Midnight Occult Civil Servants Review Episode 11

Let’s Get To Work

Mayonaka no Occult Koumin

Part two of the story in the stadium and we see Arata using the connections he’s made to clean up the mess made by city hall. Midnight Occult Civil Servants is definitely laying it on thick with their messaging about governing bodies having a human only focus and trampling nature in the process to the detriment of human lives however with gods and Anothers in the mix it all kind of works.

Despite Arata’s general ‘good guy’ status, there are serious questions being raised about his team leader. Despite the dire situation he still wasn’t willing to actually help out with the scene until he was given full control over the situation and who knows what else he managed to negotiate. He certainly looks out for his own interests even in the midst of an emergency.

However, Arata reconnecting with the Another’s he helped early on in this series and calling on assistance to clean up the mess was actually pretty neat. Prior to now we’ve moved from character to character and it has been difficult to really see if any kind of relationship was established by their actions or if they were just passing by. While the Another’s don’t exactly leap at the chance to help humans, they do see the sense in helping Arata in return for his earlier assistance and the promise of potential future assistance.

I’d like to say that they did a pretty good job of making the silk spinning scene exactly what it needed to be. It gave us a sense that some of the barriers between Anothers and humans were coming down and a small measure of camaraderie over a joint venture was formed even if humans were still very wary of the Another’s. They also gave us enough sense of beauty and other-worldliness to make it just fit appropriately.

There’s another episode to go and I’m curious how they will wrap this one for the season. I actually wouldn’t mind another season. While this one is hardly going to top the season, it has been consistent viewing and reasonable low-key entertainment and it will be a shame to see it go.

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Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 15 Review

Striving Toward Impossible Goals

With most of my reviews of the various volumes of Natsume’s Book of Friends I’ve tried to find a common theme that links the stories or ideas. Unfortunately I came up short in volume 15. Not because the volume isn’t great, but because each story has its own distinct tone. That said, I had a great deal of fun reading this volume and not just because the first three chapters deal with Natori.

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Chapters 60 – 62

I remember how great this story was in the anime. It was the ‘oh no’ moment where Natori overheard the yokai talking to Natsume and finally learned a little bit about what Natsume was keeping from him. With Natori’s ambiguous character where we are never really sure if he’s a good guy or not, this has great emotional impact and leaves you on egg-shells waiting to find out what comes from this situation.

However, that’s the end of the story. This one mostly focuses on Natsume helping Natori out with a job. A retire exorcist’s home is being attacked and it turns out that two of the servants have been trapped outside the house and have become enraged believing their master shut them out. It is another reminder that human and yokai relationships won’t last forever but for now Natsume is just trying to help the best he can.

There’s some great moments between Natsume and Natori, some darker moments where Natsume looks be to in danger, and as usual a calm that comes at the end. It is a nicely written story and I loved how they spread it over three chapters giving it the time it needed to develop so that the ending really hit home.

Visually, these chapters seem a little less impressive than previous ones. Even Natori doesn’t bring his usual sparkle to the scenes. However, the story more than makes up for it and so it was great to read.

Chapter 63

We move on to a stand alone story about a small yokai who wants to join a parade but isn’t strong enough. This one is interesting in that it is the yokai who learns from the experience rather than Natsume, though it seems like at first the yokai might betray Natsume and hand him over as a tribute even though Natsume has been helping him. Nyanko-Sensei does nothing as he expects Natsume to learn from the experience, but instead the yokai has a change of heart.

Given we’re so often told that yokai don’t change this was a really cute story and an interesting one as we see immediately how Natsume’s interactions with the yokai have changed him. It would have been nice for Natsume to take something from this encounter as well, but there was enough going on here.

Special Episode: Touko and Shigeru

Now despite this being an ‘extra’ this story was my favourite of the lot in this volume. I also loved this story when we saw it in the anime. The Fujiwara’s took Natsume in but we so seldom get a full story focused on them. The rare ones we do see are always mine-fields of rich emotions and just full of love and healing energy and to be honest when I read this I really needed it at the time.

It doesn’t hurt that this is one of the prettiest stories in the volume with the passing of time depicted beautifully through various scenes looking at the sky. Touko and Natsume’s relationship is slightly redefined by the end of the chapter and it just makes you realise once again how much love and warmth the Fujiwara’s have enveloped Natsume in.

Absolutely lovely read and I fully recommend reading this volume.

