Natsume Yūjin-Chō Go
by Lauren Orsini,
Natsume Yujin-cho Roku may be over, but every couple of months, we wake up to a treat: a new OVA posted under the previous season, Natsume Yujin-cho Go. Like the previous “One Night's Cups,” “Banquet of Play” centers around a yokai drinking party and stars Natsume and Nyanko-sensei. As with most yokai-focused episodes, the central conflict is simple, almost childish, but at the same time divulges something about human nature. It had its humorous moments, but lacked the bittersweet reveal I'm accustomed to leaving the episode with.
As usual, the animation isn't anything special, but the art's attention to detail makes that irrelevant. From the beginning of the episode, the anime's attunement with nature is clear—we can instantly tell that it's chilly out from Natsume's winter uniform and the misty mountains visible out the window, both in Natsume's home and classroom. Natsume's overactive imagination compels him to check on his literal party-animal cat. He sees Nyanko diving into a spooky abandoned mansion and, by this point, simply no longer has the preservation instinct that would make him say “hell no” to that. But this is Natsume Yujin-cho, so his life isn't in danger—instead he gets caught up in a three-day game of yokai hide and seek.
“Is this the game called hide and seek?” Natsume asks rhetorically, just in case viewers still had any doubts about how crappy his childhood was. He's remarkably composed for a teen walking around a creepy old house—according to horror movies at least, this is the number one cause of death for teens. The OVA chooses to include no music at all here, just the creaks and settling sounds of an old house, which certainly lowers the fear factor. All of the most chilling episodes of Natsume Yujin-cho, and I'm thinking especially of the stand-out “Nitai-sama” here, emphasized a scary situation with eerie music to bring home the point. But without anything to be scared about, the tension is gone—now Natsume is left with a situation that's merely inconvenient, as he's forced to play a tiresome game every time he closes his eyes to fall asleep. The main yokai's explanation is even less helpful than usual, as he claims he invited Natsume to play the game with them “for no real reason.” He does acknowledge Natsume's compassion, but there's no more depth than that, and certainly nothing that makes us relate to this new character's humanity.
Without a touching revelation to look for, the episode falls back on humor. The “Dog's Circle” of Natsume's protectors is as delightful as usual. Nyanko-sensei is mostly absent, but it's all in preparation for one final gag. It's a perfectly entertaining standalone OVA that shows off the antics of the yokai who play the most prominent roles in Natsume's life. But it lacks the emotional reward that has come to characterize the Natsume Yujin-cho series, especially as it has crept into later seasons. Longtime fans will definitely want to watch this as the latest chance to revisit Natsume's world, but be prepared for yokai diversions and not much else—it isn't the kind of episode that stays with you afterwards.
Natsume Yūjin-Chō Go is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Lauren writes about geek careers at Otaku Journalist.
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