Fellow anibloggers Irina and Karandi have made their adoration for this anime quite apparent over the years per their respective blogs. When I tweeted out some early impressions of the show, Scott from Mechanical Anime Reviews gave me the social media equivalent of a fistbump. Despite the large volume of expectations that could’ve gone into it, my decision to watch this was entirely based in curiosity and, to a lesser degree, on a whim.
I do not regret it at all.
Okay, if I may gush just a bit before all the serious “grr I am critical man” comes in, this anime is unbelievably tranquil. I use that term a lot here to describe various aspects of other fictional works, but this entire series embodies this lovely adjective. Wholesome, bittersweet, and kind—complete with a soothing OP and ED that sets up and sends off each episode with a little emotional pinch. In a way, the formula for each episode feels tailored in a way to stimulate the emotional capacity of everyday, and occasionally tragic, situations. Some may (and do) see this as a repetitive procedure that can make the series hard to watch. I see the things done within each episode as reason to continue in spite of it.
As many may know prior to reading this, Natsume Yuujinchou is an episodic anime with a “Youkai of the Week” fixture as a base. What I was not expecting was a sliver of recurring elements that continue to carry weight after each episode, which many seem to neglect in their negative reviews. Episodic series without development is boring. Natsume Yuujinchou has development on top of intriguing stories about the human psyche and motivations which create genuine drama. Natsume as a character grows, his outlook changes, as do others’; characters introduced in previous episodes come back, elements most other series would ignore are highlighted in some fashion, such as upsetting a parent[al guardian] (in an anime????) and receiving backlash for one’s actions. Little details that most would overlook create an aura of realism and immersion that very few can muster with its best episode.
My only crucial issue with the series overall is the lack of depth with some of the stories. Some of them even ring similar to one another, creating a monotonous tone that could zone one out. And with an anime aimed at calming and heartwarming stories, that’s a definite issue to stray from. The largest message seems to be one of empathy (which I enjoy), but one can only showcase empathy in so many ways without jeopardizing the general wholesomeness the show harbors. Despite this, many of the episodic tales end up bittersweet, which is lovely for me as I prefer a mixture of both positive and negative feelings in endings (I really should write a post on that).
For a 2008 title, Natsume Yuujinchou looks pretty good. Then again, Toradora! released that same year and it looks pretty good, too… as does School Days (via 2007). While quality of animation is never totally impressive, it borders between acceptable and good for the time period, accentuated by the unique design of the Youkai and other fantasy elements. I did think it was odd that Natsume and a character he meets about halfway through, Natori, look almost identical. At first appearance, I thought Natsume had run into an older version of himself and they’d be playing with time travel shlock. Alas, it was just a dude who looked a lot like him. Some of these similarities carry on with others, such as a repeating “young pale woman with a mask on” spirit, though I don’t think this is too upsetting, considering the spirit world is probably very organized (Right?).
Natsume is a really good central character for this kind of story. He has a connection to the spirit world via his ability and his grandmother’s tendency to fuck around with Youkai. He’s young and “naive,” constantly dealing with the repercussions of bullying and the usual prospects of growing up. He’s committed to doing good even if he does it tongue-in-cheek, complaining of his position as namekeeper while still working towards a better world. Such are all qualities to appreciate with someone so primed for development, and we get to watch along with him as he discovers the nuances of the Youkai world and its denizens. He’s even not completely useless! Youkai are surprisingly fragile to a well-developed human punch!
Outside of Natsume, there are a fair number of side characters that get their own episode to shine their specific perspective. Afterwards, they’re still treated to as people important to Natsume’s life, though in a much more minimal degree (as in they get a few lines in each episode). The fact that the series continues to acknowledge these past characters after the fact is amazing enough; even one-ups others by having them still share screentime with major characters. That said, there weren’t many I was particularly glad were onscreen, though I do see them enough to at least remember the where (did I see them) and why (do I care?). The little fox boy was very cute and I like Sasada’s almost obsessive temperament. I look forward to seeing more of them in future seasons.
A lot of what’s been parroted about the quality of Natsume Yuujinchou is its heart. As vague and volatile as that statement is, I completely understand and agree. This series has heart, one so big and pulsating so efficiently that it could revive ten people on its own (or support three and a third Grinches). Its focal point is empathy: help those in need and spread kindness. Despite our hardships, the memories of the good and the world we inhabit can be cherished with the right attitude. It’s a struggle, as anything worth building is, but it’s achievable and worthwhile. Felt in every episode, it never gave me a sense of filler, only earnest content.
So really, it’s the greatest anime of all time and you should watch it. Did I startle you? That was an exaggeration, though not one as big as one might expect. Natsume Yuujinchou has the makings of an episodic series that deserves as many episodes as it currently sports (like 200?). Characters are fun, the message is clear and admirable, and nothing about it really has me wishing for something more. It is what it is, in the absolute best way. Sit down, have a warm drink, and indulge in wholesome content worth living for.
The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.
If you’d like to see more reviews like this, feel free to look at my full list of anime reviews!
Thank you for your time. Have a great day.