Natsume Yuujinchou – An Appreciation

How is it that a series about loneliness can make me fool so good?

In terms of sheer affection, it’s hard to find another anime that can rival Natsume Yuujinchou for me. There are better series out there – but few that inspire such a reservoir of good will. This is a series that can soften the hardest hearts, and melt the rest.

The show is based on an ongoing manga by Midorikawa Yuki. Solidly in the shoujo genre in terms of art and style, it incorporates elements of fantasy and even horror, on occasion. The premise is straightforward – a teenaged boy named Natsume Takeshi has a strange ability – he can see and interact with youkai spirits, the countless creatures who inhabit the Japanese countryside and imagination. An orphan, Natsume’s ability has caused him to be ostracized from friends and passed from relative to relative, until he finally ends up at the home of distant relatives Touko and Shigeru Fugiwara. From his grandmother Reiko, who shared his ability, Natsume has inherited the Book of Friends, a list of youkai names she’d taken by force as a teenager. This draws attention to Natsume, including that of Nyanko-sensei, an ayakashi named Madara who has taken the form of a “lucky cat” statue. Nyanko-sensei agrees to be Natsume’s bodyguard in exchange for taking possession of the Book upon Natsume’s death.

The art in the anime has been softened and brightened somewhat from the manga style, which is adapted quite literally in the OP and ED animation. Midorikawa’s style, especially, is reminiscent of Earnest Shephard’s illustrations for the original Winnie the Pooh books – with whom there is a certain spiritual connection, it seems to me. The series, while aired in two 13-episode cours separated by a year or so, nevertheless feels like one entity. Both OPs and EDs are superb, especially the first ED – which tended to begin as an accompaniment to the last few lines of dialogue of the episode. The BGM is wonderful too.

What really sells the series is the writing. Like Mushishi, another brilliant series to which it is often compared, Natsume Yuujinchou (especially in the first cour) is episodic – with Natsume and Nyanko-sensei the common thread that ties the episodes together. But where Mushishi had a detached, intellectual quality to it Natsume Yuujunchou is overtly emotional – it’s warm to Mushishi’s cool. The theme that ties all of these episodes together is loneliness. First and foremost, Natsume’s. He’s a boy who was never at home anywhere – shunned by his fellow children and relatives alike as a freak, and perhaps cursed. He has no one to share his world with, until fate brings him in contact with Nyanko-sensei. Madara is lonely, too, and enjoys Natsume’s company – though he’d never admit it.

Where this story especially excels is in the introduction of one-off characters. As with Mushishi the episodic stories are often memorable, but the characters are more indelible here – the adorable kitsune in “The Little Fox’s Hat”, Kai, the lonely water God in the series finale, the tiny deity down to his last worshiper… Loneliness is their common thread, too. The worlds of human and youkai co-exist, often independent of each other, but both humans and youkai sometimes find each other in their loneliness, and for a brief moment in time there’s a connection. But it’s almost always ill-fated, and Natsume often finds himself in the role of reuniting these separated entities – and helping them find closure. And he, who straddles both the human and youkai worlds, is not really a part of either – even to the extent of never being able to tell the Fujiwaras the truth about himself.

This is not a series for cynics, I suppose – though I’m a pretty cynical guy and if any series can break down cynicism, this one can. Very, very few series I’ve seen can engender such strong emotional reactions – the feelings in these stories are so genuine and so heartfelt that they seem universal. The series is funny, genuine, sometimes exciting, and almost always bittersweet – right to the brilliant conclusion in episode 26. I recommend it highly to anyone looking for a show that will make you feel, in a real and meaningful way. Even the sadness so frequently a part of the emotional palette here seems healthy and natural – an honest and elemental part of who we are as thinking, feeling creatures whose paths intersect for the briefest of moments in this life. If we’re lucky, our lives can have a series of those moments that truly move us – and Natsume Yuujinchou is about those moments.



  1. A

    I just started reading your blog after you joined RC. I just wanted to say that I'm glad I'm not the only who thinks so strongly about this series (this can also be applied to Moribito, another series I love). Your appreciation perfectly parallels mine. I got into Natsume around 3 years ago and I just could not put it down. I watched the newest episode today and I was so glad that its continuing!

  2. K

    I also started reading your blog after you became a reviewer at RD and you are dead on the money with your feelings on this series.