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Midnight Occult Civil Servants Review Episode 8

A Supernatural Stroll Through Tokyo

Episode 8

There was something pleasantly subdued about the episode this week. After the attempted rising tension last week that kind of fizzled, Midnight Occult Civil Servants could have pushed for an escalation but instead decided to focus on kind of what the title of the anime implies: the day to day of civil servants. As such, while there are some interesting moments to be found in this episode it really is just a series of events in the days following the last episode.

We begin with some housekeeping as Kyoichi files paper work for his sister given she’s suddenly reappeared after many years and she’s still 17 years old. We also see Arata and Kyoichi take their sister and friend shopping for clothing. It is all just mundane stuff and yet adds a little bit of realism to the scenario presented here with employees watching over encounters with Anothers.

They also confirm that Arata is Seimei’s descendant, although I kind of thought that was already pretty obvious. While it seems like just something else thrown in early on the end of the episode circles back to this with Kohaku (Huehuecoyotl) leading Arata on a tor of Tokyo that ultimately ends in a garden that clearly belonged to his ancestor.

Throw in an encounter with a crow who also knew Seimei as well as the ongoing disturbances caused by Kohaku’s presence creating yet more work for Arata’s co-workers as he unknowingly follows Kohaku across half of Tokyo, and the episode is complete with very little actually happening and yet this episode still felt like it has a place as it builds on the relationship forming between Kohaku and Arata, continues to look at Arata’s connection with Anothers, and continues to examine the role of the civil servants in all this.

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Where the episode is at its weakest is in the visuals. The walk around Tokyo takes us to some very familiar sites but the visuals just aren’t up to the task. It may have been worth have less locations and more detail, or possibly just hoping for a bigger budget for this anime altogether, but basically the visuals are a noted low-point and make this one a harder sell than it should be.

We do however get the occasionally striking image such as Kohaku in the garden.

On that note, I love the opening song to this anime but the visuals are utterly failing to live up to the music and would love it is someone had done an AMV to this one because it could be aweseome.

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Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 14

What is precious to you?

Another volume of Natsume and another delightful read. This volume focuses very much on losing things which are precious to you, or trying to protect them, and the result is a lovely and warm read as we see once again how Natsume has to balance his life in dealing with yokai who mistake him for Reiko, whether he helps yokai, or defending his very human world from unwanted yokai intrusion.

Chapter 55

The first story starts off more or less as many stories do in Natsume. He’s more or less minding his own business and yet is attacked by a pair of yokai who steal his voice to prevent them from calling their names or for help. He manages to escape from them but is picked up by another yokai who mistakes him for Reiko and unfortunately he can’t explain the situation.

There’s something very sad about this story as we see another yokai who has patiently waited for Reiko to return only she never will. It isn’t the first time we’ve been in this situation or that Natsume has felt sorry for a yokai for this reason, but as usual, the emotional impact hits hone. Not to mention Nyanko once again shows that he isn’t just treating Natsume like a snack anymore and comes to collect him.

All and all, it is a nice lead in to the volume and a fun story to read even if it isn’t particularly stand-out from the series (it is very hard to be stand-out when the stories are so consistently good).

Chapter 56

Natsume’s Book of Friends then brings us another standard set-up but makes it feel fresh through seeing how Natsume has changed in his approach to dealing with yokai. In this story a young looking girl yokai, she’s actually pretty old, has lost her towel and he returns it to her. However, it turns out the towel belongs to a human and she wants to return it. So begins Natsume’s efforts to reconnect two people whose times are very different.

The difference between a yokai life and a human life has also been a recurring theme in Natsume, and this story really makes it hit home that while for a yokai only a little time had past almost an entire human life had gone by. It makes you wonder how it will be for Natsume one day or for the yokai he’s befriended as sooner or later the reality of their lives is going to intrude.

This story is adorable and it was equally adorable in the anime.

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Natsume's Book of Friends, Vol. 14

Chapters 57 – 59

Then we get to the pointy end of the book where we see Natsume face off against a yokai in a pot who declares that if he doesn’t return what was stolen she’ll steal what is most precious to him. Such a threat back at the beginning of this series wouldn’t have had anywhere near the weight given Natsume’s lack of attachment to people or places. Now however that thought is terrifying to him even though it would be difficult to decide exactly what that most precious thing might be. Certainly difficult for a yokai to determine what it would be and it would have been interesting to see what was stolen but this time we just have to imagine it.

