One word to describe this series: yasashii…
The title of the series is referring to the Book of Friends that Takashi Natsume inherited from his powerful grandmother, Reiko Natsume. It contains the names of spirits she defeated in different games and pranks in order to kill time since she was not liked by other schoolmates and generally people because she was a ‘weirdo’, appearing to speak on her own with no one , seemingly, nearby. We watch Natsume giving back to those creatures their names, while he develops as a character, coming closer to both people and the supernatural.
Thus, could it be that the series’ title is also referring to the series itself, each episode being a page of the ‘book’ and a story about Natsume and his new friends, whom he meets along his way?
Although I started the series with some doubts, if I should spend my time with an anime whose plot is similar to many others out there -a young man chased from the creatures only he can see and he doesn’t seem so happy about it- ,I had read some good reviews about how unique this series was and I must admit I didn’t regret it one bit. It was slow paced, yet I love series like this, that emit serenity and let the every day situations grow on you, letting you cherish the atmosphere and the growth of characters.
So, let us start from the cover of the book that only makes the book itself even lovelier. The music and the graphics allowed the content to shine. The openings are a bit more upbeat than the endings, which usually are the epitome of gentleness, allowing you to drift to dreamland. The animation is fitting. The openings have neat, well shaped pictures, with some transparency occasionally, while the endings use watercolours and very soft lines. The second season’s both opening and ending were one of my favourite anime songs. Aishiteru by Kourin stole my heart in the end…the melody reminded me of another song over which I fawn, Hajimari no Hito by Natural High, the ed of another gentle slice-of-life anime, Bartender.
The second opening was very cleverly done as well. Instead of just presenting the characters like in first season, it had an idea to promote: the different point views between individuals along with the co-existance of humans and spirits. It presents firstly some pictures of the places and people we meet in the series and then goes for a repeat, only that this time the world is shown through the eyes of Natsume or someone who can see spirits as well. It’s like uncovering the mysteries of nature and if we generalize the different point views, we can speak for ‘different realities’ for different people and not just ‘chosen ones like Natsume or artists. Even if two people watch the same series, read the same book or listen to the same music, each of them perceives the ‘content’ with a totally different way related to their inner world -thoughts, feelings, experiences and education- and the same goes when you want to narrate an event or describe the same object.
Now, about the ost throughout the series: it’s complementing the dialogues very nicely and enhances peaceful, angsty or humorous scenes. There are many wind and percussion instruments that tie with the beautiful scenery at the countryside. The music is japanesque, linking back to tradition. Some string instruments and piano appear as well, always following the general atmosphere.
About the characters what can one say apart from being well developed? Well, when we talk about characters we mainly speak for Natsume and Nyanko-sensei, since the others don’t get much time on air. They do appear and have a personality, yet they seem to be there mostly to show how much Natsume has grown and from a timid lonely boy opens up and socializes. There are people who understand and can see or sense the same things as him, but also ‘normal’ people as well. He comes to understand that even people like him don’t ‘see’ the same things as him. That each person has a different worldview, different dreams and ideology. Even being among people like you, doesn’t necessarily mean, you won’t feel lonely anymore.
With the Fujiwara family, by whom he stays, makes very little progress though from fear of acceptance at first that turned into fear of causing them troubles. It was nice that he and Mr. Fujiwara could talk about his grandmother and yet Natsume hasn’t revealed anything to them. I hope that in the end ,the people most close to him will learn about his situation. He knows he’ll find comprehension and their love towards him won’t change, yet he’s afraid that some spirits might want to hurt them or that they’d be more worried about him.
Natsume and Sensei become closer as the time passes, despite Sensei’s nagging and whining, teasing and trying to show unaffected from this ‘stupid boy’s’ kindness. We get some very funny situations from Nyanko-sensei, like his cat-like behaviour after so much time in this body, his drunken speeches and selfish behaviour as well as silly acts-especially in the episode where he tries to catch some birds to eat-, his weak spot for food and sweet things and the suggestion of naming a spirit ‘noodle’ ,because her hair looked like this, but he’s being totally ignored, lol…
Then, we have interactions between Natsume and the spirits who ask from him their names back or who just need help. In the start of the series, Natsume thinks its a curse being able to see those monsters which were only trouble and made him the ‘liar’ in the eyes of the others. Gradually, he starts sympathizing them, understanding their troubles and pain and wanting to help as much as he can. In the end of series 2 he even gets into the dilemma ayakashi or human? He won’t choose. Natsume has come to feel affection for them and wishes to cherish each moment he spents with them, each encounter. The thought he might stop being able to see them at some point had scared him- he, who wanted a ‘normal’ life without spirits.
The nature of the two seasons is different: the first episodic, the second had a certain plot per 2-3 episodes. Yet both were beautiful, featuring various interesting issues. The main theme , as I mentioned already from the beginning was gentleness and kindness. People who ask for help from spirits and stay loyal to them bringing them offers (The Dew-God’s small shrine), a little spirit who in the end is a powerful one and shows gratitude to Natsume for helping it. A swallow spirit wanting to express gratitude to the man who offered her food and helped her ,whereas Natsume was moved that much by her feelings even though the man couldn’t see her, that he put himself into a dangerous situation to bring her a robe that would make her visible(Shallow at the lake bottom).
This episode brought me to tears and was one of my very favourite along with the Hotaru one (Fleeting Light) where a firefly spirit and a man fell in love, but the man lost his ability to see her at some point and ended up several years later marrying another woman, athough he hadn’t ever forgotten about his firefly.
There is also ‘Shigure and the girl’, where the spirit treats good only one girl that thought of him as a good spirit after helping her find her purse. The spirit was taken advantage by humans long time ago and given the chance he usually acted maliciously against them, but this girl was an exception- she healed him. Let’s not forget the little kitsune that cared about Natsume feeling lonely and came to visit him often( she was totally kawai~~~). And there is the kind umbrella holder in Asagi’s Koto.
There are also darker themes presented, racism towards ayakashi and a pose in life that someone can sacrifice other beings for an idea supposedly bigger and more important than them, since those lives are considered of lower value ( Assembly of conjurers).
The desire to obtain immortality is seen through a negative lense both from the mermaid that’d be the victim and from an old lady that though she had no ill intentions and wanted to save a boy when she was young, now she only felt guilty, because seeing the people you love die one after another is a very harsh thing… People can be really ungrateful. The one moment they worship someone and the other want to harm them, because they weren’t pleased (Melting into Spring).
All in all it was a heart-warming watch and I really pray that there’ll be a season 3 or even 4. It was this pretty and good in content.