Natsume Yuujinchou Season 6 Episode 11

Review – Some spoilers:

Can we get a season 7 announcement, please?

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This episode resumes the hunt for the study and as usual Natsume’s keen eyes and a deeper understanding of yokai and those who can clearly see yokai find the necessary clues that eventually lead the group to the study door. That said, Natori does have a moment of doubt about whether he should hear what Natsume has to say regarding the Book of Friends later in the episode.

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So as much as Natori continues to play the understanding guy they are leaving his character and his relationship to Natsume ambiguous right to the end. I find it fascinating how this show didn’t resolve this point but still made this feel satisfying. We did take another step in this relationship with Natsume ultimately explaining the situation with Reiko to Natori and we heard Natori’s response. First the one he said clearly to Natsume:

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And then the one he made sure Natsume didn’t hear:

It isn’t exactly a declaration that Natori is going to try to take the book or destroy it, but it kind of indicates Natori isn’t just going to say, ‘cool, you’re grandmother left you a really dangerous book’. It will be interesting to see how this progresses, assuming of course we get more of this show.

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The other point that has to be mentioned is that for the first time a yokai has suggested knowing a male relative of Natsume. We kind of knew he had to have family other than Reiko and his dead parents but they’ve never been mentioned. And as Natsume wonders later, what connection did a former relative of his have with the exorcists? It is obvious that Nanase of the Matoba clan had some sort of relationship with Reiko other than the one childhood encounter we’ve seen, but is Natsume more closely tied to the exorcists than he realises?

So this season is done and I’m really happy with how it has gone but will do a full review soon. That said, this is a show I always want more of.


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The Eccentric Family Season 2 Episode 11

Review:

It is all happening this episode with all of the many little plots coming together fantastically for what looks like a great ending next week (or whenever I get to see it). Despite talking trains, evil imposters, caged tanuki, dreams where sons converse with their dead father, transforming giant tigers, and exploding factories, the strangest point this episode still goes to seeing Benten crying.

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Her relationship with Yasaburo has always been ambiguous and this point doesn’t do much to clarify given she clearly isn’t trying to save him but she will mourn the possibility of him being eaten in a very strange mirror of the nightmare he had in the last episode. Though, it isn’t as though Benten did anything to stop the inevitable rescue effort either.

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With everything starting to come out into the opening and the family ties being stronger than ever, I am really looking forward to how this resolves. This show understood what made season 1 special to those who watched it and has managed to really capture those parts in this sequel without feeling too much like a duplication (though there have definitely been some moments where it feels a bit like an echo).

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Now if I could get a Nidaime/Benten showdown I’d be over the moon but given how the story has unfolded it doesn’t seem like that is on the cards.

The Eccentric Family is available on Crunchyroll.


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Natsume Yuujinchou Season 6 Episode 10

Review:

Is there really only one more episode of this? Really? And the next season is…?

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For a second last episode of the season, episode 10 of Natsume Yuujinchou pulled out all the punches. We are dealing with exorcists again and Natori most definitely did not forget about the Book of Friends.

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That said, this episode seems to be positioning us to see him as an actual friend and given he’s been covered in shades of grey as to where his true motives lie for a fair while it would be nice to think that is true. Though there’s always the chance of another twist in the tale.

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But in case exorcists searching a mansion for a study full of spells while Natori gently probes Natsume for hints about what he has via Hiiragi is not enough to keep you entertained in what is normally a much more relaxing story, lets throw in some Reiko stuff just to bring everything together. About the only part of Natsume’s life that gets left out here is his normal school life and normal human friends but that probably would have been pushing it to incorporate that as well.

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That said, though, this is another two parter story so we’ll just have to wait until next week to see how this all plays out but I couldn’t be happier with how this season seems to be finishing up. My only complaint is that it is finishing.


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The Eccentric Family Season 2 Episode 10

Review:

This show continues to charm with its pleasant character interactions and exchanges even while it drops some pretty big bomb shells in this episode. Things have been heating up for a while and a lot of the plot threads have started to come together but now we get the big revelation for this season and it is definitely matching up with the expectations season 1 gave us.

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Not the revelation but a line that was too cute to ignore.

This episode is dealing with the fall out of Yasaburo’s choices in convincing the Nidaime to be the tanuki representative when the Trick Master is chosen rather than Benten. Admittedly, the logic behind that makes sense because even though Yasaburo kind of likes Benten, she does eat Tanuki so it would be kind of hard for them to have her around. Not to mention they all turn into furballs at the sight of her. Still she isn’t exactly someone you want looking for you.

