- Genre : Supernatural, Slice of Life, drama, Everything that’s good with the world
- Episodes: 11 (+1 OVA)
- Studio: Shuka
There are those of us who are driven to change, pushed by wanderlust to seek out adventure. There are those of us who can’t seem to stay still, terrified of stagnation and uncomfortable with silence. But in time, the wisest of us learn how to appreciate what they’ve got. They can see wonders all around them and delight in the serenity of the moment. They can understand that adventures are not measured in distance but in progress and that growth is a treasure worth pursuing. Natsume is a wise boy, much wiser than his years would suggest and much kinder than his past would warrant. As Natsume continues to explore the spellbinding beauty of the seemingly mundane, all of us get just a little wiser.
This has got to be my most useless synopsis yet. I like it though. A lot. I can’t entirely explain why but it means something to me. You know where this is going…
In all honesty, I had made up my mind to start the last season of Natsume’s Book of Friends as soon as I finished Days, but when the day came I had had a very long and exhausting day, and just wanted to blast music, play some silly background show and while away the evening online. You know, brainless sensory overload. It was one of those I’ve had enough of the world, leave me alone days. I almost had to convince myself to turn on the first episode, I just didn’t want to engage with anything, you know? The intro was good, very good. The familiar narration was comforting. At minute 2:30, I was smiling. You can’t judge a show by its first two minutes, it doesn’t mean anything. But you can infer something from a series that is so charming that its simple presence cheered me up in a way nothing else had.
Honestly, look at this intro:
In many respects, season 6 was a return to form for Natsume and friends. After the justified but highly visible dip in season 5, production values are almost back to where they were. Some animation shortcuts are still notable, the frequent use of still shots for example is hard to ignore, and art can get inconsistent at times but not in any drastic way. The character designs however seemed to have been subtly reworked (the changes in Natsume’s appearance are somewhat unintentionally highlighted in a short flashback montage in the last episode), and I for one really respond to this choice of aesthetic. And yes, Natsume has once again expanded his wardrobe beyond the plain white shirt. I don’t know why that’s so important to me.
There were also a number of new visual elements that were downright impressive. For one, the use of shadows and shading has been expanded giving the images so much more depth. Also, the director decided to get uncharacteristically creative with some unusual blocking and interesting perspective shots, all of which really pay out in the classic understated Natsume manner. Considering the source, this show is probably never going to be as striking as most anime out there but there is some definite crafting expertise on display here.
Let’s be straight thought, I really appreciate the pretty pictures, but I would probably watch a stick figure rendition of Natsume’s Book of Friends and enjoy it as long as it gets the feels right. Again, this should tell you something about the series. My emotional range goes from happy to happy but tired and occasionally happy but hungry. I get grumpy at times but all in all I’m not known for my sentimental depth. I also tend to be rather uninterested in stories that focus on emotional impact. If Natsume manage to get me this invested in feelings, I really can’t see how any normal person could remain unmoved.
So how does season 6 do for mood and atmosphere? Just right!
The entire season starts off with a bang of adorableness as we once again get to relish in the personification of guarded cuteness that is little Natsume. The nostalgic tone of this first episode which wordlessly blended the melancholy of Natsume’s childhood with the hopefulness of his present, proved that the creative team was solidly back to doing what they do best. Despite my slightly mixed feelings on season five and my personal fear of disappointment which constantly tries to get me to temper my expectations when it comes to shows I love, I was instantly anticipating to be filled with glee by the end of the ***gasp*** show. (Bear with me guys, I am having serious Natsume withdrawal pains. So far I’ve managed by stubbornly refusing to accept this is the last season).
Overall, this season was one of the most lighthearted and joyful. The trademark Natsume fragility and bittersweet nature was softened by frequent humour and surprisingly happy endings. After tenderly and kindly explaining to us that sometimes things just don’t work out for the best and you have to learn to accept limitations and harsh realities, the show decides to say: sometimes you have to throw caution to the wind and just chase after your bliss. This unexpected release only highlights how beautifully balanced the overarching narrative is. We are catching up with Natsume in the best of times, as he has finally learned to accept the friendship of others and possibilities seem to stretch out endlessly in front of him, but storm clouds are just visible in the distance.
One of these potential conflicts can been seen in the character of Natori. Returning with a flourish in two, 2 part mini arcs, Natori brings with him the menace of the Exorcist guild while reminding us of the ever-present danger of simply having Yokai interfere in our lives. Natori is a fantastic and complex character. He has avoided clear definition by constantly jumping from one role to another. On the one hand he is presented as thoughtful and kind towards Natsume, serving almost as an ersatz father figure or big brother, on the other hand he can be unforgiving of Yokai and always seems to be scheming something, with Nyanko constantly referring to him as shady. This duality was more present than ever this season. At times I even found myself extremely suspicious of Natori and should (when) the show continue, I am dying to see how his character develops further. In this season, he (and many other elements) was left unresolved but his presence was a surprisingly effective tension builder and the episodes he was in were definitely the most exciting. I was about to write “my favourites” but I realized that I have 11 favourite episodes this season. I did miss Matoba though.
