Natsume’s Book of Friends (夏目友人帳)

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Anime(2008-2017) Series, 6 Seasons, 74 Episodes, 23 minutes each

D: Takahiro Omori
W: Kenichi Kanemaki from manga by Yuki Midorikawa
M: Makoto_Yoshimori Makoto_Yoshimori
Studio1: Brain’s Base (1-52) Brains’s Base
Studio2: Shuka (53-74) Shuka

ANN 8.317 ANN ranks by Season from 8.212 to 8.557
MAL 8.33
IMDB 8.1

Characters:

MC

Takashi Natsume (夏目 貴志, Natsume Takashi)
Madara (斑) / “Nyanko-sensei” (ニャンコ先生)
Reiko Natsume (夏目 レイコ, Natsume Reiko)
Touko Fujiwara (藤原 塔子, Fujiwara Tōko) and Shigeru Fujiwara (藤原 滋, Fujiwara Shigeru)

SC

There are many support roles in Natsume’s Book of Friends but most of what happens in this story centers around Natsume such that every other character is a Support Character

ANTAGONISTS

Many Youkai are dangerous and/or evil
Seiji Matoba and the Matoba Clan

Natsume’s Book of Friends ran for 6 seasons for a total run of 74 episodes. The anime has garnered many friends, and yet is still relatively unknown even in Fan Circles.

Natsume’s Book of Friends (夏目友人帳, Natsume Yūjin-chō) is an exceptionally low-key work which does not try to impress you in any way, with loud battle cries and fights, spectacular scenes, or horrific gut-wrenching gore, which could have been the case in other hands. The series deals with monsters after all.

The Book of Friends is all about one character, Takashi Natsume (夏目 貴志, Natsume Takashi) who has the peculiar ability to see Yōkai (妖怪, “ghost”, “phantom”, “strange apparition”) from Japanese mythology and folktales, . His grandmother on his father’s side, Reiko Natsume (夏目 レイコ, Natsume Reiko), also had this ability.

In the course of her life, she compiled a Book of Friends which contained the names of Yokai. In Japanese mythology, to possess a name is to control the person who belongs to that name. Hayao Miyazaki does this quite clearly in his masterwork, “Spirited Away” where the witch Yubaba takes Chihiro’s name, extracts all the characters except the Chi-Sen character, and Chihiro then becomes Sen under the witch’s power. Sen (千) literally means a 1,000.

Ogino Chihiro (荻野 千尋) ————→ Sen (千)

We have not been able to discover why this linguistic change takes place in the Japanese language such that the words Chi and Sen both use the character 千. If anyone reading this understands why, please leave an extensive comment.

After the passing of Reiko Natsume (夏目 レイコ, Natsume Reiko), her grandson, inherits the Book of Friends, and he begins to return the names to their owners, releasing them. Of course, power over Yokai is thought to be extremely valuable to both Yokai and Humans, and the book becomes an object which Human and Yokai fight to obtain which means that often Takashi Natsume is under constant attack.

Because of this danger, a very powerful Yokai, Madara (斑) / “Nyanko-sensei” (ニャンコ先生), who presents himself as a cat, attaches himself to Natsume and constantly defends him from all attackers.

In his real form, Sensei is quite terrifying and powerful, but in his usual cat form, he is the comic relief of the story.

His conceit is that he wants the Book of Friends, and is only hanging around with Natsume to get the book for himself. But he could have easily killed Natsume, and just taken the book so his usual excuse really does not wash. He actually likes, even cares for, Natsume but he does not admit it.

His true nature is seen when he helps two little lost children find their way back to their parents.

The Book of Friends is all about one character, and that is, Takashi Natsume. Born with Reiko’s ability to see Yokai, this has been a dire curse in his childhood where he has been terrified by Yokai monsters and Human monsters who bully him and vilify him very viciously. Having lost his own parents, his foster parents just want to get rid of him because he is so weird and scary to them and so he is passed around to various family members.

Until Touko Fujiwara (藤原 塔子, Fujiwara Tōko) and Shigeru Fujiwara (藤原 滋, Fujiwara Shigeru), distant relatives, arrive and ask if he would like to come live with them. The Fujiwara’s are childless, and are without doubt, a couple of the most beautiful characters in the story. They take Natsume in to live with them, and treat him like their own son. Both deeply come to love and accept Natsume the way he is, knowing full well that his behavior is strange. Every time they are on screen, is a heart filling mood piece and the love that they feel, the audience can feel also.

Of course Natsume, has been so hurt in the past, he does not tell them about his abilities to see strange things, although as the Fujiwara’s are presented, it would hardly make a difference in their love for this young man.

Natsume himself is exceptionally kind and caring of others, both Human and Yokai, and never tries to hurt anyone, even when being attacked. He is always ready to help a friend or a stranger, or even an enemy. Hatred and revenge do live in his heart.

While episodic, each episode is a story in and of itself, the character of Natsume, drives the narrative forward and is the fundamental tone poem.

The actual story is that while Natsume is returning the names in The Book of Friends, to their owners, he is writing his own Book of Friends, not in words, but in actions, and people. Gradually as the story unfolds, his circle of friends begins to grow, with people and Yokai, who like and respect Natsume, and want to spend time with him, because he is so gentle and kind.

And this book of friends is the glory of the entire series.

That is the basic narrative arc of the story.

Almost every episode, while not a traditional “tear-jerker” touches a feeling in you, and even can bring a tear as your feels realize that they are being touched. How the artists consistently do this is not quite clear.

Many feelings which you have are obscure, and hidden, perhaps deeply, and you might not even recognize that you have a certain feeling, but once it is touched, you suddenly feel a little strange.

Many feels are small, little things which hide about inside of most people. For the most part, they have no names so it is difficult to talk about them. They are like Mushishi, formless abstractions which constitute the fundamental basis of all living things. All Yokai are made out of Mushishi.

While all of this is story imagination, your feels are real because you can feel them, and certain works of art touch and activate these private, hidden little pieces of emotion.

The Book of Friends is highly unusual in that the artists behind this work, know how to manipulate your feels, even while you might fail in your attempt to explain what it is that you are feeling!

All one knows is that watching The Book of Friends, one will have many strange new feelings.

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© 2021 Folwine P. Pywackett (mox014)

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