Natsume Yūjin-Chō Go
by Lauren Orsini,
Welcome to a very “special episode” of Natsume Yujin-Cho Go. In fact, “Nyanko and the First Errand” isn't new at all, but a repackaging of an OVA that came out in 2015. You can immediately see how it was designed to hype up a then-upcoming new season of Natsume Yujin-Cho, using an insubstantial, easily-resolved storyline as a background excuse for a revolving door showcase of the show's recurring characters. However, this surface-level purpose is at odds with the show's usual mission to evoke a powerful emotion. Combined with irritatingly repetitive animation, it falls unfortunately flat.
I wasn't looking forward to a Nyanko-sensei episode to begin with. Back in the first season, “Nyanko's Book of Boredom” was a low point of the series for me. It focused on a cute cat doing cute things in a tenuous thread of a storyline. It seems like this was a harbinger for this second Nyanko-centric episode, which is astoundingly repetitive. When Nyanko finds two small children lost in the woods, he uncharacteristically decides to help them on their way. As they progress, they encounter various yokai who try to assist them. Each time, the yokai they run into asks the same question of whether Nyanko is snacking on human children while Natsume isn't around. And each time, Nyanko has the children repeat their mission and destination to explain the situation to a new character. This happens three times. Sound familiar? It's exactly like children's stories, the Three Little Pigs for example, in which something is repeated three times before the story reaches a resolution. By now, I'm a little old for that.
At the same time, it's extremely obvious that the animation is recycled. The little boy uses the same superhero pose and “who are you?” declaration whenever Nyanko asks a question. The little girl's face turns red before she breaks out into a wail, and her brother comes to her rescue with the same “it doesn't hurt, don't cry,” gestures without fail. Nyanko repeatedly has to rescue the kids with the same flustered expression and movements. At first, I felt for Nyanko, who is cool and competent when it's time to kick butt but totally out of his element with crying children. But after the same movements and the same pitfalls over and over, my empathy wore out.
Meanwhile, Nyanko's side of the story is cut with Lucas-style screen-wipes to Natsume wandering about town, asking different characters if they've seen his cat. This is intentionally gratuitous, a slideshow of our favorite characters from the show. It's almost like a sitcom where a beloved character shows up, and the canned applause starts up. And of course, once everyone has made a cameo, the barely-there story is resolved just like that.
If I had watched this OVA in 2015 while I was hyped for Natsume Yujin-Cho to come back after several years without it, I might feel differently about this installment. Since it shows off all the characters with a hefty helping of the adorable curmudgeon Nyanko, it might feel a little like a long-awaited reunion. But in the middle of a series, it feels more like an insubstantial interlude keeping me from my expected weekly dose of feelings.
Natsume Yūjin-Chō Go is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Lauren writes about geek careers at Otaku Journalist
discuss this in the forum (53 posts) |