This is probably my first, or one of very few, initial impressions post that has the green light for all the discussed shows. Quality and creativity are looking up this season!
Natsume Yuujinchou Shi
Well of course I’ll be watching this, since I’ve kept up with all three of the previous seasons. They really just all feel like one larger season since each one is only 13 episodes long and the story has stayed very much the same despite each new addition. I’d be one of the first fans to defend the slow-paced style of this anime, since it’s what charmed me from the start. The soft art, relaxed storytelling, and lovable characters are my prime reasons for loyally watching this anime every time another season pops out, despite the lack of any significant, plot-driven drama. But, the somewhat awkward mix of the usual episodic pacing with action-oriented conflict in the 3rd season has me hankering for more than just the same in this 4th installment. Thankfully, this first episode gives the show plenty of space to maneuver, being the first of the four (I think) to create serious conflict right at the beginning, as well as to extend the story past the episode’s end.
Natsume’s abduction by a group of monkey-faced servants results in his encounter with a previous acquaintance, the Matoba family. With clashing ideologies of human and spirit relations, they are probably the last people Natsume wants to see, especially with his Book of Friends in the vicinity. Although he has not always seen eye to eye with the spirits he has met in the past, a prevailing message of acceptance, tolerance, or avoidance has always accompanied each encounter. The Matoba family of exorcists opts instead to either enslave or destroy youkai, regardless of whether or not they represent any threat. That this 4th season chooses to open with one of the leading oppositions to our main characters excites me into hoping for a fresh change to the focus of this anime. I would like to see Natsume rely less on Nyanko-sensei’s strength, as well as inform his friends and family about his ability to see and communicate with youkai. Both hold him back from any true sense of belonging to either human or spirit world; without either, he remains passive in his place between worlds, unable to leave either one.
I find it interesting that two shows with such similar set ups are airing at the same time, and I couldn’t stop comparing this anime to the first episode of Rinne no Lagrange. In both, we have female characters with natural abilities for piloting as well as fairly positive attitudes. Thankfully, Marika isn’t quite as blatantly cheery as Madoka, nor does she run around in a bathing suit allowing others to walk up to her and inspect her tush. They also share the similarity of an inheritance; while Madoka’s has something to do with her physical make up, Marika’s is simply one of captaincy of a pirate ship passed on by a father she never knew she had. And while I am still interested in Lagrange, Pirates looks to be more up my alley with its creative premise and characters. Pirates and ninja are very popular role playing characters, but tons more anime are made with the latter instead of the prior.
Another aspect about this anime that excites me is that its director is the same one who worked on one of my favorite anime, Uchuu no Stellvia. While Stellvia is by no means perfect, it satisfies a lot of my fantasies about being a student in space and piloting a ship. I sense a similar devotion to fun in Pirates. While politics are briefly mentioned, the focus right now is on building up our characters and establishing Marika’s current setting. We get a bit of maid fan service with her working part time at a maid cafe, but there’s a distinct lack of any “bodacious” body shots throughout the entire episode. I’m wondering when that part of the title will enter, and whether it will follow the more popular, physical definition, or go with the more classical description of “excellent” and “admirable”. We also get a bit more fan service with Kurihara Chiaki’s character, who satisfies the megane-kuudere archetype. She’s cool and sexy, but melts at the sight of a glorious chocolate parfait. She is clearly set up to become the first mate of sorts for Marika. Just from this first episode, we already have a sizable cast list, all of whom I find interesting, and a clear conflict surrounding Marika’s inheritance of the Bentenmaru.
God, I just love Senjougahara’s character. She is just about one of the sexiest female characters I’ve ever come across. The whole SM scene at the start was eerily seductive, and reminded me a bit of Gasai Yuno’s obsessive protection in Mirai Nikki. We also get some wonderful re-introductions of Araragi Tsukihi, Sengoku Nadeko, and Hachikuji Mayoi, as well as a telltale discussion about overly large cast members that implies that this sequel will avoid introducing any new characters, but focus more on the ones we already know. I like that. I’m hoping that I’ll have a bit more love for the others, despite only really enjoying Senjougahara in Bakemonogatari. From the discussions we see with Senjougahara, Tsukihi, Nadeko, and Hachikuji, it looks like we’ll get even better dialogue than in the original, full of playful innuendos and clever sparring. I laughed more in this opening episode than I remember for a good majority of the prequel. The art style hasn’t dipped in quality either, with SHAFT delivering excellent character and background designs. Some people might view the amount of patterns, colors, and symbols over-the-top, but I prefer it since they keep my senses alert in fear of missing something (Mawaru Penguindrum, anyone?).
We’re off to a good start so far, though I am a bit confused since I was under the impression that we would be following the Araragi sisters instead of Koyomi. Perhaps the producers decided that it would be best to transition viewers in with a more familiar protagonist. Koyomi and Hachikuji’s talk about the dangers of bringing in his innocent family members also points to a shift in narration–I kept flashing back to his living room talk with Tsukihi and the snake shadow at the bottom of the screen flickering its tongue. The follow up phone call to Nadeko pretty much seals this in the bag. I just hope that I enjoy following his sisters as much as I did following him.