Up Close With Reiko

For a character who has been mentioned in Natsume Yuujinchou since season one, Reiko remains the character most shrouded in mystery. For every flash back or memory Natsume has of Reiko dealing with yokai we’re presented with just one more puzzling piece of a complex character who died a long time ago. Yet she remains a driving factor behind so many of the interactions in Natsume’s Book of Friends and so I wanted to take a moment to look at her a bit more closely.

Not that we have all that much to go off of. With few exceptions, all the information the audience gathers about Reiko comes second hand and is heavily interpreted by the one conveying the information. For yokai, Reiko was a human they either feared or held in awe. Some yokai developed a fierce attachment to her whereas others would flee at the very mention of her name.

It is difficult to tell how Reiko felt about yokai. The story that she was frustrated and so picked fights seems likely given she did in fact force a large number of yokai to write their names in her book, and yet there’s much more to it. The young and naive yokai she met who wanted to see the ocean was given the chance to do so many years later due to his encounter with Reiko. While on the surface it looked like she was being horrible to him, she ultimately gave him the chance to fulfil his wish. Admittedly she could have gone about it in a nicer manner but it was still kind of helpful.

Plenty of other yokai were also helped by their encounters with her. However, some were not. Others were beaten and then abandoned and left with a helpless feeling of being abandoned. At various points Reiko might have been able to have become friends with one yokai or another, much as Natsume has, and yet she continued to hold herself aloof.

We also know Reiko had dealings with the Matoba exorcists, though again, other than brief glimpses we don’t know exactly to what extent those dealings went.

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What we do know about Reiko is that she was someone who refused to compromise who she was. She was different from other people and they shunned her because of it but she didn’t try to hide her nature. She was fierce and strong and seemed whimsical but there was kindness in many of her actions. We also know that at some point she had to have had a child or else Natsume wouldn’t exist today for us to enjoy his adventures.

I’d love to learn more about Reiko as she is a truly fascinating figure whose actions have had far reaching consequences as she left her mark firmly in the yokai world.

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Karandi James
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Natsume Yujincho Seasons 1 – 4 Review: Great Characters, Great Atmosphere, and Just Pure Relaxation

This is part of a series of re-posts of older reviews on 100 Word Anime. The original review came out in May 2016 and can be found here.

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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.

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And yet there is something incredibly compelling and adorable about Natsume himself that manages to draw me into this world and makes me want to spend more and more time with him.  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.

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. Natsume is a dynamic character who continues to take on board the experiences he goes through and these become integrated into his overall character. While it is subtle development it is consistent and ultimately it makes this whole story feel authentic in a way few manage. 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. This is something Irina and I explored when we took on the Natsume Supporter Character Battle to determine who the best supporting character was in this story. It ended up being a heart-breaking experience as we pitted truly great cast members against one another.

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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.

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Friday’s Feature: Why is the Natsume Yuujinchou Anime Still Endearing After Six Seasons?

There’s no mistaking that I truly love Natsume Yuujinchou. You just need to look at the sheer number of posts I’ve tagged with Natsume to know that I not only like watching it, I like to talk about Natsume, a lot. I don’t remember who recommended it to me or why I tried it initially, but I know that once I started this adorable show I never could stop. Even when I ran out of episodes I would happily go back and just watch them all again. Had a bad day at work, or a bad week? Take a double episode of Natsume and go to bed smiling. However, while watching season six of this anime, I began to wonder how this show has retained its magic formula and even managed to become more entertaining with time given so many shows, particularly ones where new seasons just keep getting added on, become progressively less than what they were.

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I started making a list of all the great things about Natsume. The list got extremely long by the end so I ended up condensing them into a few main points:

  • The characters particularly the central characters of Natsume and Nyanko-Sensei.
  • The episodic format of the show with themes and character growth that run through the series.
  • The feelings this show inspires in its audience.
  • The art and animation while not the most brilliant ever perfectly fit the show you are watching.
  • Every opening theme that has ever been attached to this show.

There were quite a few other points on the initial list but that isn’t surprising given I love the show. However, making this list actually helped me figure out exactly why this show succeeds season after season.

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Reason 1: The way the characters are presented to the audience.

In so many long running shows the main protagonists (and a lot of the support cast) either have a single defining personality trait or goal. Or, worse, the characters actually lose any defining trait over time slowly becoming generic and featureless in amongst a sea of other characters.

Natsume defies this trend in storytelling. He starts out fairly generic, as do most of the characters in the show, and the show has gradually fleshed them out over nearly six seasons. The affect of this on the audience is essentially feeling like we’ve naturally gotten to know someone. First introductions are fairly superficial and then we’ve slowly been allowed to see who they are underneath those initial impressions.

And this doesn’t seem accidental. Within episodes we regularly meet the yokai of the week and are given one impression before Natsume looks deeper and we realise the other side of the character. This pattern repeating over longer periods of time with the human characters and recurring yokai seems like a deliberate thematic choice of the show as it examines who Natsume is and who he is becoming.

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Which, is the second part of this story. The characters are changing. Even as we get to know who they are or who they were (through flash backs), events in the seasons we’ve seen have changed them. There’s no magic reset at the end of the episode so next episode everyone is back to the cookie cutter model we start with each week in a true sit-com style. This is an ongoing story and these characters are dynamic even if the slow pace of the show sometimes makes it seem like little progress is occurring.