With the help of Nyanko and other yokai he meets along the way, Natsume eventually pieces together the story of Reiko and her encounter with the yokai. Once again we see how Reiko was shunned for most of her life and we can see that while Reiko and Natsume are similar, there are distinct differences and those largely exist because of the connections and friendships Natsume has managed to create and holds onto.

While not the strongest of stories overall, it is very affective and is a nice way to complete this volume.

Only, there is also a special story about the mid-level yokai finding some medicine for Natsume when he is sick. Even they know their attachment to such a frail human is foolish and can only end in tragedy and yet they cannot sever the ties between themselves and Natsume at this time. It is nice to see Natsume isn’t the only one aware of the strings that tie all these characters together at this point. Not to mention, this story is really pretty to read.

Anyway, as usual, I’m loving these books and eagerly awaiting the opportunity to review the next one.

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Top 5 Anime Yokai

If you know me, you know I loves me a good Yokai centric anime. I don’t know what it is, but I tend to really enjoy shows that have a strong Yokai theme no matter what else they may be. OK, I kind of know what it is. I enjoy folklore and traditional myths in stories, whatever else they may be, and the strong traditional Japanese elements of Yokai in particular is something that fascinates me.

This said, I haven’t done enough research on the subject to be an expert in any way, so I rely on what I’ve learned from the various shows I’ve seen on the most common and traditional Yokai types out there. These are my current personal favourites!

rokurokubi

5) Rokurokubi

In classic Irina style, I contradict myself almost instantly by choosing a Yokai that does not stem from folk legend at all but is generally thought to be purely created for entertainment, although they have appeared in works dating from quite some time. There are two types of Rokurokubi, people whose heads come off and fly around and people whose necks extend all snake like.

I mostly know of the second type and what’s more, I have almost exclusively seen them as women. My own experience with this type of Yokai is that they tend to be spirits of omen scorned or otherwise resentful of their lives. They tend to torment or shame their victims but never directly attack them in any way. More of a quiet nagging into utter terror!

Aside form the fact that I enjoy the idea of giving some power back to women in a society that has not been traditionally very empowering towards the gender, there’s also the simple fact that the design is very interesting. I have not commonly seen this type of body alteration in any other traditions. Headless spirits or heads that detach are rather common in a lot of tails but the long neck just adds such a visual dissonance that I find it hard to forget.

spice and wolf
could not find the artist of this desktop

4) Kitsune Spirit

Most of you already know that Kitsune simply means fox but these creatures have a long tradition in many asian folk tails and the Kitsune spirit and nine tailed fox are a common Yokai. It doesn’t hurt that they seem to be universally attractive in their human forms…

At the base, Kitsune are a mid level yokai capable of shapeshifting and occasionally other elemental powers. They tend to have a wide range of personalities but are generally depicted as playful, sometimes a little malicious or troublesome but rarely evil. They can be dangerous but that mostly stems from their carefree nature and disregard for consequences. Basically, attractive happy go lucky troublemakers who tend to enjoy seducing humans and drinking. One wonders why I would appreciate them so.

They are often a great stabilizing element in Yokai tales. Since they tend to be tricksters and unpredictable, they are used to add some whimsy if needed or some calming wisdom when everything turns too chaotic as such, you can bet that a Kitsune is going to stir things up one any or another.

Pompoko_101768163
I don’t remember Pom Poko much

 

3) Tanuki

I’ve said this before. The Tanuki is essentially my spirit animal.

“The legendary tanuki has eight special traits that bring good fortune, possibly created to coincide to the hachi symbol (, meaning ‘eight’) often found on the sake bottles the statues hold. The eight traits are these:

  • a hat to be ready to protect against trouble or bad weather;
  • big eyes to perceive the environment and help make good decisions;
  • a sake bottle that represents virtue;
  • a big tail that provides steadiness and strength until success is achieved;
  • an oversized scrotum that symbolizes financial luck;
  • a promissory note that represents trust or confidence;
  • a big belly that symbolizes bold and calm decisiveness; and
  • a friendly smile.[24][25] »

via Wikipedia 

I’m still working on the scrotum and belly traits but for the rest – I’m pretty much there!

Tanuki are considered master shapeshifter but otherwise fairly harmless. I already loved the Yokai before discovering the Eccentric Family which has cemented my love for the creatures. The mix of magical power, mysticism and vulnerability makes them particularly charming.

