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AKA: 夏目友人帳 伍 (Natsume Yūjin-Chō Go)
Genre: Supernatural drama, slice of life.
Length: Television series, 11 episodes, 24 minutes each
Distributor: Currently streaming on crunchyroll.
Content Rating: 13+ (Violence, Mature situations.)
Related Series: Natsume's Book of Friends season 1-4, upcoming season 6.
Also Recommended: Haibane Renmei, Gingitsune.
Notes: Based on the manga by Yuki Midorikawa, serialized in LaLa. The manga is still licensed by Viz.

The stream on Crunchyroll included an episode offshoot, episode 6.5, which will not be included in the review due to it not being based on the anime (and also because it's kind of terrible, especially by Natsume's Book of Friends standards.)
Rating:

Natsume's Book of Friends Season 5

Synopsis

Natsume continues to get caught up with various yokai and their many reasons for approaching him. Be that yokai who comes for their names, for Natsume to help them in some manner or even just for a bite to eat -- Natsume or otherwise -- it's clear that Natsume's days will be filled with chaos for some time yet. Especially now that he clearly realizes that the worst dangers he has to face might not be a yokai, but instead fellow human beings.


Review

It's been a long ride with Natsume's Book of Friends, and it's going to be longer yet. The sixth season was announced even before I had the chance to round off this one. It speaks volumes of how well received this show has been. Despite a few mishaps, it's also been consistently strong, most of said mishaps generally being filler, including that one episode we do not speak of. (And no, I'm not necessarily referring to the filler episode this season got, though lord knows it gave said episode-we-do-not-speak-of some serious competition in not being spoken of.)

Natsume Takashi has lived for quite a while now with his adoptive charges, Touko and Shigure Fujiwara, and continues to get involved in the lives of his charges, his classmates and the many facets of spiritual life that hangs around his home area. The shadow of his grandmother, Reiko, and the inheritance she left behind still weighs heavily on him, but he has also gained friends he can confide in. Friends who knows his secret, because they too have been burned by beings regular humans can't see, much less know are there.

I still remember how the first episode of the first season shattered my preconceptions about the show and tore its way to the innermost of my emotional center with frightening ease, then continued to do so throughout most of the seasons, only losing me a bit in the fourth with all the longer-running storylines based more around action than the things Natsume's Book of Friends did best. And hoo boy, is season 5 a return to form. Rejoice, fans of Natsume's Book of Friends, because this might very well be the best season yet.

And why is that? Because this show is at its best when it explores the characters and the relationships between them. The first season gouged me straight in the heart when it had a large, scary-looking one-eyed yokai granny express concern for a character we had barely even met, and wouldn't often on account of her being dead. Her one thread being her book of friends, a keepsake that ensures Natsume will meet up with all kinds of beings, for good and bad. It's complicated, because by now, Natsume has met and created strong bonds with several human beings, some who don't know about his abilities and a small handful who does, and it's interesting to see how his fear for both of them are two sides of the same coin, a metaphorical coin that respresents the things that gave his childhood almost nothing but grief.

While human beings are more complicated than just a dot on the measuring pole of "good" and "evil", even they don't come as wildly varied as the yokai. So many shapes and sizes, so many odd personality types that either run parallell to their appearences, or completely counter to it. The yokai mindset is very different from a human, partially due to the limited lifespan of the latter and how it influences how we think. A yokai can decide to find something to amuse themselves for fifty years; half of a (lucky) human's lifespan that's barely the blink of a yokai's eye. Many of the yokai who come to Natsume for help has some trouble grasping this concept as well as gender, often thinking him to be his own grandmother. Natsume himself seem a bit calmer now, in no small part thanks to his friends, more so Touko and Shigure. And while he has been betrayed before, by both human and yokai, he still retains much of that willingness to help others who ask for it, much to the consternation of his sensei.

The Matoba clan does make a return this season, mainly its head, the young Seiji Matoba. To Natsume -- and, by extent, the audience -- he did not make the best of first impressions. Mainly because he was far more direct, in fact downright ruthless, compared to Natsume's exorcist friend and sparkly TV star Natori Shuuichi, and are certainly not above blackmailing people to get what he want, never mind his general treatment of yokai. Matoba and Natori actually get a whole episode for themselves, a flashback that might also be a filler episode (I have no memory of reading it in the manga, though that doesn't mean it might never appear in future volumes) that explains a bit how Natori came to his own as an exorcist and also why Matoba wears a protective spell over his right eye. Matoba (and to a much lesser extent Natori) also presents a problem as far as the Book of Friends is concerned; what if either of them were to find out about it? About the immense power the book has over all the named yokai in it, and the terrible things you could do with -- or to -- the owners of all the names Natsume has yet to return.

