While most fifteen-year-old boys, in one way or another, harbor secrets that are related to girls, Takashi Natsume has a peculiar and terrifying secret involving youkai: for as long as he can remember, he has been constantly chased by these spirits. Natsume soon discovers that his deceased grandmother Reiko had passed on to him the Yuujinchou, or "Book of Friends," which contains the names of the spirits whom she brought under her control. Now in Natsume's possession, the book gives Reiko's grandson this power as well, which is why these enraged beings now haunt him in hopes of somehow attaining their freedom.
Without parents and a loving home, and constantly being hunted by hostile, merciless youkai, Natsume is looking for solace—a place where he belongs. However, his only companion is a self-proclaimed bodyguard named Madara. Fondly referred to as Nyanko-sensei, Madara is a mysterious, pint-sized feline spirit who has his own reasons for sticking with the boy.
Based on the critically acclaimed manga by Yuki Midorikawa, Natsume Yuujinchou is an unconventional and supernatural slice-of-life series that follows Natsume as he, with his infamous protector Madara, endeavors to free the spirits bound by his grandmother's contract.
Natsume Yuujinchou was licensed for an English release as Natsume's Book of Friends by NIS America, Inc. It was released October 9, 2012 as a Season 1 and 2 DVD Premium Edition followed by a DVD Standard Edition release February 4, 2014. It is currently streaming on Crunchyroll and Hulu.
I've been looking forward to this anime ever since I saw one of the promotional images -- Natsume sitting on a tree branch with his foot slightly touching the water underneath, and an unusual looking cat by his side. I fell in love with that image alone and could not stop thinking about it. Needless to say, I watched Natsume Yuujinchou while it was still ongoing and waited eagerly for the subtitles to come out. Now that it's over, I can say for sure -- it was a short but beautiful experience, and became one of my very special personal favorites.
"Thank you... for not
growing to hate humans."
Each episode Natsume encounters a different youkai. Sometimes, it's a youkai seeking to get his/her name back; at other times, a youkai wanting some other help from Natsume, which he can never refuse.
As much as those stories revolve around youkai, Natsume Yuujinchou is ultimately about humans. It focuses on the bonds between humans, as well as the bonds between humans and youkai.
Each story is very well thought out and carries a deep message that Natsume derives from his encounters. Reasons why Natsume cannot let go of his bond with youkai, reasons why youkai fall in love with humans; Natsume Yuujinchou is a collection of beautiful bittersweet pieces of a not very ordinary every day life. Each piece left me with a somewhat sad but warm feeling and made me go back to re-watch and think upon it again and again.
Natsume Yuujinchou is full of unique personalities. Natsume does not help youkai just because he has nothing better to do. His bond with the beings of the other world is very deep and is explored in great detail. From a boy who was forced to shut himself off from nearly all humans, Natsume grows to trust humans again and shares his experiences with others. Seemingly eager for nothing more than obtaining the Book of Friends, Madara is also not that simple of a character. With time, he becomes attached to Natsume and, despite his own constant contradictions, appears to worry more about his companion than the actual book.
Youkai are also very interesting. Although most of them appear only in their assigned episode, each one is very memorable, and their personalities and inner troubles are so well thought out that it's hard to believe that they were really present for only twenty minutes.
The artwork is beautiful. It may seem rather simple, but it couldn't be more perfect for this anime. In fact, the simplicity of it is what makes it truly stunning for me. It greatly enhances the story and the atmosphere with its warm colors and memorable designs. Also, every time a scene of Natsume returning youkai's name is shown, I fall in love with this anime all over again; it almost makes me feel his breath as he blows out the letters from the page.
After the very first episode, I fell in love with both opening and ending songs. Like the artwork, the soundtrack is beautiful in its simplicity and fits Natsume Yuujinchou's atmosphere perfectly. It's the kind of music that probably would not feel the same or as special outside of the actual anime, but combined with the rest of the aspects, it becomes a wonderful soundtrack.
What more can I say? I fell completely in love with this anime. If you want something relaxing and heartwarming, Natsume Yuujinchou is for you.
Natsume Yuujinchou is possibly the most powerful, thought-provoking anime I've ever seen. The amount of emotions you'll experience is nothing short of incredible, especially when you consider the anime's 13 episode length.
Pity, anger, sorrow, astonishment, and absolute elation are to name a few.
And some tears on the side...Manly tears, obviously.
Natsume Yuujinchou is episodic, there is no defining plot line. The most common, unifying theme is Natsume's ultimate goal to return all the Youkai names that his Grandmother Reiko took and stored in the Book of Friends. The episodes range from various Youkai simply wanting their names back, to far more complex issues such as
lonely spirits longing for companionship, desperate to relive the memories that are so precious to them.
Each episode is wrapped up so masterfully, so beautifully, that it's nearly impossible to not spend the next few moments contemplating what you've just seen. The messages and lessons conveyed are just as pertinent as they are meaningful. At some point in everyone's life, there will be something (a problem, ability, anything) that they feel is impossible to talk about, that no one can relate. As Natsume Yuujinchou illustrates, isolation is rarely the answer, and through purposeful human (and maybe not so human) interactions, inner peace can be achieved.
The art in Natsume Yuujinchou is phenomenal, depicting a gorgeous countryside town. Each aspect of the landscape is drawn with amazing attention to detail, the large plains of grass not just being lush green, but also golden, with a few shades of light red. The bodies of water are drawn to ripple realistically with the hustling and bustling of fish (and water-related Youkai). The light from the sun pours through the openings of the trees in a divine manner. The human characters are drawn with that middle of the road style of animation, where they aren't too realistic but they also aren't too cartoonish, too cartoonish being enormous eyes, no visible nose, etc. Youkai are drawn in almost every way imaginable, the sky was the limit in creating these spirits as each episode continuously provides unique designs. The artwork never falters, and remains beautiful at every attempt made, from fireworks in the night sky, to majestic, elegant Youkai.
