Friends are great. Without friends you can’t make it in this world. But what exactly defines a friend? Even though I don’t have a huge amount of friends in what I would call the real world, the ones I do have are amazing and supportive, and always there for me when I need them the most. But what about the friends that you can’t see? The digital friends as we might sometimes call them. I’ve often heard it said that those aren’t real friends, and can’t be considered as such. But I think that’s a load of nonsense. Why? Only because you might never meet them in real life? Since I started my blog about five years ago now, I have come to know many people here that I truly consider as friends. Some of them are so very dear to me, that I truly care for their well being, and miss them when they aren’t around. They also help battle the never ending fight against loneliness, a feeling that’s often quite horrible, and unfortunately has been a part of me all of my life. One of those friends is Irina. Always kind, always supportive, and responsible for making me blush quite a few times with way too many kind comments and posts she is really one of the most gentle souls I’ve met here. Another dear friend, but who is sadly missing and who I’m very worried about is Karandi. This post is for all of you that are reading this, in celebration of friendship, and to all that might feel alone every day. But most of all I want to dedicate this post to the two aforementioned ladies, because I know how much this anime means to them. And now to me as well….
Takashi Natsume looks every bit the part of a normal highschool student. Having tragically lost his parents at a very young age, he has been passed along from relative to relative many times. He has never been able to form attachments and the word friend is almost alien to him. That’s largely due to the fact that people think of Natsume as being quite weird, and one could even say creepy. In his younger years the kids would even make fun of him, and call him a liar because of the way that the young boy sometimes acted. He was always calling out to things that weren’t there, and even his relatives didn’t believe him when he acted that way around them. As if he was being harassed by unseen forces, or things that only Takashi could see. But Natsume isn’t lying. You see Takashi has inherited the power to see spirits, or Youkai as they are also known as, from his grandmother Reiko. He loathes this power at first, because it’s the main reason he is shunned by everyone, and in that way causing him to feel terribly alone. Luckily though things are about to change for him when he gets taken in by the kind and gentle Fujiwaras, a middle aged couple, who are relatives from Natsume’s father.
As he finally seems to have found a place that is beginning to feel like home to him, he also decides to keep his ability a secret from them. Well, as much as that is possible anyway. There is something else that his grandmother gave him, and that’s the so called Book of Friends. In this book, Reiko kept the names of all the Youkai that she managed to beat, and in that way formed contracts with them by bringing them into her servitude. Natsume has completely different plans with this highly valuable book though. Being the gentle soul that he is, he will give back the names of the bound spirits that all come to him for their help. Not every Youkai is evil and some are even as lonely as Natsume himself. But there are also those that are very malicious and are seeking out the book for their own sinister plans. Luckily Natsume has a bodyguard, although that wasn’t exactly planned. By a complete accident Natsume released him for a shrine he was trapped in, and so Madara as he’s called is now protecting him. But you wouldn’t exactly say he’s a bodyguard, as he looks like a lucky cat, a talking one at that, and not exactly something that inspires fear. But the thick orange feline holds more power than one would think, and that will be needed as Natsume will become the target of both friends and foes from the world of the Youkai…
When I started the first episode of this series, I truly wondered what I had stumbled into. The anime looked like a children’s program, and with a lot of comedy thrown into the mix as well. If there is one thing I have learned though it’s not to judge a book, or in this case an anime, by it’s first impressions. And once again that proved true, as the best way to describe this series is by being enveloped into a warm blanket, together with a loved one, gazing at a beautiful sunset. It’s a show that’s filled with so much melancholy, warmth and feel good vibes, that you can’t stop yourself from watching. So it was with me. I completed the first three seasons of this show, a total of 39 episodes, within one week. It’s an anime that also became very personal to me, because it contained so much things that are a part of me, that at times it made me both sad and happy all at once. Sad because the main theme of this series is loneliness, but happy because that loneliness is banished quite often through the power of friendship. This series excels in creating an atmosphere of emotions that many times you might feel like you are becoming overwhelmed by them.
Takashi Natsume was a character I came to understand and relate to very much, because in many ways the things he goes through, I have experienced for myself. Granted I can’t see spirits (not yet anyway), but like Natsume during my early schooldays I was often left out of groups, or felt like I didn’t belong. It wasn’t until many years later, that I was finally was able to fit in, and gain friends, the same as Natsume does in this series. But the young man also has a different problem, and that’s how he often has to choose between humans and Youkai. It’s a recurring theme in this anime, and it’s a fascinating part of the story as well. Takashi is a kind and gentle man, who is very trusting, one could say even too trusting at times, a fact he is reminded of quite often by his trusty bodyguard Madara. The comedic banter between these two is often quite hilarious. With more and more names given back to Youkai, the cat becomes quite annoyed as he wants to have the book for himself when Natsume dies. In the beginning Madara is very cold to him, but as the series progresses you can see how the bond between them grows and despite his gruff manners the cat actually is very fond of his ward.
Most of the anime consists of stand alone episodes, although that changes slightly in season 3, where there were some story elements that carried over from episode to episode. Not all episodes were of the same quality but having now seen 39 episodes in total, it’s equally hard to pick a favorite. There was one though in season 3, where a Youkai that lived in the trees used to scare Natsume when he was young, just to be noticed, that was especially beautiful. While some of the spirits have a very gentle and kind, and even comedic look, the more evil ones looked downright scary. The animation style also gives this anime a very distinct look, and while it’s not the best animation in the world, it simply works very well for this series. I could go on for hours writing about this anime, as the words just seem to flow right out of me. But I think I have achieved here what I set out to do: convince you to start watching this anime as quickly as you can. The only reason I haven’t yet continued with season 4, is that there are other shows to watch for Anime Month. Rest assured that I will cover the other seasons at a later time though. This series truly teaches you how valuable friendship is. Whether it’s a virtual friendship or one in real life, you should always treasure it for what it is: something to never let go of.
I give Natsume’s Book of Friends Seasons 1-3 a 9 out of 10 score.