Still, the real revelation comes through the second eldest brother visiting some branch family on his journey. I wasn’t paying enough attention to that particular plot point thinking it was only a minor concern but they just revealed something that is literally going to change everything about how this season wraps up and needless to say it has to do with the whole election of the Trick Master and the feud between the families that they so neatly tucked away a few episodes ago.

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But before the full weight of that reveal sinks in, Kaisei reappears in front of Yasaburo. While part of her presence there just reinforces what we had just learned, the next moments, while not unexpected, certainly escalate the tension of this series. They are clearly going for a very dramatic finish and we’ve not got all the key players in place.

I’m just hoping they don’t actually eat a tanuki.

The Eccentric Family is available on Crunchyroll.


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The Eccentric Family Season 2 Episode 9

Review:

This show continues to demonstrate it really understands the bonds between its characters and it is that spiderweb of relationships and the stain that gets put on certain strands that makes this episode great. Admittedly, by itself it isn’t particularly impressive, but having seen all the pieces getting put into place leading up to this episode and then the episode terminating with one of the more dramatic entrances of the series and setting up a face off between Benten and Nidaime which we’ve essentially wanted since meeting Nidaime this season, plus placing the Tanuki right in the middle of it all just kind of makes everything work.

As usual Yasaburo is getting in way over his head and being cautioned by his brother, however he plows on with his plan though I don’t think even he realised just how big a storm he was in the process of stirring up.

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As viewers we’ve known that the Nidaime and Benten had to have had some backstory even though up until now they haven’t admitted to knowing each other previously. We’ve also known that a show down between the two was more or less inevitable and that when it finally happened it would be explosive. This episode leaves us poised for that show down but I can’t help but think they may delay a little longer, possibly fill in the back story or choose to go a different path. This show has never been about direct confrontations and has had a fairly interesting tendency to have situations resolve in unusual ways so I’m actually looking forward to the next choice. Whether I get a fight between these characters or not, I’m sure to be entertained.

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The Eccentric Family is available on Crunchyroll.


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Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet Series Review

Overview:

Ledo is a sixteen year old pilot  with the Galactic Alliance fighting for the survival of the humans against the enemy (giant squid type things that can apparently survive in space). Unfortunately, during a battle he pretty much gets tossed through space and ends up being submerged on a small blue planet. Unable to contact home, Ledo is going to have to learn to coexist with the humans he has found on this world.

Review:

As much as I ended up enjoying this anime, I really feel this one has been horrendously mislabeled. MAL lists it as an action, sci-fi, adventure, mecha. And you know what, all of those elements are in the anime but what you’ll mostly get is Ledo learning how to live a new life with the cute messenger girl (Amy) he happened to abduct in episode 1 who then shared her fish with him. For all that stuff happens and there are some small scale battles between pirates and scavengers and the like, this really is just Ledo learning to actually live and then we’ll introduce a conflict at the end so that we remember it is actually a mecha.

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The first episode is pretty misleading about the tone of the show though it does set us up nicely to understand why Ledo really can’t just learn to relax and live peacefully. In a very short time frame we learn a lot about Ledo’s world of constant fights, loyalty, and almost no human connection. His strongest emotional attachment is to Chamber, his mecha or the computer AI on it, and really that is one of reliance rather than an actual friendship. So while the tone of this opening battle does not reflect anything that is going to happen later in the series, it’s a nice quick bit of character building to set a scene and it doesn’t linger too long before we’re on the water logged planet and watching Chamber get salvaged from the bottom of the ocean.

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Once the story gets going, it kind of follows fairly predictable patterns. Ledo tries to do something, usually tries to use his advanced technology to take a short cut, people get all upset and shocked because it isn’t the way it is supposed to be done or it damages something, Ledo feels sorry for himself and Amy comes along to give him a pick-me-up pep talk. That’s a slight over simplification but it essentially covers the majority of the episodes until we start building toward the final.

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I am left with the question of where did the squirrel come from? All things considered it just seems kind of random when there don’t appear to be many other land animals running about the ship.

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The narrative has some great ideas that seem to continually be pushed to the sides for the usual slice-of-life antics that anime loves to foreground. We do eventually get back to that massive space conflict notion with the space squids and why there are humans on a planet that don’t know anything about what is going on in space. The answers are pretty obvious fairly early on but it is still nice that the narrative does attempt to get back to the sci-fi part of its story before the end.

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Plus the characters are actually kind of fun to watch. Ledo starts out pretty emotionless, for good reason, but becomes a more well-rounded person even if he still has a way to go by the end. Amy is cute, occasionally used too much for fanservice, but is mostly the heart of the show and brings everything together. The rest of the people on the ship all serve their purpose even if they are too set in their ways and never really consider that maybe there are other options.

