Note: This post contains some spoilers.
After watching Japanese anime series Mushishi a couple of months ago, I decided to check out another anime series, Natsume Yuujinchou (also known as Natsume’s Book of Friends in English). Just in case you’re wondering, I highly recommend it and have made an exception to write about it on The Travelling Squid. In gist, I thought that Natsume Yuujinchou is suitable for people of all ages. The storyline is simple enough for children to understand and yet contains some depth and sophistication, which keeps older folks (like me) intrigued. Here are three reasons to watch Japanese anime series Natsume Yuujinchou.
Natsume Yuujinchou is an anime series about a boy, Natsume Takashi, and his relationships with spirits (youkai). These spirits can’t be seen by most humans, hence Natsume’s struggles with them are perceived to be strange by the people around him. What makes it more tough on Natsume is that his parents passed away years ago. Due to Natsume’s atypical behaviour caused by the youkai around him, he has had to move around various foster homes. Fortunately for him, he is now staying at a kind-hearted couple’s home.
At the start, Natsume’s relationships with the spirits are adversarial. Most of them attempt to eat him, because they mistaken him for his grandmother, Natsume Reiko, who used to fight them when she was alive. One day, while running away from a spirit, Natsume steps onto a seal by chance and frees a powerful spirit. He is no other than Madara, or in his fortune cat form, Nyanko Sensei. (For more details, see YouTube trailer above.)
Natsume finds a book among his grandmother’s belongings with pieces of paper with calligraphy characters (names) bound together. Madara insists that Natsume give up the book, but Natsume refuses as it was the last connection he had with his grandmother. He agrees that Madara can have the book in the event he passes away. In exchange, Madara agrees to be his bodyguard in a fortune cat form, known as Nyanko Sensei.
Three reasons to watch Japanese anime series Natsume Yuujinchou
1. It’s heartwarming and funny at the same time
While watching Natsume Yuujinchou, we are taken through flashbacks of Natsume’s childhood, where he was often taunted for being different from others. We can almost experience the isolation he faces from his caregivers and schoolmates. While the series tends to be a little heavy, Nyanko-sensei, Natsume’s youkai ‘bodyguard’ adds depths of humour with his huge appetite for food and sake. Nyanko-sensei in his cat form is large and round, and is frequently mistaken by others to be a ‘pig’ or ‘racoon dog’. He chides Natsume for his helpfulness and naivety at times. Despite the occasional bickering between the two, they share a special relationship.
2. Excellent plot
The plot is spellbinding. The series is into the 6th season and I have so many questions. For example, how did Nyanko-sensei get sealed in the first place, and by who? Who are Natsume’s parents – how did his mother pass away (was it youkai related)? At the end of the 6th season, we only have a glimpse of Natsume Reiko’s grandfather, as mentioned by one of the youkai followers of a famous exorcist. I have not felt so intrigued by a series since Harry Potter. Last but not least, on a more whimsical note, will Natsume’s friends, Taki and Tanuma get together? They did look like they’d make a good couple while making curry rice for Natsume.
3. Life lessons
I like that some of the life lessons in the show were unspoken and we are sometimes left to infer about what the characters actually thought and felt. In Season 6 Episode 6 , there was an episode on Natsume’s friends Nishimura and Kitamoto (who are still unaware that Natsume can see youkai). They found Natsume’s behaviour strange, but accepted him nonetheless without probing. It’s perhaps a sign of friendship – an understanding that a friend would share things about themselves without being asked, when he or she is ready.
Another life lesson which was unspoken was in season 5 episode 9, where a bratty mushroom-look-alike youkai orders Natsume to find her special stones and flowers to adorn herself with, to gain the attention of a god she idolises. What she failed to realise was that it was not her appearance, but the depth of character and training which mattered. I inferred that the moral of the story was that no amount of ‘special stones’ (nice clothes and make-up in today’s context) can attract the attention of the person you like – focus on personal development instead.
Good looking characters
While this should not be a key factor in assessing the qualities of a show, some of the characters are quite good-looking. One of them is handsome and popular actor and exorcist Natori, who befriends Natsume in later seasons. Despite a gecko-like mark which occasionally appears on his face and the possibility that he may have ill-intentions, I still find him likeable. ໒( ͡ᵔ ▾ ͡ᵔ )७
The Travelling Squid’s Take
To be honest, there are times when I found Natsume a little too emotional and sensitive for my liking. But his interactions with Nyanko-sensei and their occasional bickering makes a good balance (and a good laugh). I’m glad that the pace of the anime quickened towards the fifth and sixth season. Its humour, warmth and tenderness has kept me going. My main takeaway is that if you’ve ever felt isolated or unaccepted in a group because you are different, Natsume Yuujinchou gives us hope. That we do have a chance of being accepted by people who love and care for us, despite the factors which make us different.
Sometimes, while watching Natsume Yuujinchou late at night, I can’t help but wish for some steamed buns from Nanatsuji, or Touko’s tempura shrimp with a glass of sake.
[Thanks to Friend C for recommending this!]