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.
Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou (AKA Natsume’s Book of Friends 2) is the second season of, 13 episode supernatural, drama anime which is episodic and has aspects of slice of life. The original series was very relaxing to watch and this remains the same, it’s peaceful (almost if it weren’t for youkai attacks), but the plot is shallow while retaining the fun, lovable character we’ve had before. But how long can an episodic slice-of-life last before it gets stale and proper narrative is needed?
As before the animation quality good for a 2008 and along with the unique style, it presents the relaxing atmosphere we had before. To quote my review of season 1:
“… I watched it in 720p and I could feel the fluidity of the animation and the simple details were well defined. The visual style of this anime is a bit relaxed, but is almost like a generic anime. It pulls ahead with the designs of most characters and it helps that these characters aren’t exactly human. It’s very well stylised, the cat especially resembles a chubby ornamental lucky cat. Though I personally prefer a more realistic cat, due to cuteness, they had a reason to go with that style here. Of course, there’s nothing shady depicted in this anime, some casual fights here and there.”
Nothing else really needs to be said, besides how annoying the androgynous character designs are for children characters or those who look young. Kogitsune who was in season 1 is an example of this and here, Tama is added to that group. Heck, Tama is even born with long hair, so of course I’d assume it (I still don’t know the gender) is a girl.
I’m almost getting filled with nostalgia for the sound here. I never got the soundtrack, but maybe I should, it's so soothing and can easily put me to sleep. Sound hasn’t changed much since season 1, so here’s another quote that sums up how I feel:
“The music of this anime is very suiting to the mood. The intro and outro are very acoustic tracks, featuring emphasis on the vocals and give off a gentle, peaceful vibe. It’s similar for the background music of the anime itself, very mellow and simple, just like the anime itself. Things may sound a bit comedic for the slightly funny scenes, but that’s just good use of sound and thusly good sound design.*
Of course, this continues to be in Japanese and I have a hard time imagining it being dubbed well. The voices are essential for the accurate portrayal of the characters and the tone of voice is key to the unwinding atmosphere of this anime. Thus the Japanese voice actor’s did a great job here. As mentioned before, the language used here is a form of Japanese that is uncommon, one example is the word for friend: ‘Yuuijin’ instead of ‘Tomo(dachi)’. There is a scene in this series where there is some Kanji seen written and apparently saying 1 or first. Yet I was unable to find the kanji for one (一) among the writing. This more formal language is reflected in the relaxed and polite atmosphere of the anime.
Takashi Natsume is voiced by Hiroshi Kamiya, who voices Otonashi in Angel Beats, Levi in Attack on Titan, Shinji Matou in Fate: Stay Night, Seijirou Akashi in Kuroko no Basuke and Kouhei Morioka in Tsukuyomi Moon Phase. Nyanko-sensei is voiced by Kazuhiko Inoue, the voice of November 11 in Darker than Black, Kazkis Hauer in Ergo Proxy, William de Farnese in Romeo X Juliet and Keiichi Tamaru in Haruhi Suzumiya. Reiko Natsume is voice by Sanae Kobayashi, who has voiced Ennis in Baccano, Lucy in Elfen Lied, Daedelus Yumeno in Ergo Proxy, Xing Huo in Tsubasa Chronicle and Hitomi Kashiwa in Welcome to the NHK. Jun Sasada is voiced by Miyuki Sawashiro, having voiced Masami Iwasawa in Angel Beats, Chie in Eve no Jikan, Asako Shibasaki in Toshokan Sensou and Kotoho Isone in Yozakura Quartet. Kaname Tanuma is voiced by Kazuma Horie, who has voiced characters including Ryuu Tsuji in Special A. Touko Fujiwara is voiced by Miki Itou, the voice of Natalie Beriam in Baccano, Android 18 in Dragonball (Z), Rina in Eve no Jikan, Taiga Fujimura in Fate Stay Night, Miyo Takano in Higurashi and Eri Minami in Persona 4. New character Tooru Taki is voiced by Rina Satou, she has voiced Nagi in Eve no Jikan, Haruka Minami in Minami-ke and Kiyoh Bachika in Gurren Lagann.