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But the biggest plus this anime has going for it is that it is beautiful. Whether it is space or the ocean, this anime is glorious to look at. The night scenes with the stars above the ocean just feel incredibly real and draw you right into this world that they are working so hard to construct.  Even when the story seems to be on hold the visuals manage to keep you watching the screen.

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So I did end up enjoying watching this but mostly because I liked how it started and ended. The bits in the middle I feel get a bit too slice-of-life like for my tastes and not a lot seems to happen, but I didn’t end up abandoning the show, because it had some great concepts, was great to look at, and the characters were kind of charming so I wanted to know where they were going.

Have you seen Gargantia? What did you think?


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Natsume Yuujinchou Season 6 Episode 8

Review:

After consecutive weeks of returning characters, season 6 delivered a yokai of the week story that went a different direction to what I was expecting. When Natsume first met the strange boy at the station, I suspected he’d be a yokai, but I didn’t expect that Natsume would simply tell him that he should tell people that upfront and that we’d move on from it. That kind of shows how much Natsume has grown because he used to get quite upset when someone he thought was human wasn’t.

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Anyway, given they get over that part of the story quickly we move onto the real story this week which is the romance between a human girl and a yokai broken off by the yokai either because he wanted her to have a normal life or he got scared about the fact that she will most definitely die before he will.

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It’s a really cute story and I really enjoyed getting to know Aoi, the yokai of the week. Part of me really hopes his character comes back again.


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The Eccentric Family Season 2 Episode 8

Review:

I find it interesting that my first thought after watching this episode was how much better this show was at telegraphing the end of the episode than Granblue Fantasy. I really shouldn’t compare the two shows given they are entirely different but my biggest criticism of Granblue this week was how heavy handed and repetitive their set up was whereas I’m now going to praise The Eccentric Family for how well it delivered us to the episode ending.

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Yasaburo was definitely asking for it this week after delivering the declaration that he doesn’t have a single weakness. The audience automatically knows that somewhere down the line we’re going to find something that undoes his transformation and this show doesn’t make us wait too long as the reveal comes at the end of the episode. Admittedly, if you read the episode title you’ll pretty much trigger right at that point what is going to happen, but that’s another story.

We then get some flirting/threatening between Nidaime and Benten (seriously love these two together on screen as they have great chemistry and you never know if they are going to try to kill each other or if they are actually attracted to one another).  In case the theme of love and relationships isn’t being hammered home enough by this one we then get Yaichirou having dinner with Yasaburo and telling him that he should reinstate his engagement with Kaisei that was called off by his uncle. Yasaburo being Yasaburo declines and shoves his foot firmly down his throat and after a further confrontation with Yajirou (who essentially tells him to grow up), Yasaburo heads off to the mountains.

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Where we get the much anticipated confrontation with Kaisei. It’s wonderfully done and brings a lot of points together and also explains Kaisei’s fairly peculiar behaviour in the series to date.

Honestly, I just really enjoy the way this story unfolds and weaves back on itself and continues to reveal more about the characters even while the plot just kind of exists. Normally that lack of forward progress would bother me but it kind of feels like the point of this given Yasaburo is pretty determined not to have a plan and just react to things as they occur.

The Eccentric Family is available on Crunchyroll.


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Friday’s Feature: Why is Natsume Yuujinchou Still Endearing After Five and a Half Seasons?

There’s no mistaking that I truly love Natsume Yuujinchou. You just need to look at the sheer number of posts I’ve tagged with Natsume to know that I not only like watching it, I like to talk about Natsume, a lot. I don’t remember who recommended it to me or why I tried it initially, but I know that once I started this adorable show I never could stop. Even when I ran out of episodes I would happily go back and just watch them all again. Had a bad day at work, or a bad week? Take a double episode of Natsume and go to bed smiling. As I watch season six of this show week to week, I began to wonder how this show has retained its magic formula and even managed to become more entertaining with time given so many shows, particularly ones where new seasons just keep getting added on, become progressively less than what they were.

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I started making a list of all the great things about Natsume. The list got extremely long by the end so I ended up condensing them into a few main points:

  • The characters particularly the central characters of Natsume and Nyanko-Sensei.
  • The episodic format of the show with themes and character growth that run through the series.
  • The feelings this show inspires in its audience.
  • The art and animation while not the most brilliant ever perfectly fit the show you are watching.
  • Every opening theme that has ever been attached to this show.

There were quite a few other points on the initial list but that isn’t surprising given I love the show. However, making this list actually helped me figure out exactly why this show succeeds season after season.

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Reason 1: The way the characters are presented to the audience.

In so many long running shows the main protagonists (and a lot of the support cast) either have a single defining personality trait or goal. Or, worse, the characters actually lose any defining trait over time slowly becoming generic and featureless in amongst a sea of other characters.

