Why I Love A Good Yokai Anime

Friday's Feature Banner Image

Having watched anime for a lot of years now its become fairly clear I love yokai in anime. Whenever a new story begins and I find out its featuring yokai of more or less any sort I eagerly jump right in. While at times this leaves me feeling a little frustrated or disappointed when an anime fails to pan out (Elegant Yokai Apartment Life) for the most part I end up finding another cast of characters to love and adore and to fill my desktop background with for a time. So what is it that appeals to me about yokai anime?

And no, it isn’t just the very attractive looking fox boys oozing sex appeal that these sorts of stories pull out again and again. Whether it is Kamisama Kiss, Kakuriyo no Yadomeshi, Inu x Boku or any of the other pointy eared males who’ve made me screen cap like crazy, they aren’t the entire appeal of these shows. After all, Natsume Yuujinchou remains my favourite yokai themed anime and there isn’t a single hot fox boy to drool over in sight. Though, there is the single cutest little fox character but that’s a whole different appeal.

The Little Fox from Natsume Yuujinchou
Little Fox

After thinking about this for awhile I’ve come to the conclusion that yokai stories remind me very much of my childhood and fairy tales. Where sometimes characters travel to other worlds where fantastic things happen (such as the Underworld in the Morose Mononokean) or strange things are occur in the mundane world but only some people can see them (Natsume Yuujinchou). These stories can be sweet or a little bit scary but ultimately they bring about a sense of childlike wonder and recapturing that feeling is amazing. It is no surprise that so many of these anime leave me with a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Fuzzy - The Morose Mononkean Season 2
Okay, I didn’t just make that joke.

It also helps that each one of these stories takes their own approach to exploring yokai characters and worlds. Where some are more human and concerned with more ordinary matters such as attending school (Inu X Boku) others, despite being set in the human world are more action focused and have fantastical powers and battles (Nurarihyon). Some are coming of age stories about finding yourself (Natsume Yuujinchou) or are just about the daily lives of supernatural creatures trying to amuse themselves (The Eccentric Family). They all have their own feel and tone which means despite saying I like yokai anime, each one is very distinct.

The Eccentric Family Season 2

However, one commonality that I’ve noticed from time to time (and it isn’t across all yokai stories) is that the yokai are typically depicted as more beautiful or colourful and striking than humans in the stories they are a part of. There features are regularly striking and a little bit disconcerting. At a glance you can tell that the character is something different or other.

While some stories delve into the darker side of yokai and the character designs reflect that, even then the characters are quite clearly distinguished from the human characters through the use of colour and movement.

Natsume Yuujinchou - Hinoe
Guess which one the yokai is?

It is that aspect of The Morose Mononkean that I have come to really love. While the human world is fairly ordinary outside of the occasional yokai Hanae and Abeno encounter, the Underworld is a rich and vibrant setting teeming with life and colour. While many of the yokai they encounter are not human-like in appearance, each one manages to be expressive. Given one of my favourite parts of the anime is the appearance of Fuzzy, a character who does not speak at all, they have managed to convey so much of what Fuzzy is feeling or thinking through his appearance and actions and honestly I just love him.

However, the contrast is clear when looking at scenes in the human world compared to the Underworld in The Morose Mononkean. In the human world the colours, outside of the yokai and the two main characters, are all fairly muted. The sky is blue and the grass is green, but they are pastel and pale versions of the colours. Seeing the characters under the sky in the Underworld and looking at the buildings, the colour palette is far bolder and more striking creating a rich contrast between our reality and the world the yokai inhabit.

Natsume Yuujinchou takes a similar approach in that Natsume’s mundane human life and friends are fairly colourless. The school uniform is perhaps one of the least striking anime uniforms ever and the buildings are all very simple and for the most part unadorned. It is only really when Natsume is out in nature or with the yokai that scenes spring into a far wider array of colours, sounds and movement.

natsume group

From a darker perspective, Nurarihyon did a similar thing with Rikuo’s character design. In his human form he was quite ordinary and dull in his design but as a yokai he was a fairly impressive sight to behold. Even Rikuo’s school with his human friends was very grey in tone whereas his house, full of yokai, always seemed to have a sense of energy and was surrounded by colourful characters and the garden.

nurarihyon2
Again, guess which one the yokai form is?

While I don’t really know why yokai in so many stories are depicted in this brighter and larger than life style, but I imagine it is similar to why fairies in western stories are usually in some kind bright and sparkling colour flittering about scattering glitter and the likes. If you are going to imagine a world beyond what we can see, surely you’d want it to all feel more alive. Or maybe I’m still just that little kid playing in the garden and checking under the leaves for fairy houses.

Kamisama Kiss
You have to admit though, hot fox boys are kind of hot.

Watching yokai anime awakens that child in me and opens my imagination up. For a short while the practical realist in me gets laid aside and I get swept up in stories about ‘what if’. While a story doesn’t necessarily need a supernatural creature in it to have that affect, there’s definitely something nostalgic and wonderful about returning to these kinds of stories. Hopefully there will continue to be more of these to enjoy, hopefully they will each bring their own flavour to the table, and hopefully they will continue to rekindle the child in me.

Do you like yokai anime? Which ones have you seen and enjoyed?

Or, use one of my product affiliate links.
OTOME YOKAI ZAKURO OFFICIAL ART BOOK
OTOME YOKAI ZAKURO OFFICIAL ART BOOK

Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 7 Review – Matoba Makes the Scene

Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 7 Manga Cover

No surprise that I got excited when I saw the cover of this volume. Natori has been hanging around for awhile but in volume 7 we finally get introduced to Matoba. And what an introduction. With four chapters worth of story, this is certainly an entrance worth paying attention to.

There’s also another special episode which features the yokai and Natsume playing a game of tag and then another separate story at the end, but I’m not going to review it because this is definitely all about Matoba.

