Takashi Natsume grew up with the unique ability to see and interact with Youkai, however this ability causes him to be alienated by people believing he was just lying, making it all up. After moving to a small village, where his grandmother grew up, he comes to the knowledge that he posseses a powerful book left behind by her. It contains the names of Youkai that can be controlled whenever called upon. With the help of a powerful Youkai Madara, who disguises himself as a fat cat, he seeks to free the Youkai bound by the book. However, there are Youkai out to devour Natsume and take ownership of the book themselves, including Madara.
If reading that description leads you to believe you will be watching a fast paced action show filled with awesome Youkai and spiritual powers battling it out, well, you’d be wrong. In fact, this show moves about as fast as molasses flowing down a long and straight country road. However, that doesn’t mean this is a bad series. In fact, it often grabs your heart and makes you smile, like you are watching one of the more peaceful Ghibli movies. That is the best way to describe the show as well, like My Neighbor Totoro or Spirited Away meeting Mushi-shi. Each episode has its own pace, but does so in a way that you don’t feel like you are missing out, plus there is action and comedy from time to time that balances out the series. The characters are a strong point as well, both Takashi and Madara are a great combination, and it doesn’t stop there as there are a plethora of characters that are just a joy to watch, Youkai and Human alike.
This show starts off as very much a Monster of the week anime, meaning every episode brings a new Youkai and a new challenge, often ending with him returning his or her name to them, however, it doesn’t stay that way. After a number of episodes you start to see more and more character recursion and episodes that have nothing or little to do with the book of names. Another thing you start to notice is the character development of all the characters, especially Natsume. When the show starts off, Natsume has an extreme dislike of Youkai and he is distrusting of humans. As the show progresses, he starts to get more involved with both parties, growing in his kindness and virtues. The relationship between Natsume and Madara becomes really interesting to watch as you can start to see Madara, who originally hated humans, actually starting to care for others around him. Another character that gets a significant amount of development is his Grandmother Reika, which is surprising being that she is dead and only appears in memories. Reika plays a valuable role in the series and as Natsume develops he also learns more about his grandmother and the kind of struggles she went through.
Season two, or Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou, takes an active roll in developing the characters. If season one is more of a get to know Natsume and how he takes responsibility of the book of names, then season two would be to see how Natsume’s abilities and relationships grow as he develops as a character. Season two also implements a new action based element, by having Natsume actually battle evil Yokai and seal them away with his powers, which creates a shift in Natsume’s belief that he must save all Yokai. It even throws in an organization that will challenge Natsume’s beliefs, which makes season 2 end on an extremely high note. This creates a new thrill for this series making me even more excited to see a season 3, whenever that arrives. Also, a new character is introduced to the cast, which adds a great dynamic for Natsume and helps add life to the show.
While most of this review is a glowing recommendation for the anime, there are a lot of negative aspects to this show as well. While the slower pace is often pleasant to watch, watching several episodes in a row can get quite tedious and tiring at times. I found myself at times nodding off and having to take breaks in between episodes. As a character, Natsume can become irritatingly kind at times. You might just want him to just kill the Youkai, but no, he has to do it in a way no one dies and everyone leaves happy. Which is almost always the case too, very few unhappy endings. The show can also seem a bit Boys Love at times too. There is a young pretty Youkai boy that gets attached to him and there is an relationship formed with Natsume and an older guy, who can also see spirits. Often when he interacts with those two, it feels like they are about to make out. A few times it feels like he gets feelings for a few of the female Youkai he meets, so maybe he is Bi. Finally, as I said, season 3 should be great, however, there is no promise of a season three yet. It might fall into a FMP state, where the ending leaves much to be desired, with years passing by with no hint of continuation, and the fans hold onto a false sense of hope that there might be more. Season 2 aired in 2009, so if season 3 doesn’t air in 2011 you might be headed to the manga to find out the ending.
With that said, this slice-of-life anime is a very pleasant show to watch. Filled with peaceful scenes and lovely piano based background music, it is hard not to fall into a blissful tranquil state while watching this anime. It even adds a great dose of comedy and some brisk action to keep things lively avoiding any case of boredom while watching each episode. As I said earlier, it is a lot like watching a Ghibli movie animated into a series. The animation is quite beautiful and the voice actors are some of the best you can find. If you like anime like Mushi-shi, xxxHolic, Kamichu, or Ghibli movies, then this series is for you! Just make sure you have enough sleep and caffeine if you plan on marathon’n these two 13 episode series.