It’s time to delve into the anime version of Natsume’s Book of Friends. I’ve been reading the manga for a long while now and it’s definitely a slow burn type that could go on for a while. It’s more about the adventure and the different situations Natsume comes across than completing the story but I do think it’ll have a satisfying conclusion once it’s all over. Season 1 starts us off on a fun note with the character introductions. Right now the cast is fairly small so you get to have a lot of focus on Natsume. If you’re looking for a calming title to watch then this one should fit the bill. Each story tends to be rather emotional without being too sad so you are able to feel happy by the end.
The series centers around a kid named Natsume who has the ability to see Yokai. This is not an ability that he wants because it alienates him from the other kids. Of course he learned the hard way not to let the other kids or even adults know that he has this power but it can make for some embarrassing situations like when he has to run away from one. His only solace is to make it to a temple in time and the yokai can’t follow but the problem is that this can happen at any time. Still, he has tried to find a decent balance of this and leads a quiet if uneventful life. One day he comes across a demon in a cat statue known as Nyanko Sensei.
He agrees to help in exchange for eventually consuming Natsume’s soul or something. I forget Nyanko’s actual excuse but it’s one of those excuses where you know he’s not really serious. The yokai actually seems kind of lonely so now he has a friend in Natsume and Nyanko is very powerful so demons can’t mess with Natsume quite as much as they used to. Natsume then finds out that the reason why all of the Yokai are after him is because he has a legendary book of names. See, his grandmother stole a bunch of Yokai names into her book which basically bound them as eternal servants to her. Now this has been passed down to Natsume but he has no intention of ordering them around. He now has a goal, Natsume must return every name back over to the Yokai in order to grant them freedom and allow them to pass on. Some Yokai will happily agree while others may hold a grudge but he knows that this is the right thing to do. Can Natsume get those names back?
In a way you already know the end goal to this now but the series is clever in not letting you know how many names are in the book. So there could be 100 names in there or there could be 1000. We just don’t know. On average Natsume will release 1 name per episode but sometimes he’ll miss one and sometimes there will be multiple names. Either way the progress is steady but it’s like attacking a boss in a video game where the health bar is hidden. You just have to make sure to never lose heart and keep attacking but as a result the journey can be long. I would like the series to eventually say how many names are left but I know that is a narrative limiter in a sense since it puts an end date. No series should have to end until the writer wants it too so there’s no rush on this.
As I mentioned this is a very calm series. Each episode usually revolves around some kind of Yokai dispute or some kind of tragic event that happened to one and so the demon needs closure from Natsume before passing on. During the day Natsume still has to balance his school life and not let anybody know that he has these powers. I do think he could have at least let the heroine know since she was interested and clearly wouldn’t be giving him any grief about it. Well, maybe in the future I suppose. Don’t expect any big action scenes or much of an ongoing story here though because this isn’t that kind of title.
I also wouldn’t really call it a comedy. Sure the characters can have their moments but for the most part a slice of life drama sounds the most fitting and even then I would almost remove the drama part because it just has the wrong connotation to it even though I would say that is technically accurate. You’re here just for the adventures and to take in the atmosphere. As a result it’s going to have a lower ceiling than most shows and I would call it good as opposed to very good but it’s also a very safe show. You can’t imagine anything super questionable happening here and so it should never really dip. It’s a very consistent ride with no real bumps in between.
As a main character Natsume is okay. He’s a bit emotionless at the moment and in large part that’s due to what he had to put up with as a kid. Presumably he should be getting more and more expressive as the show goes on. He can throw a solid punch when necessary though and is a quick runner. He shows traces of a real personality at times but for now he’s more of an empty shell. A guy who does the right thing and acts pleasant but it always feels like a bit of an act. Of course as the viewer we know that he really is a nice guy but he just doesn’t know how to really interact with people yet.
Nyanko is the more entertaining part of the dynamic. My only issue with him is that he’s supposed to be a real bigshot among the Yokai and yet he never seems as impressive as he should be. I’d just like to see him dominating the others more but again this isn’t an action series so those moments would be a bit more limited. He likes to cause trouble and make an uproar but as much as Natsume acts annoyed about it, he’s probably glad to have a break from the endless peace and quiet he once had. Nyanko is always having fun and messing around which adds a whole lot of energy and excitement to the dynamic. He makes the show better just by existing.
