time to expand the topic in only three episodes. I'd actually rate those episodes fairly high, but seeing as I had to go through 10 episodes (or 23 if you include the first series) of crap to reach them, the story score remains low.
Animation: Overall, the artwork is very well drawn and crisp, but one of the major strengths of the first series was the unique and detailed designs for all of the spirits. So, with their infinite reserves of common sense, the writers abandoned that. Nearly all of the spirits in this series are either cut-and-paste designs from the first series or merely humans with masks on. It's entirely lacking in originality and it's a decision that I really don't understand. There are, however, a few (like 3 or 4) spirits who still had interesting designs that were distinct from the bland masses.
Ok, if anyone has an answer to this, please, please tell me because I'm baffled. Was the animator sick for episode 10 and they had to bring someone else in or what? Both the character design and the animation styles are completely different. Movements are much more exaggerated and languid and as for drawing characters, well just look at Natsume:
Natsume in episodes 1-9, 11-13:
Natsume in episode 10:
Hair, eyebrows, nose, chin, jaw, ears, they're all totally different. The character design looks very similar to House of Five Leaves. Despite extensive research (read: a Google search), I can't find any information on what happened there, but it was really distracting.
Sound: Seems like the song choices for the OP and ED were based on the first series. The OP is standard J-Pop again, nothing you'll particularly enjoy. But again the ED is a nice, relaxing song, though it's piano-heavy instead of acoustic guitar-heavy this time. The voice acting is still great.
Characters: It's almost getting to the point where I have to assume any character without size DD breasts is a male. Like the fox spirit in the first series, there is a dragon spirit here who is clearly feminine, but is of course a male. Why does anime do this all the time. You don't see live action movies casting Shirley Temple as a boy, do you?
Reiko must have signed a press relations agent or something because the girl who was a complete prick in the first series as she walked around terrorizing and enslaving innocent spirits is suddenly portrayed as a sensitive prankster with a heart of gold. I'm not sure either persona is particularly better, but I'd just like to see some consistency.
Phase three of my whine tour is Nyanko. He's like Stewie from Family Guy. Nobody ever explicitly states whether regular people can hear him or not, but they imply that some people can sometimes and not others. Even people who can hear him talk at one point in an episode are unable to at a different point in the same episode.
On a positive note, Taki, a supporting character who was introduced in the ground-breaking two episode plot-line is generally a success. She's brave and selfless, but immature. Her relations with Nyanko were the highlight of the series in my opinion. The characters that were introduced in the organization from the final three episodes are a part of this series that I really wish they had spent more time on that organization instead of random disconnected life lessons.
Overall: I just want to emphasize again that, if this series had stopped at episode 10, this review would have been hugely negative because there appeared to be no progression from the first season, but the end of this series showed the potential that has been hiding in the background here for two seasons. If a third season of this anime is made, I really hope they stick to the direction that they were heading at the end here and not revert back to the utterly pointless episodic story writing that has severely limited this promising series.
Last summer, I had the chance to watch Natsume Yuujinchou, Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou,s prequel, and my verdict was that it was a really charming series with heart and love into it. I also said that i was hooked enough to take a look into it's sequels, and that I did.
The story of 2008's Natsume Yuujinchou ( or Natsume's Book of friends) is continued in the same line of thinking. It expands where we left out delivering in some small one-episode (for most of it) stories exactly as the first one did it. I also found these stories refreshing, calm and unbelievably poetic; I absolutely adored that. It stayed true to the original premise while booasting on the lyric side of these stories: the human side of youkai, something that most series about youkai don't do and instead picturing them as ghosts or evil beings. For me, Natsume is one the most poetic series out there, it truly feels like a sooting poem you're reading to relax. I just felt that we could have seen Natsume,s friends a bit more, but apart from that, it was an excellent series. I like to compare the series as human friendly version of XXXHolic.
The animation is done by one of my favorite anime studios, Brain's Base. I still felt that, like its predecessor, the series feel like low-budgeted, even for a Brain's Base production. But that just means thst they are so good that they can wonders with low-budget, that's why I love them so much.
The soundtrack, once again, is subtle and calm in the image of the series. The voice actors of the first season reprise their roles for goodness. Good prestation in general from all characters. Hiroshi Kamiya was just brilliant as Natsume because he voices him with care, precision and calm, portraying him well.
The characters are basically the same from the first season, but we have new faces appear as the lovely Taki, that I feel will come back in the sequel. In general, Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou's cast is diverse and well worked up to offer the viewer tons of characters to love. Natsume Takashi stands onece again as an unbelivably lovable character to follow and to care for.
Overall, if you liked Natsume Yuuijinchou and waht it had to offer you, you'll definitely love Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou as an simple but excellent continuation of the main premise. Consider me STILL hooked for the third season, San Natsume Yuujinchou and eventually the fourth season coming up in early 2012. To say, I can't say wich one between the first and second season was better. They were equally good.
NOTE: I really want to read the manga now! I will try to get it. If the animated series ever come out in DVD in America, I might consider it a serious get.
Score: A really, far from perfect, good series with charm and heart. 4/5.
Next! I'm getting in something completely different this time. Sailor Moon. Also, my DVD reviews of Soul Eater and Guardian of the Spirit ( Seirei no Moribito) will soon be up.
This is a good anime because it has a very good story line to it. I like how the epsiodes flow together even though almost every episode is about a diffierent problem for Natsume. I like the animaion of the characters because some of them have really good detail. I also like the animation of the scenary. I like most of the songs in this anime. I also like the sound of some of the characters voices. The characters in this anime are very good and they all get along together really nicely. I just wish that Natsume was more open though. So over all this is a good anime and it continues the series very well.