Chapters 23 – 26

One odd thing that I noticed with this volume is that the back of the book that does a quick chapter summary actually only lists this story as chapters 23 – 25 but then there are definitely four chapter markers in the story (and these are some of the most beautiful the series has given us so far). It isn’t really a problem, it is just a bit odd as I’m wondering where chapter 26 disappeared to when they went to write the summary.

So other than pretty chapter cover pages, what do these chapters brings us?

Well, I finally understand why Irina loves Matoba so much. While I found him an intriguing character in the anime, his presence in these chapters of the manga is amazing. He’s a force of nature and a blast of darkness into Natsume’s life. Where most of the characters we’ve encountered have been at their core nice people or at least frequenting that grey area in between right and wrong, Matoba is an incredibly rational and cold character and he does not like yokai or view them as anything more than tools.

Given the story is framed entirely from Natsume’s perspective and Matoba’s view is so at odds with his, it puts these two against each other. It also re-positions Natori as the middle ground and so it is vital that Natori is present in this story. Natori is the exorcist we are most familiar with and up until has been the one we’ve been a little wary of even though he has helped Natsume in the past. Particularly after volume 6 where Natori and Natsume go more or less head-to-head, these chapters really help to bring Natori back into the kind of an ally point of view particularly when contrasted with Matoba’s relentless pursuit of power.

Even in the anime, Matoba’s stories were always some of the darkest and most memorable, and reading it is no exception. If anything, this story, carried over four chapters, has far more impact here than it did played out over two episodes. There’s more time to linger on particular moments and more time to think about just how dangerous the situation is that Natsume now finds himself. It is comparable to when we met Taki and Natsume was kidnapped by a yokai, only things get a great deal more serious for longer here.

Needless to say, I loved this volume and reading this story. These chapters are the best I have read so far and I really look forward to whenever Matoba appears next. If it like the anime his appearances will be few and far between and that is a shame because he really heightened my emotional response to this story and made me feel a real sense of unease and danger.

I also like that Natsume is forced to deal with his own views on yokai whenever he is confronted by other exorcists. The drama that it creates is always good fun and I feel we see Natsume at his best when put in these situations.

Looking forward to more from Natsume and I’m really looking forward to getting beyond what I’ve watched. Because if the stories afterwards are anything like this one was then it will be an absolute delight to read.

Affiliate Link:
If you’re interested in reading Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 7 it is available on the Book Depository.

Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 6 Review – The Stands We Take

Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 6 Cover

Volume 6 was a little bit different with three chapters dedicated to the story of Natsume and Taki befriending Kai, a troubled kid who seems to be being stalked by a yokai. The situation gets more complicated when Natsume realises Natori is in town and might also be after Kai. In addition to this story we also get two shorter stories, one featuring the very adorable Little Fox and one featuring Reiko and then just a random story about other characters (will admit I wasn’t as in to that).

Natsume6c

Chapters 20 – 22

It was kind of refreshing to see that Natsume wasn’t actually the one being targeted in this story. Quite by chance he comes across Kai and releases him from a box but then he has the hard job of winning over Kai’s trust. If you want some warm and fluffy feels, watching Taki, Kai and Natsume enjoying nature together is sure to hit the spot.

However, as with most Natsume stories it isn’t all sunshine and light and Kai continues to be targeted. After a while, Natsume realises Natori is back and the is the one out to get Kai, and with that comes the realisation that Kai isn’t actually a human child. We’ve seen Natsume confuse humans and yokai before but this time, Natsme doesn’t reject Kai after the truth is known. Instead, he stands firm beside Kai even as Natori tells Natsume to stay out of it.

This ends up putting Natsume in a fairly dangerous place between Natori and Kai as Kai ceases to trust Natsume and the conclusion of this story is very satisfying.

Natsume6c

We’ve seen these characters grow so much and the relationships between them grow, change, get tested, and reforged and this story really continues this beautifully. The odd relationship Natsume has with Natori that isn’t quite friendship because there’s still a layer of mistrust there continues to be a highlight of this story. Taki’s presence is wonderful as a human friend to Natsume and someone who can help him in small ways. And Kai is wonderful as a yokai who is also alone and isolated and feels the sting of betrayal.

It’s just a good story and it was given sufficient room in these three chapters to really spread its wings and be the story it needed to be.

Natsume6d

Special Episode 5

This special episode reunites Natsume with the Little Fox. Seriously, the Little Fox could just sit still and smile at us on the page and I’d probably be delighted. He’s such a cute character. But his interactions with Natsume continue to be really fantastic.

There’s not much to this story and we did see this one in the anime where the Little Fox travels to see Natsume before Natsume takes him back home, but that doesn’t stop it being truly adorable.

Special Episode 6

The story of Reiko and Hinoe’s meeting is retold in this special story. Again, this one has been seen in the anime but it is a charming short story and gives us a bit more insight into Reiko and Hinoe and their relationship and it is just a bit of fun.

The Corner of the Schoolhouse

This one shot story is entirely focused on some different characters and a romance. I’m going to be honest, I didn’t really think much of it, but that’s probably because I was reading a Natsume book and was eager to get to the next chapter of Natsume so all and all the story works, it is cute, but I wasn’t that interested.

Affiliate Link:
If you’re interested in reading Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 6 it is available on the Book Depository.

Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 5 Manga Review: Friends Past and Present

natsume5a

Volume 5 of Natsume’s Book of Friends gives us a wide variety of characters and stories and really does look at the influence of the past on the present. We also meet Taki in a double chapter story that is as superb to read as it was to watch.

It feels like a lot of this volume is quite a bit darker than normal as each of the stories has a real risk to the characters and a real sense of tragedy hanging over it. While each is resolved in its own way, it feels like now that we’ve been introduced to the world of yokai and begun to understand its dangers, they are now expanding on the perils Natsume faces. Still, it isn’t all doom and gloom (not that it would be a problem if it was as I quite liked the darker anime episodes so I really enjoyed reading this volume) as we have another special story included in this volume that focuses on Tanuma and Natsume.