I fell in love with the opening song upon first listen. Without thinking about it, I always found myself singing along, the tempo getting faster and faster, my excitement growing more and more. This opening is truly the perfect fit for Natsume Yuujinchou, as it is expressive of my anticipation for the upcoming episode. This was the same case with the end song, perfectly fitting, as it always sums up the current episode, allowing you to become engrossed in your own thoughts. The almost nostalgic way the music starts quietly playing right before the end of the episode, a slightly melancholic acoustic guitar chimes in, and emotions begin to overflow. A memorable end for an unforgettable anime.
Most of the Youkai encountered are, aside from the general superiority complex over humans, very different. Their personalities are what keeps the show fresh. A Youkai that first appears to be nothing but malicious may actually have a much more complicated character, though that isn't to say there are no instances of purely malevolent Youkai.
Despite that superiority complex, most of the Youkai do in fact have human tendencies. Love, loneliness, and real bonds of friendship are all things that Youkai are not entirely devoid of. It becomes obvious that, despite differences in appearence, powers, and social norms, humans and Youkai aren't so different...
This is an anime that is enjoyable from start to finish, and as someone who is more prone to believe in the existence of the supernatural, I was enthralled. From now on, I'll think twice about those moments where a cold chill overcomes you, or when a blast of wind hits you on a relatively calm day.
This show is a fantasy masterpiece. If you're in the mood to cry tears of happiness (manly tears, naturally) or just see a great show, then this is a must watch.
"I can hear the footsteps of Winter, the cold night...But, this place is warm"
Honestly, I don't really understand why this anime has so many amazing ratings. This isn't the worst anime i've ever seen- no, but I certainly do not think it's anywhere near the best.
Now, let's talk about the story.
One of the things I hated the most about this anime was the fact that it's episodic, and it doesn't work. In my opinion, this only makes it painfully predicable and underdeveloped. Honestly, you've seen the first three episodes you've seen the whole show. A youkai comes. Cool. They want Natsume's help. Oh. They get their help. There's a revelation. Ok. The majority of the episodes
follow this structure. And for the first few or so episodes, yes. It's entertaining. Heartwarming even. But I wouldn't expect that to be the whole show. CAN SOMETHING ELSE HAPPEN. CAN THE PLOT PROGRESS. CAN WE STOP THIS CYCLE. It's too simple. It got boring.
And the art/animation...
The art is uninteresting. It's boring. it's simple. Which pretty much matches the story. The story and the art go together. So I guess that's a good thing. It further sets the mood of the anime. It made it more boring for me.
I hated the soundtrack of this anime. I always skipped the opening, which I almost never do. The sound effects and all that were clear. Voices, clear. So the sound is fine. That soundtrack though. No. But it does do a good job of further setting the over all mood of the anime.
The character development in this anime really lacks. What the hell even is Natsume's personality. He barely has one. The youkai though, they have much better personalities. But just because they're better than Natsume's doesn't mean they're deep or "thought provoking" no. But they are definitely entertaining. The one character I truly did like was Madara. He's a gem, really liked him. It's like they compensated for Natsume's lack of development with Madara's.
If you read what I previously wrote it's pretty obvious I did not enjoy this anime. I watched it to the end to be able to make a full conclusion about it. BUT BOY WAS THAT PAINFUL.
I just think this anime wasn't for me. If you're the type of person that likes to decipher plots, enjoys suspense, twists and turns- this is really not the anime for you. Skip it. If you like more simple, heartwarming type things give this a try. This isn't the kinda anime where you're on the tip of your toes, heads spinning, mind boggling. This is the kinda anime you watch when you're in your room bored, too tired to watch something with a more developed, complex plot.
Natsume Yuujinchou is a small gem of a series, and I'm glad I followed a friend's recommendation to watch it. This small, often overlooked series is so beyond charming that I wonder how anyone could pass it up!
The story is simple, because there's no overall arcing plot. The series basically consists of self-contained episodes where Natsume looks to help youkai with their problems and give them back their names. Sometimes he seeks to help out humans troubled by youkai. In any case, Natsume is always trying to help someone while "Nyanko-sensei" scolds him for his human stupidity.
Each story serves as
character development, either for Natsume, the youkai involved, or both. The youkai teach Natsume about themselves and about humanity, and Natsume ends to teach the youkai that not all humans are so bad. Natsume learns to be more social and gains a few friends as the series goes on. For the most part, each episode has a fairly happy ending, though some are heartbreaking yet beautiful. Generally the show has a very optimistic outlook on things, but doesn't gloss over potential emotional tragedy.
The art is fantastic. Everything about the style is simple and gentle, but very beautiful as a whole. The linework and soft colors work beautifully together, and the animation, when given to show off beyond walking and talking, is awesome. I welcome the simple and more realistic character designs for the humans, and the simple but not generic designs of the youkai.
I LOVE the music. Like everything else in the series, it's subtle and unobtrusive, simple but very pretty. The opening and ending themes are also very fitting.
As for enjoyment and overall value, let me say that I was disillusioned to anime a few years ago, and have very little patience for it now. But Natsume was so charming that I couldn't put it down once I found it. And now I'm hooked on season two! A definite recommendation.
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