Natsume Yuujinchou (or Natsume's Book of Friends [series one and two]) is a.... well, it's a unique show. It's not for everybody, and its pace will piss off all the Naruto/DragonBallz/Bleach fanboys out there who need retarded, over-the-top, ridiculously drawn-out fights every episode (or I should say one fight over 20 episodes). Natsume Yuujinchou is a fairly quiet series with more in common with Mushishi than anything else. Yes, it's kind of got a "monster-of-the-week" formula going on, but not really. See, in typical (crappy) m-o-t-w shows the hero/heroine is attacked by a different monster/robot/demon every episode, and the enemy is destroyed in the exact same manner week after week (by either a thrown tiara, a blazing sword, a magical sceptor, or by powering up to 10,000). The enemies are all interchangable, and you can miss everything between the 2nd episode and the finale and still come out of a season's worth of shows with a good understanding of how the story went (meaning it went NOWHERE).
Once again yes, Natsume Yuujinchou does have new monsters pretty much every episode (well, Japanese spirit-demon-gods known as "youkai," and maybe not real monsters), but no two episodes work out the same, and every youkai is its own individual character (with, get this, actual distinct personalities and fresh character designs for each!). Anyway, I'm getting way ahead of myself. I just wanted to bash shitty shounen shows and m-o-t-w programs a bit is all. Let me get back to the topic at hand.
Natsume Yuujinchou is all about a teenage boy (Natsume Takashi) who can see youkai all around him ever since he can remember. These spirit-gods that only his eyes seem to pick up can look like normal people, but usually take on the forms of strange and sometimes hideous creatures. When he was a child these "visions" seriously creeped out his family and classmates when Natsume kept asking things like, "Hey, can you guys see that woman standing over there? The one with the mouth from ear-to-ear, the sharp teeth, and dead, black eyes? That's kind of messed up, isn't it?"
Well, due to these haunting hallucinations people thought our lead character was really, really mentally fucked up, and soon he was ostracized by everyone and learned to be alone with his sometimes terrifying phantasms stopping by to scare the bejeezus out of him. This problem was only enhanced when his parents died and he began getting shipped from relative to relative to be taken care of (and usually soon abandoned).
We begin our story when Natsume first moves in with the Fujiwaras (an elderly couple from his father's side), and back to the hometown where his grandmother (one Natsume Reiko) was raised. Natsume Takashi learns very quickly that he is not the only member of his family who had his specter-sight abilities when youkai left and right almost immediately begin attacking him in this new town, calling him "Reiko" and demanding that he return their names to them. It seems that Grandma Reiko had some very powerful spiritual abilities of her own which caused her to be an outcast among humans too, but also made her choose the company of youkai. Unfortunately for the spirits and eventually for her grandson, Reiko was kind of a bitch who used this power to bully the youkai, and upon winning games that she played with them she got them to give her their names, thusly binding them to her bidding forever... Even more unfortunately for everyone involved, Reiko "died young," and the youkai of the area grew desperate and angry to somehow get their names freed from her "Book of Friends" that she had them all saved in, and so when Natsume came to town years later (looking effeminately like his grandmother when she was young, and with her same abilities), the timeless and ageless youkai mistook him for her. Luckily for everyone though, upon moving in with the Fujiwaras Natsume inherited a bunch of stuff from his dead granny — most importantly of all, her Book of Friends. And thus began the poor schmuck's self-imposed task of returning all of the names Reika hoarded over her life.
Problems arise pretty early on though when Natsume finds out that the Book of Friends is a collector's item of sorts to those youkai who seek power and domination over their kin. Just like Reika before, whoever controls the book controls those whose names are trapped inside of it, and can call upon them anytime and anywhere to either play a game of hopscotch or to mutilate her neighbors (well, she never did the latter from what we're told, but you know Reika thought about it). And there are an ASSTON of spirit-demons who were bested by Natsume's gran-gran over the years.
Anyway, Natsume is soon helped in his quest by a very powerful youkai (who was trapped inside a "lucky cat" statue for a long ass time) who he calls Nyanko-sensei. Nyanko-sensei usually stays in his bulbous lucky cat form (which after being stuck in that body for so long he can actually be seen by normals in it), but when the fucker gets serious (like when Natsume is threatened by a powerful misled or just plain evil demon) he turns into his true form: a 2 story-tall, 50 foot-long hellcat with jaws the size of a car.
It's really Nyanko-sensei's and Natsume's dynamic that made this show work for me; the cat is a sarcastic, round calico who talks and sounds like an old man most of the time (and is usually as crotchety as an old fart who just had a dog shit in his yard while he watched), and Natsume is so laid back, easygoing, and trusting (overly trusting actually), but they form a pretty respectable team. I also really liked how the only reason Nyanko-sensei sticks around is because he was promised the Book of Friends if Natsume dies (which he has a high probability of doing week after week), and the cat never misses a chance to remind his companion of this pact — always with glee — and always just as the boy is about to be ripped to shreds by an angry or psychotic youkai. Yeah, yeah, the cat is powerful enough in his own right to never need the book, and he always saves Natsume instead of letting him get busted by ghosts, but it's just their attitudes toward each other the rest of the time that cracks me up like a baby watching a pinwheel. I am very easily amused.
