This week I’ll be reviewing the Natsume Yuujinchou anime, an adaptation of the manga by Midorikawa Yuki. Of course, there were 4 seasons for this show, but they’re all similar enough that I can cover it all in one go (similar to how I did my Aria review). So the Natsume Yuujinchou anime started in July of 2008. Then it got another season in 2009, then another in 2011, and the latest one in 2012. All of them were animated by Brains Base, and theywere all directed by Omori Takahiro. Natsume Yuujinchou was serialized in a shoujo magazine, despite the male main character, and… it shows. The plot lines and mannerisms of the characters, as well as the general attitude of the series are quite shoujo-y, if that’s a proper description. But let’s examine the show a bit more closely.
Natsume Yuujinchou, or Natsume’s Book of Friends, follows the life of Natsume Takashi, a young man living with some distant relatives in the middle of nowhere. Of course, Takashi isn’t your ordinary young man. He’s very spiritually aware, and sees all kinds of spirits all around him, all the time. Considering that no one else sees them, Takashi has to take a lot of care not to seem insane to humans even though he witnesses some pretty strange actions by spirits fairly often. As to why he’s spiritually aware… It seems to run in his bloodline. His grandmother, Natsume Reiko, was also quite spiritually aware. Unlike Takashi, who tries to walk the fine line of being accepted by both humans and spirits, Reiko completely shunned the human side and instead hung out with spirits all the time. As a result, she compiled this item called the Book of Friends, where she subjugated a bunch of spirits’ names and had them at her beck and call via the book. This book gets passed down to Natsume, who decides that he’ll try to return the spirits their names back. That’s more or less the basis for the plot, though the show takes a decidedly more slice-of-life approach than perhaps that description would suggest.
Of course, the main character here is Natsume Takashi. He’s a kind-hearted young man, who went through a fairly rough childhood. A child who can see spirits, but no one will believe him? Takashi had to grow up and understand very quickly that it was better to hide his powers from people. Still, he wasn’t infallible. Since Takashi was an orphan, generally some spirit-related event would cause his current host family to get spooked and hand him off to someone else. This happened several times until Takashi was taken in by the Fujiwaras, an incredibly understanding and kind couple with no children of their own. Considering the hardship he went through, Takashi knows more than most to appreciate what he has, and he really does. His inner monologues are quite revealing in that respect.
The other main character is Nyanko-sensei, or Nyankichi-san, or Madara. He’s an incredibly powerful spirit that is after Natsume’s Book of Friends. He eventually decides to be a bodyguard to Natsume until he dies, at which point Madara will take the book of friends for himself. As Madara is a powerful spirit, he can disguise himself as a cat (which Natsume calls Nyanko-sensei) that other people can see. In the beginning, it’s quite clear that Madara is pretty much only after the Book of Friends, but as the series goes wrong, he and Takashi become close friends. It’s a sweet relationship to watch develop.
I enjoy the art for this series. Ignoring the human character designs, there are a lot of interesting and varied spirit designs. The creepy ones look creepy, the beautiful ones look beautiful, and a lot of them are just… spirits. It’s a little hard to put into words, but the designs are very fitting for each individual spirit. Especially Nyanko-sensei. Insofar as the backgrounds and character designs and general artistic quality goes, the show is pretty good. Everything looks neat and orderly and easy to follow. No problems there. The animation is.. I don’t want to say it’s bad. In fact, compared to other slice of life shows, there’s certainly more going on in this one. There’s some chase scenes, some dangerous “fighting” and whatnot that generally calls for higher animation. So you’ll see more going down, but for the most part it’s simply adequate.
The BGM for all 4 series are fairly so-so. The tracks are all standard slice of life fare, with the slow kind of tranquil sound. There are a few more tense themes than most slice of life shows because Natsume’s life is markedly more dangerous than most slice of life main characters. Rampaging spirits always want a piece of that delicious Natsume. The opening and ending themes however are quite good. I’m not going to list all of them, but my two favorites are probably the ending theme to season 4, “Takaramono” by Kawano Marina, and the ending theme to season 2, “Aishiteru” by Kourin. Very nice songs with great accompanying animations.
Studio: Brain’s Base
Director: Takahiro Omori
Music: Makoto Yoshimori
Original run: Season 1 July 7, 2008 – September 29, 2008; Season 2 January 5, 2009 – March 30, 2009; Season 3 July 5, 2011 – September 27, 2011; Season 4 January 2, 2012 – March 26, 2012
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