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.