Creatures of legend around since the dawn of time, they create wisdom out of fun and strength from knowing their weakness. As far as magical spirits go, you can’t get more relatable than the Tanuki. If I were to meet any Yokai, this is the one I want to share a drink with. Oh they’re also fond of sake. A lot of Yokai are…

Tsukogami
Beauty and the Beast was full of Tsukumogami

2) Tsukumogami

Of all the classic beliefs I’ve come across through Yokai anime, Tsukumogami are my favourite. They appear in a lot of shows although very rarely take center stage. The idea is that everything, (tools, works of art, household objects…) can eventually be imbued with a sense of existence. If anything is around for long enough, they take on a bit of the life and spirit of the people who have used them and loved them enough to create an independent little soul of their own.

There something deeply meaningful in that. Objects that exist to fulfill a specific purpose eventually take on an individual existence from the virtue of living up to that purpose. They generally retain extremely strong sense of duty as they are a primarily utilitarian existence however there’s an undeniable strength that comes from being unwavering in your purpose. It also fills me with a weird appreciation and gratefulness for everything I come across.

Thank you, computer, you have given up on correcting my typos but without you, I wouldn’t be sharing these thoughts today! As if I needed any more reason to be disproportionately attached to my screens!

Madara.full.99814
I have this on my wall (by Hpa)

1) Nyankos

I don’t know what Nyanko is. Maybe he’s a Kitsune, he looks a lot like one in his beast from. Then again, he’s also pretty huge and calls himself a beast type Yokai so maybe he’s a Kaiju. In any case, he’s 100% awesomeness. I’m nowhere near as cool and collected as Natsume so I don’t know if I could actually hold my own against Nyanko but then again, why would I want to.

As long as he doesn’t want to eat me (which I think is all talk, there’s no way Nyanko would settle for sinewy little me when he could have a delicious tender cooked meal), I’m pretty sure Nyanko and I would have the same ambitions. He’s also way nicer than he pretends to be.

Bottom line, Nyanko is one of my favourite characters is one of my very favourite shows. Of course I’m always happy t see him no matter what type of Yokai he actually is.

Looking back on this list, I’m pretty basic! These might as well just be the most common Yokai types. Add in some Tengu and Kappa and you’ve rounded up all the popular ones. But hey, it was still fun to talk about them.

Do you guys have a favourite Yokai or Yokai type? If so who? And which anime are they from. I’m slowly building a specialty here!

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Contributed by Irina
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The Morose Mononokean Season 2 Series Review

The boys, and Fuzzy, are back for a more dramatic season of supernatural events.

I had the distinct pleasure of getting to review The Morose Mononkean Season Two with the lovely Irina and I will admit, I went in with fairly low expectations. Season one of the Morose Mononkean was okay but that was all. I love yokai stories and so I’d enjoyed it but that was no real drama, no real forward driving story, and the characters all seemed to lack development. They just kind of drifted about happy to deal with the immediate issue but not to address any of the larger world questions that seemed to keep coming up.

Fortunately, season two of The Morose Mononokean is one of those exceptions to my usual rule that sequels offer diminishing returns. Season two of The Morose Mononokean took everything that was nice and lovely from season one (the colour scheme, the relationship established between Abeno and Hanae, the yokai designs) and then added in everything I felt was missing. The end result was a season that was superior in every way and getting to discuss it each week with Irina just added to the fun as we speculated about characters and plot developments.

For those who are unfamiliar with the premise, Hanae can see yokai and in the beginning of the first season is actually possessed by one (the one that comes to be the cute mascot character of the show, Fuzzy). Hanae is saved by Abeno who while being human, and Hanae’s classmate, is also the master of the Mononokean, which means he can open the door between the human realm and the underworld and he exorcises yokai (essentially sends them home).

In season two we see a Hanae that initially starts off more comfortably in his role as Abeno’s assistance but a trip to the underworld and an encounter with one of the three powers there, the Executive tries to kill him because he is human.

This is by far the most danger he’d faced since realising yokai were real and beginning his work and for The Morose Mononokean as a narrative it really upped the stakes and tension in general. It also opened the way for more exploration of the political situation within the underworld which helped to really flesh out the world that had felt kind of shallow in season one.

