Natsume’s Book of Friends is an anime adaptation of an ongoing manga series that started publication in 2005. It’s at thirteen collected volumes at the moment and is still ongoing. Only four seasons of thirteen episodes each have been aired and adapted from the manga, and NIS has licensed the rights to all four seasons. This set I’m reviewing has the first two seasons included with it on four DVDs, one season per DVD case and an artbook that fits snugly into the collector’s case. After a few slices of life anime, this was a nice change up, as this series is far more within my interests, having the supernatural involved, some drama, and comedy I can relate to without being too over the top for what’s going on.
The story revolves around a boy named Natsume Takashi who has the ability to see YÃ…Âkai, supernatural spirits and monsters of Japanese folklore. YÃ…Âkai often take an animal form, but can appear in more human-like forms, and range from the curious to the mischievous. Takashi’s ability to see the YÃ…Âkai comes from his grandmother, Natsume Reiko, from whom he also inherited his looks, as he’s often mistaken for her by the YÃ…Âkai. When Reiko passes away, she leaves him a strange book with what looks to most people to be random scribbles that make no sense. Those scribbles are the names of the YÃ…Âkai that Reiko bullied and beat up to bring into her servitude, which she collected in the book. It’s known to the YÃ…Âkai as The Book of Friends. The Book of Friends is highly prized by the YÃ…Âkai, as whoever owns or possesses the book can summon and command any YÃ…Âkai whose name is contained within the book. It even goes a bit further so that if that name is torn or destroyed, the YÃ…Âkai can be hurt or killed along with that page.
Takashi decides that he wants to keep the book, but unlike Reiko, he’s not going to keep collecting names of YÃ…Âkai to put into the book, but will instead release them, freeing them from continual servitude. Not every YÃ…Âkai is happy to be in the book, and not every YÃ…Âkai wants them to be freed either, as the Book of Friends only has power so long as the names are contained within it. So not only are there YÃ…Âkai out to steal the book from him, but there are those out there that want to devour him, as being able to see them means he has more power than normal humans, who most YÃ…Âkai hold in equal distaste.
Takashi’s nice personality, thoughtfulness and selflessness attracts a few YÃ…Âkai who are willing to not only protect him, but help him free the spirits from the Book of Friends. Madara, known as Nyanko-sensei by Takashi because of his fat “Ëœlucky cat’ form, is one of his main protectors and guides. He, too, wants the Book of Friends, but has made a deal with Takashi that he will assist him so long as he lives, and then the Book will fall into his possession. There’s much more going on there, though, as Madara tries to not only guide and protect Takashi, but also becomes good friends with him. Hinoe, a YÃ…Âkai that shows in the form of a human female, was madly in love with Reiko and only likes women, so Takashi looking so much like Reiko leaves her all out of sorts. She begrudgingly ends up not only helping Takashi, but also acts as a mentor when Madara is acting up, which happens a number of times throughout the anime.
I really like the first season, as we’re slowly introduced to Natsume’s world and his new human friends as well as the YÃ…Âkai, who he ends up being far closer to. It has far more humor to it than the second season, but it fits with the stories they’re telling. The second season is almost as good, but has a different tone and feel to it that I can’t put my finger on. The first episode of the second season also has some strange dialogue choices, as it seems like they felt the need to try and bring everyone who may have missed the first season up to speed with some forced dialogue that changes the relationship between Madara and Natsume a bit as well as Hinoe and Natsume. It takes a few episodes to get back into the groove, but watching it all back to back, not like it aired with a good chunk of time between, really makes it seem strange and unnecessary. Otherwise, the first episode of season two was a great way to start that one off once you get past the awkward first 5 minutes or so.
The series itself is almost episodic with its “spirit of the week” theme, but you can see a relationship developing between most of the characters and Natsume becoming more sure of himself and what he’s doing as time goes on. There are some recurring YÃ…Âkai as well that either try to help Takashi out or hinder him, putting him through various tests. Overall, the animation is well done, the art and design look great and it’s a joy to watch. The voice actors do a fantastic job of bringing the characters to life, and the subtle and not so subtle differences between the different YÃ…Âkai forms of some characters that still feel like the same character helps a lot. For those looking for an English dub, you won’t find one here. Much like the other titles from NIS I’ve reviewed, there’s only the original Japanese audio with English subtitles. I’m a little disappointed that this set only comes on DVD, as the other sets I’ve reviewed have been on both Blu-Ray and DVD in one set, but I think to fit in the slipcases they had to go only one format or the other and stuck with what most people still have. The picture quality on my PS3 upscaling to the big screen TV is still quite good. As for extras on the discs, there are only clean openings and closing credits and some commercials. The other goodies for the Premium edition are a bit more interesting.
Apart from the DVDs and slim cases, Natsume’s Book of Friends Season 1 & 2 Premium Edition comes with NIS’s standard giant slip case that holds your DVDs and their artbook. This case isn’t glossy however, it’s textured, which instantly sets it apart in your collection even while still matching the style of the rest. The artbook is designed to look on the outside like the actual Book of Friends from the show. Much like the other sets I’ve reviewed, the artbook contains a synopsis of each episode with screen shots from the show, and there’s a breakdown of the characters in the show with details about them and the art used for standard character look. Last but not least is full page artwork that is equally fantastic to look at. This set is priced at the same as the others, and even though it’s only in DVD format, it’s still worth it just because you’re getting twice the amount of show for your money. So instead of just thirteen episodes and one full season, you’re getting two along with the artbook and case. The show is really well done, and I’m looking forward to Seasons 3 and 4 when those come out as well. NIS has a bonus where you can get a tote bag with your order with Nyaka-sensei artwork on it in limited supply, and it’s running on sale there, like the other sets did when they came out. I’d recommend anyone who likes supernatural shows that don’t involve someone dying every week to check this out. Even if you’re just into dramedy as a genre there’s something here for you as well.