Better late than never! That's how I discover Natsume Yuujinchou, already into its fifth season! Can you believe that! What makes this anime so special is a mix of great storytelling, memorable characters, utterly enchanting music - the complete look and feel that I appreciate for its slow-burn pace and sentimental familiarity. As of this writing, there are already six episodes.
How can Takashi Natsume not be such an interesting character?
Let's see. There are enough literary and film characters that best describe a boy who is different, lonely and an orphan - from Dicken's Oliver Twist to Louise Malle's Julien and Jean in "Au revoir les enfants" to Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker. Like them, Natsume is a selfless kid who goes out of his way to help others - even the youkai who have all the intention of killing him and take the "book of friends."
This book of friends which he inherited from his grandmother, Reiko, is a list of notorious, kind and anything in between youkai captured by Reiko. Their search for Natsume whom they think to be his grandma, serve as the anime's main storyline.
Yōkai (妖怪, ghost, phantom, strange apparition) are a class of supernatural monsters, spirits, and demons in Japanese folklore.
For as long as he can remember, Takashi Natsume has had the ability to see spirits, inheriting the power from his grandmother Reiko. Upon her death, Reiko bequeaths to her grandson her Book of Friends, a book containing the names of spirits Reiko had bullied into servitude. The Book of Friends is a highly prized item in the spirit world, and spirits haunt Takashi regularly. Whereas Reiko formed the contracts, however, Takashi spends his time dissolving the contracts and releasing the various spirits that come to him for help. But that doesn't mean there aren't malicious spirits trying to kill him. Which is where Madara (called Nyanko-sensei by Natsume) comes in; Madara serves as Natsume's bodyguard and spiritual advisor of sorts, even though ostensibly he is motivated by his own desire to possess the Book of Friends. He later on begins to become more attached to Takashi.
Natsume's Book of Friends (Japanese: 夏目友人帳 ) is a Japanese fantasy manga series by Yuki Midorikawa. It began serialization by Hakusensha in the shōjo manga magazine LaLa DXin 2005, before switching to LaLa in 2008. The chapters have been collected in twenty bound volumes. The series is about Natsume, an orphaned teenage boy who can see spirits, who inherits from his grandmother the notebook she used to bind spirits under her control. Natsume's Book of Friends was a finalist for the first Manga Taishō award in 2008. [ Wiki ]
Then there's Madara.
... also known as Nyanko-sensei (ニャンコ先生) is a powerful, beastly youkai who more commonly takes the form of a maneki-neko (招き猫, "beckoning cat"). He acts as Natsume's bodyguard on the condition that when Natsume dies, he will inherit the Book of Friends, thus giving him control over a vast number of youkai. [ source ]
Sounding like an old man, Madara offers comedic relief when you least expect it. Cats, just like dogs, are beloved characters in anime. And in Natsume Yuujinchou Go, it's not an exception. Madara returns as both Takashi's protector and companion.
While it may appear to be a daunting task to review Natsume Yuujinchou from the first season to this most recent incarnation, it seems to me - after having seen episodes from previous installments - that each season can stand on its own. Choosing which season to begin your Natsume journey is not an issue. I watch Season 5 as the episode gets released while savoring previous seasons.
What remains as afterthoughts include:
- Takashi's dissolving the contract between the youkai, and his grandma is front and center of the season, offering different stories - serious and dramatic, funny and adventurous, thrilling, malicious and invigorating. There's the lady youkai inside a pot looking for a doll; there's the young youkai girl who felt indebted to a man for giving her a towel and wants to know what happened to the man after so many years;
- Takashi's close encounter with the dangerous Matoba Seiji and his reunion with Shuuichi Natori, a fascinating side character. Episode 3 and 4 are my favorites so far because of the complexity it offers about the whole Natsume franchise. For someone who is introduced via the fifth season, these episodes offer glimpses into a lot of interesting characters. These two episodes also dwell into the world of exorcism and of exorcists;
- There is that dreadful scene between Takashi and his relative during the opening episode and his voluntary revelation to his classmate, the emphatic and pleasant Kaname Tanuma. I've heard a lot about the Takashi-Kaname match complete with fanfiction, but I still have to see more of them together. The side story between Takashi and his relatives must be cruel and painful, and I'll be looking for more clues as I look forward to more episodes and in my first view of the previous seasons;
- Tooru Taki appears to be another important character. She created such lasting impressions;
- The love and affection Takashi felt for the couple who took him into their home and their hearts - Touko and Shigeru Fujiwara - is a pleasant departure from most anime I have seen so far where the parents are often ignored and sidelined. I love the scenes where the Fujiwaras dote on Takashi as if he's their very own.
Closing: Akane Sasu (茜さす)
Anime: Natsume Yuujinchou Go (Natsume's Book of Friends season 5)
Director: Takahiro Omori
Written by: Sadayuki Murai
Music by: Kenji Kawai
I mentioned how effective the soundtrack are to this particular season - a vibrant, melodic opening is complemented with a more 'emotional' closing soundtrack. Watch them both from the Youtube video clip above.
There is a certain blissful vibe to the whole Natsume Yuujinchou Go series that it sometimes jolt the viewer when the youkai attacks with malice and even impunity. It's that sort of 'balance' that keeps viewers like me wanting for more.