To cap off another Brain’s Base spree, we finally come to the 2008-2009 series Natsume Yuujinchou. One of Takahiro Omori’s rather low-profile shows which he directed during the period between Baccano! and Durarara!! Also known as Natsume’s Book of Friends, the original manga was a finalist for the 2008 Manga Taisho awards.
The story follows the titular character Natsume, who has the unique ability to see various supernational beings or “youkai.” As a result, he was often times treated as an outcast growing up. One day, he comes across an old book that once belonged to his grandmother. The book contains the names of various youkai who have pledged their servitude to the book’s owner. Together, with his bodyguard Nyanko-sensei, Natsume sets out to return the names in the “book of friends” to their respective youkai.
Natsume Yuujinchou has been compared to Mushishi by many fans; a comparison that is both understandable yet peculiar. The obvious similarities include the lead characters, episodic nature, and the existence of invisible spiritual beings. Natsume even looks like a teenage Ginko, especially in the manga’s early concept art. However, diving into one series expecting it to be the same thing as the other is a huge mistake.
Despite sharing many of the same plot elements, Mushishi and Natsume are inherently different. Natsume is a show about friendship, Mushishi is a show about acceptance. The former depicts Youkai as imperfect beings capabable of despair, desire, and aspiration. The ultimate message is that the power of friendship can solve the problems and tensions that exist between Youkai and humans. The latter takes a more realistic approach to the issue. Unlike the youkai, the mushi act as a metaphor for nature itself, an entity without thoughts or motives, acting only out of necessity. Suffices to say, Natsume’s message of “friendship solves everything” will not work in the world of Mushishi.
Taking these conditions into account, we find that Natsume and Ginko are actually vastly different. Natsume is still very youthful and naive, constantly torn between the youkai that scare him or the humans that once made fun of his unique power. Ginko, in contrast, is very deliberate and emotionless. Having lost everything including his memories to the mushi, he learns to accept the mushi for what they are and spends the rest of his days simply trying to understand them.
That is the main point of this rather long tangent. People looking for another “heartwarming” series after watching Natsume Yuujinchou will almost always be pointed towards Mushishi, only to find that it is nothing of the sort. It is important to make this distinction so that viewers will not find themselves disappointed one way or another.
Final Thoughts: 7/10
Natsume Yuujinchou is a calm series that happens to resemble Mushishi, just not quite the same level of distinction. Still, Natsume Yuujinchou is a heartwarming series that deals with Youkai and is one of 2008’s best. At the time of this writing, two anime seasons of Natsume Yuujinchou have been produced with a third on its way. Coupled with their other hit franchise Durarara!!, we can expect great things to come out of Brains Base in the future.