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.

Another trip to hell…

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Enma Ai or Hell Girl (Jigoku Shojo) is back for a third season. In “Jigoku Shojo Mitsuganae”, Ai enters the body of middle schooler Yuzuki Mikage and continues her business of exacting people’s revenge by ferrying their tormentors/targets straight to Hell.

Ai was killed in the second season so I suppose they had to find a way for her to come back. Hence her spirit (a blue butterfly) alighting on Yuzuki who dreams she is kissed and embraced by Ai. This is not that kind of anime so keep your hairnets on.

Poor Yuzuki carries Ai’s spirit inside her so whenever Hell Girl goes into action, Ai comes out of the girl. This time, Ai has five assistants: Wanyudo, Honne Onna, Ren Ichimoku, the devilish little girl Kikuri now inside a doll and Yamawaro, a boy who tags along after Kikuri and calls her “princess”.

Anyone familiar with seasons one and two knows the drill by now, Each episode is self-contained and deals with someone who feels they need the services of Hell Girl because they’re being bullied or they really hate someone or just want to get rid of a person for whatever reason. At midnight, they access a Web site, enter the name of their target and send their request to Ai.

If she accepts, she will offer the person a straw doll with a red string tied around its neck. Pull the red string and the target goes to Hell. However, Ai’s price is that both the target and the person making the request will end up in Hell. The one making the request just goes to Hell after he or she dies. If they enter into a contract with Ai, they will bear a mark on their chest.

The animation is still crisp and sharp in season three. But unless something interesting happens in the third season, this is just same ole same ole for me.

The woman in red

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I don’t think I’ll be getting much sleep from now on since there’s a bunch of interesting shows that came out this fall in Japan. This includes “Kurozuka” which is based on a 10-volume manga by Takashi Noguchi that is not for kids at all. The manga is an adaptation of a novel.

I saw the first episode and was wowed by the animation, the CGI and intriguing storyline. The anime version also toned down the graphic content of the manga and I think the story still stands.

“Kurozuka” opens with Minamoto no Yoshitsune or Kurou being chased by armed warriors he thinks are minions of his older brother, Yoritomo, who wants him dead. His brother is the first shogun of Japan.

Kurou and his underling, Benkei, end up in the mountains where they stumble upon a cottage and a beautiful woman in red. Kuromitsu, as the woman is called, doesn’t question their cover story that they are a monk and his assistant seeking shelter for the night. She allows them to stay as long as they want with the caveat they stay away from her room in the back.

She seems to be taken with Kurou and he certainly likes what he sees.

But there comes a time when he looks into the room and discovers Kuromitsu’s secret. She is a vampire and an immortal. She offers him a chance to be with her for eternity. End of episode one.

The story spans a 1,000 years so we will see the characters in modern times in other episodes. I’m looking forward to the next installment.

A Time Witch and an Orphan with a Destiny

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The second season of Clamp’s otherworldly series, “xxxHolic” started airing in Japan last month. I’ve seen four episodes of it so far.

“xxxHolic: Kei” picks up where the first season left off. Our hapless hero, Kimihiro Watanuki, is still the housekeeper/cook/sake buyer for the time witch Yuko Ichihara who grants wishes for a price.

Also back is Shizuka Doumeki, a classmate who can fire spiritual arrows that saves Watanuki from the spirits, ghosts and goblins intent on devouring him. Watanuki nags and yells at Doumeki who turns a deaf ear to the insults and just demands lunch from the excitable orphan.

Viewers get to know in the first few episodes why Doumeki never sees Yuuko’s shop but only an overgrown field and a rotting fence. The shop is only visible to those who need it.

The first three episodes cover the story arc where Watanuki learns a hard lesson about life and friendship. He loses his right eye but gains half an eye from Doumeki and a better understanding of how others perceive him.

The manga is drawn in this stylized manner where figures are lean and elongated. It did not translate well in the anime version during the first season. It still looks ugly in the second season.

But I forgive the show it’s poor animation because it captures the essence of the manga which can be deep at times and sometimes just silly. Watch the first three episodes and see for yourself.

The first season is already available in the North American market. I don’t know if “xxxHolic Kei” has been licensed.