Chapter 16: Ageless Feelings

Perhaps the weakest of the stories in volume 5, chapter 16 still delivers a fairly compelling read when Natsume goes on a study trip with his friends and meets an old woman looking for a childhood friend and then a mermaid. The reason this story doesn’t quite hit home is because it is the old woman’s tragedy that we’re seeing unfold here and Natsume is more or less a bystander.

Then again, Natsume never stays a bystander for long and certainly he takes an active role in resolving the conflict. Still, as much as the ending is kind of nice, it is also fairly tragic that the woman has carried a feeling of guilt for so long and that the mermaid has harboured her ill will for so long. While it definitely reflects human nature, the situation is just kind of sad no matter how you look at it.

Chapters 17 & 18: Do Not Call

And now Natsume is going to meet Taki. She’s a fantastic character in the anime and her introductory story is one where both she and Natsume go through some very real danger. I was pleased to see this one in the manga and surprised by how affective some of the scenes were. The start of chapter 18 in particular when Natsume has been captured by the yokai was so much starker and seemingly darker here in the manga in the black and white than the anime managed.

Natsume5c

Taki’s link to the past is her grandfather and the knowledge he left her, incomplete though it was. In fact, it was her grandfather’s magic circle design that got Taki in trouble with a really nasty yokai and ultimately dragged Natsume into the conflict. Yet, Taki really loved her grandfather and she cherishes her connection with him despite all the bad things that it might lead to.

We also see Natsume and Taki forge a fairly solid friendship in a short time period. They both have connections to the yokai world through their grandparents and facing this kind of danger just naturally got them closer together. What I love though is that it isn’t a romantic relationship but very much one of mutual respect and friendship. Taki is such a great character and this story that brings her into the Natsume world is a fantastic read.

Chapter 19: Temporary House

But the great characters just keep coming. After introducing Taki to us, we get a story that focuses very much on Reiko and her past actions and the troubles they bring to Natsume in the present. After being spotted by a yokai and followed home, Natsume learns that this yokai had been in the house before when Shigure was a boy but somehow all the misfortunes had stopped after a mysterious girl had visited the house.

Natsume5d

Natsume’s relationship with Reiko has remained ambiguous. On the one hand, she is the one who could see the same things Natsume sees and it is her book that Natsume now owns and is trying to return the names from. She is also a distorted reflection of him as she became isolated from both humans and yokai because of her gift.

We see this distortion again when Natsume uses the same spell he sees Reiko using in the past to chase away the yokai causing immense damage to the room. Where Reiko ran away and never returned to the house, Natsume apologises and is welcomed as a part of the household. It is a touching story and one I really loved reading as it really did help to see Reiko a bit more clearly.

Special Episode 4

Natsume5b

Only one special in this volume, which is fine given how satisfying the other stories were. This one focuses on Tanuma inviting Natsume over to his house. We’ve seen this scene in the anime where Tanuma wants to show the shadow fish to Natsume and we realise Natsume can in fact see the real fish and not just their shadows. Still, much like Taki, Tanuma is a great character and a solid friend to Natsume and seeing these small steps as they build their friendship is fantastic.

Affiliate Link:
If you’re interested in reading Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 5 it is available on the Book Depository.

Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 4 Manga Review: The Pain of Farewell

natsume4a

Natsume Volume 4 takes a slightly different turn. In this volume we get three chapters and then three short stories. Admittedly, one of those short stories is featuring the Little Fox so I was super happy to read it but it was an interesting change where the first three volumes had four chapters fairly consistently. The other thing is that I realised that they turned each of these shorts into episodes just like the other stories and I started thinking about what was added and changed to flesh the stories out. At some point I might have to watch the episodes in question while I have the manga with me just to see.

Regardless, I absolutely loved this volume. There are some really great stories in it and the art seems to have also taken a step up in consistency (there were always beautiful images but some of the bits inbetween were rough at times and this volume seems far more constant in its delivery). All and all, this was a great read.

Incidentally, there was also a page dedicated to explaining how to draw Nyanko-Sensei. I will admit I attempted it. I suck. Moving on. Still really fun to come across though.

Chapter 13: Melting in Spring

I’ll be honest, I didn’t much like this story in the anime. It was okay, but I never really connected with the yokai, Gen. The story is about a yokai Natsume meets while playing in the snow with Nyanko Sensei. Natsume has made a snow bunny and the yokai, attempting to possess Natsume ends up inside the snow bunny. There’s a tragic back story involved and of course the yokai just has a goal to accomplish and recruits Natsume’s assistance.

Natsume4b

I’m just going to say this is one of the most gorgeous chapter title pages I’ve come across so far, though each volume seems to get better and better so I’m really excited to see what is coming next. Still, I could stare at this page for ages.

This might seem odd, but I really feel that the story of Gen and Sui is a little too rushed here. We meet these characters, learn of their tragedy, Natsume tries to help them, and ultimately the two of them part from Natsume. The impact on Natsume of this parting is one that he takes the time to really articulate to Nyanko Sensei. There are so many characters who pass through Natsume’s life that this idea of parting has been present since the beginning, but this chapter really takes the time to try and express Natsume’s feelings toward it, and because I didn’t connect with Gen it just doesn’t quite resonate with me.

Still, it certainly captures the spirit of so many of the stories for Natsume so while I’m not the biggest fan of this one, I appreciate the thematic connection with other stories.

