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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NATSUME YUJINCHO ICHIBAN KUJI PREMIUM


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.

The fifth and sixth seasons of this show continue building on the compelling foundation and this is one story that just keeps getting better. I completely recommend this series. 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.


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Karandi James

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Rokuhoudou Yotsuiro Biyori Episodes 11 and 12: Bringing In The New Year

Good food and good company; while not everything wraps up nicely this slice of life allows for things to just kind of come to a close.

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I get the feeling when I do a full series review of this anime I’m going to spend a lot of time saying ‘but’ as I point out that this anime does something I normally really dislike, but it works here. While this anime didn’t really give closure on the issue of Sui and his brother, it did bring us an encounter in episode 12 between the two where almost no words were exchanged, but the few that were said and the silences were quite powerful. No dramatic speeches or long winded expositions. The anime let the silence and what the audience has already discerned about their relationship speak in the scene and it was all the more affective because of it.

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Outside of that, these two episodes are the usual thing for this show with the cast making people happy by feeding them ridiculously good looking food and really good coffee with terrifying latte art. It didn’t really feel like they went all out for a final episode of a season other than setting it as a New Year event for the restaurant.

You might notice I’ve barely mentioned episode 11 and that is because it is just another encounter with a character who loves the restaurant and the pottery classes. Episode 11 lays the groundwork for the events in episode 12 and that is really its only significance.

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While I will get to a full review of this soon, this is one anime I’ve been fairly consistently happy with this season outside of a Gure focused episode.

 

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Karandi James

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Rokuhoudou Yotsuiro Biyori Episode 10: Happy Customers

While there’s not a lot of substance here, watching customer enjoy good food is kind of a pleasure in and of itself.

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In case we had forgotten the core business that this anime is built around, this week we’re back to just watching the guys serve food and make the customers happy. The biggest drama comes from running out of an ingredient after there’s a spike in the number of people ordering a dish due to a TV show the night before. And that’s actually fine. This is laid back viewing at its finest with enough happening to keep you from dozing off, but not much of anything actually going on.

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I did like that the latte art is getting the lion’s share of reviews though. Kind of funny that the restaurant’s biggest weakness is actually talked about more than the rest of the food and drinks served. Still, once again this episode has left me hungry.

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Rokuhoudou Yotsuiro Biyori Episode 9: Back To Romance, Food and Rivalry

This episode firmly splits itself into two parts which are both equally successful in achieving their purpose making for an overall satisfying viewing experience.

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Note: Do not ask Gure for love advice.

While the first half of this episode returns its focus to the male reporter who was struggling to go into cafes solo and his attempt at starting a love life, I found myself generally enjoying the sweet nothingness that was unfolding. The parallel between hi situation and the shoujo manga the boys had all read the day before was reasonable even if a bit heavy handed, and watching the date was kind of sweet.

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The second half also featured a returning character, though a more annoying one. Here though it works well as it brings us back to Sui and his brother’s story and I still want a little bit more of that.

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This episode isn’t overly exciting but it does have some great character moments, some excellent food shots, and just enough intrigue to make me want more.

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Rokuhoudou Yotsuiro Biyori Episode 8: Inconsistencies Mounting

What happens when you focus the entire episode on Gure, the least interesting of the group? Well, mostly a lot of eye-rolling.

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When this anime is good, it is very good. It is the supreme relaxer. Calmness in anime form. It is exactly what you need after a stressful day at work. When this anime misses its mark, as it did at episode 5, it really misses the mark. And episode 8 is another example of Rokuhoudou Yotsuiro Biyori missing the mark.

I’m going to level a lot of the blame at Gure for this. His happy go lucky and pushy persona irks me at the best of times but when off-set with the other personalities at the cafe he usually doesn’t overstay his welcome. This episode didn’t off-set him. The other guys between them had about two minutes screen time. No, this was a Gure on a side-quest episode and it was pretty painful.

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Of course, we have to point the other finger at the nature of his quest. Help the down-trodden student. Everything is going wrong in his life at home and school and he’s miserable, etc, etc. But hey, serve him coffee, give him a pep-talk, shove your own childhood trauma and story of salvation onto him, and by the end of the episode we’ll be all smiles. It is trite. It really is. Made worse by superimposing the image of Gure’s master over him as he waves farewell to You, as if the situations are in anyway comparable. Guy he’s known five minutes vs the master who gave him a trade and clearly built up a fairly extensive relationship with.

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Sure, because that’s how life works.

So yeah, I didn’t really get into this episode and quite frankly is has been the low point for the season so far.

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Rokuhoudou Yotsuiro Biyori Episode 7: Back to Relaxation

Two stories of happy customers and the relaxing bliss of this food anime from episode one returns, made more bittersweet because right now I’d rather see more of Sui’s story.

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When you find out your friend is moving, and hates tea, there’s nothing to do of course except beg the cute dessert chef to help you learn how to make matcha ice-cream. The criminal aspect of this episode is, of course, that I can’t have any right at the moment and it looks delicious. This is pure fluff made heart-warming even as the first half of this episode is filled with extremely over-the top reaction faces.

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Part two brings us a widower who ventures to the cafe seeking an ‘adventure’ given he so rarely leaves his home. He finds curry and apparently a new lease on life in the course of the afternoon and as always things end with a smile.

