Anime Review: Natsume Yūjin-chō Roku


Natsume Yūjin-chō Roku is the sixth season of the long-running series (also known as Natsume’s Book of Friends). I previously reviewed seasons 1-4 here and season 5 here.

Natsume Yūjin-chō follows the ongoing misadventures of teenage Takashi Natsume, who has the ability to see youkai (spirits out of Japanese folklore) when most people cannot. Because the series is episodic, it’s generally easy to slip into the middle with minimal knowledge of what has happened in the past, but a few of Roku‘s episodes work better knowing Takashi’s (and his grandmother Reiko’s) history.

Takashi has met other people who can see youkai, and the sixth season features two two-part episodes dealing with exorcists and their relationships with their youkai familiars. Most humans who can see youkai find work in exorcism, which is a practice Takashi dislikes. Like his grandmother Reiko, who wrote down the names of youkai in what became the Book of Friends, he prefers to settle things on more humane terms without imprisoning any wayward spirits.

But he is friends with Natori, who is an exorcist, and because of that friendship Takashi becomes involved with couple incidents involving old familiars and how they behave when the human they were bonded with has passed on. Takashi also has to deal with the knowledge that the Book of Friends is not something he can share (since we learned it was a forbidden practice last season). This creates a real fear in him that he can’t let Natori know the truth about what he’s carrying, while at the same time Natori is aware that there is something Takashi is protecting that he will not share with anyone.

It was a surprising bit of story advancement in a series which largely works as a slice of life with youkai. And that’s not the only revelation, as Roku teases more of Takashi’s heritage, but this time in regards to a different ancestor we have not yet met.

The remaining episodes mostly run with the usual formula of Takashi encounters a youkai with a problem or who is causing a problem. This is not a strike against the series, as that’s long been the heart of the show, but it doesn’t break much in the way of new ground.

There is one episode worth calling out though, for being the first genuinely creepy episode of Natsume Yūjin-chō. Despite being a series about youkai, it’s usually tame with its imagery. Even if the characters are startled, they’re rarely meant to be terrified. “Nitai-sama” takes its cues from more horror oriented fare though, where the youkai is known to be malevolent and takes its time in revealing itself. It’s probably an insufficient scare for those used to actual horror, but the episode is definitely more intense than the usual for Natsume Yūjin-chō and especially will not go over well with people who have a fear of dolls.

Roku isn’t going to win anyone over who isn’t already watching, but for those who are, it’s a surprisingly forward look at potential stories to come. Now the question is, will there be a Natsume Yūjin-chō Nana (Seven)?

Number of Episodes: 11

Pluses: more of the same low key storytelling, plot development for Takashi, lots of lovely stories about the bonds between humans and youkai

Minuses: more of the same low key storytelling, season is on the short side, story doesn’t really do anything with the potential complications that come up

Natsume Yūjin-chō Roku is currently streaming at Crunchyroll (subtitled).

Laurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Strange Horizons, and the Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction.

Spring 2017 Anime First Impressions

written by Laurie Tom

Spring brings back a lot of anime with new seasons and spin-offs of older properties that I didn’t expect to be returning. My spring anime sampling is a bit incomplete though.

During the winter season I had mentioned that Amazon’s Anime Strike had entered the simulcasting game, but had too few exclusive titles. That is not true of spring, where Amazon has licensed a whopping 12 titles, just over a third of all new series this season.

For Amazon Prime members, it’s another $5/month, but if you don’t already subscribe to Prime, Anime Strike becomes fairly pricey. I may binge watch the Amazon exclusives later, but for now I’ll be sticking to the older streaming services; Crunchyroll, Funimation, and to a lesser degree Daisuki.

Alice & Zoroku


Why I Watched It: It looks like an odd duck for an anime considering that the two main characters are an old man and a young girl with super powers. Protagonists who are adults are in the minority already. One that has gone completely gray with age is almost unheard of.

What I Thought: While the girl with special powers escaping from a government lab story is not very original, Zoroku himself is a breath of fresh air as he’s old enough to not want to put up with all the very anime-style shenanigans of elementary school girls using magic powers to wreak havoc in the city. The fact he gets Sana (presumably the Alice of the title, and code named Red Queen from the Alice in Wonderland stories) and her two pint-sized pursuers to own up to the damage they did and face the police was a hoot. Though he is a cranky old man, it feels like there’s enough of a dimension to him that he’s more than a trope. I like that he recognizes that Sana, for all her powers, is also a poorly raised little girl who needs some proper boundaries set so she can behave like a normal human being (and not an anime character).