Thankfully, this season -- as well as most of the remainder of the show -- doesn't really dwell on that too long. As I mentioned, Natsume's Book of Friends finds most of its strength when it explores various aspects of the spiritual world, especially when the show includes either Tanuma or Taki, both of which have their own ties despite their limited abilities. This is mostly because the two of them understand Natsume better than anyone else; Tanuma has a vague sense of what's going on, and he even had the opportunity to see what Natsume sees due to the help of a blue-haired yokai in season 3, while Taki doesn't have the sight for it, but was still caught up in yokai affairs due to the tireless work of her grandfather and his spells... and a particular nasty case that made her life a living hell for a long time.

In fact, the one episode centered around Taki and another yokai she met -- well, two or three of them, technically -- ended up being one of the strongest episodes this season. I mentioned before that yokai think on a different plane compared to humans, but while Taki's first attempt at using her grandfather's magical circles ended up with her having to deal with a particularly nasty yokai, this time, it's a giant, gentle yokai that has to deal with feelings of being separated by someone who has to use special means to see him, ones that shouldn't be used idly. It's a happy, yet still sad episode, whose heartbreak is worse because the show is so gentle about it, and because it's centered around a sweet girl who, since her introduction episodes, has finally gotten her life back and can express it any way her massively extroverted heart desires.

Aside from the other regulars -- that is the serious and studious Kitamoto and the more flighty Nishimura and his many, short crushes that are doomed to fail -- season 5 still puzzles me with the continued presence of Jun Sasada, the girl who in the original manga moved away after her own story concluded, but the show decided to keep around. She shows up a lot more often in this season too, though the show elegantly solves that problem by basically having her show up in segments that elaborate on various chapter arcs; filler segments in original manga stories, basically. Earlier seasons has done this as well, like the episode in season 4 that dealt with a girl who made an effort to get to know Natsume; while the manga chapter was a relatively short one seen solely from her point of view, the anime doubled up by retelling most of that story from Natsume's point of view for the second half. For Jun, this means she'll mostly show up in segments that bridge the sequences from the manga in a way that not only feels natural, but gives Sasada the chance to feel less like a tacked-on extra that shouldn't really be there in the first place. She didn't make the best first impression, what with her trying to blackmail Natsume in a way that felt a bit too similar as the method of choice that Matoba used to force Natsume to help him in one of the episodes of this season, though lessened since Sasada isn't really a threat in the same way that the Matoba family is. Besides, she admitted she was just bluffing anyway, mostly out of desperation. Though again, that desperation was mostly because her time there was limited in the manga, but with her sticking around in the anime, that part became a moot point. Still, it begs the question of why she's still there. She'll never have a manga chapter centered around her again, so any material with her in it will be filler. If she once had a crush on Natsume, she probably can't ever act on that, because what would happen then if the manga later chooses to pair him up with someone else, like Taki? She's basically forced into stasis. Pleasant statis, I guess, but still.

Speaking of supporting cast; when this season started, I had one wish for an ending episode. There was a short manga chapter about Touko and Shigure living in their house while lamenting it being a bit too big. When Shigure entered a family funeral of sorts, he saw Natsume and decided to discuss with Touko the option of adopting him. All the while, Touko made friends with a crow for saving her laundry from the rain while feeling a bit sorry for it because it seemingly didn't have a partner. It was a really sweet episode that I felt would serve as a great ending point. This ended up being episode 10, so I didn't specifically get my wish, but the manga story that ended up being episode 11 was still a great choice to instill that sense of melancholy that Natsume's Book of Friends does so incredibly well.

I am already looking forward to season 6, but I'm also worried how it's going to be able to live up to this one. Season 5 turned out to be Natsume's Book of Friends at its very best, and it's going to be hard to top it. Then again, the manga -- which I've also kept up with -- is still going strong, so let us all look forward to that attempt. And if you haven't gotten around to watching this one yet, well... that's just more to look forward to.

Natsume's Book of Friends returns to form. And how?!Stig Høgset

Recommended Audience: While the show isn't particularly violent, it has its share of relative mild accounts of mature themes and threats of bodily harm or mastication with the intent to swallow. Still, this show should be safe for all teenagers.



Version(s) Viewed: Digital stream on Crunchyroll, Japanese with English subs.
Review Status: Full (11/11)
Natsume's Book of Friends Season 5 © 2016 NAS, Shuka.
 
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