Natsume is without a doubt the single most genuinely wholesome and altogether feel-good series I’ve ever encountered, truly as inviting and comforting a program as you could realistically hope for. And this despite focusing largely on one Japanese high schooler’s daily interactions with yokai (spirits, or monsters, of Japanese folklore). As related in my previous review of Seasons 1 & 2, the series follows Natsume Takashi, who inherits from his grandmother Reiko, the Book of Friends, a collection of contracts of servitude Reiko coerced from various yokai. While yokai cannot be seen by most people, Takashi, like his grandmother before him, can see them, and this unique ability constantly threatens to disrupt his newfound life in the peaceful Japanese countryside. Still, with the help of his yokai bodyguard/pet cat, Nyanko, Takashi spends his high school years making friends with humans and yokai alike as he strives to help those in need. It’s a unique and exciting take on the slice-of-life drama, which, in a sense, operates on a grand scale as the narrative hints at a vast, complex world of which we only ever scratch the surface as viewers.
Whereas Takashi’s relationships with his growing group of human companions in previous seasons veered heavily away from the typical team-building format of most anime, Takashi’s friends are no longer allowed to disappear for a half dozen or more episodes at a time in Season 3. At this point in the series, Takashi has come to rely heavily on the support of his friends and family, in spite of his reservations about potentially putting them in harm’s way as he faces an endless series of potentially malicious yokai. In particular, those friends who are aware of his relations with yokai, including Tanama, Taki, and Natori, play far larger roles in Takashi’s adventures in Season 3 than ever before. The Fujiwaras and Takashi’s other classmates too are more significant presences in these episodes.
The increased presence of these characters highlights the season’s central narrative and thematic focus on the sharp contrast between Takashi’s current lifestyle and that which he had been accustomed to prior to finding a home with the Fujiwaras. Here, we glean far more about the struggles Takashi faced in his early years than ever before. In fact, entire episodes center on his encounters with yokai as a young boy and the resultant scorn he received from his peers and guardians alike. Understanding the pain of Takashi’s youth allows us to really understand just how special the bonds he has made with his human and yokai friends are for him. In this, we come to realize more and more how, with each subsequent Book of Friends contract Takashi terminates, this literal Book of Friends is being replaced by a figurative sort that Reiko never found in her lifetime.
What’s great about this focus on relationships over all else in Natsume Season 3 is that it marks yet another point at which the series departs from viewer expectations. Given the introduction of a society of exorcists and, specifically, the ruthless Matoba clan late in Season 2, we might naturally conclude that these groups would play a large part in Season 3’s narrative, especially since so many at the assembly witnessed Takashi’s power first-hand. Yet, their role in this season is minimal at best. The Matobas indeed return for a two-parter in Season 3, but even then, they appear in episodes six and seven of the thirteen total. By comparison, a late-season two-parter, which spans episodes ten and eleven, finds Takashi attempting to free one of his friends from the grasp of a yokai in need of his help. This clearly illustrates where we as viewers are intended to focus our attention, on Takashi’s personal relationships. With these relationships as the central focus of the season, its narrative builds organically over time, focusing almost exclusively on Takashi’s friendships, even though more traditionally “exciting” storylines present themselves. And for me, that’s where the real charm of the series lies.
Natsume’s Book of Friends: Season 3 is now available from NIS America in a 4-disc, Blu-ray/DVD Premium Edition combo pack. The first two seasons, which were released in a single set, notably lacked Blu-ray transfers, hence their combined presence in one set. The Blu-ray transfer of Natsume here is a welcome addition, for the animation is gorgeous in most every way, and frankly needs to be seen at the highest possible resolution. And the Blu-rays here do not disappoint. In fact, I haven’t a single complaint about them (except perhaps that my older Blu-ray player had a bit of trouble loading the first disc).
The Premium Edition set comes packaged in the same sort of 8”x11”x1” (WxHxD) hardboard case as the previous set, and includes a collectible hardcover artbook designed to resemble the Book of Friends as well. The book featues an episode guide, lyrics to the opening and closing songs, 13 pages of character designs, and 12 full-page pieces of artwork featuring various characters from the series. Supplementing the hardcover book, special features on the discs include textless openings and closings and the original Japanese commercials. The hardboard case this time around features an image of Natsume and Nyanko in his natural yokai form on one side, and the head of the Matoba clan, one of his yokai servants, and Nyanko in his lucky cat form on the other.
In summary, I really cannot recommend this series or NIS’s Premium Edition sets of this series enough. So get caught up before they release the fourth, and final, season!