Studio: Brain’s Base
Genre: Supernatural, Comedy, Drama, Slice of Life
Release: S1 (2008), Zoku S2 (2009), San S3 (2011), Shi S4 (2012)
Backed with a unique and solid plot that encompasses the heartfelt struggles with loneliness and societal indifference from both the human and spirit worlds, Natsume Yuujinchou, or Natsume’s Book of Friends, is quite the touching show that delivers just the right mix of drama, comedy and suspense strong enough to move one’s heart in every story it tells. This show is mostly episodic, so you can actually start in any season and still understand the gist of the story without feeling left out.
Plot: Ever since he was orphaned as a child, Natsume Takashi has been shunned by the people around him, both friends and foster families alike, because he always looks at and talks to things that are not there. But what it is is that he can actually see Ayakashi (beings from the spirit world, not dead human ghosts), an ability he inherited from his late grandmother Natsume Reiko. Upon her death, Reiko bestows her prized belonging, the Book of Friends, to Takashi.
This notebook comprises the names of the Ayakashi Reiko bullied into servitude, which she can also call and command anytime. Basically, if you’re a spirit and your name is in that book, you are bound to follow whoever is the holder of the book. Natsume had no idea what this was until he met a spirit kind enough to explain it to him.
Having the coveted Book of Friends in his possession, Ayakashi in the neighborhood began attacking Takashi with the hopes of stealing it. At such times, he would just run to the nearest shrine where such spirits cannot enter. On the first episode, he accidentally releases a sealed Ayakashi in the form of a fat cat named Madara while running for his life.
Realizing that the Book of Friends is within his reach, Madara (or Nyanko-sensei as Takashi names him later on) attempted to get the book by force. But Takashi willfully resisted. As the only blood relative of the misunderstood and lonely Reiko, he felt he needed to keep the only tangible object that links the two of them.
Madara, supposed to be a noble spirit, eventually gave in to Takashi’s plight out of respect. The two of them then made a deal to each other: that Madara would protect him from then on and in return, he would get the Book of Friends once Takashi dies. This is a good offer for Madara since (1) human lives are relatively short for Ayakashi and (2) this is a very unusual yet interesting situation for him that ponders curiosity and fascination on both Natsume and Reiko.
It seems that returning the names of the Ayakashi in the book, via a special ritual, shows Takashi memories of when Reiko and the spirit in question made their contract. Due to this, Natsume now wants to release the spirits bound by the book in exchange for getting to know his grandmother more. The problem is that there are also very powerful and evil spirits bound in the book, Madara warns him. He also warns Natsume to lie low on the name-returning as there might be nothing left on the book when it gets turned over to him later on.
Takashi, who is trying to deal with the pain and feelings of isolation his gift has brought him, didn’t just inherit the ability- he also inherited the shunning that came with it. Because of this he despised the Ayakashi and wanted nothing to do with them. The story would encompass on how he would come to appreciate them and realize that the spirits aren’t much different from humans: that both sides have both good and bad people, and all are just struggling to survive. Seeing the situation as it is, he would find comfort in putting others before him (humans and spirits alike), and helping them as if he was obliged to.
Not having cutting edge animation and action-packed fight scenes as its forte, one could say the juicy content of this anime lies in the heartrending climaxes of the various relationships between humans with their fellow humans, Ayakashi with other Ayakashi, and the interaction of both in which most are suffering an undying pain that is later relieved with a genuine gesture of the heart, thanks to the selfless Natsume and Nyanko-sensei lending a hand in their generation-long heartaches.