Natsume’s Book of Friends is still ongoing on the manga end of things, but having caught up to the manga for the most part, with not enough for a season to translate over to animation, season four is the one that brings the anime to a close. While the first two seasons are more episodic, season three introduced more story arcs that took up a few episodes, and season four continues that trend, which brings us up to a final three episodes that doesn’t leave the audience hanging or wondering what just happened and at the same time leaves plenty of room for them to continue if they choose to do so in the future. If you’ve been collecting the premium editions already, there’s no reason not to get this version, and the extras fall in line with the other sets already out in release. How does this season stack up though, and is it worth the money overall? Let’s take a look.
Takashi Natsume is the grandson of Reiko, who could see Yokai, spirits in Japan that serve various functions and kind of do their own thing, but are rarely seen by anyone, as most people aren’t even aware they are around. Being able to see and interact with them, Reiko went about challenging them to fights that she knew she could win, and even some I’m betting she wasn’t sure on, with the prize being that Yokai’s name on the written page, which gave Reiko power over the Yokai for her to command. She collected these pages into a volume that would come to be called the Book of Friends. Many Yokai are looking for the book, some to take possession of it to control the Yokai listed within, some of whom are extremely powerful, and many are simply looking to finally be released from the pages of the book. Natsume inherited not only his grandmother’s gift, but also the Book of Friends, and has been working since the first episode to try and restore as many names to as many Yokai that want to be free from the Book of Friends, as he doesn’t want that power and will never use it. He enjoys seeing them be free to do as they choose.
Natsume has been partnered up with an ill-mannered, ill-tempered Yokai he refers to as Nyanko-sensei, due to the powerful Yokai taking a ‘lucky’ cat form which many people mistake for a fat pig at first. He’s able to transform into a few different shapes, including humans he’s had prolonged contact with, and his true form, which look like a rather large mystical white fox. He acts as Natsume’s bodyguard at first, because he wants the Book of Friends for himself, and Takashi has promised it to him when he dies. Nyanko-sensei has grown quite fond of Natsume, though, and protects him rather fiercely, but he is a rather arrogant and powerful Yokai, and that lands the pair in almost as much trouble on its own as simply having the Book of Friends.
This season has several story arcs that take place over multiple episodes, with characters from previous seasons returning, like Takashi’s friends, but also some of his enemies. Matoba, an exorcist who pretty much hates all Yokai but wants the Book of Friends to help control them all as well, makes a return in the first few episodes, and we find out more about him and his family, but also what lurks in the forest around his ancestral mansion. Things are never quite what they seem. There are a few touching episodes where we get to look back at Takashi’s past and through the eyes of a fellow student who was trying to get to know him before he was shuffled off to yet another family because of all the strange things that happened around him due to the Yokai. It was interesting to see things from the point of view of someone who can’t see the Yokai at all, and to see Natsume not only talking with one that’s tormenting him, but trying to fend it off as well, which leads to some really funny moments amidst the sadder and slower moments.
Mid-season, we get to see what happens when a powerful Yokai is released and wakes up very hungry, as Natsume, his friend who can sense Yokai, Tanuma, and another exorcist who’s also a famous handsome actor, Natori, take on the powerful Yokai. It starts off with Takashi getting sucked into a jar, and then Nyanko-sensi taking Reiko’s form to protect him, but there’s a lot of sinister things going on around that bit of fun. After that, Natsume is forced to pretend he’s a forest god, as the real one was a Yokai that had grown old and weak enough to not be able to break out of a seal after he’d been trapped. The last three episodes are both touching and deal with a lot of what Natsume’s been dealing with since the show first started, along with giving us another powerful Yokai that wants to use Natsume. They revolve around his past and his old home before his father died and he started getting passed around to different families. The show touches on what his new family means to him and that they really do care about him as much as he does about protecting them. The three episodes really tie up most of what’s been going on in the show and what we’ve seen, and while the manga has continued on, the show could stop here and the audience doesn’t feel completely gutted by the show ending.
I really like how the show started off formulaic and episodic, but as it went, they broke out of that and tried a few other things. By the fourth season, you don’t get that feeling that you’ve seen each episode already and know the exact outcome, and they kind of shake things up a bit in how they deal with the Yokai, the Book of Friends and Natsume’s relationships, especially with his foster family and Nyanko-sensei. Having not read the manga, I don’t know if the show follows along with what’s presented there, but what we have in the anime definitely works, with a nice blend of drama and comedy that never gets too out there, even with the supernatural element of the show.
Both the Blu-Ray and DVD versions have excellent transfers visually, and they look great on both my PC and my PS3 and TV. The Japanese audio works well, and like other NIS America releases, it is Japanese only audio with English subtitles. As far as on disc extras go, it’s very sparse. They have clean openings and endings and that’s it. This has been pretty normal with NIS America releases, as they seem to cram the extras into what’s not on the discs, but instead what comes with them.
The Season 4 Premium Edition comes with the usual hard outer box that stores both your artbook as well as slim cases, with your Blu-Ray and DVDs split as half-seasons between two slim cases. The artwork on the cases themselves is really good. The hard case artwork for Season 4 is slightly different from the previous seasons. While the spine is relatively the same, the artwork style surrounding the cover to this season is very different from the other seasons we got. The colors are similar, but the artwork has a very different feel to it, which makes this season stand out a bit more on the shelf from the other releases. There are two small pieces that match the other covers, and that’s the two Natsume’s on either side holding paintbrushes, as the rest of the art has thick lines, like they were painted. So it does look great, but feels very different. The artbook with this release is actually smaller than the ones from the previous seasons, coming in at 28 pages instead of 32. The episode synopsis is still there, as well as the gorgeous artwork that usually follows the episode summaries. There’s some interesting character art in there separate from the poster work that focuses on the key characters we see this season. The thing I really like, though, was an interview with the director talking about how they went adapting and working on Natsume’s Book of Friends, which offers some interesting insight into the show.
With the set all packaged up, it sits at a little over 11 x 7 inches, and about an inch thick, which makes it a pretty decent size. I’ve mentioned before that storing them could be an issue for some people, but the slim cases inside don’t take up much room if you need to store the cases. This edition is selling off the NIS America site slightly cheaper than the other sets and other websites right now at $51.99 instead of $55.99 for the other two sets, but normally they go for $69.99 at suggested retail. These are a little pricier than most, but you are getting the artbook and 4 discs, even if it’s replicated content on two of the discs. It gives you options that just having the Blu-Ray wouldn’t always give you, which is nice. Overall, I really liked this season, but as a stand-alone I think you’d be missing something, as Natsume’s journey coming to an end and his acceptance of his life here isn’t nearly as poignant as if you’d watched it from the beginning and know where he started the show off mentally. It’s excellent either way, but if you’re going to be grabbing this season, I’d recommend getting the other two sets as well, as the show is really well done and the premium editions for each are well done as usual. My only complaint is that there isn’t another season coming out soon.