Animini: Natsume Book of Friends – Episode 3- The Mysterious Person at the Eight Fields

Konichi-Well the second part of my anime week is a lot  stronger than the first half. While Natsume gave me the least impressive episode I’ve seen so far I must say I am really starting to enjoy the message this show packs in it’s end of the episode! I took a fist full of feels to the face yet again.. albeit maybe a little girl first this time! I still felt the impact though and as I heard this show really picks up in a few episodes never to let me go again.. so if this is the weakest punch.. I am sure to be in for one heck of a ride.

The Summary

Natsume is tired and depressed, giving Yokai their name back has completely drained him of all his energy. Since the friendly ones tend to come visit him at night and beg for their name back he hasn’t been sleeping much either. Nyanko-Sensei is still upset that Natsume is making the book of friends thinner every night and throws a tantrum as it will lose it’s power to control these spirits little by little.  To make Natsume’s situation even more annoying for him he can’t sleep in class either because a strange person has been asking for him. A boy going by the name of Tanuma.  For some weird reason though each time Natsume gets kind of close the boy disappears. Natsume hopes this man can see Yokai too.. and remembers a woman he once met who seemed to be able to see Yokai as well.

A cow and a cyclops Yokai knock on Natsume’s door but unlike the others they do not want their name back. There is a Yokai killing humans on the prowl blessing areas with holy magic.  Since Natsume has the reputation to help Yokai they ask him if they can kill this human. After a bit of investigation Natsume begins to believe this Tanuma boy is responsible for causing serious pain to the Yokai .. killing some and banishing the weak from their home. Taking pity on them he decides to confront the man responsible for this. Meanwhile he flashes back to that woman he met before .. telling the audience in a way about how she was not actually a woman but  Yokai trying to connect with him.. he feels betrayed and chases her off.  Yokai always made his life so difficult so he is not sure who to side with. There are some good Yokai out there.. that do not deserve to be killed but he doesn’t exactly like them either.  A huge cow geisha Yokai joins him in the quest to kill this Yokai hunter.. forcing Natsume to compel it by using its name to save Tanuma.. but then he discovers it was just a weak priest. Tanuma’s father.. who tried to keep the place safe for his son.  When Natsume confronts the young man in the hope to form a genuine connection the man admits he can’t see Yokai either.. but sometimes he sees shadows. Natsume tells Tanuma his secret.. including fondly remembering that woman from before.

The Positives

The episode is a bit boring, in the sense that the conflicts all kind of just meander on.  There is no real sense of threat and in a way that is this shows and this episode’s great strength.  We get a rather vanilla story.. that doesn’t really matter in the long run that provides a very form of subtle exposition and  character development. It truly is unique. During this episode Natsume stands and a proverbial crossroads several times and takes the less interesting path of the two a few times and when it happens I feel kind of frustrated.. yet five minutes later there suddenly is a payoff to this thing that seems like a wrong choice. Ah.. so you wanted to highlight that Natsume is seeing Yokai less and less like evil spirits and more and more like humans.. and the journey he goes trough in this episode is him coming to terms with that fact.  Getting a hindsight on his past actions and seeing it through the lense of new found discoveries. That is a very static approach but it also is very interesting.

I loved the Yokai designs for this episode as well. The priestly cow.. the mid tier cow was adorable and the cyclops old man would make for a fine cookie serving minion!  The high level cow thing  felt intimidating and I love how the studio plays with its shape to make it feel intimidating. Those steel blue eyes give it a heartless quality it does seem to possess.. yet it’s cow nature also gives it something tranquil.. which it also seems to possess as it doesn’t seem to have intentions to hurt Natsume.  The classical scuff marks on the mid tier Yokai made me feel compassion with them.. normally that.. slightly singed look is played for comedy.. and while it is slightly the case here as well it also really conveyed there creatures were helpless and meant no ill will. Seeming them suffer the same stuff as Ash does in the Pokemon anime.. invoked a completely different reaction and that is creditable to the solid world building this show does.  It still is funny.. but in a N’awww .. you guys way instead of a “Hahaha Oh my Arceus Ash you never learn.. kind of way”..  I also REALLY ended up caring for the Yokai pretending to be a human just to be social and help Natsume.. her look was just weird enough to suspect something is up.. and her voice acting when she begged him for forgiveness felt sublime.. I really felt that she did not want to lose her precious friend.

The Negatives

The episode is a bit boring, in the sense that the conflicts all kind of just meander on.  There is no real sense of threat and in a way that is this show and this episode’s greatest weakness. While there is an impact to what Natsume does, it really all just pan’s out in the last five minutes.  Especially the first 9 minutes felt a bit like a slog to me. In hindsight not as much but during those first few minutes I wasn’t all that entertained.  The long Neck Yokai looked pretty amazing yet at the same time she invoked a sense off “I really wish that chased him or tried to harm him”  for a bit. It’s a very cool Yokai design.. I just loved to have it do something. In a way the same goes for the big cow.. but it gets “sit boy’d”   before it can do anything. Again that isn’t bad.. persé.. a golden gun is still worth a lot.. but it would be kinda cooler if you saw someone fire a golden bullet out of it.

