Alone in a Crowd - Musings on Natsume Yuujinchou San

Rumour has it that the next season of Natsume Yuujinchou (and obviously there will be one, at some point) will be the final one, although that might just be people voicing their desires. (How many years has it been since pundits claimed that Bleach was coming to a close?)

I'll say it right away: this series is one of my favourite anime. I'll try to be impartial, but I'm not the kind to remain 100% unbiased about something I love. That aside, this anime really has a lot of good points: a solid story, many interesting and intriguing themes, and a good level of character change done on realistic levels. There's also some bad points, such as the fact that some themes might just be a little too emo for some people (especially in its presentation), and that the fantastical nature of the anime is a little closer to shoujo than not (meaning it definitely turns some viewers off right off the bat).

There's a few "normal" spirits mixed in there.

I find the animation of this series to be quite good, with realistic character designs and little outrageous colours. Perhaps the colours are strange in a Japanese setting (Natsume himself has dirty blond hair), but it's within the realm of possibility within this world. The design of the various spirits and demons was what really caught my attention; often times, I found myself very interested in a supernatural being upon first glance. There are the humanoid spirits, and the monstrous ones; ones with correct numbers of limbs and organs, and ones with very distorted proportions; and so on. It was a very vibrant world.

The interaction between Natsume and Nyanko-sensei is definitely a highlight.

This series has a slightly complicated story, due to the fact that it's been three seasons already so there was a lot of time for development. At its core, it's about a boy named Natsume Takashi who sees the supernatural. He lost his parents at a young age and is currently in high school. After being shuffled from one relative to another, he eventually went to live in the countryside with distant relative Touko (on his father's side) and her husband Shigeru, a childless couple. That's where the first season began; however, since then, a lot more has happened. There's a slew of characters, most with their own stories (some more detailed than others), and those characters also include lots of spirits. The story for this season focused a lot more on the concept of friendships, which has always been a recurring theme (along with loneliness and fitting in), and on Natsume's changes since the series first began. I think this season is really best watched right after the other ones, because I frequently found myself just not remembering the story, despite loving this anime so much.

That's how the cat got so fat.

Story Presentation
Most episodes in this series are standalone, and this season was not an exception. However, there's a lot of continuity, as the episodes work to create a rather large picture and so come together in the grand scheme of things. Episodes tend to have one guiding plot point that holds the entire story together, and there's rarely any "fodder"; when a plot point has been milked for all its thematic goodness, the episode moves on to the next. That said, a lot of people would find this slow-paced, due to the fact that it's not about action (it's about themes). With this season, there were almost no re-introductions made, even though old cast members reappeared, which left me wondering who they were sometimes. Due to its overall themes, each episode was pretty emotionally charged; even without remembering everything about the characters on the screen, I felt touched with a lot of things that were happening. Ultimately, once I began liking the characters, I was pretty much a goner.

Essentially, the main cast of the series.

The character changes are very evident, if only because some episodes are actually dedicated to flashbacks in order to highlight it - especially Natsume. His situation is quite ironic: everything in his life before the first season caused him to work to become the person that he is today; however, with his current surroundings, his old personality would be more than perfect comparatively. The theme of longing seeped into the characters, such that there was a lot of talk about how to get through to people and how to open up. With this season especially, there was a lot of character development, especially with Tanuma since he showed up more frequently than in the past. It's a coming-of-age story done with a slight twist, and I've always found myself wanting for all the characters to grow and just be happy.

I just can't remember the story with the black one!

Final Words
I just can't say enough about this anime - and, at the same time, there really isn't anything to say. There's a lot of reasons why someone wouldn't like this series; much of it just has to do with its genre. It's a little more emotionally adult than a lot of other coming-of-age slice-of-life stories, with its emotional scenes quietly hurting at your core instead of the characters simply crying on-screen. My attachment to it has to do with my attachment to the characters and a strong desire to see them succeed at life. The fact that it's wrapped in a nice package - with interesting character designs and well-paced episodes - just fuels my addiction further. I can't suggest this series as a whole, but I do suggest just the first episode (of the first season, logically). It'll essentially reveal everything you'd need to make a decision.

I'm this close to actually wanting it.

Scoring - [8.0/10]
This is one of my all-time favourite anime, so the scoring is definitely very biased. In fact, it would probably be even higher than it is now if I had watched this season back-to-back with the other ones and so felt the full brunt of the emotions.