It’s time to talk more about Natsume’s Book of Friends. More indepth this time. Yes, my collaboration on Natumse appeared a few weeks ago. Keiko, Karandi, Irina, Arthifis, Neha, and I posted about specific segments on Natsume over the course of a week and it went pretty well. Everyone brought their A-Game. (Thanks guy, you are all the best). Another special thanks to Irina and Karandi for having a big collab post about the show’s side characters that got me to try this show out. The thing that we all figured out when writing about a certain theme or concept in Natsume is how hard it is to constraints ourselves when talking about this show. So now is the time that I let the restraints go and talk about this show even more in earnest then the last time. I’ve been thinking about this show (and Chihayafuru) ever since I finished it and there is a lot of reasons for that. It’s a long running show that has so much heart, thought, and soul put in it that it should be somehow be illegal for all of that. It’s that dangerous (cough) and that wonderful. We should all be thankful that Crunchyroll has all the Natsume episode content on it for everyone to watch.
So where do I start with this one? I guess the beginning would be a good place. Our story begins with a seemingly normal highschool student by the name of Takashi Natsume. Except there is a part of him that isn’t normal. Ever since he was young, he’s been able to see yokai. Yeah I know, that’s not an original anime concept. That’s a plot thing for Yu Yu Hakusho, Noragami, Bleach, The Ancient Magus Bride in some ways, and who knows how many other anime. The difference is how this show can handle that aspect. This show goes the more realistic and grounded rounded route, which I love. Ever since Takashi lost his family at an impossibly young age, he’s been tossed from family household to family household because he was considered a troubled kid. To his family members that dared to take him in, he just seemed to cause too much trouble which lead to too much of their property being broken. We all know that Takashi is just misunderstood and yokai are the ones who are causing him trouble, but no one else around him can see Yokai. Who are these households supposed to blame? After many years of being tossed from family to family, he finally meets up with the Fujiwaras where he currently resides. There is still the matter of the yokai that needs to be dealt with. Eh, I’m sure that’s nothing.
The anime series actually starts when Takashi Natsume discovers one of the few things left behind by his grandmother Reiko. A little thing called the Book of Friends. So what is the Book of Friends you may ask? Will, it’s a book of names. No seriously, it is. I mean, it has the name of a lot of yokai in it? What’s special about it you might ask? For one thing, Reiko Natsume, Takashi’s grandmother, beat up or won games against a lot of yokai to get their names down into this book. For another, yokai having names in this book meant that they were slaves to whoever owns it. Yokai can be called immediately to who owns the book and can do whatever the book wielder wants them to do. Also, anything that happens to the pages with the yokai’s names in the book happens to the yokai. So you can see what the appeal of this book is, right? It gives the owner unlimited power over a large amount of possibly powerful yokai. Yes, a large amount. Who wouldn’t even yokai want this book? This book may not be commented on a lot later on, but the whole anime series starts because this book exists.
I feel like this introduction thing is going too long, so let’s end that with this paragraph. So our power duo of Takashi Natsume and Madara/Nyanko Sensei meet when Nyanko Sensei is broken out of a cat statue and thendemands the book. Yes, he’s called Nyano Sensei because he takes the form of a fat cat most of the time until he takes the form of a giant cat. The interaction between the two in the beginning is truly the stuff of legends. Well, at least it is to me. Madara could have easily just have eaten Takashi and taken the book, but he doesn’t. He seemed kind of amused by Takashi’s motivations of giving names back to yokai and decided to see how that plan would play out. Nyanko Sensei decided to stick around and see how Takashi’s plan turns out and when Takashi dies, he will take whatever is left for the book for himself. I mean, he life span out matches a human’s life span, so what does he have to lose? So, begins one of the best friendships and partnerships I’ve seen in anime. I love it. The boy who tries his hardest to do the right thing and tries to make the right choice no matter how much it injures him and the gluttoness and lazy yokai that likes drinking and eating while also taking the part as Natsume’s protector. This is the core relationship that Natsume’s Book of Friends builds upon.
Natsume’s Book of Friends is an episodic anime series. A lot of episodes involve meeting up with all sorts of yokai each week. Some yokai are the typical horror movie types that need to be stopped or captured before they can cause more damage to humans. Other stories may be love stories that went all wrong when the humans they fell in love with can’t see them anymore or involved Yokai being treated wrongly because they are considered weaker then others and aren’t considered worth protecting. There are so many episodes that go straight to watchers’ heart in so many nuanced ways, so be careful when you watch this one. This show is just full of powerful events, stories, and characters and sometimes crying is just going to happen. Then there are all the positive and uplifting episodes. Episodes that are full of hope and stories that do work out in the end and/or when Natsume’s Dog Circle hangs out with him to have fun. There is even a female Takashi episode when he gets possessed, so that internet rule has been achieved. Natsume’s yokai cast is nothing but colorful and interesting. My favorite one is Hinoe whose design is stellar and plays as the Takashi’s bigger sister and is always welcome on the screen as far as I am concerned. Though to be honest, all of the yokai are interesting whether from a design perspective or a story and character perspective. It is obvious that there is a multi-dimensional yokai culture that Takashi has barely tapped, and I am always excited to learn more about it.