Verdict: I might watch later. Though I like Zoroku and his interactions with Alice, and old man with surrogate granddaughter is not a relationship we usually get in anime, the rest of the first episode doesn’t hold up as anything I haven’t already seen before. I need more from the antagonists in charge, rather than the various kids they’re toting around to do their dirty business.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll (subtitled) and Funimation (dubbed, subscription required)

Attack on Titan Season 2


Why I Watched It: Attack on Titan landed with a smash in 2013, spinning off merchandising, video games, spin-off manga and anime series, and even a theme park attraction, in ways that few series have before and certainly not since. But because the series closely follows the source manga, which was less than 30% done at the time, it chose to pause the adaptation after season 1. Twelve volumes and four years later, there is plenty to adapt, and one of my favorite series returns.

What I Thought: Season 2 gets the ball rolling. After a minute and a half recap of the first season (definitely not enough for series newcomers) Attack on Titan picks up exactly where season 1 left off, and from there, launches straight into its next story arc with the mysterious appearance of titans spotted within Wall Rose. There is a fairly brutal death, reminding everyone that this world is cruel even to the best of soldiers, and it’s quickly revealed that the religious priests of the walls know a lot more about the truth of their world than anyone else. All the animation, acting, and the music is true to form, and in some ways even better. It’s almost like it hasn’t been four years since AoT last aired.

Verdict: I’ll be watching! It’s worth noting that Crunchyroll is now using the Funimation naming convention in their subtitles, which will be a bit of a jolt if doing catch-up viewing through CR, as Squad Leaders are suddenly called Section Commanders, Commander Pixis is now spelled Pyxis, among other things. I’m hoping since the manga is so far ahead that any new characters and terminology introduced will use the same names already used in the US translation so we don’t have as many variations across mediums.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll (subtitled) and Funimation (dubbed, subscription required). It also started broadcasting on Cartoon Network’s Toonami April 22nd!

KADO: The Right Answer


Why I Watched It: Government negotiator meets an alien entity when a mysterious cube appears in Tokyo’s skies, and the story is told from the negotiator’s point of view! I like that a guy in a suit is the protagonist instead of say a military man or yet another teenager, pointing to a much different sort of first contact scenario than we usually get in popular media.

What I Thought: KADO: The Right Answer actually launches with an Episode 0, and while it’s mostly forgettable, it introduces us to our idiosyncratic protagonist Shindo and his personal philosophy on how negotiations should work by showing us a much more mundane land acquisition job. This is important because Shindo is on the passenger plane that gets absorbed by the alien cube when it lands at the end of the episode, and Episode 1 largely focuses on the reactions of everyone outside, while our protagonist is MIA. And it’s a pretty good focus, with people trying to look for realistic ways to rescue the plane and trying different tactics to see what works. Episode 2 looks like it will flashback to show us what happened inside.

Verdict: I’ll be watching! Shindo is a bit idiosyncratic in the way that genius types are often portrayed, but I like his philosophy that negotiation is when both parties get something they want and not just what the negotiator came for.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll (subtitled) and Funimation (dubbed, subscription required)

Natsume Yujin-cho 6


Why I Watched It: I already like the series, though I hadn’t expected that a sixth season would be greenlight so quickly since there was such a long gap between seasons 4 and 5, but the teenage boy who sees yokai is back again. I’m not sure there is such a thing as too many episodes of Natsume Yujin-cho, but on the other hand I’m not sure what new material the series can add since by it’s nature it’s been episodic.

What I Thought: Natsume Yujin-cho continues its routine of handling small, personal plots in a world where yokai, Japanese spirits, exist but hardly anyone can see them. This time around Natsume helps a yokai with a pot stuck on its head. The grateful yokai, a Days Eater, decides to repay Natsume by restoring his youth, which results in Natsume being turned into a small child and forgetting his teenage memories. Watching Nyanko-sensei, Tanuma, and Taki try to regain Natsume’s trust, when the child version of him is used to be pranked and manipulated by yokai, serves as a bittersweet reminder of what Natsume has gained since he was a kid.

Verdict: I’ll be watching! It might not be top of my list, but whenever I need a feel good pick-me-up, Natsume Yujin-cho doesn’t disappoint.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll (subtitled)

What do you do at the end of the world? Are you busy? Will you save us?