Reiko doesn’t really appear in the present but she’s a big part of the story since the whole situation with the book started because of her. She clearly had a lot of talent and ability back in the day to trick so many Yokai. It’s hard to say just how nefarious she was. I don’t think she was oblivious at what stealing their names would mean for the Yokai but she also seems like a trickster who likes to mess around. So if she died suddenly which I think is most likely, then she had probably intended to return all the names before she passed. She just didn’t realize that in a way she was gambling with their futures but of course this is conjecture. We just don’t know much about her yet but I do think that she is fun. Hopefully she isn’t actually dead somehow and shows up one day.
Then you have Jun who is effectively the main heroine here. She suspects that something is off about Natsume and that he can see spirits but of course she can’t prove it. This is the only area where I was annoyed with Natsume because this was a perfect chance to share his secret. He already has Tanuma who basically knows. Of course that is because the guy has a bit of a 6th sense to him as well but I just don’t see the harm in telling Jun. She is quite persistent either way and will keep hounding him until she gets a satisfying answer. Not saying he needs to bow to peer pressure like that and tell her right off the bat but I just feel like he was being vague for no real reason.
Jun’s nice enough and hopefully she sticks around. Tanuma is also good. He’s a fairly quiet guy so he gets along with Natsume well enough. Natsume’s still more of a solo act though so the guy doesn’t appear a ton. Near the end we are introduced to Natori who feels like the only really major character beyond Natsume from the human side. This guy is a famous actor and yet he can also see yokai. He has an odd lizard spirit that runs around him all the time and the guy has a certain edge to him. Whenever he’s around you sort of feel like the overarching plot is starting to move a bit. This is a guy I absolutely wouldn’t trust if I was Natsume but at the same time I would try to use him in order to get some answers. This is the best time to pull that off after all and usually you see villains using heroes so why not try the other way around right?
The soundtrack is a bit on the weaker side. There weren’t really any standout tracks that I was tempted to look up afterwards. It’s not surprising as a calm show will have calm tunes but throwing in some kind of electronic theme would have been nice. The animation is also fairly basic but not bad. It shouldn’t be winning any awards in my book but you can always see what is happening and nothing’s off model. It works well enough to supplement the story and have you going smoothly through each episode. On a technical level the series does what it needs to in order to move on.
The 12 episodes go by really quickly. In a way it all feels like pre arc but that’s sort of the series in a nutshell. It’s basically an anthology series so how much you enjoy each season will likely depend on the cases within it. The stories in here are all fairly solid. There is even some danger on occasion like when Natsume leaves while Nyanko isn’t around and gets attacked. 9 times out of 10 it is never smart to leave without Nyanko but sometimes there isn’t a choice as Nyanko will just drift off on his own. Natsume’s punch always does a lot of damage to Yokai which hasn’t really been delved into yet. At least that is a way out for him, it’s an attack option that he can use as a last resort but he prefers not to use violence.
His family is nice enough. They aren’t his real parents but the two people who take care of him have really done their best. Natsume is still a bit traumatized to an extent so he tries not to worry them at all. He probably tries a little too hard so it’s almost like he’s hiding things from them but you understand the reason for this. The only time he really gets mad at Nyanko is when the cat breaks one of their object. You look forward to seeing him level with these two a bit more in the future. I feel like they would be more understanding than everyone else from his childhood just based on their temperament. Even if they didn’t believe him for example I don’t think they would treat him any differently.
Overall, Natsume’s Book of Friends is a good show. The episodes go by quickly and it’s something that you can plug in and play on the TV at any time. Due to the episodic nature of the show it’s not like you’ll have to try hard to recall what was happening last time. You can just jump into each adventure fresh and take it from there. A show like this could use a big plot or some fights to take it to the next level but it’s comfortable where it is at and executes the premise well. It’s a show that’s hard for me to picture being really disliked. Even if it’s not your cup of tea, at most you might find it boring but probably not bad. For season 2 I would just like to see a stronger opening and a more energetic soundtrack but if not I can still count on some fun stories.
6 is a fair score, I’d give it a 5 though. Natsume spends more time on his back (either from fatigue or getting injured) per episode.
Natsume definitely does get rocked a whole lot. Hopefully he can build up his strength some more
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