What They Say:
A kind yet sad lie was told.
Natsume has been busy, navigating between humans and yokai when he coincidentally reunites with an old classmate, Yuki. The reunion brings back painful memories of a certain yokai. Meanwhile, Natsume also becomes acquainted with Yorie Tsumura, a woman in the memories of a yokai whose name Natsume had returned. Yorie knows much about Reiko, and now lives a peaceful life with her only son, Mukuo. Interacting with this family is comforting for Natsume, but a mysterious yokai has been lurking in their town. On the way back from investigating, a “yokai seed” that had latched itself to Nyanko-sensei drops into the Fujiwara Family’s garden and grows overnight into a fruit tree. When Nyanko-sensei eats a fruit that is somewhat shaped like himself, he suddenly splits into three!
The audio presentation for this release is straightforward as we get the original Japanese language only in stereo or in 5.1 encoded using the lossless PCM codec. The project works pretty well with either 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 2018, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The single-disc project is one that looks great as it’s basically taking the TV series and just nudging it up a touch, if that. The show itself has always looked great with a high-quality approach since it wasn’t movement/action heavy and could work its budget well. This keeps it to that but with the subtle things that helps to elevate it on a film budget. 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 packaging for this release comes in a clear standard-sized Blu-ray case that holds the single disc that comes with it. The front cover uses the familiar poster artwork for the film with our two leads along the right and the tree to the left, which is done in some really neat shades that usually aren’t associated with how anime typically looks. The logo is kept along the top left but it’s small and strictly Japanese in general with the English in super tiny form that I can barely read. It’s a very Japanese release here. The back cover has a nice visual along the top of the two leads again and a decent summary of the premise. The extras are clearly listed as well as what’s included in the packaging itself. A few shots from the show round it out before we get to a lot of cast and staff credits and a minimal technical grid that showcases how the film is put together on the disc. The inclusion if a small set of postcards is great with some nice choices included while the case itself has artwork on the reverse side, one a nice painted visual and the other an adorable look at the trio that dominates part of the film.
The menu design for the film definitely captures the feel of the property as a whole with a kind of warmth to it. Done with a white static background, we get a photograph style piece off-center to the middle where various locations from the film fade in and out. It’s all soft and appealing in creating the right mood for the film. The navigation is simple with its offerings as there’s little here beyond the film itself and a few extras and only the original language track. Navigation is a breeze to move around and it’s very 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 a series of various teasers and trailers for the film.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I really like Natsume’s Book of Friends as a whole. I had seen the first four seasons as they were released by NIS America previously but the fifth season was streamed only so I’ve not been able to watch that. It’s been 2013 since I last saw something in full with this property until this film arrived and I’m glad that I’ve gotten a chance to see it. Arriving in 2018 in Japan, Ephemeral Bond gives us what’s essentially a short arc from within the larger series. Based on the screenplay by Sadayuki Murai, it’s directed by Takahiro Omori and Hideki Ito with studio Shuka handling the animation production. As I mentioned before, the film takes the already wonderful visuals of the TV series and nudges it up nicely without making it a radically different project. And that makes it easy to just immerse yourself in it.
The film wants to explore the larger bonds that exist for Natsume and that plays out in a slow and kind of sprawling form, both from his normal time and from his connection to his grandmother. And all of it is largely done with Nyanko by his side, which is always enjoyable as Nyanko’s a hoot. Part of what moves things here is that Natsume ends up connecting with a woman that knew his grandmother Reiko when she was younger. This brings Natsume into contact with her family as well and while we know that Natsume has made peace with his adoptive family and no longer truly feels like he did early on about them, there’s something that he finds comforting in this group because of their connection to Reiko and the few stories that are being told about her. It’s a little more insight into the woman who had done so much and for what he himself has taken over for thanks to the Book with all the names of the yokai that he has.
While this storyline unfolds, we also have Natsume reconnecting a bit with a childhood friend named Yuki. This goes back to some of the complications of his youth in the way that he had seen yokai but was still unsure of a lot of it and skittish. There’s a key sequence where we see where things broke between the two friends while out as there was a rock wall that Yuki was going to start throwing stones at to see if would break the damn of it and let some water through. For Natsume, the problem is that the yokai that’s there warns him not to disturb the waters that only they can see flowing over the wall because it will impact the destiny of many lives. That panics Natsume, causing him to shove his friend hard, and setting a problem between them that would last until this reconnect when they do end up engaging with each other again.
Both of those stories slowly explore the bonds that exist between them and events going on in the here and now, and it’s exactly what you’d expect out of a film like this. It examines things slowly, teases out little bits of information and connections, expands the cast just enough so that there are interesting hooks that are brought into it all. But we also get another storyline that’s more yokai focused that delights me to no end as we get Nyanko being caught up in a little problem with a yokai seed of sorts has latched onto him and landed in the front years of the residence. It’s hidden, of course, to Natsume’s parents, but the creepy tree is creepy but especially for the brown and orange fruit that’s growing on it. Naturally, while Natsume is away, Nyanko eats the fruit and it sprouts him into three tiny versions of himself. Well, not tiny-tiny, but smaller handheld sized versions that are adorable but problematic and leads to some of the humor of the film and, naturally, some of the problems as well. There are connections between everything and it all comes together well, but it’s not so much the bigger standalone plot that matters but more the way Natsume navigates it, both with Nyanko and with those that he now calls friends. Which is such a radical change from when he was younger and so isolated because of the yokai he saw and could not comprehend.
Getting to reconnect even a little bit with this property through a film is a wonderful thing. It’s the kind of work that surprised when a fifth season came out of nowhere and a feature film as well. I’m thrilled that the film has finally found its way here and does exactly what I hoped for, immersing us a little more into Natsume’s world, the oddness of the yokai and how most are truly non-threatening, and exploring the connections in Natsume’s life that has brought him to this place. Aniplex’s release is pretty solid as it’s largely the Japanese release ported here with subtitles but it delivers a good looking package, a great encode, and some cute and welcome postcards. It’s an easy must for any fan of this series just to have a little more of it.
Japanese PCM 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Teaser, Special commercial, Trailer, and Extended Trailer
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: November 26th, 2019
Running Time: 104 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.