The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Natsume Yuujinchou

Title: Natsume Yuujinchou aka Natsume’s Book of Friends
Genre: Drama
Company: Brains Base
Format: 13 episodes
Dates: 07 July 2008 – 29 Sept 2008

Synopsis: Since he was a child, Natsume Takashi had always been able to see supernatural beings that others could not. As a result, many people around him have either thought he was crazy or treated him as a sign of bad luck, which has led to him being somewhat of a loner. All of this would change once he got his hands on a strange book that belonged to his grandmother, Reiko, and contains the names of all the spirits that his grandmother had contracted into helping her. Natsume, accompanied by Madara, a spirit who disguises himself as the large cat Nyanko-sensei, resolves to free the spirits from their contracts, making new friends in the process and learning how to live in harmony with humans and spirits.

The Highlights
Main characters: Exhibit a lot of growth and development.
Natsume and Nyanko-sensei: Interactions are fun to watch.
Natsume Reiko: Becomes almost irrelevant towards the end.
Atmosphere: Subdued, but absolutely beautiful.
Storytelling: Sentimental, uplifting, even heartbreaking at times, but definitely wonderful.
Music: Soft and unobtrusive.

The concept of the episodic anime series revolving around spirits or other supernatural beings is a relatively new phenomenon, but one that, with a few exceptions, has generally been stellar. Natsume Yuujinchou, Brains Base’s latest foray into the genre, doesn’t quite pack a punch like Mushishi, but it is enjoyable in its own right. By taking a down-to-earth approach to its stories and filling them with many emotional moments, this series manages to draw a connection between the humans and the spirits, presenting them in such a way that the viewer can relate to both groups. This in turn has the effect of allowing the viewer to understand and sympathize with the characters and serves to make the poignant stories this series chooses to tell all the more memorable.

From start to finish, Natsume Yuujinchou rarely wastes a second as each episode builds itself up nicely by focusing upon a simple concept like lost love or reconciling disagreements between friends. The familiarity and relatability of such situations are crucial to this series because once the audience understands the basic premise, the episode can then move on to develop the emotional side and draw it out to great effect.

And develop the emotional side it does. Whether the episode is trying to convey the sense of loneliness that arises from a lack of worshippers or a simple desire to listen to a dying koto player’s music for one last time, each episode manages to bring forth its distinct mood in a way that’s nearly flawless. Regardless of whether the episode is trying to aim for comedic fare, a sentimental moment, or an uplifting experience, the episode hits the mark more often than not and in such a way that the viewer is content to sit back and be taken along for the ride.

None of this would have been possible if the series had not taken great care to develop the characters in each episode. The spirits themselves are fleshed out rather well because each one has a distinct personality and detailed background which gives them a human quality that makes it easier for the audience to empathize with them. However, where this series really excels is the way in which they deal with developing the main characters, especially Natsume.

Natsume’s role in all of these stories effectively makes him the bridge from one episode to the next and though he starts out as a reluctant protagonist, by being forced to interact with spirits, his stance towards them softens as he gains a better appreciation for them. Furthermore, his interactions encourage him to break out of his shell in order to socialize with people more often. This progression is slow and subtle, but the Natsume at the start of the series is clearly different from the one at the end as his experiences and interactions shape the person he finally becomes. The honesty of the feelings and emotions that go into Natsume’s development is disarming in a way that’s almost ARIA-eque. That is, it manages to grab at the audience’s heartstrings by encouraging them to reach out and form that emotional bond with Natsume as they take in his perspective and personality without being forcefully manipulated into doing so.

The artwork and the music manage to draw the viewer into Natsume Yuujinchou‘s subdued, enchanting setting, but the series shines brightest in the way it draws out the viewer’s emotions as it tells its stories while developing its cast to the fullest. As such, people looking for a relaxing, wonderful series that goes into the realms of magical realism should definitely give this title a shot.

The Rating: 8

Reviewed by: zzeroparticle

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