Natsume Yuujinchou is a series that began as a shoujo manga by Midorikawa Yuki. In 2008 an anime adaptation by Brain’s Base aired. You may remember them from such anime as Baccano, Durarara, Penguindrum, Ixion Saga DT & Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru. So, their stuff has been pretty mixed from what I’ve seen. With Oregairu at the upper end and Ixion Saga & Penguindrum tied at the low end. How will this one place? Let’s have a look.
Natsume Takashi is a lonely boy. He’s been ostracised for most of his life due to his ability to see youkai. After accidentally freeing a sealed one, that happens to look like a fat cat, he discovers that his grandmother, Reiko, could also see them. Not only that, but she went around collecting their names for her “book of friends” which she could use to summon and control them. Being able to think of no ways to use such a thing, Natsume decides to go about returning the names. The narrative from there follows him as he encounters youkai and goes about thinning the book of friends.
The biggest issue with the series is just that it’s tedious. It shouldn’t be since it has al of thirteen episodes, but it manages. The dialogue has a tendency to repeat itself a lot. The events from the episodes are painfully predictable and the series just never reaches a point where things get interesting. The result is that it feels like a slog to get through. There’s also a moment where they try to bring real world fact into the series, but they get the fact wrong. Basically, it uses the urban legend that birds will abandon their babies if a human handles them. Which I’m sure was invented by some arsehole who didn’t want to bother helping a distressed baby bird but didn’t want to look bad in front of their kids. Or maybe it’s a fabrication that stems from wanting to protect the chicks from good-hearted people who are trying to help, but aren’t helping.
The best part of the series are the few flashbacks we get of his grandmother when she was young. She has personality and seems to be enjoying herself. Can I watch a series about her instead? I don’t think it would be brilliant, but it would probably be better than this.
Herein lies the core flaw with the series. Natsume is one of the most boring characters I’ve seen in quite a while. See, his whole schtick is that he’s a generic nice guy who’s melancholy because he’s special. That’s pretty much the end all and be all that passes for his personality. He’s about as compelling as an empty plastic crate. Well, less compelling. At least you could put something in the crate. Which is a big part of why the narrative itself is such a slog. We have this thoroughly uninteresting protagonist and it’s impossible to feel any tension or investment in him. Seriously, can we watch the grandma’s story instead? She has more personality by far and she’s only in roughly five minutes of flashbacks. The supporting characters really aren’t much better. They’re flat tropes.
The artwork is, by far, the best element of the series. The backgrounds are nicely drawn and detailed. The youkai designs are pretty creative. The animation does flow well. The character designs are… okay. The biggest issue with the art is Natsume himself. The two expressions he generally has are just a blank look and dull surprise.
Our protagonist is voiced by Kamiya Hiroshi. He also voiced a boring character in Hachimitsu to Clover. But he’s also given strong performances voicing characters like Levi and Otonashi Yuzuru. The problem with his performance in this, and indeed most of the performances, is just that there’s nothing to work with. You really can’t take a boringly written character and make them complex through the sheer power of acting. The music isn’t good, but it does suit the series. It is just as boring as the narrative and the protagonist. You can’t claim that Yoshimori Makoto isn’t good at composing music that matches the tone.
There’s a little bit. Natsume has a couple of friends who bicker like a married couple. There’s also a female youkai in the series who’s outright stated to have had a thing for Natsume’s grandmother. I’d kind of like to see the back story behind that one, actually. Seriously, why isn’t this series about Reiko?
Natsume Yuujinchou is by no means a bad series. It’s also by no means a good one. Ultimately, it’s a boring series with very little that really stands out in either a positive or negative way. My final rating on it is a 5/10. Next week is Valentine’s and you know what that means, we’re going to look at a romance series. This year it’s Love Stage. You can also expect the 4th annual awards and shaming ceremony as an extra post.