Why I Watched It: I have to say that as far as atrociously long titles go, that is one of the worst. On the other hand, what kind of miserable world is it that asking those three questions is reasonable at all? So in that way, yes, the title got my interest, and I’ll be referring to the series as WorldEnd in the rest of this write-up since that’s the abbreviation used in Crunchyroll’s search field.

What I Thought: Over 500 years ago, humanity lost a war and has largely been wiped out to the point where Willem Kmetsch may very well be the last of his kind. The world is now a collection of floating islands ruled by beast people, and while there are those without fur or scales like a human, they are viewed as disfigured by society. One of Willem’s friends convinces him to make something of his life and take a job at a “warehouse” storing various weapons, which turn out to be a bunch of small humanlike children. WorldEnd is unusual in that its opening and post-credit scenes are incredibly melancholy in showcasing Willem’s loss during the war 500 years ago, but sandwiches much brighter and light-hearted scenes between them with the kids.

Verdict: I’ll probably watch. This one surprised me, as I wasn’t expecting this mix of light and heavy material. The only thing that bugs me is Willem’s age and I’m not sure if it’s just an art style issue. We don’t know how he’s gotten unstuck in time yet, but physically he looks like an older teen, which doesn’t jive with the fact that he apparently ran an orphanage and the kids there referred to him as their dad, even the older one who had to be a teenager.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll (subtitled) and Funimation (dubbed, subscription required)

Laurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie’s short fiction has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Strange Horizons, and the Intergalactic Medicine Show.

Anime Review: Natsume Yūjin-chō Go

written by Laurie Tom

natsume yujin-cho go

After four years, Natsume Yūjin-chō (also known as Natsume’s Book of Friends) returns with Natsume Yūjin-chō Go. This is the fifth season of the long running series and I previously reviewed seasons 1-4 here.

Natsume Yūjin-chō follows the ongoing misadventures of teenage Takashi Natsume, who has the ability to see youkai (spirits out of Japanese folklore) when most people cannot. Though a kind-hearted person with good intentions, being able to see youkai creates no end of headaches as they frequently want, or even demand his help, and when his small circle of friends have youkai trouble, Natsume’s the person most likely to lend a hand.

Each episode of season 5 is stand alone, and slipping into Go is like putting on a comfortable pair of familiar shoes. Due to the day-to-day nature of the series, there aren’t a lot of details to catch up on as long as one remembers the cast of characters, and even then, there’s usually some backstory help to reintroduce them.

Despite its episodic nature, if there’s anything to thematically bind Go together, it’s history. More than other seasons, we delve into the history of the characters we’ve come to know and learn a little more about the various arts used by exorcists and others who are able to see youkai.

While most series would use backstory for drama, Natsume Yūjin-chō uses it for contemplation. Youkai are a part of Natsume’s life in the same way the people in his neighborhood are and the series arguably works best when focused on the relationships between people or between people and youkai.

This best manifests itself in Takashi’s free-spirited grandmother, Reiko, whose presence continues to loom over the present day, long after her own passing. Though we now know that her creation of the Book of Friends was a forbidden practice, it’s clear that most of the youkai gave her their names willingly and cherished their brief time together with her.

The vocal cast and key production staff return from previous seasons of Natsume Yūjin-chō, but the animation this time around is handled by relatively new studio Shuka instead of the previous Brain’s Base. This is only Shuka’s third anime series and it feels like they’re still trying to get their legs under them.

It isn’t particularly noticeable from episode to episode, the character designs are spot on and background palette pure Natsume Yūjin-chō, but Go has had production issues resulting in only 11 episodes being produced, and used the forgettable “Nyanko-sensei and the First Errand” TV special as a mid-season filler.

Usually skips like this happen when the production runs too close to air date and the episode isn’t done yet, and Shuka had done the same thing with their previous outing, 91 Days (though they used a recap episode as filler instead of a pre-existing TV special).

The episodes produced are solid though and worth watching. While it’s likely easy enough to pop in the middle newcomers should start at the beginning since the entire series is streaming free at Crunchyroll.

Number of Episodes: 11

Pluses: more Natsume and friends; more backstory on Reiko, his adoptive parents, Natori, and others; feel is spot on despite the studio switch

Minuses: run is on the short side, story doesn’t really go anywhere new

Natsume Yūjin-chō Go is currently streaming at Crunchyroll (subtitled).

Laurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Strange Horizons, and the Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction.

Fall 2016 Anime First Impressions

written by Laurie Tom

Fall is well under way and the new anime debuted in October. As usual I watched the first episode of each to decide which series I would like to follow this season.

