It's back! It's back! Strike up the band, start a parade, get the party started, Natsume Yuujinchou is back! I mean. Ahem. As a huge Natsume Yuujinchou fan since the anime started - and have since started reading the manga with equal amounts of love - the return of Natsume and company is a fresh breath in a season that isn't looking too great in terms of originality or quality.
Warning: contains spoilers for the episode described after the jump break.
So, in the premiere episode of Natsume Yuujinchou San, Natsume is once again the target of a not-so-nice youkai intent on taking the Yuujinchou for himself. He returns home, exhausted, to find a little teacup yokai underneath his house - and according to Nyanko-sensei, it's been there for several weeks! When the teacup starts clumsily running around his house in the middle of the night, evidently a foretelling of disaster about to come to the household, Natsume is instantly on guard against any misery that might come into his new family and bring grief to those who do not yet realize Natsume's gifts. Naturally, being incredibly naive, Natsume soon finds himself cursed by a yokai who resembles an old woman - but he'll soon learn that it wasn't so much as circumstance that made their paths cross but fate. When the old woman yokai calls upon Natsume for his assistance (upon pain of death of course), what he learns about this woman's past might help him understand his own strange gift a little more - as well as the person he inherited it from.
The episode, called "The Name of a Monster" is a standard strong story for the series, a one-shot neatly wrapped up in twenty-four minutes. It is an episode very much concentrated on Natsume and his issues, not so much with the entire ensemble - although we do see Natsume at school around his small circle of friends, his classmates don't contribute much to the main story. It is also a story about living caught between two worlds – the world of the supernatural and the world of the mundane, a precarious balance Natsume must keep in his own life on a daily basis if he wants to live normally as possible.
Despite being what would be a typical “Natsume gets caught up in a youkai’s troubles and ends up learning from the experience” kind of story, “The Name of a Monster” offers a poignant insight into Natsume’s mental process when it comes to his abilities as well as the life of his grandmother, the troubled Reiko Natsume. The parallels of their lives leaves me to wonder what will happen to Natsume in the future and if he will one day grow to dislike the presence of yokai as Reiko did, a kind of neverending bitterness that grows without notice over time.
"They come without asking and they leave just the same." This quote from Natsume early in the episode has a sad relevance at the conclusion – and I think it will have a greater meaning in the overall season. I speculate that this is the season of Natsume either accepting or rejecting his place in the world of spirits. Natsume Yuujinchou San looks to have the same solid storytelling and lush artistic style as its previous two seasons. Plus: the ending theme is sung by the same artist who sang the opening theme for the first season, Shuuhei Kita, and his voice is as gorgeous as ever. A lovely personal start to the new season of anime.
You can watch the first episode of Natsume Yuujinchou San streaming here via Crunchyroll (free users must wait 6 days to watch it though).