Anime is an art form that has substantially given the ability to myths to breathe. One can only be fascinated by the wonders that anime can accomplish by giving life to the extraordinary. One such quaint anime that truly deserves some credible attention is Natsume’s Book Of Friends.
There is truth embedded in myths, for this has been the most important aspect of all that we hold precious. Legends have given literature a place to breathe, to nourish its soul, and permeate with time to give form to the absurd. But what is imperative to understand is when figures from the long lost legends and lore are given a human form, it is an attempt to make the past relevant to the present.
YOKAI Awakening in Natsume’s book of friends
Imagine, that you were born with the power to see a different world of beings. One that thrives in the secretive realms of what we know as the world of our own. The truth would have been very different, but for Takashi Natsume, the world is full of Ayakashi and Yokai. The former entails the vengeful spirits of the ones who died at sea. Natsume can hear and communicate with spirits. For him, every day is like a matter of survival. His erratic tendencies to get as far as he can from these repulsive spirits causes him to be ridiculed by those around him.
Being born with strong spiritual powers, Natsume can communicate with the spirits. Yet he is chased by them, like some oddity. Natsume being an orphan often has to shift places to live with different relatives. Most of them despise Natsume for his weird behavior.
His is a life that is surrounded by misery until he is liberated from this detestable rat race by Madara (Nyanko-Sensei); a god-like Ayakashi who acts as his protector in exchange for his famed book of friends. But what is this book of friends exactly? Simply put, it is a device through which Ayakashi and Yokai can be tamed. But they can only be tamed after they have been defeated.
Natsume realizes the power he wields
Natsume at first is perplexed at this revelation but then the truth unfurls like a long-lost history book, filling the unfulfilled void in his heart. Like a storm had just passed. With Nyanko-Sensei, Natsume embarked on a journey to liberate multiple Ayakashi and Yokai, whose names were taken from them by his formidable grandmother Natsume Reiko.
For it was the legacy of Reiko that haunted Natsume. It was rather Reiko who had subjected all kinds of Ayakashi and Yokai in her book of friends. She was truly a maverick, a sort of unreal maverick for what she had accomplished. Reiko, like Natsume, was born with strong spiritual powers and could communicate with spirits. She also possessed great physical prowess which was deeply feared by all kinds of Ayakashi and Yokai.
But what is fascinating here is that these contracts were recorded in the “Book of Friends” as a family heirlooms. The Book of friends was passed on from one generation to another, Reiko passed away at a young age. But those whose names were recorded in the book of friends kept on living.
Path of salvation
Takashi Natsume, her grandson, inherited the book of friends accidentally while trying to outrun a large and powerful Ayakashi. Here, he breaks the seal of Madara’s shrine. Madara, being a near-invulnerable divine figure, agrees to help Natsume only if he would give his book of friends to Madara after his death. And thus Natsume began his journey to grant salvation to the multiple subjugated Ayakashi and Yokai in the book of friends.
Natsume witnesses the magical realm of myths, breathing like a whole living organism by itself. Life in the shadows, one that peeks through the darkly covered glass of truth. Where the word human is not welcome. To Natsume, this is a moment of great satisfaction. The tranquil sojourn is violently ruptured by darker evil; “No matter how far you travel, you can never get away from yourself”. Perhaps out of self-pity, loneliness, or love, Natsume goes back to the unreal realm to find real answers.
Making friends with the Yokai (Natsume’s book of friends) …
On this journey, he meets many warm and wholesome figures. Thanks to the imagination, there’s no end to things in this world that can trigger anxiety. But it is important to remember that there are those who come into our lives at an uncertain hour, like a tiny speck of light, during the perfect storm.
For Natsume, the people he encounters, restore his humanity back into him, as Matsuo Basho once remarked ” the journey itself is my home”. And in this journey, the people and Ayakashi enrich Natsume by restoring his trust in life. By liberating himself from the dogma of insignificance.
Acceptance, be it human or otherwise is a significant aspect of life, from unsystematic uncertainties to troublesome realities. One thing is sure, “The past remains hidden in clouds of memory”. For Natsume, this is a lesson on liberation, and truth be told a sermon on hope. The anime comments on many issues such as friendship, loneliness, courage, and hope but above all, it subtly tries to ride the currents of time to depict a world full of myths where time is merely an observation. Where all life is beautiful, and thus all are nothing but friends.
“Cosmic time is the same for everyone, but human time differs with each person. Time flows in the same way for all human beings; every human being flows through time in a different way.”