Because of the new streaming partnership between Funimation and Crunchyroll, this fall is unusual in that everything I watch is now on Crunchyroll since I prefer subtitles. Those who prefer dubs can still find those streaming on Funimation, if a dubbed version exists, but neither site has an exclusive on a particular show anymore now that they’re sharing all new simulcast licenses acquired by either company.

I’m still amazed that such a thing as simulcast dubbing exists. Funimation’s schedule runs about 2-3 weeks behind the Japanese broadcast.



Why I Watched It: Normally I would pass on yet another take on vampires (it seems the rest of the world is just as crazy about them as Americans), but this series is based on a Chinese web comic, and the Japanese rarely do a direct adaptation of work from another country, so I figured this is probably something special.

What I Thought: Bloodivores, dopey title aside, is a little rough around the edges. It does places its own spin on vampires by making their condition an unexpected (and apparently permanent) side effect of a medication intended to suppress a disease, but doesn’t really dig into the world building on how bloodivores and normal humans coexist. The main plot doesn’t show until about halfway through, when protagonist Mi Liu and his bloodivore friends are framed for the murder for fifteen people, by which time the plot gets busy, fitting in a lot of father-son angst over a missing mother, and setting up a cliffhanger.

Verdict: I’m probably going to pass. I’m still a little curious, and it’s possible to see the Chinese origin in subtle ways aside from character names, but the series doesn’t seem that interested in world building and the next episode looks it takes a (very random) hard left turn into Hunger Games territory, with monsters.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Izetta: The Last Witch

izetta the last witch

Why I Watched It: I jumped back and forth on whether to watch this one because of the World War II setting. Though I like it, I feel burnt out on the time period. Then I found out the series is set in an WW2 analog rather than the real world, and I was afraid it would trivialize all the problems surrounding the war, especially with how bright and colorful the promo art was of the titular witch. But finally word of mouth convinced me to give it a shot.

What I Thought: Izetta doesn’t bother to hide that its fictional world is based on WW2, as the first episode even has a WW2-era map showing the Germania Empire’s blitzkreig into Livonia (Poland) and subsequent subduing of Thermidor (France) with Brittania remaining as its primary enemy. The story follows Princess Finé of the fictional Duchy of Eylstadt, located in the eastern third of what would be Austria and she’s one of the more capable heroines in anime as there isn’t a love interest in sight as she and her bodyguards evade enemy agents on a well choreographed train sequence. The bad guys are mostly stereotypical Nazi stand-ins, which is disappointing since I want the 1940s-style time period to be more than set dressing.

Verdict: I might watch this one, time permitting. I do like Finé and, with the titular Izetta showing up at the end of the episode, I like the idea of two girls against an empire, but this time period has been so done to death that I need more complexity from both sides of the conflict.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll (subtitled) and Funimation (dubbed, subscription required)

March Comes in Like a Lion

march comes in like a lion

Why I Watched It: I don’t know how to play shogi, but one of the fun things about anime is that they can make a series about anything and people will watch if it’s interesting. March Comes in Like a Lion was one of the highest anticipated titles coming into the season due to its manga pedigree.

What I Thought: I’m really not certain why it’s so well regarded, at least from the opening episode. There’s some interesting imagery where Rei’s thoughts seem to be mirrored through the use of water, but there’s a lot of mood whiplash which makes me wonder what kind of story it’s supposed to be. The opening nine minutes are so tense that Rei doesn’t even speak. Then the atmosphere takes a comical turn when we meet a bunch of girls who appear to be family friends, only for the mood to reverse again when he hears about someone getting beaten to death on the news. It’s implied he knows the person, but much like his relationship to the girls, how he knows them isn’t spelled out. The episode finally ends with someone who looks like a wannabe rival showing up and taunting him like he came out of a kid’s show.

Verdict: I’m going to pass. I have no idea where it’s going, and while the opening nine minutes were a great exercise showing Rei’s isolation and ability to play shogi, rest of the episode just doesn’t hold up.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll and Daisuki

Natsume Yujin-cho 5

natsume yujin-cho go

Why I Watched It: I’d previously reviewed the first four seasons of Natsume’s Book of Friends (the translated title used for the home video release) and expected that would be the end of the series. But four years later the series about a good-natured teenage boy who can see spirits has been revived for a fifth go around. It’s being animated by a different studio, but all the original cast is back as well as some of the production team.

What I Thought: Despite the studio change, Natsume Yujin-Cho slips almost flawlessly back into the saddle. Once again Natsume is confronted with a problematic yokai whose issue with him is rooted in the history it has with his grandmother Reiko. It’s not going to convert anyone who doesn’t already like the series, but being episodic, it’s very easy for new viewers to slip into as the first few minutes quickly bring everyone up to speed on his ability to see yokai and his isolation from other humans because of it.

Verdict: I’ll be watching. It’s not really a binging type of series, but with the previous series each episode was a great little pick-me-up whenever I wanted something low key and sweet.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Poco’s Udon World

poco's udon world

Why I Watched It: A lot of Japanese storytelling has no issue mixing the spirit world with the mundane. It’s one of the fun things that I don’t get with a lot of western material. Poco’s Udon World follows that tradition with a story about a 30-year-old man who discovers a childlike fox spirit when he goes home to inherit the family business.

What I Thought: Better than I thought! When Souta Tawara goes home to rural Kagawa Prefecture it’s to clean out the family home so it can be sold after the proper mourning period. His father’s udon restaurant is closed, but people keep wanting him to open it up again and we get to see snippets of his childhood from when he wanted to be just his like dad to a young adult where he says the last thing he wants is to take over the restaurant. The tanuki (not a fox!) keeps things from staying too melancholy, but it feels like this is very much Souta’s story about finding what he really wants, and I hope it stays that way.

Verdict: I’ll be watching. I find Souta easily relatable and the tanuki (presumably to be named Poco later) is surprisingly cute without being annoying. This is important because the tanuki spends most of its screen time with the appearance as a human toddler with a limited vocabulary.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll



Why I Watched It: After the mixed result that was Rampo Kitan, I continued to see mystery writer Rampo Edogawa’s name cropping up in various places. He’s had a huge effect on the Japanese mystery genre. Unfortunately little of his work is available in English, so when I saw a new project based on his Kogoro Akechi stories was launched I figured I’d give it a shot.

What I Thought: Trickster feels like an odd throwback to the 90s, with its sort of near future science fiction setting and especially with its confident and relentlessly upbeat protagonist, Hanasaki. He’s probably not going to be a deep character, but that’s okay since he has an ensemble cast with him. Worth mentioning, though not in a positive way, is Kobayashi, a immortal boy who does have powers and wants to die (badly). The most grating part of the first episode is listening to Kobayashi whine about how he wants to die but can’t. It might have meaning later, but his half-hearted attempts to kill himself come off as rather pathetic than character building.

Verdict: I might watch this one. It depends on how much Kobayashi ends up annoying me and how much Hanasaki can make up for it. (There might be something about the original Kobayashi from Edogawa’s fiction, since I disliked the Rampo Kitan version too.)

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll

Yuri on Ice

yuri on ice

Why I Watched It: I was completely sold by the trailer. I’d seen some nicely animated ice skating in Death Parade, but Yuri on Ice‘s animation is just gorgeous. The movement is fluid and realistic, and I think it’s telling that they hired an Olympic choreographer to work on the routines for the different skaters.

What I Thought: You can really see the homework the animation team did on the skating sequences, and fortunately Yuri on Ice isn’t just about its looks. The story follows figure skater Yuri Katsuki who at 23 is already fading from the international stage. He’s a relatable protagonist, having feelings of inadequacy, inability to focus, and even dealing with weight issues (which is incredibly rare for a male character). Of course all that is set to change when a friend’s kid uploads a video of him beat-for-beat copying the reigning world champion’s routine in a private skate, and the world champion himself shows up at Yuri’s door to be his new coach.

Verdict: I’ll be watching. I’m a fan of figure skating in general and Yuri so easy to root for that I want to see his journey.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll (subtitled) and Funimation (dubbed, subscription required)

Conspicuously missing:

The Great Passage – Based on a bestselling novel about a salesman who gets recruited into his company’s dictionary editing project. Since The Great Passage is a Noitamina production it should be covered by the exclusivity agreement it has with Amazon, but it’s only streaming in Amazon UK, and not in the United States. Dictionary editing probably sounds like a very boring premise for a series, which I suspect is the reason Amazon is not simulcasting this, which is a shame since early impressions from outside the US are good.

Laurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Strange Horizons, and the Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction.

Anime Catch-Up Review: Natsume’s Book of Friends

written by Laurie Tom

natsume's book of friendsI wish I hadn’t taken so long to watch Natsume’s Book of Friends. If you like Hayao Miyasaki’s Spirited Away with all its strange supernatural creatures that exist in parallel to the world of humans, there’s a really good chance you’ll like Natsume’s Book of Friends.

