Recommended viewing: Natsume Yuujinchou

As stated in previous posts, I like to watch anime series currently airing in Japan as soon as fansub groups subtitle and release episodes. On rare occasions, I let an awesome series slip through the cracks and return to it later by chance or recommendation. (Dennou Coil is the best example of this type of temporary oversight.)

The purpose of my preamble is to explain why it’s taken me this long to watch the second episode of Natsume Yuujinchou, which I did today. Here’s a short summary of the series as provided by Anime News Network:

Natsume Takashi has the ability to see spirits, which he has long kept secret. However, once he inherits a strange book that belonged to his deceased grandmother, Reiko, he discovers the reason why spirits surround him. Containing the names of these spirits, a binding contract was formed between the spirits and the owner of the book. Now, Natsume is determined to free the spirits and dissolve the contracts. With the help of a spirit cat, his days are filled trying to return the names to these spirits.

There are few subjects that hold my attention as powerfully as mythology and folklore, so chances were already good that I would watch and enjoy this series. Natsume Yuujinchou does not disappoint, basing its plot on themes found throughout Asian folklore. For example: Knowing a being’s true name gives a person power over that being. (On a side note, the same is true in Egyptian mythology, as explained in a myth where Isis tricks Re into revealing his secret name.)

What surprised me about Natsume Yuujinchou (or at least the first two episodes of the series) is the easy-going pace and calm atmosphere. While I have a fondness for manic gag comedies (Kyouran Kazoku Nikki comes to mind), it’s also nice to sit back and watch a more relaxed series now and then. Anime fans tiring of anime tropes (e.g. needlessly drawn out fights, moe characters, sudden girlfriend appearances, tortured heroes) will find this series a welcome change of pace. Natsume, the titular main character, does face difficulties stemming from his ability to see spirits (or rather, everyone else’s inability to see spirits), but instead of running from his power, he deals with it in a reasonable and responsible way.

I can’t say whether or not Natsume Yuujinchou would be a proper introduction to anime for those not already familiar with the form; one of my favorite aspects of the series is that it doesn’t hold the viewer’s hand. It makes no apologies for being thoroughly Japanese, so it may be difficult for the uninitiated to grasp at first.

For long-time anime fans, Natsume Yuujinchou is the antidote to spiky hair, big swords, gravitationally impossible women, and wimpy male characters plagued by self-loathing. I highly recommend it to anyone with even a cursory understanding of or interest in Asian folklore.

For those not already familiar with anime or Asian folklore, I would recommend the series only if the viewer has at least a small measure of patience to learn the basic “rules” of the folklore.

And if you’re not already convinced, the series features a maneki neko (fortune cat) come to life. That alone attracted my attention.

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