“So, you can see youkai huh?”
Natsume Yuujinchou follows Natsume, a high school student and his encounters with youkai. Youkai are basically ghosts, but not the kind you see in kids’ cartoons or horror movies – they are just funky looking monsters that are invisible to most humans. Once a youkai gives its name to a human, then it pledges its soul to the human and they can never truly pass on unless they have their names back. Natsume’s grandmother, Reiko, had collected the names of various youkai and recorded them in a book called the “Yuujinchou” or “The Book of Friends”. After her death, this book falls into Natsume’s hand, who decides to free any youkai from its contract by giving the youkai its name back upon request. However, while some youkai just want their name back, some want to have the entire Yuujinchou so that they can control the other youkai. Along with his bodyguard Madara, the demon cat, Natsume begins to return the youkai’s names, one by one…
Natsume Yuujinchou is a watered down cross between Mushishi, xxxHOLiC and Kino’s Journey. In each episode, Natsume encounters a youkai who has some unfinished business in this world and needs Natsume’s help to finish it, so that they can move on. However, this is easier said than done, as some of the youkai’s requests are unreasonable to say the least and could even result in Natsume’s death. The anime has its genres mixed in the right proportion, with a strong dose of “Fantasy”, a spoonful of “Action” and a dash of “Slice of Life”. Set in an episodic format, all these elements come together really well, and each episode tells a fascinating tale that is *truly heartwarming.
However, certain episodes felt like “filler” episodes, which is inexcusable in a 13 episode series, and contained an unduly high amount of slapstick comedy. And although the overall plot is pretty unique and is handled in a charming fashion, it is pretty predictable. Maybe it’s just me, but after watching Mushishi, Kino’s Journey and xxxHOLiC, NY seemed rather linear and somehow didn’t quite capture the mood like the anime above did. Another place where this show went wrong was by mixing in some shounen elements, which did not work out well – this anime should’ve strictly stuck to the seinen genre.
The animation is perfect for this kind of series – soft, subtle and clean. Backgrounds were sharp and were beautiful to look at. The characters look pretty realistic and the eyes, thankfully, don’t occupy half of the character’s face. But, I felt that the youkai could’ve been drawn more artfully. When I picked this series up, I did not expect the youkai to look like the low grade demons in Inuyasha or the evil monsters from Gegege no Kitarou. Sadly, they did. Although it was not intolerable by any means, it was one of the reasons why I didn’t give this anime a ten or a nine. An overall solid job - Brains Base excels again!
The music was excellent. The OP was superb and the lyrics actually made sense, which is something you don’t see every day. The ED was a bit weird, with shaky vocals and a pleasant rhythm. The BGM was apt and fit the scenes perfectly. There were a few quirky tracks, a few melancholy ones and a few dramatic ones. And they all do a great job in setting the mood.
The characters consisted mainly of Natsume and Madara. There are a couple of other characters, but they don’t have a lot of role to play. Natsume is your standard high school protagonist – shy, quiet and kind. He talks to himself; his parents are dead and he is shunned by the society because he can see youkai, while no one else can. And his very stereotypical portrayal is what gives this anime a shonen feel. I mean, the kid is just too easy to read. The one other character that you see in every episode is Madara, the demon cat. Madara offers to be Natume’s bodyguard and for payment for his services, he gets the Yuujinchou when Natsume dies. Madara is mainly intended for comic relief, but sometimes, he can just be boring, with the jokes becoming stale fast. And this silly humor relaxes the atmosphere and makes the mood less serious, which, in my opinion, is not a good addition at all, as shows like NY are meant to be charming, yet focused at the same time.
The interaction between Natsume and Madara is extraordinarily similar to that of Kino and Hermes, certain youkai’s stories are extremely similar to that of xxxHOLiC’s and the Tanamu is just a replica of Adashino from Mushishi. And seeing that this anime was released in 2009, way after the release of all the above three anime, eyebrows are bound to be raised. Also, the boy seeing ghosts reminds me strongly of the Hollywood movie “The Sixth Sense”.
But, when it’s all said and done, NY is a great anime that succeeds mainly because of its focus on humans and not on the youkai. The youkai are just a medium to bring out the various kinds of bonds two humans can have. Once you get that into your head, NY will not disappoint. The first four episodes were somehow not as good as the rest of the series, but they were not terrible either.
The voice acting was neatly done and the subs by BSS were awesome as always.
[THE WRAP-UP ]
Natsume Yuujinchou is a beautiful show. With a generous helping of genres such as comedy, slice of life and drama, this anime is proof that you don’t always need the guns, women or a prophecy, for telling an absorbing tale of a boy with superpowers. Charming animation breathes life into the series and the stellar soundtrack is perfect for this show. However, poor characters, boring comedy and inconsistency in the quality of the episodes pull down this episodic series’ score. Strong similarities to other shows of the same genre also make the viewers question the originality of the producers. But, even these glaring errors cannot prevent you from adoring this anime. Natsume Yuujinchou is definitely worth your time. If you’re unsatisfied after the first six episodes, then this series is probably not for you. However, the sequel, Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou, is far better than this season, so if you didn’t like this one, there’s a much better chance you’ll like the sequel.