We are getting more Natsume Yuujinchou this year!
For those of you who have never heard of it or don’t know, Natsume Yuujinchou [夏目友人帳 ], or Natsume’s Book of Friends is the absolute best Slice of Life hybrid anime. No ifs, ands or buts. It is immaculate. I am overtly biased but I seriously have a soft spot for shows like this; focuses on personal growth, overcoming past trauma and coming of age. It also has strong supernatural and mystery elements rooted in Japanese Shinto practices and folklore.
The six season series focuses on Natsume Takashi, a boy who can see yokai or Japanese spirits. Natsume is an orphan frequently shuffled around to various relatives and foster families. Some of these people are kind, but this never lasts as he is gifted with the ability to see spirits. As a child he could not decipher between human and yokai, causing misunderstands that lead to rumors to spread about him. Word of mouth detailing unexplainable occurrences surrounding the small boy crept to local town folk ears.
Misconstrued by peers in school when attempting to make friends resulted in frequent loneliness.
Now fifteen, Natsume is placed with a distant relative on his grandmother’s side. Unbeknownst to him, Shigeru-san heard tales of his mistreatment at a funeral. He and wife Touko-san never had children and wanted to give Natsume a proper loving home.
Natsume arrives in the countryside of what is speculated to be the island of Kyushu. There are a few “sacred sites” in Kumamoto, and years ago I came across a Japanese YouTuber who found forest temples that inspired the show. Sacred sites (or otaku pilgrimages) are locations around Japan that serve as the basis for dwellings in your cherished anime.
Think of it like this: manga is (usually) anime’s source material as sacred sites are to a mangaka’s inspiration.
Bad analogy aside, there is a historic site in Gifu prefecture called Ogimachi Village. This serves as the origin of Hinamizawa Village in Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni. Using sites such as this are in part to garner local regional tourism; other reasons being the author just may envision their story unfolding there. Other times a memorial is built for fans when there is no tangible place. Satsuki and Mei’s house from My Neighbor Totoro can be found in Nagoya’s Nagakute-cho district.
In a similar vein, I am reminded of the extras on the Spirited Away DVD that show Miyazaki’s inspiration for the infamous bathhouse the witch Yubaba runs. When I was younger I often watched that second disc to see the behind the scenes creation of its Foley track. Or each time it rained I’d watch Kiki’s Delivery Service. The soft pitter patter of the rain on the house was so comforting. It makes me very nostalgic, sharing things like this. I have so many good memories thanks to Japanese animation. I wouldn’t trade them for the world.
But, back to the main focus of this article.
The TV show is based on Midorikawa Yuki’s work. She also created the source material for the short film Hotarubi no Mori e [蛍火の杜へ]. Comparable to the Kintaro folktale of Japan, a mysterious human boy named Gin is raised in the forest by yokai. Takegawa Hotaru meets him as a child and the two develop a relationship over time. Watching the film you can see the similarities between Gin and Natsume, especially in their ethereal demeanor and physical appearance.
The town Natsume lands in proves to be a hotbed for paranormal activity and he is constantly chased by spirits requesting their names be returned. In an old box at his new home, he finds a ‘book of friends’ or book of spiritual contracts collected by his grandmother, Natsume Reiko. After a particularly nasty pursuit by unfriendly spirits, Natsume stumbles into a local shrine and accidentally breaks a barrier. This unseals the powerful spirit Madara who is initially stuck, but grows to enjoy the Maneki-neko cat form he had been sealed in for an unidentified length of time.
(I once read somewhere that Kyushu itself is thought of as a portal for spirits and is cursed land. Well, not a ‘you will turn into a tree’ sort, but a place where you should tread lightly. This was many years ago at the start of the series in 2008. Sadly the websites I see in my mind’s eye may not even exist anymore. This is also the case with the YouTuber I referenced. The videos were in Japanese and used some of the OST. With YT being super extra with copyright claims of late, they may have been wiped from the net to a place I cannot tread. ((Regional blocked sites where I’d have to fire up a proxy)) I will update when I find more information about this or can confirm that it is not some queer fever dream of mine.)
‘Nyanko-sensei’ is what Natsume affectionately calls Madara, and the two slowly return the youkai names. In the real and spirit world, Natsume gains companions who understand and value him as a person. He searches for more information about his grandmother and in the recent season, Natsume Yuujinchou Roku, his grandfather.
I am excited about the upcoming film, I am excited at the possibility of more seasons and each convention I attend I literally hunt specifically for Nyanko-sensei merchandise. The more prevalent the show becomes in America, the more overpriced-UFO-catcher-licensed-merch I can find. I am determined to assemble a small army of plushies and ceramic figurines to guard my nightstands.
Based on the incessant fangirling you’ve just witnessed, hopefully, it sparked a bit of interest in the series.
Natsume Yujincho ~ Utsusemi [夏目友人帳 ～うつせみに結ぶ～ ] is scheduled to premiere on September 29th of this year. Here’s to hoping I can somehow see the Japanese release by proxy of subtitled indie movie theatres.
For now, since the spring anime season has begun the next few posts will focus on currently airing episodes. I am still debating on whether I would like to pick one or two shows to review weekly, or just do first impressions and wait until it’s over to do a series review. There are quite of few series reviews from last season I have on the backburners that I would like to trickle into the mix somehow.
Are you a fan of Natsume’s Book of Friends? What is your favorite anime with yokai? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, I’d love to hear from you. Also be sure to follow us for more Natsume Yujinchou news! We may have some youkai themed content in future articles…