Then there is the human side of this equation. Despite all the spectacular things that Natsume gets himself involved in for some reason, it’s sometimes easy to forget that Takashi is a normal human. A human that goes to school, has to take tests, makes friends, and lives with a nice family. It those scenes with Takashi eating dinner with the Fujiwaras or hanging out with his friends that grounds the story. I can’t imagine how many stories Takashi had to make up when he returned from adventures in the woods meeting yokai when returning dirty and injured to the Fujiwaras for the thousandth time. I also can’t believe what great lengths he goes to to keep his yokai side and perspective away from his friends and family. Well, most of his friends. Two characters eventually catch on to his dealing. His new best friend Tanuma who is the son of a Priest and the cute and talkative Taki, whose grandfather was heavily involved with yokai as well. The three of them and Nyanko Sensei have many singular adventures of solving yokai problems in either of their houses and who knows how many other locations. Then there are also the Fujiwaras. Touko and Shigeru need to be mentioned here because they are the best foster parents or just parents either. They are endlessly patient and kind with Takashi while also making sure that he has a rigid structure and sense of normality to come back to everyday. Natsume’s Book of Friends human side is wonderful. What happens when the two aspects meet more in earnest then the trio and Nyanko Sensei having youkai adventures?
The most complex part of Natsume’s Book of Friends comes when Takashi comes into contact with people that can also see yokai. Most positive reaction comes when he meets with the exorcist by the name of Shuuichi Natori. An exorcist whose day job is being an actor and being the desire of who knows how many women. As the Takashi and Natori get to know each other (not that way, unless you are interested in fanfiction I’m sure exists), the more Natori takes the big brother role in helping Takashi with whatever trouble ends up in. At the same time, Takashi has helped Natori in who knows how many exorcism jobs (I bet Irina or Karandi knows). Like I said, this is the positive aspect of this interaction. As far as we know, there are many exorcists that think of yokai as evil and must be either enslaved by man or destroyed. Enter the Matoba Clan or at least Seiji Matoba. He has no morality issues of hurting yokai on any level at all. His family has been cursed by a yokai for many years and must perform a charm centered on one of their eyes to keep the curse at bay. Matoba has never talked to yokai on the same capacity as Takashi or anyone at all. This is where we can talk about one of the themes of this show. Yokai rights that can quickly be put in the place of any rights you want to talk about and it’s seamless within context of the show. Natsume is surprisingly subtle.
So what is the appeal of this show? How about how realistic and grounded the show is in the face of its super natural aspects? What about the many episodic stories that can are relatable and go straight to the heart? What about the fact that Natsume is a quiet relatable character that you can add whatever selected mental condition or physiological condition to him that you feel applies to him? Maybe it’s about the relationships between people, yokai, or both that feel as natural as your interactions with your best friends in anime form? It doesn’t matter what it is, this show is so powerful in whatever it chooses to accomplish. It’s combination of episodic emotional stories while continuing building a side plot for Takashi’s dealings with the Matoba clan and the continued danger that he puts himself in by still holding onto the Book as the seasons pile on. The best part is Natsume’s Book of Friends never pushes anything onto the watcher. During its six season run, nothing ever feels heavy handed because it trusts the watchers in figuring out what it wants to say or gives them enough information to get their point of view. Even perception’s towards yokai are given as the positions of its characters not a stance for the show itself. No, I am not biased about this show at all.
Can I say that Natsume’s Book of Friends is completely flawless? No, I can’t. Nothing created by human hands is flawless? If I had some complaints, in its six season run, we don’t know all of the show’s characters as well as we could. Also, the visuals, animation, and art style this show uses are not as imaginative as they could be? Also, maybe we could have seen more Reiko in this show? No? Oh well. Clearly, I feel like this show’s strengths more than outweigh the weakness. I don’t even think I can call this post a review at all, because I am way more bias with this post then I have been a while and I can’t help myself. When it comes to Natsume’s Book of Friend, I can’t help but recommend this show to everyone because of it’s a unique anime experience you won’t get anywhere else. I suppose this show can feel or sound like Ancient Magus Bride and a few other series that I mentioned before, but Natsume’s Book of Friends is more all encompassing then that because its longer run time allows itself to explore with who knows how many concepts? Natsume’s Book of Friends’ universe is more then well explored. Please give this show a try you can.
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