Natsume’s life has settled as best as it can and we get a better picture of the arc of his life so far.
What They Say:
Takashi Natsume has always been shunned by those around him because of his mysterious ability to see yokai. Eventually, he came into possession of his grandmother Reiko’s “Book of Friends,” and together with his bodyguard Nyanko-sensei he set out to return the names of the yokai contained within it. Since then, he’s found a home with the Fujiwaras and surrounded himself with friends at school. Little does he know he’s about to be dragged unwittingly into further trouble…
Contains episodes 1-13 of season 3 and a full-color, 32-page hardcover art book styled after the Book of Friends and featuring detailed info about the characters, an episode guide, rough sketches, and Japanese DVD package illustrations.
The audio presentation for this release is straightforward as we get the original Japanese language only in stereo encoded using the lossless PCM codec. The series works pretty well with this mix as it’s mostly dialogue driven and with some bits of ambiance as well as a dose of action. The dialogue side is naturally handled well with one or two characters talking at a time and it’s mostly center channel based with a few throws the left or right here and there. The action plays pretty well too overall when it happens since it’s usually quick and intense but never overpowering. The mix of the two different elements works well and when it shifts from talk to action, it goes big and quickly but never overwhelming. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2012, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The season is spread across two discs with nine on the first and four on the second. The show is light on supporting materials so it’s all about the show itself and the transfer captures it pretty well. There’s a softer palette used for this show to blend the countryside feeling of the story with the more magical yokai aspect and all that comes between that blending. The animation has a good, smooth look to it and the colors hold up really well with very little in the way of background noise and no cross coloration or line noise. The show has the right look to it and definitely pleases overall.
The premium edition version of this release works similar to what previous editions have been like for other series and it’s definitely a pleasure. The oversized heavy chipboard box has a really great feeling to it with the paper style used that adds a richness to the colors and artwork. The front side features Natsume riding on Nyanko’s back in his transformed mode where he’s pulling out pages from the book. It’s all very light and soft but has a beautiful illustrative design to it rather than animation. The reverse side does similar with a different configuration of characters that focuses on those that Natsume has to deal with while providing the wraparound connection in a subtle yet beautiful way. The combination of the different aspects of the box really brings it together in a way that makes it feel wholly appropriate for the series, right down to the logo font.
The hardcover book included is spot on as well as it’s designed like the book within the series as it brings us a full color episode guide, a look at the various human and yokai characters and some gorgeous full sized images of the various promotional pieces from the series. While it could have done a bit more to tie in thematically within the book, the overall package for the book is fantastic. The two clear thinpak cases included in the release are pretty good as well, though more traditional, as we get one case for each season where the first is a dark piece and the second has a sunset design that works nicely. The character focus is all on Natsume and Nyanko to good effect though. The back covers are wraparound pieces that tie in the yokai a bit and provide a breakdown of episodes by number and title and a good look at the extras. Add in the clean technical grids that are accurate and you’ve got a package that is just perfect for this series. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for the release definitely captures part of the essence of the show and its animation style. Each disc is laid out differently with a seasonal kind of feeling to them with static imagery that shows off something that feels like great illustrations of various characters configurations. There’s that sense that it’s just right on paper that you can touch at times that’s really great to have with it. The navigation is simple with its offerings as there’s little here beyond the show and a few extras and only the original language track. Navigation is a breeze to move around and it’s every quick and easy to access. The menus do the job right in setting the mood and being very easy to get around in.
The only extras included on this release are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences for each season as well as a small sampling of commercials for the season.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After going through two seasons at once in the previous collection of Natsume’s Book of Friends, this collection with just the third season feels rather short. Especially since as it draws to a close, you feel like you should be spending a lot more time with the characters. The show took a bit of a break between the second and third season but it sticks to the same general look and tone, making for a pretty seamless transition for most people to be able to enjoy it. The show also keeps to its standalone style of storytelling for most of it, though there are a pair of two part stories to be had here.
I do feel that a show like this is kind of difficult to review because it is mostly about mood and feeling rather than storytelling itself. The standalone episodes are straightforward in a lot of ways as Natsume ends up coming across some yokai that either wants his help because they’ve heard about him or they’re looking for him thinking that he’s Reiko and they want their name back. And as frustrating as it is for Nyanko, Natsume does continue to return names pretty easily upon request. There isn’t exactly a template for how these kinds of episodes play out, but they hit certain marks at different times and it’s designed to grow an understanding of the yokai and their situation while allowing Natsume to get to know more of the yokai world itself. It doesn’t generatie any serious kinds of relationships, though the bonds are strengthened elsewhere.
Natsume’s time with his human friends is what’s grown a bit here as we see him spending more time with Tanuma over the course of it, as well as Taki. But they aren’t constants in each episode and they’re not always on an adventure or something. With Taki, there’s a time when the pair end up at her place and he works to help deal with a yokai there that’s a kimono monster of sorts that’s reassembling itself after all these years and is causing a lot of trouble. Spending time with her, especially now that she’s more outgoing than she was before, is something that’s fairly fun since they all get along and are on the same wavelength even if they can’t see what Natsume does. There’s an understanding there that helps to bring them together, though it puts a bit of pressure on Natsume.
One of the two parters here is interesting as it has a yokai that’s missing an important mirror that it needs to try and save her brother from a disease. The mirror was broken up and she’s searching throughout the school to try and find it, which is causing a fair number of problems there. Where it takes an interesting turn is when Natsume and Tanuma confront her, amid a different yokai that’s searching for the broken pieces of the mirror as well, and she possesses Tanuma in order to force Natsume to help find it. It reinforces what Natsume will do for a friend in need, but it gives Tanuma a real look at what it is that Natsume sees all the time, allowing her eyes to work through his so that he can see the world as they do. It’s pretty eye-opening and it adds a new level of respect for Natsume.
But it’s where the show goes towards the end that really won me over even more. We get an episode focused on when Natsume was in middle school and being stuck in a home that didn’t want him. His lack of friends was a problem and he was just wanting to run away from the world entirely, which a particular yokai was eager to help him with. But this is when he met Fujiwara and Shigeru and they made it clear that they wanted wanted him to come live with them. We get to see how this new family came together and some of the reasons why, making it clear why Natsume is as close to them as he is, but also why he was so tense early on in the first season in trying to make sure they were happy with him. But it’s this part about the friends that he didn’t have, the troubles in making them, and seeing how it all comes together in the present with a hilarious yokai celebration party that leads to him going off with human friends shows just how much he’s grown, settled down and is far more interesting than he was before. There’s a lot to like in seeing the results of his growth over this season and it really does serve as the subtext for it.
While the previous collection was DVD only, getting this season in Blu-ray is a big plus here with this combo set. The show definitely looks a lot more detailed and the colors are better, but the quality of the stories are the same. Which is a good thing since I think those two seasons did a good job in presenting a lot of standalone tales with an overall growth subplot that culiminates well in this season. Natsume and Nyanko continue to be the primary characters here but we got a good build up of a supporting cast, human and yokai, that really fleshes it out and makes it so much fun to watch even as it does just simple stories with a bit of tension, a little mystery and a lot of uncertain friendships that are growing into something more. I really loved this particular season and the way those final couple of episodes play out, giving us a much better Natsume than we had at the start of the first season. NIS America put together two really great releases with this series that are must owns if you’re into this type of show.
Japanese PCM 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Openings, Clean Closings, Japanese Commercials
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: NIS America
Release Date: March 5th, 2013
Running Time: 315 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.