Chapter Fourteen: Natsume Goes to a Hot Spring

Did I mention I love Natori as a character so seeing him return in Chapter Fourteen was fantastic. And the story of Natori taking Natsume to the hot springs with his usual slightly ambiguous goals and motives is just kind of the perfect story. This one balances out so many elements with Natsume helping yokai, reflecting on his childhood and how he interacts with others, the clashing ideologies of Natori and Natsume, as well as Natsume realising he has found a place to call home. It just works so well and I absolutely loved reading it (and I may have reread it several times already).

Natsume4c

One thing that occurred to me while reading this is that I really would like to learn more about the exorcists in general and their methods. While we learn a little in the anime drip-fed over six seasons, and clearly that information is in the manga spread throughout the stories, there’s still so much about the various exorcists and their different approaches that is just kind of cloaked in mystery. I get why, given we’re being introduced into this world through Natsume’s experiences, but at the same time, I’m really curious. That’s probably why I smile in delight every time the anime (and now that manga) brings us a story that focuses on these elements.

Sneak preview, I’m a few volumes ahead of my reviewing at this point and I’m over the moon by the introduction of Matoba.

Still, chapter fourteen has a rare occurrence with Natsume actually crying, admittedly in his sleep after a troubling dream, but it is a nice reminder that he is human and has had a fairly troubled childhood. He’s not really equipped to deal with some of the emotions he’s facing and he’s struggling to figure out how to really interact with others. His complicated relationship with Natori is definitely something that really brings this aspect of his character to the forefront and it is one I really enjoy watching develop. Looking forward to more Natori in the future.

Chapter Fifteen: The Man Among the Cherry Blossoms

I read the author’s comments on this chapter at the end of the manga and I’m really glad that it ended up the way it did. Apparently they had considered a story where a tree grew out of Natsume, and while Natsume does have some dark moments, that just seems like something straight out of a horror. Still, the include a sketch of that in the back so if you are curious it is well worth checking out (poor Natsume).

Natsume4d

Ultimately, this one is a pretty slow story, but one that is still a great read. Natsume acquires a painting of some cherry blossoms not in bloom and later meets a yokai who wants the image returned because of the man inside the painting. Unfortunately it seems to be stuck to Natsume’s wall so the two wait for it to come off. In the meantime, Natsume starts getting sick and they realise the painting is drawing life from Natsume (which I guess is almost as grotesque as it literally growing out of him, but visually looks a lot prettier).

I love how this story resolves and how even though this one is a parting, it is one that celebrates the time that the characters had together. If any story in this volume really drives home that ongoing idea of transience and taking hold of the time you have, it is chapter fifteen and it is a really beautiful read even though not a lot really happens.

Special Episodes 1 – 3

Nyanko Sensei saving a girl fallen into a hole, the Little Fox following Natsume around, and young Natsume being tormented by a bored yokai, these stories are just plain fun. Each one has been used in the anime so they’ll be familiar if you’ve watched it, and while these are quick reads, they each add an interesting character or idea and build on what we know about Natsume or Nyanko Sensei. Really fun way to end the volume.

Affiliate Link:
If you’re interested in reading Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 4 it is available on the Book Depository.

Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 3 Manga Review: New Friends and Foes

natsume3a

The bliss of reading Natsume continues in volume 3. While I’m still encountering stories that I’m familiar with from the anime, seeing them play out in this slightly different form remains a really fantastic experience.

If I was looking for an overall idea in this volume it would be one of meetings and partings. A lot of the characters and events in this volume really look at the transient nature of meetings and the people who come and go from our lives. It gives the book a vaguely melancholy feel even as there is plenty in here to celebrate.

Again I’m going to look at this volume story by story because each one has a slightly different feel about it even as they work together to continue to craft the characters and world I came to love through the Natsume anime.

Chapter Nine: Sensei, How Do You Like Being Black?

This story is one I really enjoy watching in the anime and the manga doesn’t disappoint. This chapter introduces another yokai trapped in a cat form who steals the Book of Friends from Natsume and leads Natsume and Nyanko Sensei on a chase into the forest where they encounter Benio and a pack of yokai planning to attack some humans.

Natsume3b

Here we start to get a sense of the true distance between humans and yokai as various yokai reflect on the short and fleeting lives of humans including Nyanko Sensei choosing once again to stay by Natsume’s side, at least for this passing moment.

There’s a lot of characters packed into this story but the ones who are important feel like they are given enough time to leave their impression. Much like with the anime I’m left feeling a little wistful that these characters move on so quickly but that’s kind of the point.

The returning of the yokai’s name is suitably beautifully illustrated and it remains one of my favourite scenes ever (both in the anime and here in the manga). Really enjoyable read and glad I had the chance to read this story.

Chapter Ten: Glowing in the Dark

Chapter ten is perhaps one of those rare cases where watching the anime first has kind of spoiled this story for me. As beautifully told as it is here, I just remember how lovely this looked in anime form and how much I enjoyed the music that went with the episode and unfortunately reading it couldn’t give me that kind of experience. That isn’t to say this chapter isn’t well done, because it is still lovely, but this is one where I think I’d prefer to watch the anime episode.

That said, the chapter title page is gorgeous. Just look at that.

Natsume3c

Still looking at this idea of transience and passing encounters, Natsume encounters a human sitting by a pond looking for fire-flies and learns that the man could at one point see a yokai. However, as he aged, he lost his sight and the yokai who had formed quite an attachment to him was left alone.

There is a really beautiful story here about the characters moving on and making their choices but as with most stories, it comes back to Natsume at the end. That’s one thing I love about this series is that whatever encounter Natsume has he uses it as an opportunity to learn. In this case, we see him reaffirm his connection to Nyanko-Sensei even though they both know that perhaps even their partnership is just a point in time.

One minor criticism of this chapter is that there are a lot of close ups on faces and eyes and they aren’t always quite right particularly with Natsume. While the overall look of the chapter is quite lovely, these small details are noticed in this chapter and they don’t help in drawing the reader into this story. Fortunately there’s plenty going right for this chapter so it is overall a great read.

