As this is a review of 4 seasons of a show, this is going to be a longer review.
Natsume has been passed around from relative to relative since he lost his parents and it never works out. As a kid he was strange because he could see yokai and never really learnt not to tell people this or react to the yokai. Now, as a teenager, Natsume moves in with a new couple and tries to start a life in the place his grandmother lived. Only the yokai in the area want their names, which his grandmother kept in a book, returned.
It might seem strange that I love Natsume. Given my usual tastes for faster paced stories, stories that are a little bit darker, or stories that do something a bit unexpected, there really isn’t any reason for me to be such a huge fan of Natsume.
While rewatching it recently, I wondered why I liked it so much. Flying Witch, out this season, is a nice, slow piece about a slightly odd girl moving in with family and starting a life and each episode someone new comes with a problem or just to visit and then we move on. And yet, I am finding Flying Witch mind-numbingly boring.
The difference, I think, is in the protagonist. Natsume in the early episodes of season 1 is damaged, and that damage doesn’t just disappear. It fades and comes out in different ways at appropriate times, and slowly, ever so slowly, it is being healed, but there isn’t an instant fix. Wow, you’ve got friends now, emotional trauma solved! In point of fact, it’s hard to even notice how far Natsume has developed as a character until you go from an episode mid-way through season 4 and maybe watch an episode from late season 1 or early season 2. And it isn’t just Natsume.
All of the characters in this show develop slowly but surely in ways that fit with the experiences they go through. You really feel like you are part of this group and watching this show is like catching up with old friends. There’s a strength of writing and character development that you do not normally come across.
The plot also moves. While each episode really is the yokai of the week appears with either a problem to be solved or a desire to get their name back, each season feels like it is moving forward. Season one helps Natsume overcome his unreasonable hatred of all yokai. Season two sees him developing some actual human relationships that aren’t superficial or simply being acted out. Season three helps Natsume begin to understand Reiko (his grandmother) and her actions. The season four plunges us into finally facing some of Natsume’s child-hood trauma and finding some closure.
The art style is also really pretty. There’s definitely a reliance on soft colours but the nature effects, whether it be sunlight, flowers, leaves, snow or rain are always gorgeous and the characters are simple but easily distinguished.
Music is used well throughout the series but again has a very laid back kind of feel to it. Sound effects are mostly understated which makes the occasional dramatic effect really stand out.
I’m really looking forward to the fifth season of this anime.
If you want something warm and fuzzy and don’t mind watching events unfold at their own pace, Natsume will be a very rewarding watch.
Natsume is available from Crunchyroll.