The main character remains the gentle blonde haired high school boy called Takashi Natsume. Natsume is spelt common form 夏目 so here’s a fun fact: ‘Natsu’ is the Japanese word for summer and ‘Me’ (pronounced ‘meh’) is the Japanese word for eye. It just happens that these are 2 of the kanji I know. Takashi is the grandson of Reiko and like his grandmother, he has special eyes which let him see and interact with Youkai (not to mention he looks a lot like her). This is a unique ability, but because of this he has been through much hardship and loneliness. People called him a liar for seeing things that don’t appear to be there and he had trouble making friends. His own parents even abandoned him. He eventually was lucky enough to come into the kind care of the Fujiwara couple, who don’t know about Takashi’s history and Takashi keeps his powers secret. He does has a few friends in his current school and he has inherited the possessions of his late grandmother, including her Book of Friends. Together with his protector Nyanko sensei, Takashi tries his best to help Youkai and get along with them. He is a peaceful and kind individual, partly due to his desire to not be lonely. He has a powerful punch, which he often uses in self-defence. He is sensible too, though he will go out of his way to help his friends.
Nyanko Sensei AKA the powerful Ayakashi Madara is unique among Ayakashi (Youkai). He can transform from his large beastly wolf form into a variety of forms that can be seen by normal huimans. He occasionally takes the form of a girl that looks like Reiko Natsu, but he mostly takes the form of a pudgy cat, based upon a luck cat statue. He desires Natsume’s book of friends and thus he has formed a pact with Takashi, that he will inherit the book of friends upon Natsume’s death. Until then, he is to be Natsume’s bodyguard. Nyanko is a bit tsundere as he may seem to be mean to Natsume claiming to protect him because ‘he will be the only one who can eat Natsume,’ but really Nyanko gets along with Natsume and is a real good friend. While powerful in his wolf form, he spends most of time in the cat form so he can get free food from Natsume’s adoptive family, who love having him around so much that they’ve even given him their own names0. He likes to laze around, chase bugs mice and fish and claims in a tsundere fashion that he is not a cat, when he clearly behaves like one. He usually goes out drinking and partying in the nights, after all he is a long-lived immortal Youkai.
The Fujiwara couple are Takashi’s adoptive parents who love him as parents should do, as his real parents should have. The adoptive father Shigeru wears glasses and is often out working, while the adoptive mother Touko is a traditional Japanese housewife, not much there to be said. They both do not have any children of their own and take special care of Takashi, Touko worries about him too much, but is just short of being overprotective. Both of them like having Nyanko Sensei around and even give him their own names, Touko calls him Nyankichi and Shigeru calls him Nyangoro. Much like Takashi, these are kind and gentle folk, I can’t ever imagine them getting angry. They know nothing about the Youkai or Takashi’s adventures with, since they are normal humans of course.
Reiko Natsume is Takashi’s grandmother, an eccentric and adventurous girl (flashbacks of her only seem to be in her high-school years) who had the same Youkai seeing powers as Takashi. Like Takashi, she felt lonely and didn’t get along with normal human beings as a result. Reiko was also quite strong and athletic, she could handle herself in a fight and sometimes beat up tough Youkai. Everyone thought her to be weird and she was the one to make the book of friends (Yuujinchou), by taking the names of the Ayakashi she defeated. These names are a part power of an Ayakashi, and the corresponding page of the Yuujinchou is an extension of their being. If it gets damaged, then the Ayakashi is damaged in the same way. By using the Yuujinchou, one can command the Ayakashi whose names are written within. She died young so Shinichi never met her, he also doesn’t know the details of how she passed away.
Shuichi Natori is a famous film actor who is also form a long line of exorcists. He is like Natsume, since he can also see Youkai. He has been cursed by an Ayakashi, which lives on his skin in the form of a moving lizard tattoo. He employs Ayakashi as his servants/helpers and they assist him in exorcising troublesome Youkai. He’s well known, but he still manages to keep his powers a secret. Unlike Natsume, he’s not as fond of Youkai, but he still gets along with the Ayakashi who are his servants. This includes the masked Ayakashi called Hiiragi, who was to be exorcised in season 1, but Natori was persuaded by Natsume to spare her. Hiiragi is very protective of Natori, she literally owes her life to him for sparing her. He’s still a very kind person and one of few friends Natsume can be honest with, concerning his powers.
Taki Tooru is a strange girl from Shuichi’s school. Only strange due to recent events, she is often found drawing strange circles into the ground, wearing a trenchcoat. When Youkai walk into these circles, normal humans can see them. Upon Natsume getting acquainted with her, it just seems that she is a normal friendly girly girl. She likes Nyanko-sensei a lot and every time she sees him, she has trouble resisting his cuteness and ends up hugging him and melting into a cat-loving mess. Taki is an energetic and playful girl, like most of the other characters here, she is kind and caring. She seems to know a lot about Youkai, which might have had a lot to do with the fact that her grandfather was obsessed with Youkai and kept a lot of books and things about them, despite not having the powers to see them.