While I might seem sarcastic, I am most sincere when I say that this anime brings a genuine calm to the viewer and while I would really like the plot elements that have occasionally been introduced to be developed further, these moment in time episodes are kind of fantastic in their own way if you are chasing something resembling bliss.

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Rokuhoudou Yotsuiro Biyori Episode 6: The Start of Sui’s Rokyhoudou

While the boys clean the shop, the narrative takes us back to when Sui still worked in an office and dreamed of reopening his grandfather’s restaurant. This anime is taking its time but it seems to be getting somewhere.

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It wasn’t much of an episode really in terms of plot and even the character reveals weren’t great. We kind of already knew that Sui hadn’t always run the restaurant and we also already knew there were issues between him and his brother. Yet this is one of those cases where the point is the journey and not the destination and the journey was pretty enjoyable. While the food shots weren’t as spectacular, the general peaceful air that permeated the first two episodes came back and made for quite the relaxing tale as we learned about how Rokuhoudou came back to life.

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Of course now I want to know when the other two guys came on board and where the story with the brother is going but I guess that kind of means the episode did its job in making me want to know more about the show.

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Rokuhoudou Yotsuiro Biyori Episodes 4 + 5: Seriously, What?

After the interesting turn taken in episode 3, this anime takes a bit of a nose dive through episodes 4 and 5 as we return to episodic events and, in the case of episode 5, events that are just weird.

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There might still end up being an ongoing drama in this anime, as presented in episode 3, but essentially episode 4 gives us two disconnected episodic events in serving a character who really wanted to eat tempura and then a story about the boys finding a kitten. Both of these were fine in their own way and certainly continued the relaxing feel of the first two episodes, but after seeing a hint of what this anime might be I was a little disappointed.

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This is not what I was looking for when I asked for hot boys in a cafe.

Then episode 5. I’m just going to ask, why? Admittedly, the story of a guy who wants to report on cafes but doesn’t feel comfortable going into one isn’t anything new in anime. I’m not sure why Japanese males feel they can’t enter a cafe in anime and whether this is actually a thing, but it is a fairly commonly presented issue. Of course our cafe boys help out and everything is fine.

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However, soon after that, things go weird. We are in a rainstorm and the cafe cat walks past a soaking woman and leads her down an alley where we have a door to a restaurant where the boys from our usual cafe seem to have all been given personality make-overs and for some reason are being very pretentious about food. For a moment I felt like we’d fallen into an episode of food wars without the actual conflict.

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What anime am I watching right now?

Honestly, episode 5 was a definite miss for me. So after three episodes of really enjoying this anime, and thinking at episode 3 that maybe this would be great, episodes 4 and 5 have brought my expectations back down. Episode 4 is fine, but 5 was just pushed things a bit too far for me to enjoy it. I’m kind of hoping episode 6 gets us back on track.

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Rokuhoudou Yotsuiro Biyori Episode 3: Looks Are Clearly Deceptive

I have certain expectations for a slice of life anime and Rokuhoudou is kind of crushing all of them as it delivers some fairly compelling, if very laid back, viewing. Your thoughts?

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This may very well end up being my surprise hit of the season the way it is going. While the blissful relaxation is continued, this episode really pushes the drama that has been kind of building underneath the beautiful food and cups of tea. The group are approached to take part in an event at a department store but right from the beginning it is clear that the guy who recruited them is up to something, though it doesn’t seem to be blatantly malicious. More like a cat playing with a toy before discarding it.

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The end result is some light drama in amongst some very great food shots and a general feeling of ease. I’m not bored while watching because in amongst the serving good food we have a building drama that seems to be furthering the traditional versus corporate argument that comes out in a lot of anime but it is all nicely balanced with no aspect really taking over other than the characters themselves.

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I still don’t recommend watching this anime while hungry.

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Rokuhoudou Yotsuiro Biyori Episode 2: Calming With Just a Hint of Drama

I swear this anime comes with subliminal messages because it is so incredibly relaxing to watch. What did you think of the second episode?

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There was an indescribably feeling (that I’m still going to try and describe) of absolute relaxation that hit me while watching this. From the slow pace of the interactions between characters, the beautiful attention to details with the cafe, the food, and really just everything, and the general idea of the anime, by the end of the episode the tension that had built up in my shoulders after quite the long day at work had utterly gone. I was almost ready just to curl up and have a nap where before I’d been wound up pretty tight and had felt on edge.

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I was however left wondering why this was so relaxing where most slice of life anime just leave me bored. Part of the reasoning comes from the fact that they did introduce a specific ‘problem’ for the episode that was resolved by the end even as they alluded to an ongoing drama in the series with the conflict between tradition and the modern fast paced society we live in (that and a potential group that might be trying to put them out of business). But even then, it wasn’t much of a problem or much of conflict.

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As bizarre as it might sound, possibly the age of the characters and their voices, all quite low and soothing, has something to it. While the girl introduced in this episode had a fairly squeaky voice (though not by anime standards), I would honestly love to have the rest of the cast on tape to listen to when I was trying to sleep. Okay, maybe that isn’t what some people are looking for, but right now, an anime that relaxes me this much is kind of welcome.

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Karandi James

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