Besides those two characters (and the Fujiwaras), we also have some nosey classmates of Natsume, a few recurring youkai, and another person with the ability to see spirits (one Natori Shuuichi, a famous actor who ghost-busts on the side, and who has a harem of sexy youkai who bow to his every whim) who show up from time to time and either allow Natsume to better understand his fellow humans, or to see things from the perspective of the seemingly senseless youkai all around him. And because of his naivety, Nat often gets burned when he blindly believes that all humans are as nice as he is, and all youkai are as friendly and compliant as the few he hangs out with all the time.
The episodic stories in these two series are sometimes very sad, sometimes heartwarming (but far from cringe-worthy), and some a good mixture of both... And dammit if they didn't earn some moist eyes from me. My favorite eps were the ones where Natsume helps any of the hot chick youkai. My favorite parts of each episode are when Natsume returns a youkai's name and gets a quick vision straight from the spirit's soul of its time with Reiko all those years ago. The more we learn about Reiko the cooler she becomes. Yeah, she was kind of a bullying coont at times, but she was so self-confident and jovial that it made up for any shortcomings. My only real regret of this show is that we didn't see more of Reiko and her time on this planet — we never even found out how she died or how young she was when she kicked the bucket. I really wouldn't have minded if half of each episode was just dedicated to her. Maybe season 3 will show us some more of that side of things...
Fascinating! This Natsoomie Yoojoo-choochoo show was a decent enough tale in and of itself, but it got me thinking... Thinking in strange new directions that I've never let my brain wander before. What if, say, there really are demon-gods walking all around us? Maybe the Japanese were truly onto something here... Maybe they really do have cat-eyed mutants who can see into the octarine spectrum and actually observe the spirit world. And if the spirit world exists, and if there are some with irregular eyes who can see it, then that means it's time for science to step in and show the world just how great it truly is. And that was my cue.
First I had to try and track down a red-headed Japanese punk to see if he (or she) truly had the ability to view the supernatural as part of their normal ocular experience. The three young juvies that I was able to apprehend turned out to not have anything special with their eyes (which I dissected in vain), and whined so much about my precision cutting that I had to put them all down. And their families when they tracked me down. On a closer postmortem examination it turned out that their red hair was just bad dye-jobs. Maybe that was the problem, or maybe I just had to broaden my hunting range.
It was then that I started scoping a few downtown blocks out with an eye open for the unusual... Not necessarily looking for anything supernatural or spirity myself, but watching to see if anybody else reacted to something that may not be within the sight limitations of the rest of us normals. It was then that I spied her. She was a filthy mid-fifties broad, dressed in a dirty trenchcoat and some 6-7 layers of stained and crusty sweaters and skirts. She was walking around constantly looking at the ground and every few dozen yards of walking in a straight line she'd cautiously step around something that wasn't viewable to normals. At first I thought she just avoiding chewing gum (left fresh on the ground by thoughtless, hippie college kids!), but when she stopped and had a full one-sided conversation with somebody or something she called "Boozle Wozzle Pippy Pump" I felt I'd found my test subject!
I waited until she was done talking and began walking again in her apparently regular style before approaching her. "Good 'morrow, my dear woman," I started. "May it be possible for me to examine what makes you so special and enables you to clearly visualize the world of spirits and gods around you so freely?"
After I wiped the hobo-spit off my face I chloroformed her, duct-taped her arms and legs together, and chucked the smelly old broad into the back of my Dave-Mobile to get her back to my lab. Once there I found an amazing discovery! The woman had two sets of retinas in each eye! One a blue and cloudy, but still transparent one in front of the regular one! I was able to duplicate the effect with a pair of specially modified spectacles then, and as I placed them over my own eyes I saw things that would make a grown man piddle his pants and weep with terror!... At least that's what happened to me.
The world is indeed filled with spiritual demon-gods — they are everywhere. But they are not the cute and attractive, or goofy-looking benign creatures as portrayed by in this Japanese animated show... They are fierce, ferocious, bloodthirsty DEMONS from the 8th ring of Hell itself! They have glowing eyes, some have 2 legs, some 280 pairs, some breathe fire, some urinate acid, some glow in an unholy orange light, and others spend their days eating their own flesh... And they can sense when they're seen by mortals such as me. They began to feel my eyes on them almost immediately, and then the charge began. Demons of every disgusting size and shape began charging at me from every direction, and I know if I could have heard them with some sort of spectral aural implants I would have heard the most spine-tingling screeches and bellows that my soul would allow me to stand... Just as they were about to try and tear me to bits (or at least that is what it appeared that they were trying to do), I threw the glasses to the floor and shattered them... I felt a warm rush of air hit me from all sides, but that was it. Well, that and a full Depends, I'll tell you what.
I don't know if they could have hurt me at all, or if I could only see them, but that is not an experiment I want to try on myself again. Maybe on Jimmy Jammer... Hmmmm... I wonder. Maybe, if I could have heard the beasts of Hell, maybe I would have heard that they were just looking for a cup of sugar, or a lost button, or something. Oh well, I'll let Jimmy Jammer tell me next week when I make a new pair of glasses and figure out how that homeless woman hears the creatures. Then I'll tie young Mr. Jammer to a chair and record what happens to him from the safety of my Panic Room.
Why would I need to watch an animated show about terribly, ugly, violent, and filthy creatures that only a select few can see? I LIVE it... And I see the Rossman and his friends every damn day of my life, like it or not. I once tried closing my eyes when I knew the Rossman was near my office, but that just led to him pouring salt in my coffee and leaving dead fish in my trashcan.