Kaname Tanuma is another of Natsume’s friends from school, in another class. He knows of Youkai’s existence and can vaguely sense their presence, though he can’t see them. He is one of the few humans who know about Natsume’s power. His father is a priest, but doesn’t appear much. He seems to be a quiet and gentle guy, much like Natsume himself. Like Taki, he appreciates Natsume’s privacy thus he does what he can to keep other’s out of trouble and to prevent other people from finding out about Natsume’s powers.
The rest of Natsume’s friends include the funny class president Jun Sasada, who believes that Natsume has some sort of power and likes the supernatural. However, she doesn’t know about Youkai and Natsume’s powers. Atsushi Kitamoto and Satoru Nishimura are Natsume’s boisterous long term school friends. They are typical high school boys, joking around, having fun, talking about girls, etc. Neither know about Natsume’s powers.. Nishimura also seems to have a crush on Taki, he gets jealous that Natsume seems to know her very well, but eventually these concerns leave his mind and he moves on.
The story continues with Natsume’s adventures with the Youkai and his book of friends. The start of this sequel is nice enough to summarise a few key points of story that were discovered in season 1, thus season 1 isn’t as essential to the plot here. The plot does carry over the characters and events. In this sequel, the long-term goal of returning the names of the Youkai written in the book of friends takes a backburner. Very few names are returned here. The story takes a bigger focus on the episodic occurrences surrounding Natsume and friends. There are a couple of stories which take up 2 episodes, these are important ones like the part where Natsume meets Taki and the last 2 episodes. The flashbacks with Reiko Natasume remain and we are even teased a bit more of her story in this season, though nothing solid. Considering she didn’t get along with humans, I’m wondering how on earth she was able to pass on her powers to her grandson, there must eventually be a man in her life to father Shuichi’s dad (I assume Reiko is Shuichi’s paternal grandmother as we see a blonde man in a flashback of Shuichi’s parents).
The themes of getting along with Youkai and discrimination remain. As do the themes of trust and relationships, many Youkai dislike humans as they feel betrayed by them. But as is seen, it doesn’t matter whether one is human or Youkai, both are capable of kindness and being mean. Natsume is still very concerned about revealing the truth about him to certain people, like his adoptive parents. Deep stuff, but in a relaxing joyful way.
The overall vibe of this anime seems positive and gentle, likely due to the characters and overall style of the anime. At times it does get tense as character’s very lives come in danger, I will admit to there being a little blood too. In that sense it’s slightly predictable due to the positive nature of this anime. It wouldn’t be so happy or carefree if someone were to die now would it? But the plot does remain episodic and that makes me worried. It has me worried that there may be no end or satisfying conclusion, that there might not be a significant plot brewing in the background. We are yet to find any significant info on Reiko Natsume after this second season.
I’ll also mention the fan-shipping, or rather update my own. In the previous season I thought Jun Sasada was the girl for Natsume, but with the addition of Taki Tooru, I feel Jun Sasada has been usurped. Taki gets along with Nyanko sensei more, she knows the truth about Natsume, except for the book of friends and even is the first person to appreciate and say something genuinely pleasant about his grandmother to him. She’s perfect! At one moment I got a feel of a love triangle when the two girls meet and then Jun was taken away from her alone time with Natsume, complaining that she wanted to be with him (could it be love?). I know this isn’t a romance anime, there is no actual romantic occurrence in this series and that it’ll probably never happen, but a guy can dream eh?
As before I recommend this anime to people who enjoy relaxing and chilled out anime, those who don’t mind lack of plot or an episodic nature, not to say that plot is lacking. This has an almost slice of life vibe, I’d say it’s good for all ages, though some folks may get bored with how mellow it is. I can understand how some folks may find it boring, not an anime for everyone. I enjoyed it. It allowed me to unwind and there were a couple of instances where I dozed off while watching this anime, not because it was boring, but rather it was very gentle and soothing, especially the sound. Of course, if you liked the first season, this is more of the same, but a bit better with the introduction of new characters and a few more tricky situations. This series is close to art, but the animation is too gentle and gives off a pleasant simple vibe, for it to do that. It's like a well-created plain painting, compared to something a bit more creative.
Family-friendliness Rating: 2/5 Monsters try to eat kids, nuff said (lower is better)
Overall Rating: 7/10 (higher is better)
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.
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.
....Yeah, I've kind of said all I wanted to say in my review of season one so go and read that. It is pointless to review this all over again as it is the same story only better with more characters.