Natsume’s Book of Friends Season 3 Premium Edition

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Natsume’s Book of Friends was a show that I enjoyed watching quite a bit, as the balance of slice of life and fantasy elements gave the series a very different feel. NIS America released the first two seasons as a 4 DVD set last fall, and this year they’re putting out the next two seasons beginning with Season 3. Rather than going for DVD only, NIS has returned to their traditional Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack giving viewers their first chance to experience this anime in high definition. While this season didn’t quite grab me as much as the two that preceded it, I still like the story that is being told and found it was another fun viewing experience.

Hopefully most of you are choosing to watch this season after going through the first two, but one of the nice things about Natsume’s Book of Friends is that everything per season is relatively self-contained. With the exception of a few references back to prior events, there is still enough character development and unique scenarios that would make it possible for someone to watch Season 3 by itself and still have a good idea of what’s happening. For the uninitiated, the show centers around Natsume Takashi who has the ability to see yokai (spirits). Takashi parents died when he was young, and he’s been passed around from relative to relative and unable to make friends due to this ability. The first two seasons focused on his change in circumstance in a new home and the issues that were caused by possessing the Book of Friends, a book Takashi inherited from his grandmother that contained yokai’s names and allowed control over them. Early on Natsume had decided to return the names and many of the earlier episodes were focused on his interaction with yokai, the development of human friendships, and encounters with the Matoba clan of exorcists who saw yokai as tools rather than potential friends.

This series has always been fairly laid back, but this season felt even more so than before. Previously there was a decent split between flashback’s to Takashi’s grandmother Reiko to explain how the yokai had been added to the Book of Friends, character development as Takashi made friends with both humans and yokai, and some fairly significant battles. By comparison Season 3 is much more focused on Natsume’s development as a person, as there are even more shots of his school life and emphasis on his interactions than before. He’s become a bit more outgoing and willing to share elements of his life, as friends Tanuma and Taki now share his secret and there is even a two-episode arc where Tanuma is possessed and temporarily able to see yokai as well which leads to a greater understanding between the two. Natsume still briefly encounters the Matoba clan, but as a whole the majority of the episodes featured relatively minor yokai problems as well as plenty of recurring cameos from earlier seasons. Despite the fact that the overall plot lines didn’t grab me quite as often as before, this was still a show that I continued to find myself drawn into. It could be due to the fact that at this point I have become invested in the characters, and even just a little more development helped to flesh out their personalities (and the continued interaction between Natsume and his guardian Madara are always amusing). Additionally, this series has always showcased elements of Shinto that were quite intriguing as a viewer that’s never been outside of Japan and it always feels like even the smallest human/yokai interactions are centered around some type of life lesson. It is because of this that Natsume’s Book of Friends remains a worthy viewing despite slowing down even further with its plot.

As mentioned earlier, this is the first time that this show has been available on Blu-Ray for North American audiences and it’s great to finally see everything in a higher resolution. What has always drawn me to Natsume’s Book of Friends is the yokai designs, as they all have fantastical elements while still retaining some element of a human look. At this point in the show there have been some similarities between some of the yokai but there was always some small distinguishing factor that made them each come off as different. Much of the show takes place in more of a rural setting, which has allowed the creators to show off a very different side of Japan than many anime choose to and as a result there have been quite a few beautiful backdrops. This season has changed up the opening and ending themes again, and like season 2 the opening is a much louder and brighter song while the closing is a mellow, reflective piece. None of the themes throughout Natsume’s Book of Friends have really had the type of hooks that get stuck in your head for days, but I have always appreciated how the themes as well as the background music had a slightly more muted feel that perfectly matched the tone of the show. The voice actors continue to give performances that really sell the personalities of these characters, and considering how many major and minor characters make an appearance in this season alone I was impressed with the casting.

This volume features the standard on-disc extras, meaning that you get clean opening and ending themes as well as the original Japanese commercials. I must admit that I was a bit surprised that this wasn’t a series that had any bonus content developed, as it would have been interesting to have a few skits or extra features that focused on Madara or some of the other recurring yokai. But once again the extras in the artbook/episode guide add quite a bit to the package (and NIS America has once again used a cloth texture cover for the box which are always some of my favorite packaging designs). The first half gives concise episode summaries and functions as a standard episode guide, but afterwards there is a ton of artwork. Not only are there pages and pages of character/yokai designs to take in, but there are full page character/background stills that look as gorgeous as their moving counterparts. Extras like these are appreciated and I’m glad that NIS has been able to negotiate their licenses so that they can deliver this type of content, as some of the other anime publishers have been going for more barebones releases.

Season 3 of Natsume’s Book of Friends didn’t make as much of an impression as the previous two, but when compared to other fantasy shows that pull from similar influences it is still worth watching. After going through the previous volume and finding myself connecting with the characters it still felt great to continue watching and see Natsume mature a bit and change. If you felt the same way and have already watched the first two seasons this is worth checking out, but if you haven’t this isn’t a great starting point despite the self-contained nature because it’s a bit too subdued. I look forward to seeing what changes the fourth season brings when it comes out, and considering the popularity of the series in Japan it wouldn’t be surprising if another one gets announced in the years to come.

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