I've posted about Natsume Yuujinchou before, but that was quite some time ago, after the first series. I just finished watching the fourth season, and I think the series overall is worth another post. This post will cover elements of the entire four seasons.
Natsume Yuujinchou is a story about a boy named Natsume Takashi. Natsume was born being able to see and interact with youkai, which are supernatural beings or demons. The story takes place when Natsume is in high school and he has inherited a Book of Friends from his grandmother, Natsume Reiko. This book contains the names of hundreds of youkai that Reiko fought during her lifetime. When she beat them, she required them to write their name in her Book of Friends. Natsume now owns this book, and a variety of powerful youkai want to possess it.
One of the youkai wishing to possess the book is a powerful youkai who generally goes around in the shape of an exceedingly fat cat. This is Nyanko-sensei, who is called Madara when is his powerful youkai form. The picture above shows both Nyanko-sensei's forms, Reiko when she was Natsume's age, and Natsume releasing a name from the Book of Friends. Nyanko-sensei decides to be patient since humans are so short-lived, and wait for Natsume's death before taking possession of the book. In the meantime he protects Natsume from harm, both from other powerful youkai and from a few humans also. Ostensibly he does this to protect the book that will come to him, but in reality he probably genuinely cares for Natsume. Natsume goes around returning the name of any youkai who is in the book and asks for its name back. Nyanko-sensei complains about this, but doesn't do anything about it.
Natsume had a difficult childhood, both because his parents died when he was very young and because he could see and interact with beings that no one else could see. He was thought to be strange and a liar, and was passed around to various relatives until a pair of very distant relatives, Fujiwara Touko and Shigeru, asked to take him. From that time he had a true home, but only slowly during the series does he grow to accept and trust other people. He learns the value of friendship, and that being a friend means allowing his friends to help him and worry about him, instead of protecting them always from what he is. His friends include his best friend Tanuma Kaname, a student in his school who also has some ability to sense youkai. Tanuma is the dark-haired boy wearing the cap in the picture above, which along with Natsume and Nyanko-sensei also includes Natori, tipping his hat, and a small youkai chewing on his.
Natsume is a very kind person, which tends to get him into lots of trouble. He is kind to people and he is kind to youkai who ask for his help. His kindness to youkai runs him afoul of a powerful clan of exorcists, the Matoba clan, who feel that youkai must be captured and used as tools. If they are too powerful to be captured, they must be sealed away. If they are not powerful enough to be used as tools, they must be destroyed. This philosophy doesn't work for Natsume who has more youkai friends than human friends by the time he runs across the Matoba. Another exorcist, Natori Shuuichi, also has issues with Natsume's tendency to befriend youkai, but Natori is more willing to let Natsume go his own way. Natori ends up being Natsume's friend and taking his side in issues involving youkai, although Natsume also helps Natori when it's necessary to exorcise a bad youkai. Natori and his youkai servant, Hiiragi, are back to back in this picture above and to the left. Two of Natsume's youkai friends are also shown.
Natsume Yuujinchou may end up being one of my all time favorite series. The underlying story about Natsume growing up, getting past his fear of youkai and fear of trust that were instilled in his early years, and learning about friendship is wonderful. The series started out early on as just episodic, with Natsume dealing with various youkai and their problems each episode. Even this wasn't bad, with small mini-arcs occurring and enough tension in the episodes to keep the series from being boring. But the real beauty of the series, other than the character style, which is gorgeous, is the slowly developed underlying story. This last picture shows all Natsume's human friends from school at his house with Fujiwara Touko and Nyanko-sensei and some youkai friends on the roof. The music from the series was so-so, but the rest of the elements of the series made it very worthwhile. I highly recommend it.