Natsume defies this trend in storytelling. He starts out fairly generic, as do most of the characters in the show, and the show has gradually fleshed them out over nearly six seasons. The affect of this on the audience is essentially feeling like we’ve naturally gotten to know someone. First introductions are fairly superficial and then we’ve slowly been allowed to see who they are underneath those initial impressions.

And this doesn’t seem accidental. Within episodes we regularly meet the yokai of the week and are given one impression before Natsume looks deeper and we realise the other side of the character. This pattern repeating over longer periods of time with the human characters and recurring yokai seems like a deliberate thematic choice of the show as it examines who Natsume is and who he is becoming.

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Which, is the second part of this story. The characters are changing. Even as we get to know who they are or who they were (through flash backs), events in the seasons we’ve seen have changed them. There’s no magic reset at the end of the episode so next episode everyone is back to the cookie cutter model we start with each week in a true sit-com style. This is an ongoing story and these characters are dynamic even if the slow pace of the show sometimes makes it seem like little progress is occurring.

Clearly Natsume, as the title character, has experienced the largest growth and development as he has slowly opened up to both human and yokai characters. However, he isn’t along in this constant change and you can see Nyanko-Sensei has softened significantly toward Natsume since season 1. His threats to eat his human companion have diminished and even when they are inserted they now seem half-hearted. He offers advice more freely and is more willing to warn Natsume of danger. He’s gone from being curious and self-interested to being genuinely fond of Natsume and this relationship is really interesting to watch.

Even Reiko, Natsume’s deceased grandmother has been given character growth as Natsume has slowly learned more about her. The end result is a world that feels incredbily rich and populated with real characters that over six seasons you’ve become friends with yourself and you genuinely care for.

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Reason 2: The overall themes of the show strike directly at the heart.

Okay, that was cheesy, but it is Natsume so it kind of had to be.

But really, the experience of watching Natsume, is one of trying to understand what it means to be human and the choices people make and why. For all the fantastical creatures and goings on, it is a story about the choices you make in life and the consequences that come from them as well as one that focusses very much on the connections that result from encounters with others.

In this the episodic nature of the show really helps it to succeed. Characters can enter the show for an episode or two and drift off only to return a season of so later but the connection they forged still exists. What this allows is for the show to never overly clutter itself with too many characters at once and we’re never wondering why such-and-such a character is even in a scene because other than Natsume, none of the characters are guaranteed an appearance if they are not necessary to the story. Even Natsume occasionally gets written out of his own narrative in order for the focus to be where it needs to be.

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For a show that is regularly as sickeningly sweet as Natsume, it knows when not to pull a happy ending out of nothing and it isn’t against leaving the characters wondering if their choice was wrong. It also doesn’t shy away from the darker side of human nature when you think about how most of Natsume’s relatives have treated him and still speak to him and about him. What makes this show a bit different is that it doesn’t wallow in its own darkness or exploit it for sensationalistic purposes. The darkness is there, but like everything else, Natsume chooses how and when to confront it and when to leave things be. It is a very real part of the narrative and while sometimes you may actively dislike a character, generally speaking you are supposed to if that is the feeling you are getting.

After five and a half seasons, my current thoughts about Natsume are that this is actually getting better as it goes. The show continues to weave backstory and lore into a world that already feels rich and real and continues to have Natsume face situations where we confront the human and inhuman equally. Hopefully season 6 can continue to shine.

There were a whole bunch of characters and ideas that I love about this show that I restrained myself from rambling about, but seriously, I’d love to know your thoughts on Natsume. Do you think Natsume has gotten better or is the charm wearing off after so many seasons?


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Natsume Yuujinchou Season 6 Episode 7

Review:

Usually I love episodes with Reiko. Other than Natori, she’s the character I most hope to see an appearance from outside of Natsume and Nyanko Sensei. That said, this season’s Reiko episode kind of lacked bite.

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Part of the issue might be the yokai at the start of the episode that chases Natsume who never returns. Normally these ones show up later in the episode even if just to be punched in the face but at least that small bit of conflict is resolved. Instead we get a huge yokai that threatens to flatten the house if Natsume doesn’t come out and then after losing Natsume, doesn’t return to the house again for the duration of the episode. It seems kind of lacking.

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That isn’t to say this episode wasn’t charming. It is perfectly reasonable and we learn more about Reiko and the absolute contrast between her and Natsume when it comes to relationships. Reiko gave up on them whereas Natsume is definitely embracing the connections he has started to build since moving in with the Fujiwaras. However, not the best episode this season of Natsume has offered and coming after a couple of fairly strong episodes it feels like a little bit of a disappointment even though it is really sweet.


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