Natsume Yuujinchou (or Natsume's Book of Friends) is a big thing in Japan from a few years ago. Sadly, I am very late into the fandom and hence missed out a lot of good things from this series. I started to know this series after the manga was translated to Indonesian by Elex Media Komputindo. Even so, I only knew about it in late 2014. Thank goodness I managed to hunt for all the manga from the first volume. From then, I looked for the anime which already completed its 4 seasons. The first season aired in 2008. I am 6 years late! Lol..
There are 2 reasons that my interest came late for this series, despite knowing its popularity. First, it is meant to be a shoujo series and I am more into shonen sports or adventure series. Second, available synopsis of the series tend to offer limited insight into the series: Natsume is a boy who has supernatural power to see spirits ('ayakashi' in Japanese). He has no parents and spent his childhood moving around from relatives to another distant relatives. He is shunned by others who finds him weird when he suddenly runs away from ayakashi and he is thought to be a liar when trying to tell others about ayakashi. The series begins when Natsume is in middle school. Natsume inherits the Book of Friends ('yuujinchou' in Japanese) from his grandmother which contains the names of ayakashi that she has defeated. The ayakashi whose name is written in the yuujinchou will obey the owner. This makes Natsume being chased by ayakashis who either want their names back (and hence freed from yuujinchou's contract) or want to take the yuujinchou to possess the other ayakashi whose names are written in the book. Natsume comes across and accidentaly releases Madara, a powerful ayakashi who is sealed in a lucky cat. Madara also wants the yuujinchou but finds Natsume interesting. Thus Madara decides to follow and protect Natsume with the promise that yuujinchou will be his when Natsume dies.
Does it sound interesting? Honestly no as it sounds like it will be a never ending story of various ayakashi coming after Natsume without a main story line. That is the truth. However, without reading or watching the series, people will not understand the 'magic' behind this. Despite its simplicity, each story never fails to capture my emotion and that what makes Natsume Yuujinchou very special. Each chapter or episode is a new 'hello' and a new 'goodbye' with the various ayakashi that Natsume meets, helps, and then disappears. As I was watching all 4 seasons continuously, I found myself having to take a break because my eyes were tired of crying.
A part of me can emphatise with Natsume's loneliness. With this traumatic childhood, he tries to avoid too close contact with another humans. However, with his friends and Fujiwara couple's persistent, Natsume slowly opens up to accept their relationships. Natsume's unique personally also attracts some ayakashi who eventually becomes his friends and frequently reappear in various episodes.
Each story or episode can be categorised into the following: helping various ayakashi and then eventually giving back their name, knowing a bit of Natsume's grandmother's relationship with various ayakashi, Natsume's story with other humans (either his friends or Fujiwara couple) which tend to be the light-hearted and funny ones, and Natsume's story with fellow sorcerers (people who can also see ayakashi). Regardless of the categories, one thing that remains present is the new 'hello' and new 'goodbye' which makes the series constantly touching. The jokes can be very funny and at times I will just swing from laughing to crying to laughing within one episode. Such a emotional roller coaster. Haha..
Usually I will recommend manga over anime. But for Natsume Yuujinchou, I highly recommend both. The anime features a more balanced relationship with both humans and ayakashi. The anime also has great opening and ending themes with equally great opening and ending animations. Normally, even if the songs are great, I tend to skip the opening and ending themes after listening to them for a few times. The opening animation tend to be light-hearted and entertaining to watch while the ending animation tend to be more poignant. Even by listening to the ending songs alone, I can feel emotional. Although some of the ayakashi only appear in 1 episode (and thus forgotten after that), when I watch some AMV from youtube, somehow I can recall the episodes and feel emotional as well.
If I have to say something negative about the series, it would be the fact that most ayakashi only appear in 1 episode. Some ayakashi are actually pretty like-able and I wish that they are featured in more episodes. I sincerely hope that they will continue with series with seasons 5.. 6.. and so on.
Natsume Yuujinchou is good enough to win my heart to collect some collectibles. Sadly, there is only 1 proper scale figure of Natsume :'( and the rest are prize figures. Having said that, some of the prize figures are pretty awesome too. Of course I will post about figures at another time. I am actually quite surprised that Natsume Yuujinchou does not have a proper art book despite having 4 anime seasons and close to 20 volumes of manga. Sigh... I can't even find a nice illustration with most characters to accompany this post!
My favourite song from the series. Ending song of season 2: Aishiteru by Kourin
Ending song of season 4: Takaramono by Marina Kawano
The opening song of season 4: Ima, Kono Toki by Hiiragi is also awesome. In fact, I think it is the best opening song from across 4 seasons. Unfortunately, the band has disbanded and the audio for the song in youtube is all muted. Bleah.. Hiiragi is actually a girl band. From the voice alone, I thought it was a boyband. Haha.. Okay it is so difficult to get the following link so I hope it will not get deleted.