The return of the piggish cat and boy who sees spirits

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A powerful spirit masquerading as a gluttonous cat that loves to drink and an orphan with the ability to see spirits are back this winter in “Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou.”

Yes, Nyanko-sensei and Takashi Natsume are back for a second season. Viewers first met them in “Natsume Yuujinchou” which chronicled how Takashi ended up living with a kindly couple in a small town, met the cat who wasn’t a cat and learned that his late grandmother possessed the same ability as he did.

Reiko Natsume could see spirits but unlike her placid grandson, challenged these otherworldy beings. When they lost to her, she would take their real names and jot it down in what would later be called “The Book of Friends.” Takashi inherited the book and much of season one dealt with him returning the names of the spirits.

I loved the first season because I’m a sucker for supernatural anime that doesn’t fit the norm. Some folks might find the show too slow. Consider it a break from shows where middle schoolers carry weapons that blow up half the town or giant robots stomp all over the bad guys.

In the second season, Takashi is more comfortable with his power and continues with his fair treatment of spirits and non-humans. He found a dragon egg, helped it hatch and protected it from a spirit who wanted to eat the young. It didn’t look like a dragon though when it grew up, more like a bird. And when it hatched, it adopted a humanoid shape.

Takashi doesn’t tell his foster parents about his ability. He fears he will lose the only stable home he ever had.

His supposed bodyguard, Madarao or Nyanko-sensei, is still with him. Everyone sees Nyanko-sensei as the fat cat that tags along after Takashi. He claims he’s only around because the teen promised him “The Book of Friends” after he’s gone. But you know he is fond of the human boy. And Takashi likes having the fat furball around too.

Watching the series for me is a weekly treat. And just when I think that animators are churning out more and more crappy anime just to please fanboys and fangirls, along comes a show like “Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou” to change my mind.

Walking among spirits

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One of the reasons I enjoy anime is the variety. The genres range from magical girl shows to horror. And there are subgenres within those sections as well. But sometimes you have to wade through a sea of dreck to discover a gem though. Luckily for me, I found two new shows this summer that look promising. One of them keeps surprising me with each episode.

“Natsume Yuujinchou” is both a fantasy and a supernatural anime but it’s not scary at all. Think “Mushi-shi” but wilth a younger protagonist and a simpler storyline.

Our hero, Takashi Natsume, is an orphan who just transferred to a new school set in a bucolic-looking town with green fields, clear blue skies, a shrine and a horde of spirits.Takashi has been able to see spirits since he was a child which made for a lonely, isolated childhood, The various relatives and people he stayed with thought he was weird and treated him accordingly.

Now he’s staying with a nice couple in a town where his grandmother, Reiko, once lived. And the spirits are pestering him more than usual. In the first episode, we meet Takashi as he’s being chased by a one-eyed long-haired monster that only he can see.
He makes a run for the nearest shrine for safety but trips over a rope and snaps it.

The rope is part of a barrier around a small shrine that houses a spirit in the shape of a cat charm. You’ve seen what this charm looks like if you’ve ever been to an Asian market or souvenir shop. It’s a white cat with one paw raised.

Anyway, the cat charm thingy is the size of a very fat cat and speaks as well. Takashi is less than impressed since he’s seen weirder things before. The cat’s true form is of a shaggy white beast (looks like a dog actually) with red markings. The spirit’s name is Madara but he prefers Takashi call him sensei or master. Our hero also refers to him as Nyaanko sensei (don’t ask me what that means).

The teen finds out that the spirits want their names back from him and calls him by his grandmothers’ name. It turns out Reiko Natsume could see spirits and also had a lonely existence. So she went around challenging spirits and taking their names after she defeated them. She kept the names in a journal called “The Book of Friends.” It is this book that the spirits are after.

Takashi agrees to return the names of the spirits who come to him and promises sensei he can have the book when he’s gone. Nyaanko sensei despairs that the book is getting thinner since Takashi keeps returning the names.

Having power over someone because you know their true name is a concept not restricted to Japanese folktale. Several cultures also believe in this.

