The screenshot above is taken from the credits of Natsume Yuujinchou. Isn’t it a wonderful image? I feel that it captures the atmosphere of Natsume Yuujinchou very well -wistful, tender and peaceful. Natsume, the main character, is seated there in the grass, and the events of this anime could be the memories drifting through his mind as the clouds pass gently overhead.
Natsume is a young teenager who has been able to see spirits that no one else can since his birth. He inherited this trait from his grandmother, who also possessed the ability, but he also inherits something else – the “Book of Friends”. His grandmother had been collecting the names of various spirits and never returned them – so Natsume vows to do this instead. The “Book of Friends” is a highly prized item, however, since it can be used to call any spirit to do your bidding, and thus Natsume gains plenty of unwanted attention from the other spirits.
A story with such a plot description could go anywhere. It could become an action story with Natsume fighting off hordes of evil spirits bent on controlling the book. It could be a fantasy epic where Natsume must travel to other dimensions to locate the spirits and return their names. Natsume Yuujinchou, thankfully, is neither. It shares more in common with gentle slice-of-life stories than it does with other supernatural anime. It uses this concept of spirits who very few can see to tell individual touching stories about the lives of different spirits and the humans they encounter. The common binding theme in many of the episodes is loneliness and companionship. Rather than this commonality becoming repetitive, it was like looking at one beautiful statue from different angles. Many of the stories are bittersweet, some heartwarming, some humorous, but they all have moments of great emotion which moved me very much, and they all manage to end on a beautiful note that warrants a moment of reflection at each episode’s end.
The art style is well-suited to the show, giving it a very soft, dreamy look. The character designs are very suitable, particularly Nyanko-sensei – Natsume’s “master” who mantains that he only tags along with Natsume because he was promised him as food when another spirit gets him – yet helps Natsume a little bit more than one would expect under those circumstances. The music also one of the highlights of the series. The background music is a treat, filled with slight but not overt pentatonic overtones and a lot of memorable, gentle melodies. The piano which is used in several BGM pieces is wonderful to hear with its pleasant, soft tone, and the use of woodwinds and strings elsewhere lend a sense of elegance to the score.
The voice acting choices were also superb. The main one is the choice of Kamiya Hiroshi as Natsume. I know of him through his portrayal of Takemoto on Honey and Clover, which I thought was brilliant. Early on in Natsume Yuujincho, my enjoyment came primarily from my association of his voice with that series, but as the show when on, he wonderfully shaped Natsume’s personality and attitude through his voice and developed his own fine interpretation of the character. I don’t know if another voice actor could have provided the same effect. The gentleness and mature-yet-youthful tone of his voice really adds a lot to the character of Natsume. Bravo also to Inoue Kazuhiko for his grouchy portrayal of Nyanko-sensei, which effortlessly becomes confident and assuring when the character himself transforms to his real form.
As you can tell, Natsume Yuujincho had quite an effect on me. It is a unique series in its approach to communicating the emotion of a story. Rather than portraying sadness, grief, or other sentiments on screen in a straightforward manner, it communicates its ideas in a fleeting manner, and the moment passes almost as soon as it began. Hence, the viewer is left to reflect on the emotions of the story that has just passed, and this ends up being the more powerful approach. There are plenty of shows out there that walk around with an “I am dramatic” sign, which is why a series that can so effortlessly move you and make you emotional is all the more significant. It isn’t trying to be a psychological drama, nor is it trying to be a fantasy epic. It has its own formula which has struck the perfect chord for many, many of its viewers. I am obviously one of them.
(Note: The series was continued with a second season ( and perhaps more, as of this posting ). This review refers only to the first season. I will be reviewing the second separately.
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