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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GeGeGe No Kitaro Episode 16: A Ladle Seems Like A Slow Way To Sink A Ship

Mana takes a vacation in this episode of GeGeGe no Kitaro but wouldn’t you know it, Rat-Man is also on a ‘vacation’ and soon we’re going to have yokai trouble again.

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It’s probably a testament to how light-hearted this show is that even an episode that focuses on a yokai dragging sailors under water isn’t enough to make me flinch when normally any potential drowning has me on edge and reaching for the mouse to skip a scene. I actually had no emotional response at all to this episode which concerns me a little for the future of watching it. Previously I’ve had a lot of fun with this show, but I will admit to feeling very detached during the more recent episodes.

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Still, there’s nothing actually wrong with this episode. Mana visits family and one of them doesn’t return home from his fishing work. When seeking to rescue him, they realise that there’s a yokai that is claiming sailor’s and using them as yokai to bring up his treasure (though no one ever seems to really pin the blame on Rat-Man which is where it belongs given earlier in the episode he’s the one who opened the pot letting the yokai out).

I think where the episode may have dropped the ball a bit was in the town’s response. It is obvious they were using the yokai threat as a reason to unify a town that was being torn apart by opposing ideals on how to run a festival, but other than a bit of exposition early on the audience didn’t really have any connection to the plot about the festival so it didn’t really have much impact when they all came together to play tug-of-war with the ghosts.

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Ultimately, this episode works but for me it was kind of functional without being particularly interesting.

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GeGeGe No Kitaro Episodes 14 + 15: Dreams and Faces

Monsters of the week abound with episode 14 giving us a dreamland that you can’t escape from and episode 15 asking what price you would pay to be pretty.

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This pair of episodes are both pretty cute and both pretty pointless as anything more than just another encounter with yokai. There isn’t even any real character building within the main cast, save for a small moment of cool from Daddy Eyeball in the dreamland where he imagines himself in a body so that he can save Kitaro. That said, both episodes work well enough as they introduce our human victims of the week and then overcome the problem.

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Interestingly enough both episodes very much seemed to point the blame for misery at the human world rather than the yokai with the fired salary man escaping to dreams because he couldn’t overcome his daily challenges and the school girl changing her face because of mercilessly being ostracised due to her appearance. This isn’t a new theme for GeGeGe no Kitaro, but it has been awhile since that theme has been the only focus of a story.

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Perhaps the most disappointing thing from these episodes is Mana. She used to be quite an interesting character and in episode 12 she definitely stepped up only now the show seems to be determined to simply have her as a hanger-on. It would be nice to see her returning to being something more than an intermediary between whoever the victim of the week is and Kitaro.

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Still, if episodic yokai stories work for you, GeGeGe no Kitaro isn’t doing too much wrong on that front and remains pleasant viewing even while it isn’t exceptional.

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GeGeGe No Kitaro Episode 13: And We’Re Back To How Things Were

And after the nation changing events of episode 12, we’re back to exactly how things were before as if someone hit the reset. That was disappointing.

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Last week:

I wonder if the fact that everyone now knows about yokai will remain a thing or if people will go back to their ordinary lives after this episode?

While I get that episodic shows are prone to resets, it seemed like episode 11 and 12 introduced what could have been a very interesting element into future events by having the ordinary lives of people seriously and publicly disrupted by yokai. And yet,  GeGeGe no Kitaro chooses to abandon dealing with that plot line and instead we’re back to Ratman scheming and Kitaro doing his hero thing with everyone else just back to their ordinary, oblivious lives.

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While this episode was still pretty solid for this series, the let-down of what might have been a really fascinating story path being ignored weighed heavily on me and I found myself just a little less engaged. It didn’t help that the moral this week was about as subtle as a brick to the face. That said though, the episode isn’t any worse than any of the earlier ones and taken by itself, quite enjoyable.

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GeGeGe No Kitaro Episode 12: Grand Scale Fight

I wonder if the fact that everyone now knows about yokai will remain a thing or if people will go back to their ordinary lives after this episode?

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After setting up a fairly large scale fight between the Tanuki and everyone at the end of the previous episode, episode 12 of GeGeGe no Kitaro delivers a conclusion worthy of a to be continued. The first half of the episode is suitably bleak in painting a picture of life for humans under Tanuki rule and then the troops begin rallying in order to mount a rescue for Kitaro and finding a way to beat the Tanuki back.

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I kind of loved the arrangement of the OP being used during this scene. It was perfect. Recognisable as the OP but suited perfectly to the scene playing out.

It is Mana who steps up big time in this episode and it costs her a lot already having to endure being cursed during the episode, but there are some definite ongoing ramifications for having drawn some unwanted yokai attention through her actions this episode. It will be interesting to see how that develops in future episodes. Meanwhile, it continues to cement her as a pretty solid character in this series.

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GeGeGe No Kitaro Episode 11: An Exciting Cliff-Hanger; Just Don’t Watch The Next Episode Preview

I’ve never quite understood why anime feel the need to shoot their own tension in the foot with their episode previews, but hey, after setting up a curse that takes out the protagonist this week, surely the audience needs to know he’ll be fine, right?