The second turmoil brewing under the peaceful surface of Natsume’s life is much less spectacular and as such things go, ultimately more important. Natsume is growing up and the winds of change are blowing. He barely just found somewhere he belongs for the first time and as graduation looms, this refuge he’s managed to scrape together will be inevitably blown apart. I am much more sensitive to the quiet moments, the things left unsaid. The simple looks that hold the weight of the world in them haunt me for much longer than tearful explosions and angst-ridden monologues. As everyone is making plans for university, a strained Natsume quietly admitting that he would rather not go anywhere and have things remain as they are, was one of the most powerful and relatable moments I’ve seen this year. For what it’s worth Nats, I also would prefer if you didn’t go anywhere.
Shows like this really make me want to do episodic reviews. Each episode brought something unique and I wish I could share it all with you. Best I can do is tell you to go read Karandi’s fantastic reviews (here). WHEN they get the next season out, I will do weekly reviews – promise!
As a slice of life, you can’t be blamed for occasionally losing sight of the thread that connects the entire series together. Of course this would be Natsume’s ongoing struggle to essentially fit in. A very common concern indeed. In season 6, we see the fruit of all those efforts. Natsume is more at ease, present in the moment and engaged, than he’s ever been before and in turn, he finds himself surrounded by friends and loved ones at every step. I mentioned in my season 5 review that although ever-present, Nyanko felt somehow distant which was a clear loss to the show. Right from the first episode I wrote in big letter Nyanko’s Back!!!
No matter how you slice it, Natsume and Nyanko’s relationship has always been central to the series. Their odd couple dynamic is what tethers everything else in the narrative. In season 6, we are shown two clear and undisputable friends. Even Nyanko seems to have resigned himself to the fact. This picture of a softer, more patient Madara pushed to the forefront a question that has always been nagging at the back of my mind. Exactly what is the nature of Madara and Reiko’s relationship? His name isn’t in the book. He talks as if he knew her quite well and on a very personal level, remaking on her character all the time. Yet he doesn’t seem to have been present for (or even have any knowledge of) any of her meetings with other Yokai or have any idea of what her life with humans was like. He seems to have been unaware that Reiko had any family at all. Or that’s what we’re led to believe. The first ever mention of Natsume’s grandfather didn’t seem to faze Nyanko much. This could have been due to his standard indifference, but it could also have been old news to him. I can wait to find out which in season 7!
So, there you have it. A little show I picked up at random because the tri colored cat on the thumbnail looked funny, now sits in prime position in my ever-changing list of favorites. I generally don’t read manga of shows I’ve watched and vice versa, because I find there is simply too many stories out there I want to see, to devote any time on variations of the same thing. In this case, I will read the manga. Everything I can find in fact.
In my past season posts, they only way I could find to try to convey what this show did for me was by simply and honestly describing my viewing experience. Season 6 was excellent and even keeled. It did not have any catalyst episodes or singular moments I can really pick out to in order to make my point. It was simply all quietly, understatedly, poignant. As I watched the ED for the last time, I went from that hollow anxiety of loss because a beloved series was ending, to stubborn hopeful optimism since the narrative still has so much room to grow. I ran through my mind all the rumors about upcoming Natsume projects, reread all the positive reviews that would justify making more. I checked on my amazon order to see when those manga would arrive. I was genuinely surprised to realize I was crying.
Random thoughts: Nyanko is most definitely NOT a Scottish Fold. Is it just me or does Natsume close his eyes when he lies to his friends? I’ll have to go back and see if the trend is sustained, but if they put that in on purpose it’s nothing short of brilliant. I do not want Natsume to be nothing but episode 13 of Uta-Pri season 2!
Favorite character: Aoi
What this show taught me: There is no such thing as enough Natsume
Life is too short to drink cheap beer
Suggested drink: It’s Never Enough
- Every time anyone gets blue face – take a sip
- Every time Natsume gets “punchey”- take a sip
- Every time Nyanko complains – take a sip
- Every time anyone says welcome back – take a sip
- Every time Nyanko steals food – have a snack
- Every time Nyanko meows – take a big sip
- Every time we get a returning character – raise your glass
- Every time someone casts a spell – take a sip
- Every time you want more – I sympathize