Clearly Natsume, as the title character, has experienced the largest growth and development as he has slowly opened up to both human and yokai characters. However, he isn’t along in this constant change and you can see Nyanko-Sensei has softened significantly toward Natsume since season 1. His threats to eat his human companion have diminished and even when they are inserted they now seem half-hearted. He offers advice more freely and is more willing to warn Natsume of danger. He’s gone from being curious and self-interested to being genuinely fond of Natsume and this relationship is really interesting to watch.

Even Reiko, Natsume’s deceased grandmother has been given character growth as Natsume has slowly learned more about her. The end result is a world that feels incredbily rich and populated with real characters that over six seasons you’ve become friends with yourself and you genuinely care for.

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Reason 2: The overall themes of the show strike directly at the heart.

Okay, that was cheesy, but it is Natsume so it kind of had to be.

But really, the experience of watching Natsume, is one of trying to understand what it means to be human and the choices people make and why. For all the fantastical creatures and goings on, it is a story about the choices you make in life and the consequences that come from them as well as one that focusses very much on the connections that result from encounters with others.

In this the episodic nature of the show really helps it to succeed. Characters can enter the show for an episode or two and drift off only to return a season of so later but the connection they forged still exists. What this allows is for the show to never overly clutter itself with too many characters at once and we’re never wondering why such-and-such a character is even in a scene because other than Natsume, none of the characters are guaranteed an appearance if they are not necessary to the story. Even Natsume occasionally gets written out of his own narrative in order for the focus to be where it needs to be.

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For a show that is regularly as sickeningly sweet as Natsume, it knows when not to pull a happy ending out of nothing and it isn’t against leaving the characters wondering if their choice was wrong. It also doesn’t shy away from the darker side of human nature when you think about how most of Natsume’s relatives have treated him and still speak to him and about him. What makes this show a bit different is that it doesn’t wallow in its own darkness or exploit it for sensationalistic purposes. The darkness is there, but like everything else, Natsume chooses how and when to confront it and when to leave things be. It is a very real part of the narrative and while sometimes you may actively dislike a character, generally speaking you are supposed to if that is the feeling you are getting.

After five and a half seasons, my current thoughts about Natsume are that this is actually getting better as it goes. The show continues to weave backstory and lore into a world that already feels rich and real and continues to have Natsume face situations where we confront the human and inhuman equally. Hopefully season 6 can continue to shine.

There were a whole bunch of characters and ideas that I love about this show that I restrained myself from rambling about, but seriously, I’d love to know your thoughts on Natsume. Do you think Natsume has gotten better or is the charm wearing off after so many seasons?

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Natsume Yuujinchou Season 6 Episode 7

Review:

Usually I love episodes with Reiko. Other than Natori, she’s the character I most hope to see an appearance from outside of Natsume and Nyanko Sensei. That said, this season’s Reiko episode kind of lacked bite.

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Part of the issue might be the yokai at the start of the episode that chases Natsume who never returns. Normally these ones show up later in the episode even if just to be punched in the face but at least that small bit of conflict is resolved. Instead we get a huge yokai that threatens to flatten the house if Natsume doesn’t come out and then after losing Natsume, doesn’t return to the house again for the duration of the episode. It seems kind of lacking.

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That isn’t to say this episode wasn’t charming. It is perfectly reasonable and we learn more about Reiko and the absolute contrast between her and Natsume when it comes to relationships. Reiko gave up on them whereas Natsume is definitely embracing the connections he has started to build since moving in with the Fujiwaras. However, not the best episode this season of Natsume has offered and coming after a couple of fairly strong episodes it feels like a little bit of a disappointment even though it is really sweet.


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Thanks,

Karandi James.

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Natsume Yuujinchou Go Episode 8

Review:

So not Reiko’s past but Matoba and Natori’s which was kind of interesting but just left me wanting to know more about how they grew as exorcists and why their relationship seems so fractured in the present. Natsume is conspicuously absent for the duration of this episode and most likely that’s because Natori is a very Natsume-like character as a child (though just a little bit more bitter). And this is something we already knew. Natori wanted the life Natsume has but wasn’t strong enough to fight for it and ultimately gave up on it. He chose the path of an exorcist and that’s a path Natsume has so far resisted though Natsume has come to the conclusion that occasionally an exorcism is needed for some yokai. Ultimately this episode brings to life what we already knew and that is that both Natori and Matoba have struggled with their ability to see yokai and we clearly see why they are both drawn to Natsume. As usual, any episode with Matoba or Natori is one of my favourites and these two were the focus this week so I absolutely loved this.

 

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Review:

The exorcists being involved always makes this usually sweet show just that little bit dark. Not actually dark because then it wouldn’t be Natsume, but just enough tension to really make an impact in an otherwise very relaxing story. Matoba is a character I just love hating and his appearance is always welcome and this episode was no exception. Even a letter with his name on it was enough to get things moving. I’m trying to recall if we’ve ever seen Matoba wearing a suit before because that was a bit odd. Also, threatening Natsume with revealing the truth to his guardians is just kind of cruel (and so typical of the way Matoba does things). The fact that we also got Natori in this episode just makes it even better and then of course we get a part 2 next week. Also, we find out that Reiko may have been involved in something forbidden when she collected the Yokai names so we’re continuing this trend of learning a bit more about her even if indirectly. Then we have the fact that Taki’s grandfather was also doing something apparently forbidden and I’m wondering now if there is a link but I’m guessing even if there is we won’t find out anytime soon. Loving this season of Natsume.

 

Natsume Yujin-cho – Series Review

As this is a review of 4 seasons of a show, this is going to be a longer review.

Overview:

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.

Review:

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.

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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.

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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.