There’s been a much verbalized sense of unease in the blogosphere regarding the fourth season of the now sizable Natsume Yuujinchou, punctuated by the excited squeals of fans (and me). As Scamp put it best in his post on what he’d like to see from this season, every previous iteration explored and fleshed out some aspect of Natsume’s life. In the first, the formerly isolated, bitter Natsume found a family and a new home that just happened to also play host to youkai that occasionally wanted to eat him. The second deepened the connection by throwing some new friends into the mix, both youkai and human. And by the end of the third, he realized that the youkai were as much a part of his life as the humans that surrounded him, and he grew to accept himself despite his unique gift.
For me to think that the fourth season would live up to the previous three, it would have to cover something that’s only been given a cursory glance thus far despite being an ever-growing element: The exorcists and their indenturing of youkai to serve them.
This is diametrically opposed to Natsume’s ideal of treating said youkai like slightly annoying equals, and while I don’t particularly care for it as a plot point, I don’t think there are many other places that this new series can go without treading a ton of old ground. If the rest of the new season follows the example set forth by this episode, I don’t think I have anything to worry about.
The warm familiarity of Natsume Yuujinchou struck me as soon as the standard “decent, but not worth sitting through for the music” OP began to play. Within minutes, I was right in the old mindset, watching Natsume get assaulted before a timely rescue at the hands (Paws?) of Madara.
It’s hardly something that shakes up the formula, but it nonetheless sets the frantic (for Natsume Yuujinchou, anyway) tone of the episode. Of course it still moves along as smoothly and nonthreateningly as a garter snake, but it’s nice that Shi started off with a bang of sorts.
So yes, as I hopefully alluded to earlier, Shi starts right off with the exorcists and their damaging of a powerful youkai’s forest for the purpose of enslavement. This was always an issue that wasn’t really elaborated on in previous seasons, with the audience only shown cursory glances toward the antagonistic exorcists’ less than savory ways. It ends on an uncomfortable cliffhanger when things are just about to heat up, but it does so well without being terribly annoying about it.
Ordinarily, I wouldn’t find more to write about here. But I feel that Shi is running on a very thin rope if it plans on setting itself apart from its predecessors; in order to develop Natsume any further, the exorcists will have to play some kind of role. It’s a trap that getting a new season has unwittingly holed the series into, and one that it likely won’t be able to escape from without some below standard episodes. Would it still be good if it dropped this exorcist arc right away and resumed standard slice of life-ish fare? Absolutely. For atmosphere alone, this is one excellent show that I always look forward to whenever it airs. There are just a few “wow” moments in previous seasons and subtle character development that I don’t think can be caught up to without a change in focus toward Natsume’s interactions with the exorcists.
Overall, it’s a great start to what will hopefully be a fairly promising season to an already good show.