The only Yokai that actually get to do something is Ushi and the Old Man.. again I have no idea how to call them.. but the mid tier priesty looking fellows I… felt bad for them in the end.. but I will be honest and tell you, there were minutes I have wished for some gruesome fates to befall them because they can REALLY be annoying in the first half. They function as Natsume’ cheerleaders and are just being loud and telling him how amazing he is.  In the end it feels earned but before that it just feels insincere and irksome. They are just being loud! That’s a trope I really dislike..  but well like I said I did feel bad when they got hurt so somehow they ended up growing on me. In a way negatives also a strength and we can see it that way. Still imagine me really wanting new shoes.. but the pair I have is still too good to  reasonably to replace and I am maxed out since my shoe cabinet is full. So my best friend Bean decides to stick a huge meat fork in my foot.  I bleed all over the shoes and finally can throw them out.. after a while I don’t feel the wound anymore and I got the new shoes and they are amazing.. but do I really say Bean.. you did a good thing? Or would I also be sour for those first few minutes of pain?!

The Score

Last episode I explained how I normally dislike “second episodes” of a show.. their exposition heavy, character establishing and world building plots often feel a bit “mandatory” ..we see the main character decide they will follow the “heroes path”  we see the elements we can expect.. in other words it’s kind of like looking at the solution of a jigsaw puzzle by looking at the front of the box. It can be pretty but it doesn’t feel all that satisfying. This third episode is THAT second episode.. just in the end we open the box as well.. pour the contents out on the table and lucky us we find a corner piece straight away! What a delightful feeling that is! I still feel kinda weird for staring at the box of the puzzle for a good 10 minutes I wish I would have taken more puzzle time.

This is one of those episodes that tells me I will love the frig out of this show.. but it does lose my love a bit because it has the one that explains to me why I will love it. Like an entertaining synopsis.. or the Star Wars title crawl.. there are amazing elements but when is all done and over no one will say that their favourite part of Star Wars was the title crawl… although with The Last Jedi… I kinda liked it most.. but you know what I mean right. This episode does a great job at establishing Natsume’s mindset.. but as a Pokémon fan.. and a creature fan I kind of wanted to see the amazing creatures do more things instead.. It’s brand Vanilla flan.. it’s the best you can do with Vanilla Flan.. but it’s still just Vanilla flan. I prefer chocolate!

Animini: Natsume Book of Friend – Episode 1- The Cat and The Book

With Pinkie’s Saturday Anime Adventure I was doing 5 anime reviews in a single day.. so now that I split them across the days I had two days left.. should I take it easy on those days?! Of course not! More Anime for me to watch! So I already had a “nostalgia” show, a show that got recommended by community friends, a magical girl show, an Isekai and a tournament/ analogue gaming show… so else could I watch. Why not something Senpai loves?! You gotta respect your blogging elders according to Japanese culture! So here we go.. starting from today each week I am watching an episode of Natsume Book of Friends… and  I never even knew what it was.. I did not expect it to be this!

The Summary

We meet our main protagonist Natsume in this episode. He was born with a special gift! The ability to see Yokai! While this might seem like a blessing to some, most Yokai don’t seem to take kindly to him.  Either they chase him, he reacts to them or something of the sorts happen that alienates him from all the other humans.  Seemingly having no more friends nor any living blood relatives, the boy seems lonely as a cyclops witch and a ghost with a yukata chase him… pardon me for not knowing the proper Yokai names of these.. but I feel like if I had to look all those up this post would take so much longer… if you recognise what Yokai they are tell me in the comments and teach me something!  Natusme flees towards a shrine but in doing so trips over a rope containing seals and this breaks it. Now that the seals have become undone a Mani Neko is released!  He is called Nyanko-Sensei and he recognises Natsume.. saying his grandma used to be like him and she has something called “The Book of Friends”

This is a book containing the names of Yokai she bonked on the head with a bat and forced them to give up their name.. under the guise of a duel. Nyanko-Sensei wants the book.. but Natsume refuses and gives him watermelon instead and a friendship of sorts begins to bloom. When the one eyed witch and ghostly man invade Natsume’s house the two have to work together to stop the spirits. Natsume decides to return the names to the Yokai his grandmother bonked and Nyanko teaches him how to do that.. on the terms of that if Natsume dies while doing this.. Nyanko gets the book of a friend and can do “weird stuff” with it. We see Natsume’s grandmother bonk the Cyclops Witch.. as soon as Natsume starts the name return ritual.  Talking with the spirit about yeast buns.. after she is sent away.. Natsume and Nyanko stop at the place his grandma claimed had the best Yeast buns.