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This was actually quite a well constructed episode. We get a clear villain who is doing the typical b-grade villain move of announcing their plans and using flashy moves to intimidate the general population into compliance but they are also sufficient a threat compared to what we’ve faced previously with the heroes to actually feel a sense of danger for our heroes. The biggest downfall is probably that I can’t take Tanuki seriously because while I have seen them in villainous roles in other anime, my most commonly associated image of a Tanuki comes from Watanuki in Inu x Boku SS (and he was adorable) or the family in The Eccentric Family (and they aren’t exactly terrifying given they just want a bit of fun).

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Outside of that, I don’t really have any complaints about the episode. It carries the threat over to the next week, which given the scale of the threat seemed logical, and it managed to engage most of the usual cast or at least get them moving for next week. Of course, it does paint politicians in a fairly negative and defeatist light, and also frames them as egocentrics, though it would be hard to argue that this is an unfair depiction really. I’m actually looking forward to seeing how this one concludes.

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GeGeGe No Kitaro Episode 10: School Mysteries

It may be a common setting for ghost stories, but this episode makes it work with Mana, Cat-chick and the gang.

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Mana and Cat-Chick are my favourite two characters from this show, so an episode where the two team up for almost the whole run-time as Kitaro is conveniently away was always going to make for an entertaining watch. Throw in the school mysteries and a stalker ghost and you have the makings of great fun.

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And yet, it isn’t Mana and Cat-Chick that really nail the tone of this episode, even though they are great as always. The support cast and the antagonist really step up this week with almost all of the cast hitting the right notes for this episode to be that fun, family friendly style horror story that the first few episodes of this series kind of gave us. A lot of fun.

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GeGeGe No Kitaro Episode 9: A Fairly Dry Episode

Corporate life is bad… blah, blah… I was happier before…

This is probably the first week I haven’t had fun watching GeGeGe No Kitaro even though this episode continues to blend traditional yokai stories with the modern world.

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This week we get a focus on Kappas and while these guys are usually pretty fun in yokai stories, I found this whole episode and story pretty lacking. Part of this is probably because Rat-Man is back as a focus and he’s probably my least favourite of the reoccurring characters. The bigger issue though is that the blunt message of this episode was pretty underwhelming in the way it was delivered.

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When you couple the weak story with a character I don’t much like and then throw in a conclusion that really lacks punch (that fight sequence was perhaps the worst yet for this anime) and the whole thing just ends up less than satisfying. Kitaro himself didn’t really get to do much of anything and Mana was a no show. Cat-Chick was mostly comic relief and the only other character of note was the Sand Witch and again she was pretty underutilised.

While this series remains fairly solid for episodic story telling, episode nine was a miss for me.

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GeGeGe No Kitaro Episode 8: Haunted Mirrors and Tombstones = Fun

Some more traditional jump scares this week as Mana and classmates are being chased down by something less than nice after knocking over a tombstone while on a field trip. This anime delivers some cheesy classics and delivers them well.

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Mana hasn’t shown up really for a few episodes but makes a great appearance this week as the near victim of the week. Who knew chasing around some boys with a broom could lead to being kidnapped by a yokai through a mirror?

Actually, all the cast are great this week though I’m stuck with the usual question I have of protagonists like Kitaro and that is why can’t he just use the attack that ultimately ends the threat first? It seems like there’s nothing stopping him from pulling out the game ending move as his opener and yet apparently he’s happy to end up in life or death situations and running around before finally his father declares it time to end the fight.

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As modes of transportation go, this looks kind of fun.

Then again, this is kind of silly all round and probably shouldn’t be taken overly seriously. While there are some good attempts at building a pseudo spooky atmosphere, ultimately this anime aims to entertain and not to thrill and it keeps things fairly tame but amusing.

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GeGeGe No Kitaro Episode 7: Ghosts on a Train, Classic.

Kitaro sums it up nicely at the end of this episode when he points out that human malice is way scarier than any yokai. In episode 7, GeGeGe no Kitaro serves up a fairly decent anime ghost train episode.

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I’m a sucker for a well told ghost story and this episode delivers well managing to link Kitaro and the yokai in as periphery characters to a fairly classic haunting tale. The story itself is pretty good but the framing device with the teenage witness at the start and end is what really sells this narrative and makes it a fairly solid entry.

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That said, because the story is so incredibly classic with little to differentiate it from countless other ghost stories, the few twists the story serves up will well and truly be seen well before they are revealed. However, in such a case it is the anticipation and watching the characters catch up with story that makes for such an enjoyable viewing experience. However, prior to this episode most of these stories have been relatively kid friendly, and while this one isn’t overly grotesque, I’m pretty sure some kids would be a little frightened by it.

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Overall, GeGeGe no Kitaro remains a pretty enjoyable watch so far. It isn’t outstanding and the character designs are definitely looking dated in places, but for fans of these sorts of yarns, there’s a lot of fun to be had.

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