The second episode of Natsume Yujincho has everything that I liked about the first, plus a lot more heart.
What They Say
Episode one of Natsume Yujincho was a story I liked well enough; but this time I could really feel the show hitting its stride. Natusme and the Lucky Cat are up to their usual antics, a couple more youkai get dealt with, but everything clicks so much better this time around. There's a lot more compassion and feeling in the story, which is good in its own right, but we also get to see how Natsume's decision in the first episode is starting to work a change in him. It's a change for the better.
The first youkai that Natsume meets this time is a change of pace from the bizzare monster type that I tend to think of when the word "youkai" comes up. It's not a monster at all - just a small humanoid figure in traditional Japanese clothes and a mask. (I assume that's a Noh mask, but I'm not very well up on these things.) And instead of being immediately hostile towards Natsume it seems to understand his situation and willingness to help out the youkai, and the two can converse freely. So everything should be smooth sailing: and it would be if the tiny youkai's page in the Yujincho weren't stuck to the page behind it. This means that Natsume is going to have to find the other youkai and free them both together. But chances are, that other youkai isn't going to be so friendly.
Having a youkai that can carry on a conversation instead of just going for Natsume's throat makes for some good dialogue scenes where we get to hear a little more about the youkai and their point of view, and learn a couple of things about youkai-human relations. Many of the youkai are harmless and can even be beneficial to humans. You start to understand just how much damage Natsume has to undo.
Meanwhile, the very act of setting out to undo that damage is already beginning to have an effect on Natsume. In the couse of assisting the small youkai, Natsume meets an old woman who continues to visit the shrine where the small youkai has taken residence. Their relationship is brief, just a couple of conversations; but you see Natsume reaching out to another human being, possibly for the first time in years. The ending of the show brings both sides, human and youkai, together in a piercing finale. There's a real but otherworldly beauty in this episode that the previous one didn't prepare me for.
Natsume Yujincho isn't a flashy show, but if this episode is any indication, it's a show that's got it where it counts. There's a good premise, interesting monsters, a likable hero and a lot of heart; not to mention a graciousness that you don't see every day. If the show continues along this track then it will certainly end up somewhere worth going.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles