Natsume Yuujinchou: Who is Nyanko-Sensei?
This easy-to-miss sidekick carries a secret equal to that of Natsume, but what is this mystical origin, and can Nyanko-sensei be trusted?
Kappas, kitsune and gods of all origins exist in Natsume’s Friends Book – Yet despite the plethora of mystical beings Natsume Takashi has encountered during his adventures in the series, perhaps the most powerful and mysterious is just the unassuming little cat mounted on his shoulder who could devour in one bite.
Natsume’s Friends Book is the story of teenager Natsume, who has always had the ability to see mythical Japanese beings called yokai, causing him endless misery. However, everything in Natsume’s life changes when he finds the Book of Friends – a collection of local yokai names his grandmother Reiko once collected – and accidentally releases a powerful yokai named Madara who had been trapped in a shrine. for years. This yokai desires the Book of Friends for himself but makes a deal to inherit the book upon Natsume’s death. Until then, he will accompany Natsume to ensure that no other yokai dares encroach on his territory. Thus, a friendship is formed between the boy and the yokai, and Madara takes the form of a cat so he can live with Natsume, taking the name “Nyanko-sensei”.
But what is Nyanko-sensei and why is he such a valuable ally? Dog-shaped yokai like him are known as inugami and have been featured in other popular Japanese media such as Inuyasha. There are many different folk tales about the birth of an inugami. Some people have earned the inugami by killing a dog and being deliberately possessed by its spirit for good luck. Other tales claimed that inugami were the scattered remains of beasts slain by famous warriors and transformed into new creatures. Still others said that inugami came from paintings or stones.
Although inugami legends exist in Kyushu, where Natsume’s Friends Book takes place, there are no region-specific legends regarding inugami or which tracks Kyushu would have used legends at, so Madara remains a mystery in many ways. He was probably not the product of human possession due to his own material body, and his level of power would suggest great origin, so he is most likely a yokai born from a famous painting or stone, or many remnants of an even greater spirit.
As an inugami, Madara would broadly be classified as “dōbutsu no ke”, meaning an animal spirit, and he is also an obake, meaning he can shapeshift. His time imprisoned in the Sanctuary seems to have marked him, as Madara’s form of infiltration involves taking the form of a lucky cat. Despite this tiny appearance, as soon as Nyanko-sensei transforms into Madara, it’s usually enough to scare off any troublesome yokai. This reveals that Madara is able to hide his presence quite effectively, let alone how intimidating he is when showing his true form.
Besides shapeshifting and flight, Madara is able to offer spiritual aid and protection, as well as being an inexhaustible source of knowledge, so despite spending nights in Natsume’s room with a bottle of sake, Nyanko -sensei is easily the most powerful and probably the most knowledgeable in the series, even if he never actually admits it.
Nyanko-sensei is a sleazy character at first, but he quickly becomes indispensable to the series, and not just because of his power. Although he grumbles about how he wants to eat Natsume, he never takes advantage of his chance, even though he dismisses it as the deal that he must inherit the Book of Friends upon Natsume’s death. Given that he actively saves Natsume’s life on several occasions, he seems content to wait.
Maybe it’s just that an inugami has a long life and the wait doesn’t seem long, or maybe it’s because they’ve grown attached to that human. If Madara was born when the great myths such as Tamamo-no-Mae still existed, he has been alive for thousands of years, and his motivations for not taking up the Book of Friends may be as simple and relatable as the solitude. Whatever his reasons and his mysterious origin, Nyanko-sensei has remained a loyal sidekick and the first true companion Natsume has been able to welcome into his life until now, making him an indispensable part of Natsume’s mission to send all the names in the Book of Friends.
Natsume’s Friends Book can be streamed on Crunchyroll and Funimation.
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