Chapter Eleven: The Meeting of Exorcists

We’ve already met Natori and now he’s becoming quite the reoccurring character as he helps Natsume and then invites him to a meeting. However, as with every case we see Natori, there’s a constant wonder about what his real motives are in getting close to Natsume. In this instance however, Natsume is very curious about meeting humans with the same ability to see that he has and he’s also drawn because of a yokai that Natori is hunting.

Natsume3d

It is amazing how Natori can come off as incredibly shady and yet as soon as we meet the other exorcists he starts to actually look like a really good guy. The nuances in these characters and their level of hate/disdain for yokai is really well handled as is the introduction into the world of exorcists. The reader, like Natsume, is new to this environment, and here we are plunged into the midst of a meeting where there’s also a yokai on the loose that needs to be captured.

We are also introduced to the Matoba clan here through Nanase. She’s an interesting character in her own right and has a connection with Reiko in the past. She’s also quite interested in Natsume when she hears he’s Reiko’s grandson. However, the greater thrill in meeting Nanase is in knowing we’re getting closer to Matoba himself being introduced and that’s something I’m really looking forward to reading.

This story plays out well and is a little more action focused than some stories. However, what I love about this one is that Natsume went to the meeting looking for people like him and what he realised is that just being able to see didn’t necessarily make them friends or allow them to understand each other. It’s a big lesson for Natsume and one that seems to hurt him a little to realise and yet he accepts it and moves on his own path.

Chapter Twelve: A Chick Hatches

I did not think there was anyway for this story to be cuter than it is in the anime but here it is in manga form and I’m totally hooked on how cute they make Tama. But seriously, he was pretty adorable in the anime.

Natsume Season3b

This one is an adorable and heartbreaking story as we see Natsume and Nyanko-Sensei raising an egg that hatches into Tama. However, we all know that this story is going to end with heartbreak because birds leave the nest. That’s what they do. And Tama is growing very fast and is also being hunted by another yokai.

Seeing Natsume and Nyanko trying to raise Tama and defend him is heartwarming and sweet. Which makes the ending even more bittersweet but so affective. While all the stories have elements of characters meeting, touching on another’s life and moving on, this chapter is this idea played out explicitly.

And that’s actually a good place to end this write up. Needless to say, I’m still absolutely loving Natsume’s Book of Friends in manga form and I’m very much looking forward to reading and reviewing the next volume.

Affiliate Link:
If you’re interested in reading Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 3 it is available on the Book Depository.

Natsume Week: On Feeling Alone

natsume

This is a great week to be blogging with Scott from Mechanical Anime Reviews having organised a week for us to write about, explore and celebrate the beauty that is the Natsume Yuujinchou anime. And I’m really, really glad because I don’t get to talk about this anime enough, though my current read through the manga has given me another excuse to make Natsume themed posts.

If you want the schedule we have:

  • Monday = Scott
  • Tuesday = Keiko
  • Wednesday = Me
  • Thursday = Irina
  • Friday = Arthifis
  • Saturday = Biblionyan
Natsume Season1a

On Feeling Alone

For anyone who has watched Natsume Yuujinchou the theme of loneliness and isolation is one that you will be very familiar with. However, unlike so many other shows that isolate their protagonist, Natsume isn’t trying to be edgy or to sensationalise an issue. Instead, Natsume seeks to explore the many reasons people (and yokai) feel alone and how loneliness can shape their life.

Natsume is isolated because he has walked in between worlds his whole life with no one who understands what he is going through. As a child who could see yokai that no one else around him could see, and with no parents or stable home environment, he had no immediate familial connection to ground him. Afraid of the yokai or angry with them for being the essential cause of the taunts he endured from others, Natsume couldn’t make friends with either humans (who believed him to be a liar or unhinged) or with yokai.

Natsume Season 5a
Even the light wishes to separate Natsume from others.

And again, where this becomes different from other stories is that Natsume is not bitter or resentful toward the people in his life who have isolated him. Despite knowing how he’s been treated, he speaks of past families as being ‘good people’ or ‘nice to begin with’. He blames his own actions and strangeness for their distance. He isn’t desperate to connect with other but still longs for it. He builds a wall to protect himself but he keeps hoping someone will find a way inside or that he will meet someone like him that he won’t need to keep the wall between.

Natsume Season 3a
Desperate for a friend and someone to talk to.

Because ultimately, Natsume Yuujinchou is not a story about an isolated boy feeling sorry himself or struggling to come to terms with loneliness. Natsume’s Book of Friends is a story that celebrates those new encounters that allow us to open ourselves up again, sometimes leaving ourselves open to new pain but sometimes finding new family and friends and people that will leave a lasting impression. It is also the story of a boy who understands what it means to be alone and so has empathy for others who are ostracised even if the reason for their isolation is vastly different from his own.

Fortunately, it also doesn’t become a story where everything can be beaten with teamwork and the power of friendship either. Natsume is still one of only a few characters who can even see yokai and is regularly at odds ideologically with others who see them. This means he often acts alone and is forced to overcome quite dangerous situations by himself. The bonds he makes give him a reason to not give in or be too reckless but individualism isn’t totally taken away by the idea of working with others which also makes this story feel quite unique in its take on the theme of loneliness.

NatsumeS6E8

Where the story excels is that we begin in the middle, with Natsume already having been taken in by the Fujiwaras. It is their kindness that allows Natsume to begin lowering his walls, though not yet dismantling them. We see Natsume’s childhood and incidents that have constructed his reticent personality as we meet him in the first season only in flash backs that come spaced throughout the series. And in every flash back of Natsume we see him standing alone or being isolated from others. The few times people have reached out to him in flash backs they are normally torn away again, or Natsume pushes them away, by the time the flash back ends.

Natsume Season 6
The Fujiwaras – Best anime parents ever.

