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When I first discovered this series, the first season and half of the second season were already out. I was delited when I heard about the third season, and then surprised when the fourth season came out as well.
I also started to follow what I could of the manga (since it doesn't seem to have a set schedule for scanlation even though it's monthly in Japan, though they've been getting better at scanlating it lately).
The first three seasons were very enjoyable; they had emotional situations, greetings and goodbyes, and memorable characters. It's nice to see Natsume progressing as a character, as well; both he and Nyanko-sensei/Madara are slowly coming out of their respective shells, while supporting characters like Tanuma and Taki also get to help out.
The manga chapters, being the typical monthly length, usually concluded in one chapter, and on occasion, two chapters.
The first three seasons of the anime typically covered everything it needed to in one episode, from filler episodes to those that were taken from the manga. From the drama and emotions, it was covered typically in a single episode.
In the three seasons, there were maybe one or two plots (per season) that required a two-part episode in order to cover it, and that typically occurred near the end of the season.
Season Four, however, started out with a two-parter right off the bat; highly annoying. What was covered in that two-parter was originally part of the plotline of the giant youkai that was revived in the cave with youkai blood in the manga.
Then, there was episode three, which was a single episode, and at episode four it became a two-parter once again.
Now, it's become a two-parter once more, as this arc will obviously be wrapped up in episode 10. I don't know if it's because they're lacking filler episode plots, or perhaps if the anime is catching up to the manga too quickly, but the constant two-part episides are annoying.
Normally, I wouldn't be bothered by such a thing, but the pace of Natsume Yuujinchou has always been episodes with a single plot per, and the two-part "big adventure" typically occurring towards the end of the season.
Though I'm glad that Natsume Yuujinchou isn't going the route of creating a separate plot to finish/wrap up the anime that would clash with whatever is planned for the ongoing manga, the constant use of two-part plots in an anime that used to have a different pace is still annoying.
This anime is drama, supernatural, and slice of life...up until now, that's all been managed perfectly within a single episode except for the occasional two-parter.
I would have preferred fillers, since most of the past fillers ranged from lighthearted to dark, and were enjoyable either way. It was like "light watching" while the buildup to the heavier storylines and plots were saved for the end, so we could enjoy the weekly release of the episodes.
Now, however, we're not only being presented with near constant two-part episodes, but episodes that don't give us much of a break between darker themes and plots. Yes, the manga is like that often, but one of the reasons I enjoy the anime so much is because it takes breaks from that darkness and weight of the more angsty plots.
Though it's following the manga more closely, with less filler episodes (even the third episode was based off the manga), perhaps it's just because I don't like it when things change, but I'm still not fond of this new pace that the series is going at.
It would have been easier to get used to if they started this pace around the second season, but to go three seasons with mostly one-episode plots, then dump a sudden barrage of two-part plots in the fourth season...
...it doesn't mesh very well. It's a little late to change the pace of the anime by season four. Yes, each season is only about 13 episodes long, but that's still a season; it's still long enough to establish a pattern and a style.
Suddenly breaking the style at the fourth season is frustrating to see, especially since a lot of other series I've been into have been going downhill for the past few weeks. I always looked forward to Natsume Yuujinchou since the third season started, and especially when I heard the fourth season was out since it had been a "breath of fresh air" to otherwise stagnant updates in other anime and manga.
However, though it's not falling into the same traps that the other anime/manga I'm following have been falling into, changing the pace with many two-part episodes still decreases how enjoyable it is to watch...
...even if I do know what's going to happen next, since I read it in the manga. Not very happy with how the fourth season is being handled after three five-star seasons and manga that's just as good.
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