|Good character development, stories that elicit emotions from the viewer, great main character||Only 11 episodes this season|
If there was one show I was sure would deliver in Fall 2016 it was Natsume Yuujinchou Go. The Natsume franchise has been remarkably consistent from the very beginning in 2008. I wasn’t even sure though that we were going to get a season 5. The fourth season aired in 2012 and Brain Base didn’t do anything going forward. It ended up falling to Shuka a studio that formed in 2013 to pick it up for Season 5 and what will eventually be Season 6. Credit to them since not only did we get a Season 5 that feels very much consistent with previous seasons, but also we’re getting another one next year. So this review just starts out with expressing that I love this series and am glad it came back to anime.
The story with Natsume is a somewhat interesting topic in itself. The main plot hasn’t really changed since the very beginning. Natsume simply continues his life. This is a story that is almost supernatural slice of life. Natsume goes about his life of interacting with youkai that most people can’t see. That life sometimes involves dealing with exorcists who can also see youkai (though to varying degrees of clarity). And of course as per the title that life sometimes involves returning names from the “Book of Friends.” This is a book his grandmother basically created by gathering the names of youkai. Having a youkai write down their name and putting it in a book like that gives you power over that youkai. That makes the book a pretty powerful tool for anyone with bad intentions.
That also means that many youkai within the book will seek out Natsume so he can return their names. A straight forward part of the story is that Natsume has decided he will try to return all the names in the Book of Friends because his grandmother Reiko died without doing so. And while it sounds very dramatic, very few powerful youkai seek out the book to gain that power. Natsume’s powerful friend Madara…who Natsume refers to as Nyanko Sensei easily dissuades the majority with negative intentions.
The story mostly involves Natsume just living out his life. Sometimes he’ll interact with friends who can’t see youkai. Other times Natsume may interact with exorcists or youkai who are having problems. The show is very episodic. Most situations that Natsume gets involved in are resolved within either that episode or the following one. That doesn’t mean the story is just a series of random situations. The key for the show is following the slow but clear character development of Natsume and those around him. After five seasons Natsume is a very different character, but not unnaturally so. We can understand how the characters have reached that point.
In terms of Season 5, nothing out of the usual pattern happens. And I’d consider that a big positive because the show’s style and story has been great. This season gives focus to a variety of regular side characters that Natsume knows. There are a handful of episodes that focus on new characters and continues Natsume’s personal story. There are a couple characters that don’t get a focus episode, but in 11 episodes there are only so many individual stories you can tell.
The series does a great job of making you care. I’d say the greatest element of the story in Natsume is that each individual tale usually has a powerful emotional pull to it. This isn’t a randomly tragic show or remarkably positive. The show simply knows how to tell stories that mean something to people.
The most important character in this season is of course Natsume Takashi himself. His character continues his solid development into a different but stronger person. You can find a basic background for Natsume in the reviews of the previous seasons so I’ll just focus on this season. In this season people challenge Natsume in terms of the status quo he has maintained. Natsume to this point hasn’t told most of his friends or the Fujiwara couple who have taken him into their home about his ability to see youkai. Natsume has been very cautious about revealing his ability because of how others have treated him. So in this season people challenge Natsume’s status quo.
Natsume also has to face issues of truth. In the past Natsume has had to learn to lie because people just wouldn’t believe the truth. His character arc over the past few seasons has led to him being more honest, but he’s still struggled to open up. This season makes it harder by giving him situations where not telling the whole story might be for the best, but it means he can’t be honest with people he cares for. In a sense the story forces Natsume to deal with uncomfortable situations like that. He learns a bit more about his grandmother Reiko and simply has to continue maturing as a person.
Honestly the other main character is Madara/Nyanko Sensei. Madara is basically the one person that Natsume can talk to and knows everything that is going on in his life. He is the protector and bodyguard for Natsume against threats, but at this point he is also his friend. Madara knows that eventually Natsume will grow old and die, but he still cares about him. This season doesn’t involve Madara doing a lot out of the norm for his character. He protects Natsume where he can, but he also gives him room to run into trouble. Madara knows that Natsume is a very good person who struggles to refuse a request. He doesn’t mind Natsume learning that not everyone you help is a good person who will return your trust. But Madara also will protect Natsume emotionally at the right times.
The list of side characters in this show is actually pretty long. Most episodes have a new or unique youkai/human that interacts with Natsume. After five seasons you can imagine the list. So I’ll just talk about the side characters in general. This season gives a fair amount of attention to Natori Shuuichi. That he actually appears in a few episodes is pretty good in this season which spreads out the focus pretty effectively. We do learn more about his life and why he has the views he does. And honestly after this season I understand why he cares so much about Natsume. There are a fair number of people he knows that can see youkai, but there are good reasons for Natsume to matter to him.
Another person who gets a reasonable amount of focus is Matoba Seiji. In general I don’t like this guy. He is the head of an exorcist family with ideals and actions I just don’t care for. But at the very least I understand him a bit better now. Two characters that get a fair amount of focus and attention are Tanuma Kaname and Taki Tooru. These two both understand that Natsume can see youkai and have their own connections to that world. Ironically they both also know different secrets that Natsume has though he hasn’t told either of them everything. Both Taki and Tanuma are likable people and I enjoyed their episodes.
The last characters that deserve attention are the Fujiwara couple, Touko and Shigeru. These people took in Natsume and removed him from the downright negative environments that he had to live in. Their episode is probably the best in the season. We truly get to see these two as people and how they feel about Natsume. Instead of just seeing them as two kind people who saved Natsume from a personal kind of hell, we get to see what he has contributed to their lives. Honestly they are great characters and great people, the season was well worth it just to see more from them.
The audio remains very solid for Natsume. This show uses a lot of tracks that work for creating a kind of emotional atmosphere, but not overpowering. The focus is on the characters and what is happening and not just the music distracting you. In terms of effects the series does a good job with elements like rain. When certain youkai require a more “supernatural” sound to their movements the show makes everything sound right.
In terms of the opening and ending songs, they are both good. I wouldn’t say either are the best the series has managed to this point, but I can’t complain about them. They both sound good and I actually enjoyed listening to them this season.
The show looks really good for what the setting and story requires. It doesn’t feel like they are sinking an incredible amount of money into the visuals, but this show doesn’t really need that. The characters look good, the youkai look good, and the show has nice effects for some of the supernatural things we see in this show. There are no moments I think “wow this looks bad.” Similar to a lot of elements in this show, Natsume is very steady and strong.
This season for Natsume is everything I liked about the previous ones. We get some good stories, some emotional moments and quiet character development. I could just watch Natsume week to week forever if they could keep making new episodes. There really isn’t much to nitpick about this season. Maybe an individual would say “I’d like some more episodes for this side character” but honestly that’d be about it. Natsume has found its formula and stuck to it since the beginning. If you have gotten this far then saying “go watch this show” is a no-brainer. If you haven’t watched a Natsume season yet…please go watch it right now.
This show might not be for everyone. It isn’t as action packed as you might imagine and focuses on telling good emotion-filled stories. If any show out there deserves an “A” it is Natsume Yuujinchou Go.
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