However, the Fujiwaras, as lovely as they are, do not know Natsume’s secret so as much as Natsume has built a family with them, and one he wants to protect, they alone wouldn’t have been enough to lower all the walls he has constructed. It is Natsume’s encounter with Madara/Nyanko Sensei that truly allows transformation to occur. Nyanko Sensei knew Reiko, Natsume’s grandmother, and acts as a bridge between Natsume and other yokai. So the Fujiwaras and the friends Natsume make at school start drawing him back into human relationships, at the same time that Natsume and Nyanko Sensei make a pact and begin working together drawing Natsume back into yokai relationships.

NatsumeS6E7c
Though despite her protests, Reiko did still get involved in quite a few yokai problems.

The parallels drawn between Reiko and Natsume are quite deliberate. As Natsume works to return the names Reiko collected in the book of friends, Natsume learns more of her life as he sees a vision of her when he returns a name. Natsume himself has said that Reiko is always alone when he sees her. She lived a short and seemingly mostly isolated life from humans and one where her relationship with yokai was combative. She never found that middle path to walk that Natsume seems to so desperately want to find. While in season one, Natsume and Reiko were nearly mirrors of each other, it is Natsume’s kindness and willingness to get involved with others, despite past wounds, that begins to build a community around himself. By season six, Natsume can no longer be thought of as alone. While there are still scenes where he and Nyanko are apart from others, there is almost always someone or some group waiting for him.

Natsume Group
The yokai certainly learn to love him.

This is a story of hope and one of never giving up or giving in to self pity. One of doing what you can do and trying again even when it feels like it is pointless. Certainly Natsume had given up at various points in his life and it did take the catalyst of meeting those who would stand by him to get him moving again, but ultimately it is Natsume who has used those opportunities to forge lasting connections with others.

Natsume

In case you haven’t noticed, I love Natsume Yuujinchou as a story. I love how it explores this theme and so many others. I love how multilayered the idea of loneliness is as we explore it from multiple character perspectives. And I love that the scars of loneliness are still visible even six seasons even though so much character growth and progress has been made. This is an unmissable anime and one that is truly an emotional journey worth taking.

Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 2 Manga Review: Expanding The World

natsume2a

Natsume’s magical journey continues in this second volume of the manga. This time around we have new characters, new friends and new partings. All of it feeds into the overall feeling that is Natsume’s Book of Friends which is one of pure bliss and reading this volume was a fantastic experience.

Like volume 1, we are given four stand alone stories that are connected through the growth we see in Natsume. Still, you can easily pick up any one of these stories as a one off and truly enjoy the experience. And, not going to lie, volume 2 introduces my very favourite character of the series so I was super excited to read it.

One thing I really noticed while reading this is that the yokai always seem to appear larger than life and more rich and detailed than the human characters. It really helps distinguish the yokai, even the human looking Hinoe seems more detailed and comes to life in a way the human characters can’t match while reading.

The other thing I noticed in this volume was how often butterflies are associated with Natsume. While butterflies have a lot of different meanings, they are closely associated with metamorphosis and transformation which is kind of what the whole story of Natsume is built around so I kind of liked that particular detail.

Okay, let’s look at each of the stories.

Chapter Five: The Spook in the Old Schoolhouse

This was never one of my favourite stories in the anime, even though haunted school house sounds like it should be great fun. The story is well told as Natsume and his class mates attempt a test of courage and are attacked by a yokai who has pretty much fallen into evil because he’s more or less had enough of how humans have treated him. It is an interesting exploration of how monsters are sometimes made rather than born, but it still doesn’t make for the most interesting of story when compared to some of Natsume’s tales.

I was surprised at the conclusion of the story where a character leaves. This is quite different from the anime and where there had been differences in the previous stories, these were more cosmetic whereas this character leaving has some implications for future stories being considerably different to how I remember them from the anime.

Natsume2b

All and all, this was a decent chapter and did what it needed to do. The spooky atmosphere is well portrayed though the chapter ends up being quite dark (visually) because of the sheer amount of shading and the like.

Chapter Six: Natsume Summons a Yokai

Natsume Summons a Yokai is a great story. It is easy to forget in some of the stories that Natsume is facing regular life-threatening danger. The slice of life tone of the series kind of down plays that aspect. Stories like this one remind us clearly of the risks Natsume faces in being able to see yokai and after encountering a particularly nasty one he ends up cursed and being pursued by a shadow that intends to eat him.

As a result, Natsume uses the Book of Friends to summon Misuzu who ultimately send Hinoe to his aid. This is the first time we’ve really seen Natsume actively use the book to reach out for help and it is great to see him growing in what he can do even if he doesn’t really wish to use the book this way.

Natsume2c

We also get to meet Hinoe who was a blast in the anime and comes across just as interesting on paper. She’s a great supporting cast member who in the anime showed up in many stories so I was really excited to see her enter the story here.

The other thing thing story does is really puts Natsume into that difficult place where he has to lie to the Fujiwaras which is something he doesn’t like doing but he feels he can’t tell them the truth. That conflict guides a lot of Natsume’s actions and just makes this story feel a bit more believable than some where kids just go and save the world without their parents wondering why they didn’t come home that night.

Chapter Seven: He Can See

It’s Natori!

Okay, I was really excited to get to this chapter and to read the story of Natsume’s meeting with Natori and this did not disappoint. I actually feel Natori is a little more morally ambiguous in the way he’s presented in the manga than in the anime and I loved it. The conflict between Natori wanting to exorcise yokai and Natsume seeking a more peaceful solution is well played here.

Natsume2d

However, this story has far wider implications with Natsume getting his first glimpse of humans who can and do interact with yokai. With the introduction of exorcists so many possibilities have been opened up for future stories and I know from watching the anime that these are among my favourite adventures with Natsume so I really look forward to reading more of these later.

