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.
Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou is an exercise in hushed gracefulness and innocent wit; it weaves a tale so soul-purifyingly good that it easily tops any respectable list of feel-good anime. Unfortunately, as with its predecessor, its very quietness will leave many anime fans ignorant of its existence. Don’t be one of them.
Life continues as normal for Natsume - he still lives with the friendly Fujiwaras, walks home with his school friends, and spends his free time adventuring with spirits! However, as his encounters soon reveal, the relationship between spirits and humans is a delicate one and not always friendly either. As Natsume slowly uncovers the mystery of his grandmother Reiko as well as his own unique purpose, can he use the Book of Friends to reconcile the needs of spirits and humans?
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