The show’s pace is slow, almost languid at times. But it’s interesting and can be touching. Case in point episode two, which is about a local spirit who has shrunk since only one woman is left who remembers him and makes offerings. She is dying but still painfully makes her way to his small shrine to pay her respects and leave him a peach. The spirit could have left years ago but he chose to stay, knowing he would vanish once the woman dies. The reason why he stayed made me teary-eyed. Sniffle sniffle.

When Takashi returns a spirit’s true name, he sees the spirit’s memory of its interaction with his grandmother. He is getting to know who she was and starts to feel some empathy toward the spirits that progress and people have forgotten.

I’ve seen four episodes of this show and I’m always waiting eagerly for the next one. I like shows that make you think and feel.

What is ordinary to you may be extra special elsewhere

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Being special is a dream many a regular Joe or Jill share. And for Tokidoki Rikugo, it will soon become his reality.

In “Amatsuki”, Tokidoki is a normal high school student who is easygoing and pleasant. Too easygoing since he just received a failing mark on a history test. He has to make up for it by visiting a state-of-the-art museum that recreates the Edo Period. There he meets another student, Kon Shinonome, a young man who definitely knows more about history than our hero. But Kon likes to get into fights which doesn’t sit well with the school.

As they’re walking through this virtual Edo, Tokidoki loses sight of his companion and gets attacked by a creature who damages his left eye. A young woman, dressed kind of weird for this period since her stomach is bare, appears out of the blue and saves Tokidoki.

The goggles he wore for the museum tour are broken and he finds to his shock that he is trapped in this virtual Edo.

But Tokidoki is not the regular Joe he was in the real world. In this realm, his future is not writ. Because everyone else’s lives are already known by the four gods of this world, Tokidoki is an anomaly who could be used to change this Edo.

Not surprisingly, there are different groups interested in the teen.

“Amatsuki” is a fantasy anime that is lush and drawn quite well. Although the plot is not original, the characters are interesting enough to warrant more than one viewing.
For instance, “Princess” who is the priestess of a powerful shrine is an asexual being. She/he has also been cursed earlier by a demon so the princess has to transfer her/his soul to a mechanical doll for part of the day.

And you think your teenage years sucked


I found the opening song on YouTube to “Scrapped Princess” which has been licensed and is readily available in the U.S. Sorry forgot the name of the YouTuber who put it up there. But many thanks to this person.

“Scrapped Princess” is one of the more interesting and moving fantasy animes I’ve seen. The title refers to 15-year-old Pacifica Casull, the youngest in a family of three. But there’s a reason why Pacifica doesn’t resemble her older brother, Shannon, who is a skilled swordsman or her older sister, Raquel, who is a powerful magician.

The blonde-haired blue-eyed Pacifica was adopted. To be more precise, she was hurled from a cliff as a baby by a knight and saved by the Casulls.

Ya see, Pacifica is the daughter of the King and Queen of Leinwan. But while her fraternal twin brother was kept in the family, her father ordered her killed because of a prophecy that said she would destroy the land once she turns 16. The prophecy referred to her as “the poison that will destroy the world.”

And some teens think they have it rough.

Pacifica remained safe among the Casulls because people thought the “Scrapped Princess” died as a baby. When it came out that the “Scrapped Princess” could be alive, the hunt was on. Pacifica’s foster father was killed and she fled with her foster siblings who would die to protect her. The love between the siblings is a major theme of the series and leads to many a heart wrenching moment. But just when you think you’ve figured out the show, a major plot twist surfaces.

I won’t say what it is. That would be cheating you of the pleasure of watching the series. Suffice it to say that things are not what they seem and the competing religions of Mauser and Browning has ties to an intergalactic war between humans and aliens.

Pacifica cannot wield a sword like Shannon or do magic like Raquel. It isn’t until midway through the series do we get a hint that she harbors something powerful inside. She is a sweet girl who acts like a brat sometimes but genuinely cares about people. She feels guilty for being the “Scrapped Princess” because people are getting hurt and killed during the hunt to find and wipe her out.

One thing I didn’t like about the show was the way the female characters were drawn. Why oh why do they all look like they got breast implants? Some were so top-heavy, I’m surprised they didn’t topple over. I’m sure fanservice was the only reason for such a sexist move.