Of course it’s Natsume…
- Genre: Slice of Life, supernatural, hug in anime form
- Episodes: 74
- Studio: Brain’s Base (seasons 1-4), Shuka (seasons 5-6)
If you’ve been here before you know this story by now. I’ve told it to you 6 times already but how about we let the newcomers in on it as well. Natsume is a story about the difference between being alone and being lonely. It’s about the dangers and terrors of loving and being loved in return. It’s about learning how to see the dreams behind the nightmares. It’s about a mighty spirit that looks like a lucky cat, talks like a cranky old man and drinks like a fish. Mostly, it’s about reminding us that the world is dangerous and flawed and unfair, and indescribably beautiful. A good lesson to learn and relearn.
If my earlier 12 Days Review of Rose of Versailles was all about my Ghost of Anime Past, Natsume is very much my Ghost of Anime present. It reawakened in me a deep admiration for the medium and its unique appeal. In many ways, my discovery of this series also serves as a backdrop to my blogging experience.
Although my Natsume reviews tend to be some of my least popular posts (and you know what, that’s your loss really because they are some of my most honest writing, not that I’m stung about it or anything) I seem to have made it a personal goal to make everyone around me completely sick of hearing me talk about this show. Here we go again!
Natsume Yuujinchou is understated. You have to have a certain appreciation for stillness and quiet to really get everything you can from the show and this is reflected in the animation. It’s not a showy series and although the visuals and direction improve noticeably with the seasons, most people wouldn’t qualify it as eye candy.
The general production values start off similarly modest but never bad. The actual impression is that the show was made by a group of people that are all very talented and truly care for the source material but did not necessarily have all the resources they could have used. The end result is a wonderful show that’s just not necessarily fancy. Think of it like going to a tiny mom and pop restaurant hidden away in a back alley where all the furniture is mismatched, and the china is beautiful but a little worn. A little secret place where you have the best meal of your life and every fault you could possibly find turns out to be a plus in the overall experience.
I’m not even trying to hide my bias here. There’s very little point in pretending now, after all those rambling love letters I’ve written to this show and tried to pass off as reviews. If you want to know what I enjoyed about the series so much, please go read them. Or just go read all the wonderful Natsume reviews from my fellow bloggers. There aren’t enough. I’m not going to write yet another one. Instead, let me tell you today, how Natsume reminded me of why I still love anime.
The world of Natsume is simultaneously fantastical and incredibly quaint. The quiet rural setting with its generally kind if sometimes oblivious inhabitants, is a place that is on some level instantly recognizable and its lazy, hazy atmosphere makes it seem almost frozen in time, giving it that certain ageless quality which will be just as relatable to one generation as the next. The Yokai are used as magnificent metaphors for the inner turmoil we all go through at some point in our lives, without having the narrative resort to preachy exposition and endless melodrama.
All the subtlety and nuance of the narrative is one of the most seductive aspects of anime for me. This light touch is only possible because the show trusts its audience to sympathize, analyze and understand on their own. It believes its audience to have complex and detailed personalities, just as the characters have, and to be capable of introspection and correlation, thereby truly taking in all the little things left unsaid.
But such an approach would be unthinkable if the goal is to capture the largest possible share of the viewership, or cash in on the latest trend. Assuming the audience will invest in your story, requiring patience and empathy from your viewers, are both risks that can’t be measured by market research. Because anime is relatively cheap to make and exists in a highly saturated market, the rules are a little different. A huge number of shows are simply not expected to do that well. They are more or less time fillers or extended commercials. There’s a certain freedom that comes with this condescension. Studios can take risks or indulge in passion projects at largely reduced stakes. Strict demographics no longer matter and with that, formulas can be played with. People try things out much more in anime form than other, more conventional media, simply because they can.
Of course, you’ll get a lot of misses for every hit, but when it works….
Like I said, Natsume isn’t very good at living up (or down) to expectations. Against all appearances, it’s a little rebel. Despite being a show full of attractive teenagers of varying genders, and having portrayed some of the most endearing love stories I’ve ever seen, there isn’t even a hint of romance as one might have thought. The conflicts and confrontations I’ve been waiting for since the second season have yet to materialize as well. But it has never felt unsatisfying.
The reason for this, in my opinion, is that it’s natural. Natsume has Yokai, sure, but for the most port both the adventures portrayed, and the actions/reactions of the characters tend to be pretty mundane (all things considered). Natsume finds lost trinkets for those Yokai or tries to reason with them through conversation. There’s rarely any moments you would qualify as epic but this normalcy is haunting. You can translate it so easily to your own experience that you can’t help but understand exactly what everyone is going through. You instantly share their joys, cheer for their successes and understand their grief.
Most of us look for some form of escapism in our entertainment. That’s why even so-called reality tv is grossly exaggerated and rather unbelievable. Anime, (animation of all sorts really), layers beautiful illustration over its dynamic storytelling. That means that even watching a character quietly read a book for instance, is going to be more interesting because it’s a pretty moving picture. Since you already have that one extra hook, you can afford to be calmer, more down to earth with the other elements. I’m not saying you HAVE to – a lot of anime is just as or considerably more over the top than live action offerings. I’m just saying production teams will feel more at ease telling a “smaller” story. And small people like me, we like the smaller stories.
But you know what guys. As much as I just waxed rhetorical about anime as a whole, as if I had any clue what I was talking about (or knew what the word rhetorical meant…), it’s really very simple. Once in awhile, you feel all alone. You feel a little scared and a lot misunderstood. You wonder if that will ever change. You ask yourself what’s wrong with you? Am I projecting? I’m assuming way too many things about you.
Let me take that back, I’ll say it better. Once in awhile, I think I may be a weirdo and that in time I will become so weird that no one will be able to understand me. It’s a silly thought and it makes me feel very lonely. I think Natsume may be able to understand me, I’m pretty sure he would try. I think that an entire team of people out there who loved this show so much that they dedicated themselves to creating it, may be able to relate to me. I think that little souls all around the world, who got just as captivated by these little stories as I did, may feel a little weird and a little alone, just like me at times.
In 2017, I discovered Natsume Yuujinchou and I wrote about it, and shared it with people I’ve never met on a little blog I started on a whim. Both of these things have made me feel much less lonely.
Favorite character: Nyanko as Natsume with everyone else as a close second.
Dear friend: I have been thinking and drinking until finally I realized something REALLY important and that’s I like drinking
Suggested drink: Your favorite!
- Every time Nyanko drinks – join him
- Every time Natsume withdraws – take a sip
- Every time we see Natsume’s adoptive parents – cheer
- Every time Nyanko’s hungry have a snack
- Every time Natori is suspicious – take a sip
- Every time we see Matoba – drink
- Every time Natsume accepts help – cheer!
- Every time Natsume hits a Yokai – take a sip
- Every time you feel that squeeze in your heart – be strong!
Day 8 of 12