- Titles: Natsume’s Book of Friends: The Waking Rock and the Strange Visitor
- Genre: Slice of Life, supernatural, aww, Natsume – yeah that’s right, it’s its own genre now!
- Lenght: 51 minutes
- Studio: Shuka
Natsume is a young man who exists in liminality. He’s no longer a child and not an adult yet. He is an orphan but is building a found family. He lives among humans but talks to yokai. Natsume is a young man who walks paths that most of us will never be able to see. But if we’re lucky, we can hear about his adventures along those paths. For instance, there was the time when he met a tiny Yokai and helped him wake up a very powerful one then they all had a party together. Or that time when his friend was visited by an Ayakashi who was looking for a friend of his own. It’s a simple joy to be able to receive such stories and if you squint, sometimes, you might just be able to make out the outlines yourself!
For those who are not that familiar with this blog, I am a friend of Natsume. It’s one of my favourite anime and I am always filled with joy at the opportunity to get more of Natsume’s Book of Friends. I am impatiently waiting for the next season as the last volume of the manga was the best so far. In the meantime, I finally watched the last movie that I was stubbornly holding onto. And here’s what I thought of it.
Throughout the years I have been a little hard on Natsume’s Book of Friends’ production. Not that it’s bad. It was never bad in the least. But that it was safe and maybe a little unimaginative. Some of the later seasons have some fun with camera angles but all in all, Natsume’s Book of Friends has always been a good-looking, fluid anime, and not much else.
But that’s cause I’m slow. It took me all this time and literally every bit of Natsume visual media available to notice the very persistent cinematic language lovingly used in Natusme’s Book of Friends. And it’s colours too! I love colours!
You see, I have specifically called out the colours in Natsume before. They are sort of muted and the colour palette is restrictive. Natsume himself is almost always dressed in his plain white uniform shirt as are all of his classmates. It’s quite dull in my opinion. And the world around him is the cool (not cold) soothing and refreshing mist of calm green trees and fields peppered with blue lakes. Everything in Natsume is cool and calm. Even Nyanko sensei who is a calico cat with distinctive markings is mostly white. And whenever a character is not wearing their white uniform they always have plain unified sweaters or shirts in cool colours like bleu or beige. If it’s not cool, it’s neutral.
As I thought of that I realized that this colour story doesn’t apply to Yokai. Yokai often have more extravagant and patterned clothing. Even the plainer dressed ones will gravitate towards warmer tones like yellows and ochres. Heck Nyanko in his true form is a huge white beast but with bright red markings The Yokai palette clashes with the rest. It makes them stand out and not quite fit in with the everyday world. And you know what human stands by their colours in the same way? Reiko! She also has a much darker and warmer palette. It’s very subtle but it’s there. Isn’t that cool? It’s not particular to this movie but I finally noticed it and I wanted to talk about it!
Story & Characters
You may have guessed it from my synopsis. Natsume Yuujinchou: Ishi Okoshi to Ayashiki Raihousha is not really an actual movie but rather two separate OVAs that could easily have been episodes of a season of Natsume’s Book of Friends. I would call them perfectly average episodes of Natsume’s Book of Friends. Just so you understand, me calling anything an average episode of Natsume’s Book of Friends is a great compliment. If now, right now as you are reading this, you call me up and tell me to drop everything and go watch a perfectly average episode of Natsume’s Book of Friends, odds are that I will comply…happily!
However, if I am 100% honest with you all, I did enjoy Natsume’s Book of Friends: Ephemeral Bond just a little more. Now that I think of it, this “movie” would make for a fairly nice introduction to the series.
The first of the two stories, deals with a small Yokai who is tasked with waking his powerful master from his slumber. Anyone who wakes the great spirit gets a reward so a lot of Yokai are trying to steal the map from him and claim the reward for themselves. When Natsume accidentally runs into him, he decides to help out the little Yokai and they have a pleasant walk through the woods, running into other Yokai along the way. That’s all. But it’s a great little illustration of how diverse and odd Yokai can be as well as the traditions that inhabit them. Of course, the reward is copious amounts of sake. There is a reason this show resonates with me. And the episode literally ends on a party that just made had me genuinely smiling from ear to ear.
The second story deals with Tanuma getting almost daily visits from a very mysterious stranger and Natsume’s personal anxieties about it. It’s always great to get a Tanuma-centric story, there should be more. Tanuma is Natsume first human friend. Maybe his first friend in general if you don’t count Nyanko. (Although between you and me, even though Nyanko refuses to admit it, I think they are friends).
There was something tensely beautiful about seeing Natsume fret and worry about his friend in a way that’s usually reversed. In him realizing the limits of what he can do for another and getting frustrated by that. There’s also a parallel storyline about two great and ancient Yokai who are also friends in their own way. In case I haven’t said the word friend enough to make it clear, this episode is both an exploration and a celebration of friendship from the point of view of people who have few friends and cherish them deeply.
Now I know what you’re thinking. Every single anime out there is about friendship. And you’re not wrong. It’s part of what I like about the medium. But this is a slightly different take than usual. It’s not a friendship conquers all or there’s nothing more important type of story. It’s more of a calm rumination that friendship is both limited and finite and that’s part of what makes it important.
Now there’s no point in me trying to do a review of Natsume’s Book of Friends. It’s not like I,m going to give you an unbiased idea of what the show is about or let you know if you should watch it or not. I think everyone should watch Natsume, repeatedly, and I have no interest in trying to be objective about it.
So here’s my conclusion. Watch both Natsume Yuujinchou: Ishi Okoshi to Ayashiki Raihousha and everything else you can get your hands on. It will make your world softer and more comfortable!
You might like this anime if:
Guys, you’re going to like Natsume. Who wouldn’t?
My favourite character:
How could you possibly choose? (ok it’s probably Nyanko but don’t tell the rest)
- Every time we see the “map”/symbol – take a sip
- Every time anyone mentions “Ishi Okoshi” – show some respect by taking a sip
- Every time Natsume punches a Yokai – violence is bad
- Every time anyone talks about sake – take a sip
- Every time we see water – switch to water
- Every time Natsume carries Nyanko – take a sip
I save all my screencaps on my Pinterest and you can find more there if you are interested. But I still like to show you a few in the post. If you’re like me, screencaps are something that really helps you decide to watch an anime or not.