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By itself, this would have been enough to make me enjoy season two far more than season one, but they also began to fill in Hanae’s backstory including his family situation. While there are still a lot of questions hanging over this at the end of season two, it really helped push character development for both Abeno and Hanae. It also helped their relationship, which had always been interesting, progress further as we got to see Abeno really take on a caring role as he tried to protect and help Hanae.

The Morose Mononokean Season 2 Episode 10

Hanae’s development of powers he could use against yokai was also a really interesting progression because it opens up all kinds of possibilities, some of which unpleasant, for where the story might go. Plus, if you ever wanted to see Abeno and Hanae go head to head, you won’t be disappointed here.

The Morose Mononokean Episode 6 Ashiya and Yahiko

But it isn’t just the central duo getting a lot more development. The Legislator, Abeno’s boss essentially, was an enigmatic but interesting character in season one. While there is still a lot about him that we don’t know, he was given substantially more screen time and his meddling was far more overt in season two. The Executive and The Justice, the other two parts of the triad of power, were new additions to the cast but provided some really great moments even if they were very limited in their screen time.

There are also a host of yokai characters who come and go from the story as normal and these were all interesting and worked in their own way. Some of these have ties to the past or two the various political factions and others are just yokai of the week characters, but all leave a lasting impression on the main characters and the audience.

The Morose Mononokean Season 2 Episode 4 Kinako

In addition to the improvements in the narrative and the character development, it seems like season two of The Morose Mononkean had a real lift in its visuals. While the rich colour palette used in season one for the underworld remained, all of the visuals just seemed crisper and characters less prone to going off model in this second season.

The Morose Mononokean - Beast in human form

If you decided to pass on this second season but didn’t mind the first, I’d strongly suggest giving it a go. If you’ve never tried the anime but you like yokai stories, definitely give the first season a go and while I know this is said all the time it really is true here, this story gets better as it goes. The only thing missing now is the knowledge that we’ll eventually get a third season to get some more closure on some of the loose ends.

Now to finish off with a gallery of Fuzzy.

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Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 13 Review

It has been awhile since I’ve written a Natsume review and I’ve now got quite the stack of books to catch up on as I’m now at volume 17 and hungry for more. That said, I absolutely loved volume 13 (big surprise).

I will admit, my most recent trip to Japan was great as I picked up quite a bit of Natsume merchandise including a Nyanko pillow, a small Little Fox plush, a figure of Natori, and the first five volumes of the manga in Japanese because if I ever get some quiet time I’m going to work on my translation skills again and see if I can get through them. So at the moment, I am very much surrounding myself with Natsume and I cannot get enough.

However, for now I’ll get into reviewing volume 13 which I was really excited about because it brings Natsume face to face with Matoba again.

Chapters 52 – 54: Behind the Chains

This is a story I particularly loved in the anime as it brings Matoba calling on Natsume and asking him for a favour. Only in true Matoba fashion it isn’t so much asking as demanding and when that doesn’t work, threatening. Natori is aware Matoba has approached Natsume and is working away in the background, and Nyanko is as usual being sassy when Matoba is present but working hard to protect Natsume despite the exorcist charms making him somewhat weaker than normal.

There’s a lot to love about this story as it brings great characters together, provides more insight into the world of exorcists as well as the different ways the Matoba go about it compared to someone like Natori, and it also shows us Natsume’s incredible natural talents. The search for the yokai possessing exorcists works wells enough to hold all of this together but that particular issue is so much less interesting than the tension that exists every time Natsume and Matoba are anywhere near each other.

The art is nicely done as usual with some excellent chapter introductions but scenes of the guests in the Matoba house are a little messy in terms of details and the faces of background characters aren’t particularly amazing. It is a minor complaint in amongst a great story but worth noting.

Still, this story didn’t disappoint and the volume wasn’t done.

Specials: Nishimura and Natsume, Kitamoto and Natsume

After the sensational exorcist focused story for the majority of the volume, the second part goes firmly into the slice of life aspects of Natsume and what this volume shows is that there is great balance in the story between these more human moments that hit the emotions hard, and those tense and exciting moments where the supernatural takes centre stage.

These are two characters that, while they have a presence in the anime it hasn’t been very prominent. These two stories are really a great chance to see how these two very normal and ordinary school friends came to be friends with and understand, to a point, Natsume and accepted him for who he was. They are touching and heartwarming stories and just the perfect thing to read to leave you with a smile.

I probably don’t need to reiterate, but this series is so fantastic to read. I’ll cover something else next week but then I’ll be back with my next Natsume review.

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