Takashi Natsume is an orphaned high school student who has bounced from relative to relative after the death of his parents, none of whom wanted much to do with the troubled child who kept insisting that he saw strange things and would unpredictably act out.

Though Takashi is actually a caring and sensitive person, he has the ability to see youkai (a broad term encompassing many kinds of creatures from Japanese folklore), which most people can’t. When he was younger he tried to explain to teachers and family members, that there were creepy monsters following him, hiding in corners, hovering outside the window, but no one believed him because they would look for themselves and see nothing.

Takashi has gone through life as “that strange kid” because he’s reacting to youkai that only he can see, and this is made clear in the opening scene of the show, where Takashi is running for his life and passes by two classmates who have no idea why he’s running like a madman, or why it’s so important that he finds the nearest shrine.

Most humans can’t see, hear, or touch youkai, and because of that their interaction with youkai tends to be minimal. But youkai take an interest in Takashi as soon as it becomes apparent that he can see them. For a human, he’s unusually spiritually powerful, to the point that he can sometimes pass for a youkai himself, and it seems to be an ability that runs in the family.

The home of his latest foster family is where his grandmother, Reiko, had grown up. Reiko was also incredibly powerful, and also ostracized by the people around her for seeing and interacting with things that weren’t there. Takashi had never met her since she had died young, but he soon learns from the local youkai that she left behind a collection of names called the Book of Friends.

Whoever holds the Book of Friends can command the youkai whose names are written in it, making it highly desirable for malevolent youkai and other youkai who simply want their names back.

The premise could easily have become an action series, but it’s not. Takashi likes his latest set of foster parents, who go out of their way to make him feel welcome, and the last thing he wants is to cause them any trouble. Because he knows from past experiences that most people can’t see youkai, he has never spoken about them to his new parents and tries hard to conceal their activity.

Much of the series’ tension comes from Takashi trying to balance his life with humans with his life that experiences the youkai world. He is sympathetic to the youkai who have had their names taken and because he is Reiko’s blood relative, he is able to tear out the pages and return the name of any bound youkai who comes before him.

Helping him with this is the amusingly named Nyanko-sensei (I’d approximate it as “kitty-sensei” in English), a powerful wolf-like youkai who was sealed inside the vessel of a calico beckoning cat. As a result, Nyanko-sensei usually looks like an extremely chubby cat, and has even acquired some feline behavior, though he can still take his larger wolf form when needed.

Nyanko-sensei knew Takashi’s grandmother Reiko and agrees to watch over Takashi as his bodyguard until Takashi dies, after which Nyanko-sensei will take what remains of the Book of Friends.

Natsume’s Book of Friends is largely episodic, though time clearly passes and we see the seasons change, covering roughly a year and a half of Takashi’s life, during which he makes friends among both humans and youkai. We see Takashi come out of the shell he’s built around himself from the time when people disliked him for being weird and he hated youkai for making him act out.

This lends the series a very slice of life feel to it, where life just happens to be populated with youkai. Even when there are moments of danger, it still feels like a fairly low-key show and action is never the point.

Instead we’re invited to share Takashi’s life with him for as long as the series lasts, and for those who can’t get enough, the manga is still running with a licensed English translation by Viz Media.

One of the things unusual about Natsume are his foster parents. Whereas it’s common in anime to have absentee/dead parents, Takashi’s foster parents are integral to the story, because of his deep need to protect the home he didn’t have when he was younger, so they’re in almost every episode and their caring for Takashi feels more real and genuine than most parents who do show up in anime.

I highly recommend Natsume’s Book of Friends to anyone interested in Japanese folklore or looking for something different from the usual anime fare. Most episodes are standalone with a few two-parters scattered throughout, so it makes for very leisurely viewing.

Number of Episodes: 52

Pluses: how humans and youkai simultaneously exist together, relationship between Takashi and Nyanko-sensei, lots of warm fuzzy moments

Minuses: Nyanko-sensei is sometimes really incompetent otherwise the plot wouldn’t happen, less focus on the Book of Friends itself as the series gets further in

Natsume’s Book of Friends is currently streaming under its untranslated Japanese title as Natsume Yujin-cho (Seasons 1-3) and Natsume Yujin-cho Shi (Season 4) on Crunchyroll and is available subtitled. NIS America has released this on Blu-Ray/DVD in the US, though copies are getting harder to find now.

Laurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Strange Horizons, and Crossed Genres.