Seasons one and two of the Brain’s Base studio anime, Natsume’s Book of Friends, are currently available in a stunning, 4-DVD Premium Edition from NIS America– a must-own for most any anime fan. Adapted from the manga by Yuki Midorikawa, the series tells the story of Takashi Natsume, who has the ability to see yokai (or spirits) that the average person cannot. His grandmother before him too could see yokai and she spent her time collecting the names of yokai in her “Book of Friends,” thereby enslaving them to her. The kind-hearted Takashi inherits the Book of Friends at the outset of the series and determines to return every yokai’s name to its original owner. As such, each episode relates Takashi’s interaction with a different yokai, or group of yokai, each of whom has problems of his/her own in which Takashi is compelled to aid them. The resultant capsule narratives are ultimately far from predictable, though, for Midorikawa constantly switches up the narrative format, thereby keeping what could have been a dull, episodic series consistently fresh.
To this end, Natsume’s Book of Friends effectively blends a variety of genres together as its broader narrative arc meanders from mystery to suspense to romance, and even action from time-to-time, allowing the incredibly intense, if brief fights to spice up the otherwise purposefully languid narrative. Amidst the emotional turmoil of Takashi’s interaction with the yokai, there’s plenty comic relief as Takashi is joined on his quest by Madara, a powerful yokai in the form of a Lucky Cat, who awaits Takashi’s death that he might gain possession of the Book of Friends. The mean-spiritedness that exudes from Madara’s otherwise adorable form never ceases to amuse. Ultimately, the seires’ leisurely approach to narrative, Takashi’s general good-naturedness, the humane treatment of the yokai Takashi encounters, and the comedic support of Madara (not to mention the gorgeous animation!) all combine to create an overwhelmingly tranquil and inviting fictional world, one from which you’ll find it difficult to pry yourself away.
The Natsume’s Book of Friends: Seasons 1 & 2 Premium Edition comes packaged in the usual 8”x11”x1” (WxHxD) hardboard case of NIS’s Premium releases, but with a more textured, cloth-like exterior than the typically smooth releases of NIS’ past. This hardboard slipcase features unique, water color-style images on the front and back with the series’ title displayed on the case’s long and short spines that it might be displayed from virtually any angle. Chances are, however, that you’ll want to display the side of the case featuring the painting of Takashi and his yokai friends relaxing in a tree, for the image is particularly striking. As for the remainder of the package, two slimline cases house the collection’s four DVDs, which contain the series’ entire, 26-episode run. These slimline cases slip into the hardboard case alongside a 32-page, 11″-long hardbound supplement book, modeled after the Book of Friends itself. The supplemental book includes a 9-page episode guide, an interview with series director Takahiro Omori, 13 pages of character designs, and 7 pages of artwork featuring series locations and character tableaus. The book’s contents ultimately account for the bulk of the set’s supplements, as the disc-based bonus features include the perfunctory clean openings and closings, as well as Japanese commercials.