    I bet you probably liked Letter Bee as well.

  3. Thanks, Anonymous. I wrote an appreciation for NY, and we got a new season. Wrote one for RuroKen, and a new "project" was announced. Why didn't it work for Moribito???

    Karmafan, I did like Letter Bee – my blog posts are just to your right, there! Not as much as NY, but at its best it was really good.

  4. A

    Hey there I checked you out after your introductiion to RC if you liked this series I recommand you watch the series mononoke and the short story before it called bake neko the last three episodes from ayakashi japanese classic horror stories I feel you will get alot out of it like natsume yuujinchou and mushishi

  5. e

    Wonderful post, and I totally agree both with your thoughts on the series itself and with the Mushishi comparison (I love both series and Moribito dearly btw, they're among my top fav ever – proud anime watcher since 1982 XD – ) . I'm very glad you're blogging on RC as well, I was missing a bit more attention to certain kind of series/titles there ;D.
    As I can't remember you watching it from your ASuki posts and I canit find in your blog, I second the above post suggestion for the Bakenek Arc and the Mononoke series: the visuals and stories are both a banquet for the eys and fascinating studies. It has maybe more of a psychological/detective story/horror(and occasional gore) vibe compared to Natsume and Mushishi, but in terms of 'helper figure dealing with traditional folkloric Japanese creatures and/or humans' is another gem.

  6. e

    P.S.: sorry for the typos!

  7. Hi Elianthos. Too many recs for Mononoke for me to ignore any longer. This is a huge season and I'm already watching two old series (Hikaru and RahXephon) but as soon as those are done…

  8. e

    Hi. Mononoke is also a child of the NoitaminA block ;D.
    RahXephon is another fav of mine XD ( I'm biased towards well done loves stories and art references, and the pretty symbolism through primary colours, eeeh <3. Along with Eu7 I consider it the best BONES series featuring mechas… ), I hope you'll find it both rewarding and enjoyable till the end.

  9. l

    I haven't start even the first season of this show. However, hearing all the praise it get. I decided to watch it, but with all the new anime coming this season. I really having a tough time trying to keep up.

  10. If you can, it'll be worth your time – it's emotionally rewarding to day the least.

  11. A

    I happy someone supports my suggestion that you watch the bake neko arc (last 3 episodes of ayakashi japanese classic horror stories) and mononoke. Its definitely along the lines of psychological, detective, and visuals that complement the deep stories that are told.
    To add to the pressure check out this amv:

    lol enjoy ^_^ its only 12 episode plus the bake neko story that comes before this series.

  12. I will, I promise. Gotta finish Hikaru no Go (damn, it's awesome!) and RahXephon before I start any more old shows.

  13. L

    I hope to to see a long blog post about that soon and as for natsume yuujinchou I'm happy with the way the story is going and I love your whole post on it. I've only seen a few episodes of mushishi and I love it. It makes me feel relaxed and warm lol. ps I might as well introduce myself as Lizzie ^_^ you got yourself a new fan ^0^

  14. @Lizzie

    Thanks, Lizzie – welcome! I do recommend Mushishi very highly – a truly great series.

  15. N

    Thanks for this recommendation, I'm glad I marathoned both prequel series after reading this. I must say I wholeheartedly agree with all of what you said above. I just love the reccurring theme of short meetings and sadness of a farewell between Natsume and the Ayakashi every episode, it just gets better and better. You can say that I'm quite a fan of supernatural genres (I liked xxxHolic & Occult Gakuin despite what the others say) so any other recommendations is greatly appreciated.

    Looking forward to your Natsume Yuujinchou posts in RC.

    PS: This song is just splendid, I can't stop listening.

  16. Ah, thanks Nhelraois – great to hear. That's why I write series recs, hoping to make a few converts. I liked Occult Gakuin too, though it did struggle with the ending.

    You've seen Mushishi I assume? How about Ghost Hunt?

  17. N

    Did you mean Ghost Hound? As of Mushishi, I haven't watch it yet but seeing it getting praised alot in your post and in the previous comments, I can't help but think I'm missing out in something big here. Thanks again Enzo I shall mark it on my to watch list.

  18. No, I meant Ghost Hunt – I have a series review of that on on the site, too. But of course, I adore Ghost Hound – it's fantastic. Thanks again for your kind comments.

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