The Positives

For as many times Irina has told me on her blog that Natsume Book of Friends is great, she never really told me what it was about! I assumed it was this slice of life like show with a boy making friends in high school with a comical relief cat that can drink booze. I was pleasantly surprised that there was a lot more to it. Had I known this was what the show was about I might have taken on the last tour of the OWLS in the Folklore topic and watched it earlier! Now however I can enjoy it at a snail’s pace with an episode a week!  I do like this concept of “reverse”capturing a lot.. I mean in a way this is kind of like a reverse pokémon so far where a boy gets a pet..that actually can EVOLVE ..sort of.. he seems quite capable himself.. and his goal is to release ALL the creatures in his book. It still hits close enough to home for me to be my jam while being different enough for me to see it as its own thing.

I do like the creature design a lot so far. Nyanko-Sensei in particular is adorable in his cat for and his dragonoid form or whatever that seems quit impressive. It reminds me a bit of that dog dragon from the NEver Ending Story..Falcor I think his name was.. just more Japanese.  But I also like the witch and the smiling dude.  I also like the sound design a lot, the cicada’s  give the atmosphere a sense of serenity which helps sell the whole idea of Natsume living in a different world than us .. sort of speak as we see a tranquil world and his one is quite a bit more hectic. The voices are fun and I find them very fitting and I do look how things are framed. The way Nyanko-Sensei tumbles around.. but also the way how a  punch to Nyanko from Natsume cuts away to a sound effect.  From the position he was in.. there was no way to sell the effect visually I think.. yet this way I can suspend my disbelief easier. So it is nice to see that. The episode has a pretty good story to set things up but for now I can’t delve to deep in it.. I felt it had the perfect length and a satisfying conclusion showing us the fact that spirits can be appeased with their name.. or properly manhandled to be sent away. I like that. 

The Negatives

Now I am treading on quicksand here!  What can I say about Natsume that will not get my head severed from my torso in terms of negatives. In terms of this first episode I will admit the opening wasn’t my thing. I really like a bit more peppy intro’s and I did not think the song was too catchy.  A bit unfair to call the first episode out on that.. but it will be the only time it bothers me so I still have to mention it. Other than that I do find the human characters a bit generic. Natsume is okay design wise.. but unlike for example Soul Eater, Watamote or No Game No Life I think it will take a bit for me to recognise the main character. I’d recognise Nyanko but Natsume.. I am not too sure yet! It isn’t a bad design..but I would have given him an odd eye colour or a spot in his eye or something that makes him see this Yokai.. or something.. maybe he wears a special necklace over his uniform… it’s nothing I will not get used to but he’ll never get a second chance to make a first impression again.

I have no strong negatives other than that, and even those are very excusable, I watched the show on Crunchyroll yet for some reason the quality was a bit low for me, it felt as if it was too “bright”.  I am not sure yet if that is the anime’s age, it’s style.. or just a bad version uploaded on Crunchyroll.. but it felt a bit too “pastel” colour to me at times. Another nitpick I have is that we see a scene where two friends are strolling. They encounter Natsume and then continue to talk about how weird he is.. however the story is told from Natsume’s perspective.. while he is being chased.. yet for a brief moment we cut to their dialogue about him. That to me doesn’t fit…if we are being told things from Natusme’s perspective I would have preferred to let him thing “They must think I am super strange”.. and for the most part.. that’s how it is handled. That felt a bit too “in you face exposition” for my tastes. Not horrible.. but a bit inconsistent nonetheless.

The Score

I did have a great time watching this first episode, and I do think it will be a show that I could grow to like a lot. It has a lot of hype to live up too.. but that is also exactly why I read nothing about it except for Senpai doing the wobbly lag fan girl thing for it on a regular basis. That really helped me enjoy it a lot more as it can still surprise me! Unlike the anime I am going to watch tomorrow I know nothing about it and I intend to keep it that way. I do not have a clear idea where this show is headed yet but it does intrigue me! I want to see more! So that is a great thing for a first episode to achieve.

I wasn’t as mesmerised by it as something like Flip Flappers or Samurai Flamenco which both had REALLY good starts. I do feel Natsume is a bit more of a slow burning type of a show though, there is more to set up, it requires a bit more insight so I expect to fall in love with it a few more episodes in. Which is fine.. Hikaru no Go was a similar type of show for me where I wasn’t head over heels from episode 1 but by episode 20 I am hooked. A lot of my favourite shows of all time were slower starters. Also that seems like I hated this episode which is completely not true because I think it is REALLY Good.. it just is not the most captivating first episode I’ve ever seen.  The show can still grow for me and grow on me.. and I feel like it will.. so for some reason I am happier that I can give this a Berry Good.. as I would be giving this my higest score.. we  have a long journey ahead of us with this one but I feel it will be an amazing journey..Where Flip Flapper takes me on a journey on an item that should not even be a vehicle leaving the driveway is slightly more interesting as in the packed car Natsume provides.. but I do feel that with this one I am going to be more comfy and I will see plenty of amazing things!