Chapter Eight: Asagi’s Lute

To end this volume we get another case of yokai possession, though this time the yokai possessing Natsume didn’t really want to. Her friend put her spirit inside Natsume in order to fulfil her last wish and Natsume is now stuck helping to find the materials to build a lute so that she can play one last time.

This story works very hard to humanise the yokai and their feelings of loss, regret, love and friendship and helping Natsume to see that they have dreams and goals just as humans do. Otherwise, the story is pretty standard for Natsume and while there are some hints of danger along the way, for the most part this is just a case of yokai passing through Natsume’s life and leaving a small change in him in their wake. It is a great way for the volume to end and it consolidates the changes we’ve seen in Natsume already over these first two volumes.

Natsume2e

But, we’re going to have to keep going so volume 3 review coming soon.

Affiliate Link:
If you’re interested in reading Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 2 it is available on the Book Depository.

Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 1 Manga Review: Magical

natsume1a

It isn’t news to anyone who regularly reads my blog that I am seriously in love with Natsume Yuujinchou as an anime. It is my go to binge watch when I’m needing just some calm bliss in my life and I’ve come to love each and every moment of the emotional journey Natsume takes the viewer on. That said, I was a little cautious about diving into the manga. Once you fall in love with something seeing it in a different form is sometimes hard to take and I couldn’t imagine a book could capture the same wonder as the anime had.

Well, I’ve never been so happy to be proven wrong.

Review:

This was a new reading experience for me in a number of ways. I don’t read a lot of manga and this is certainly the first episodic manga I’ve attempted to read. In volume 1 we are given 4 stories and while they are connected through Natsume’s character as they are in the anime, realistically you could read any one of these stories in isolation and have a great time. It means there are some good resting places and you aren’t driven to complete the entire thing in one sitting allowing you to savour each story and contemplate it before making some time to sit down and read the next one. The volume ends and while I was gleeful to go on to the next book I didn’t feel unsatisfied with the stories I had read.

As such, I’m going to do some general notes about the manga and then I’m going to look at each story individually as they each had strengths and weaknesses worth mentioning. That said, I was already familiar with each of these stories given they all appear in the first season of the anime and are ones I’ve watched many times so it was more just experiencing them in a different form.

Natsume1b

Overall, there are some beautiful illustrations in this volume. The start of each chapter and some of the larger panels are glorious to lose yourself in. And in most stories there’s plenty of space with quite a few panels depicting the sky or light. Where it is less appealing are in the tighter panels that focus on characters as many of these just didn’t really appeal to me. I will admit, as I kept reading, the character designs grew on me and I got used to the style, but that was probably my biggest complaint with the volume.

Chapter One: Nyanko Sensei’s Grand Entrance

 This first story is great fun as we meet Natsume running from the yokai and ending up at the shrine where he accidentally frees Madara (Nyanko Sensei). There’s a genuine sense of danger as Natsume is trying to fend off the yokai who have mistaken him for his grandmother and we get Natsume’s backstory or at least a bit of it and it is enough that it begins to sketch in the very lonely boy we are encountering.

It is a great introduction to the overall narrative of Natsume inheriting the book of friends and taking on the task of returning the names in it. But it is also a great story by itself as we see Natsume take his first steps at dealing with yokai rather than running from them.

Natsume1c.jpg

However, while the plot and characters are great, this is where the art work is probably its weakest. There are a lot of dark and shaded panels, for good reason, but it ends up making pages look cluttered, and some of the facial expressions are just odd. There’s one in particular where Nyanko Sensei is hit by Natsume and his head is so distorted you can barely tell which character it is.

Still, by the time I’d finished this first chapter I knew I was hooked with this manga.

Chapter Two: The Dew God

The Dew God is a great follow up story because where the first story introduced us to violent yokai, this second story introduces us to the calm Dew God who simply lives in his shrine and is happy to hear the prayers of the one person who still comes to leave offerings. He comes to Natsume to request his name be returned, but to do so they also have to find the yokai that Natsume’s grandmother Reiko challenged after the Dew God as their names are stuck together.

It sets a very different tone from the first story and these two do an excellent job of setting up the contrasting tones in Natsume. We do have dark and scary moments but we also have peaceful days and yokai who mean no harm. It is important that this is established so early and it means that the audience will never be sure when we meet a new yokai what we’re going to get.

Natsume1d.png

We also have the idea of the different time yokai live compared to humans emphasised. This was raised by Nyanko Sensei in the first chapter where he commented that he hadn’t realised how much time had passed and that Reiko would be gone, but here we see the real loneliness that can come of this as the Dew God has watched over Hana for her whole life and seen her age and now sees her ready to die. It’s a fairly powerful follow up and one that I think I loved reading even more than watching.

Chapter Three: Natsume vs Human

Chapter 3 introduces us to a bunch of characters who will be sticking around in this narrative for a long time to come. Having safely established Natsume and Nyanko Sensei over chapters one and two, we are now introduced to the mid-level yokai, Misuzu and to Tanuma. The story that unfolds is one where the yokai feel they are threatened by a human and wish to recruit Natsume to exterminate a human. Needless to say Natsume refused but he does agree in the end, after much nagging, to look into the matter.

This story, other than bringing a plethora of new characters into the mix, does an excellent job of letting us see the impact humans have on yokai even inadvertently. While it is fairly easy to paint the yokai as tricksters and monsters, in this case the yokai are genuinely the victims and being driven out of their place and we see Natsume begin to sympathise to an extent with them. This trait will continue to grow in Natsume over time and it is one of the things that distinguishes him from other human characters who have regular interactions with yokai.

Natsume1e.jpg

I loved all the character interactions in this chapter and while it might have been harder to follow if I wasn’t familiar with the story, I felt each character was given sufficient introduction in this story and they’ll get fleshed out more over time.

