What They Say:
Still in possession of his grandmother’s Book of Friends, Natsume spends his days returning the names of yokai to their rightful owners. He has been learning how to deal with the yokai and humans that surround his life, but the time has come for him to deal with something even more difficult-his own past, and future.
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 surrounded by Nyanko with other spirits around them while the back side features a lot of other spirits that make up this volume. It’s all very light and soft but has a beautiful illustrative design to it rather than animation. 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 some good combinations of characters and standalone pieces as well against a simple soft yellow background. 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.
With three seasons behind us, it’s pretty easy to know what you’re in for when it comes to Natsume’s Book of Friends. I really liked the previous seasons and what they offered as it’s a very engaging show that’s done in a simple and relaxed manner for much of it. What also drew me to the show is that it avoids the trap of trying to go big with events in the final episodes, attempting to wrap a lot of material in a way that makes it like a boss fight in a game. Instead, it just carries forward with mostly single episode stories and the gradual changes that are going on when it comes to Natsume himself and how he’s becoming more and more comfortable in his skin. And that’s really rewarding to see when you look at this over the four seasons/fifty-two episodes that the show has run by the end of the season. Natsume has grown in a natural and realistic way.
With much of this set, we do get a lot of the familiar, but it’s also downsizing aspects of it which is a big bonus for the long term fans. We get a few episodes where the yokai show up and want to get their names back, but it’s a far reduced part of the story compared to previous seasons. And even a few of those episodes where this does come into play, it’s more of a secondary aspect where a particular yokai will suddenly say that they’re surprised to see Reiko or comment that Reiko is a bit more manly or smells differently, before it comes back to revealing that it’s not Reiko but her grandson. By downsizing this aspect of the show and making it less of a yokai of the week wanting its name back, we get to change things up with how Natsume ends up coming into contact with the various yokai.
Some of the things that do happen are amusing, especially when we get an episode where Natsume is captured by a yokai and put into a small jar, reducing him in size and eliminating him from view of others. He’s in a yokai-zone of sorts here and Nyanko gets the opportunity to save him. But in order to do it, he has to take on Natsume’s appearance for awhile and that just leads to a lot of amusement. Nyanko’s style of speech as he tries to imitate – sometimes – Natsume is priceless, especially when he interacts with his parents or those at school. It’s a completely different personality and the differences are just so much more pronounced here because of it. While it all does resolve itself rather easily when you get into it, it also draws the larger group into dealing with a whole lot of yokai in a special mansion which works really well to involve some of the characters we haven’t seen in awhile and to place them inside a large group of yokai who are unaware of humans being in the mix, which is always comical.
While there’s a good bit of material involving yokai across the board, the material that really got me here is what was dealing with Natsume and his past. We get this approached in two different ways. One of them is when we see a girl that new Natsume at one of his previous schools reminiscing about him a bit and remembering some of what went on when he was there, allowing us to see Natsume’s life in dealing with the yokai – when he was a lot more afraid of them – from a different pair of eyes. She’s sympathetic towards him and tries to understand what’s going on, but he keeps so much of it to himself. This lets us see the alienation that sets in for him as everyone starts to stay away from him but also to see how some people did try to reach out to him and that he left an impression on them. Getting both sides of the story here works well since we see it from Yuriko’s point of view as well as what Natsume had been seeing.
Where the show goes from there is a bit slower, but it also works really well to give us more of Natsume. When word arrives from his family that the home he grew up in for a bit with his father after his mother died has a buyer, he gets conflicted about even wanting to talk about it with his parents in the here and now. While he’s fine with it being sold, there’s that desire to see it but he has a hard time being truthful about what his real feelings are since he doesn’t want to impact anyone else. With the way he’s been tossed from home to home over the years, the reactions are normal and the suppressing of feelings is what helps him cope. But we do see him starting to come out of this shell more and more and it’s great to watch such a slow and realistic change in this young man as he makes the decision to go, deals with the fallout from visiting with some of the other relatives he stayed with as a young child and the emotions of the home itself. Natsume has grown up well since coming into contact with Nyanko, but so much of it is also just himself and a growing confidence in self. Bringing it all together with this story arc may be slow and somewhat drawn out, but it’s exactly what’s needed. And if there’s no more anime after this, it does provide a sense of closure to what the real draw of the series is for me, Natsume himself.
Natsume’s Book of Friends is a very charming show and one that I’ve enjoyed a good deal since the first season. As it progressed, each season adds new bits of nuance and small, incremental changes that allows for a natural growth for the lead character. Nyanko isn’t a character that changes, he provides the static aspect of the series, but seeing how Natsume has grown with his interactions with so many people, making friends and truly becoming a closer part of the family he has now with his adoptive parents is just beautiful to watch. This season doesn’t do as much with the whole name reclamation aspect of the property that we saw in previous seasons, but the yokai material is fun and the time spent within that world is definitely interesting, serious and comical – sometimes at the same time. But really, it’s all about Natsume and this season just does everything right, making it a very solid recommendation when taken in with everything that has come before.
Japanese PCM 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Japanese Commercials
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: NIS America
Release Date: July 2nd, 2013
Running Time: 315 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p/AVC
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.