Sunday, 22 February 2009 05:03

Natsume Yuujinchou (TV, 2008)

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Overview


Takashi and Nyanco-Sensei

Life has an unpleasant way of punishing people for being special in some way. How often in school was the quiet, really smart kid in your class also the favored target for the school bullies because they wouldn't fight back? Or the girl with braces teased and made fun of? Natsume Yuujinchou is about a young man who is special in an unusual way. He can see and talk to the many, many spirits that wander around, invisible to everybody but those with great spiritual power. Of course, as we've already pointed out, life has a way of punishing you when you're special, and so not only has nobody ever believed him, he's been labeled as the strange child, the liar, and bounced around from family member to family member after his parents died. By the time we meet him, he's a quiet, shut-off and somewhat cynical young man – until he finds an unusual book in the belongings of his grandmother when they're delivered to him. A book of names.

Fields USA Info Japanese Info Image
Title Natsume Yuujinchou Takashi and Nyanco-Sensei
Alternative Natsume's Book of Friends
Dates 2008.07.07
Company Brains Base, Y.A.P, Trilogy, D-COLORS, Hanjin Animation, iseriA, office fuu, Orange, R.I.C, Sunshine Digital, Tamazawa Dogasha, VENET, Synergy SP, Tadashi Pro, Triple A, XEBEC M2, Crunchyroll, Aniplex, Sony Music Entertainment, TV Tokyo Music, Brains Base Editing, Seki Editing Studio, Q Tech, Decoloco, NAS, Darks Production, Ray Art
Creator Yuki Midorikawa
Director Takahiro Omori
Genre Slice of Life, Occult
Related Natsume Yuujinchou (Manga), Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou (TV)

Review


Never knew there was such a thing as a micro-sensei.

Takashi Natsume has a slight problem. By slight, I mean that he's being chased by a very big, very, very angry spirit searching for a woman. He's running for a shrine, but gets caught before he makes it. Turns out that the spirit is looking for a woman named Reiko – and seems to think that Natsume is her. The spirit's companion suggests that she rip out Reiko's tongue before 'she' can call her name, and Takashi uses the distraction to escape. He makes it to the shrine, just to trip over a rope – a old barrier marker, in fact, which snaps because it's so old. The sort of barrier rope meant to keep something in. Something that is very happy to be free. Something that makes the doors to the small shrine burst open...

...A really, really fat, funny looking fortune cat.

This is kinda how the series plays itself out, folks. Just when you're expecting one thing, you tend to get something 180 degrees different, and they play the humor of it pretty well, honestly. Natsume Yuujinchou is at its heart a story about being different, and being alone and coping with that, though it's played as being slice-of-life with just enough of an occult flavoring to be unusual. The basic underpinning is that, like Takashi, his grandmother Reiko could see and interact the spirits. Unlike him, though, Reiko decided to do something about it. Being very powerful spiritually, she starts going around and challenging the yokai in the area. If she beats them, she gets their names and adds them to her book of friends, which serves to bind them to her as a contract.

...She amassed quite a few friends.

Returning a name.

Unfortunately, Reiko was what you might call a woman of wandering interests, and she had a bad habit of forgetting about things after she was done with them. Sensei – the fortune cat – calls her mean. It's true, after a fashion. As the story develops, though, you start to discover that she often had a reason for the things she did. That's even more clear in the second season, but that's another review. One thing she didn't do before her death, though, was return all the names that she had collected. Takashi, after he inherits the book, decides to finish what she started and return the names. He winds up having some adventures along the way, of course. Even making a few friends, but he's socially inept enough to not fully understand that's exactly what he's doing. He often laments that he still can't get along with yokai, when often he gets along with them better than humans.

Big critter.

The animation is simple, but not in a bad way – actually, there's more small details and care taken with the shading and such than in most series. On the other hand, there really aren't any of the flashier effects that you often see in the more action based series, or special effects. Like I said, simple – or perhaps a better word would be, natural. The character design is where a lot of the magic is, though. There's a great deal of variation and unique appearances to be found among the various ayakashi that Takashi meets throughout the series – they run the gamut from remarkably human to almost shapeless shadows. You see a lot of excessively exaggerated features too – heads bigger than the rest of a spirit's body, and so on. The outfits and such are often quite elaborate as well. High marks all around on the artwork.

The voice acting cast is pretty good, though not really anything incredible. They did a good job with the dialog, but nothing really stood out as a stellar job. Certainly there's nothing to complain about here, so don't read too much into it. The music in the background is for the most part very simplistic – a note or three repeated slowly, and softly, very sing-song like. There are some more complex themes, and they're saved for the more important scenes. Much of the music in the series is very soothing, really, even the tunes played during the few more action oriented scenes. The op and end themes follow that formula too – the opening theme is bright and hopeful sounding, while the ending theme is all but a lullaby.

Overall


Watermellon loving cat.

Natsume Yuujinchou is a big step away from the sort of series that I'd usually enjoy – its pacing is much slower, and it's a great deal more episodic than the typical anime. While the storyline does take a monster of the week format, it's more fair to say that it's a 'misunderstood creature that is terribly lonely in some fashion and needs help before it can be at ease' of the week. Except for a couple of them, the Ayakashi are played off as being much like us – capable of being sad, lonely, cruel, silly, whatever, but they aren't automatically evil. The majority of them don't even want anything to do with humans. The only real difference between them and us is that they live longer and tend to take longer lasting offense.

It's a decent story, though, if cliché and smacking of depending too much on the power of friendship. On the other hand, it does a lot to look at how loneliness can effect people. If you like slice-of-life stories or the occult, it's probably worth taking a look at. I don't know that I'd recommend it to those that need their daily dose of action, because while there is some action to be found, it's very much a character development driven series. Let's call it a three and a half out of five, shall we?

Additional Info

  • Format: Television
  • Animation: Groovy (+5)
  • Writing: Groovy (+5)
  • Pacing: Groovy (+5)
  • Voice Acting: Groovy (+5)
  • Soundtrack: Groovy (+5)

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