Chapter Four: The Swallow Underwater

The last story was my favourite and that is because I found this story incredibly sad when I watch the anime and reading it just gave the whole thing even more impact. This is the first story where we see Natsume possessed by a yokai and it definitely reminds us that even though we’ve been encountering some harmless yokai, they aren’t all that way. In this case, the yokai possessing him simply wants Natsume’s help to meet another human she knew long ago. Recognising her loneliness, Natsume agrees, and we see a fairly bitter sweet journey because there was never any other way for it to end (other than tragically).

However, we are also reminded that there are in fact yokai that just want to eat Natsume and in the process of helping one yokai he is tricked by another. Fortunately Nyanko Sensei actually lives up to his bodyguard title or things may have ended quite a bit worse.

I really enjoy the stories that focus on the human emotions yokai feel and Natsume working toward understanding himself and others through his encounters. I was really happy with this final story in the volume and was really glad I decided to read this manga. Anyway, onto a volume 2 review shortly.

Affiliate Link:
If you’re interested in reading Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 1 it is available on the Book Depository.

Let’s Try Something Different and Build A Harem

yona harem

I’m going to thank Cactus Matt from Anime Q & A for throwing this tag my way. I have never even considered building a harem and so when I was nominated my brain suddenly went a little bit crazy with the possibilities. Then of course I had to think about when I could respond to the tag and ultimately I decided just to make it my feature for the week. I think this is going to be fun if only because I decided to go all out and not think for a moment about the reality of what such a gathering would be like.

buildaharem.jpg

The Idea:

You are the central protagonist of a harem anime. Pick five characters (of any gender) that fit into a different harem character type. The characters must be from existing anime (but can come from any anime). If you want the full list of original rules, click here.

My Amended Idea:

You are the central protagonist of a harem anime. Pick five characters (of any gender) that will play a particular role within the harem. The characters must be from existing anime (but can come from any anime).

The reason for the change is I don’t really use labels from the types and tropes that this list should probably include (Tsundere, etc). I actually find these labels really limiting as they only focus in on one part of a character, much like the ‘manic pixie girl’ label that gets thrown around. So while I do understand these terms, I tend to avoid using them except when I’m being really sarcastic toward something, so I decided not to use them in my harem.

My Harem
01. The Dangerously Perfect Guy

Okay, we all know this type in fiction, though fortunately few of them exist in real life. This guy can do anything. Literally anything. And he does it perfectly, flawlessly, and looks really good while doing it. Too bad he’ll chew you up and spit you out and not even look back as he moves on to the next meal. And of course, to fulfil this role in my harem I’ve enlisted the aid of one hell of a butler, Sebastian Michaelis, from Black Butler. The one advantage of this, is by default I get Ciel Phantomhive to be part of the harem without using one of my five because Sebastian isn’t going to just join someone else’s harem. So realistically, I’ve somehow connect Ciel into it and Sebastian came along for the ride.

Ciel and Sebastian.jpg
02. The Smart and Sexy Guy

He doesn’t necessarily have to wear glasses, but why would you turn down a gorgeous looking guy with glasses who also has a brain to back up the look. He’s probably a little bit sharp tongued and he’s probably talked down to you on more occasions than you can count, but he genuinely smiles when you argue back and win a point or two in the verbal sparring match. This guy has a plan at all times, doesn’t respond well to sudden shocks, and isn’t great at expressing emotions, but he’s just too cute because of his awkwardness. So yes, I’ve selected Uryu Ishida from Bleach. He’s smart, deadly with a bow and arrow, he sews, and the guy is seriously stubborn. Plus, he really does rock those glasses.

Uryu Ishida
03. The Guy You Just Want To Hug

He’s like your little brother, only fortunately not. His smile is infectious, his tears make you melt, and all and all, this is the guy you want to hang around and spend time with. He tries hard at everything, he’s always looking out for you, and when he falls down he pulls himself back up but you just know one day he’ll need you. Yep, I had to throw Katsuki Yuri, from Yuri on Ice, on this list. Partly because I actually needed someone nice in my harem, and partly because I really would like to give Yuri a hug. It probably doesn’t hurt that if Yuri is around there’s a good chance Victor might show up.

Yuri.jpg
04. He’s In His Own World, But One Day He’ll Need You

It’s amazing how many girls in anime fall for the guy who barely know they exist and yet insist on just waiting patiently. And yet, there was one guy I thought of who might just be worth waiting for. Natsume Takashi from Natsume Yuujinchou. The guy literally lives in his own world and at times his human friends get quite forcibly pushed aside, and yet, for someone like that, I could definitely see them being worth the wait. As he slowly opens up to people, there’s such a kind and gentle soul there. Much like with Yuri Katsuki, I’d just like to give Natsume a hug.

Natsume.jpg
05. Finally, The Bad Boy, Because Every Harem Needs One

I’m going to be honest and point out that I’m not a big fan of bad boys in real life, but in stories they work beautifully. The joy of watching a rebel or rule breaker in a narrative is fun and safe, in real life they are a destabilising factor that is best avoided. But for my fictional harem, I’m throwing one in because that allows me to toss this truly gorgeous guy in, and I’m pretty sure most of you will agree he belongs in the list: Shinya Kougami from Psycho Pass. He’s fighting for his sense of justice, or revenge, and he doesn’t worry about whether or not he has to break the rules to do it. His single-minded focus is attractive as hell, but also dangerous as it is likely to burn those who come too close.

Kougami

Your Thoughts:

Given I’d never put together a harem before, or even considered it, this ended up being a lot of fun. Of course, I then visualised these five guys (six if you count Ciel) in a room together and realised there is no way I’m stepping foot into that room. And with the exception of Natsume, am I noticing a trend in my type of anime guy? Definitely. Now the question would be, if this was a real harem, who would be the OTP? Karandi and…

Nope. Can’t see it. Not with any of them

Thanks for reading.