It should be no secret whatsoever if you take a quick look at my MAL profile that i love Natsume Yuujinchou. I really, REALLY love this series and i’ve taken the liberty to write the most non-biased review for it. I only heard about it through Crunchyroll when season 2 was already airing. For whatever reason, i had no clue why i decided to watch it but i’m so glad I made that decision.
The most basic premise of the show is this: Natsume Takashi has always been able to see spirits (youkai) for the longest time, and with that he has to endure constant bullying and distrust from everyone around him. Years pass, and he comes across his grandmother’s belongings. Natsume’s grandmother, Reiko, also was somewhat of an outcast herself because she too could see spirits. Natsume finds a strange looking book and soon stumbles upon a grumpy cat/dragon hybrid named Madara. Soon Natsume begins to learn exactly who these spirits are and what purpose the strange book has.
We the viewer see Natsume as he interacts with these youkai – sometimes good, sometimes bad – and how he deals with his new acquaintances. For most of the series, Natsume is very much alone; Having to hide the fact that he can see spirits to avoid ridicule means giving up on something we all cherish: friendship. Yet, slowly and slowly, we get to see Natsume open up not only to the youkai but also other people including his adopted family, the Fujiwaras. Nothing about this show is exciting – there are no explosions, shouting or fanservice – and that’s the biggest reason why i love this show. It doesn’t try to sacrifice what it stands for just to sell merchandise or garner more viewers. It’s soft, sweet and heartwarming tucked together in 24 minutes. I’ll go even farther and say the show reminds me of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, particularly My Neighbor Totoro. Both feature simple visuals, a great soundtrack, loveable characters and the same warmth and hearwarming feel are both there. Only Natsume Yuujinchou is able to keep this up for 13 episodes, and thus outshines the Ghibli films. Each youkai story is touching and interesting and without spoiling it, very worthwhile to the overall plot.
Its shows like this one that remind me why i watch anime: sometimes i want a lot of action and flashy effects (i’m looking at you Gundam 00) but there are times when a simple series like this one comes around and i’m completely sold on it. Brains Base has been one of my favorite studios and it all started with this show. They ought to be commended for a splendid job: Director Takahiro Omori and music from Makoto Yoshimori deserve the accolades and praise. With regards to the music, it’s beautiful. I honestly believe it can rival any of Joe Hisaishi’s works. Every bit of music fits the mood and knows exactly when to start, in particular the ED song which always starts playing before the visuals show up which really works with sad/emotional episodes.
I implore you, the reader, to give this series a chance: 13 episodes isn’t asking for much, and be amazed at how Natsume Yuujinchou can do so much without ever losing the simplistic nature its renowned for.
Animation: 8/10 – Simplistic work from Brains Base. The animation really adds to the show as a whole with the soft colors and background art. It’s obvious at times there wasn’t a whole lot of budget but for a slice of life series i’ll look over that.
Story: 9/10 – Natsume Yuujinchou should be the standard example for what a slice of life series should work. Episodes in this series have meaning: From the plot-driven episodes, the more laidback episodes and occasionally a glimpse into Natsume’s growth accepting people to confide to.It’s simple yet highly effective way to achieve a strong plot. The only weaknesses are the more serious episodes: they don’t bring the emotional push the rest of the other episodes do.
Music: 10/10 – Very beautiful score from Makoto Yoshimori. The music is used extremely well to the point where i pay more attention to the music than the scene at times. It’s varied, and even the OP and ED rival the BGM in this series, both work very well here.
Characters: 9/10 – In most animes, the idea of a regular human able to see ghosts is portrayed very positively, but the social/mental burden of being the only one to see spirits is exactly what we the viewer see from Natsume’s point of view. If we didn’t get this, he would just be a whiny kid. The staff really knows how to characterize even the minor characters who make just one appearance.
Enjoyment: 10/10 – I’ve come to truly enjoy this series mainly for the solid characterization, amazing score and emotionally connecting episodes. It manages to be thoughtful, serious, nostalgic, remorseful and joyous while adhering to a tried but true formula of the slice of life style of anime. If you love slice of life series or you’re a fan of Ghibli/Miyazaki films, then Natsume Yuujinchou is a worthy watch for you. Everyone else, just watch this show. It’s the best investment you can make.