- Genre : Supernatural, Slice of life, Action(?), drama
- Episodes: 13
- Studio: Brain’s Base
Natsume is finally starting to feel at home. The Fujiwaras have been so warm and welcoming and everyone at school is so kind. For the very first time Natsume has both friends and a family but how long will the good days last. A storm is brewing and the constant intrusions of various Yokai in his life threatens the fragile happiness he has finally managed to build. Can Natsume balance both sides of his life. Should we just care about Nyanko’s adventures instead?
I’m truly impressed by how quickly Natsume’s book of friends has gotten under my skin. In the two first short season, it managed to borrow its way so deeply into my heart that coming back to season 3 after a little hiatus felt like meeting up with an old friend. I am aware of the irony of using that statement for this show 😊
There’s an old IKEA commercial I’ve always really liked, where they point out quite correctly that caring about a lamp is stupid. Well season 3 of Natsume made me cry warm tears for a cup!
So far, Natsume has had some pretty great ending themes (and this season is no exception) but the ops have been rather boring – not this one! The fully animated intro works particularly well when building on the previous seasons and immediately shows us how far Natsume has come in a heartwarming sequence. The music is fantastic too. What really hit however was how animated everything was.
If season 2 overhauled the graphics by adding depth and detail to the artwork (a trend which is continued but a bit less strikingly), season 3 really boosted the animation up multiple notches! There is so much more movement everywhere and everything is smooth and fluid. Backgrounds ripple and sway in the wind, facial expression create wrinkles. Stills are rarely used and seem to be more for emotional effect than budgetary considerations. The color palette has not been intensified this time but has been expanded substantially. We see gorgeous sunset skies awash in a myriad of colors and every other episode had me exclaiming out loud: Great shirt Natsume – I want one like that!
So far every season of Natsume’s Book of Friends has been solidly based on some clear emotional central themes. I figured this would be carried over and started to look for the overarching motif. It took me much longer to put it together as the show has gotten subtler in its morals. I may be reading too much into it… We see a lot less of Reiko this season and her influence is no longer felt in every episode, I took this to mean that Natsume is finally moving forward instead of only looking back, slowly starting to let go of his past. We also see a lot more of, well, everyone else. If Natsume was starting to make friends in season 2, he now finally acknowledges them.
Slowly, timidly, extremely carefully, Natsume is allowing himself to believe that others may truly care for him. This is wonderful of course but it’s also complicated and occasionally difficult. When people love you, you owe them something. Natsume wants to repay his friends by letting them in, by being honest and open but he also wants to keep them out of harm’s way which for him means not letting them get too close, keeping them in the dark, not allowing yokai to interfere with their lives. He feels grateful for their attention, but guilty for any trouble he blames himself for causing. This uncomfortable balancing act is what this season is all about. Namely, the sacrifices and responsibilities implied by friendships. Episode after episode explores what part of yourself you have to give up in order to truly exist alongside someone else. What compromises do people make to peacefully share a reality and how difficult these become when those individuals happen to be drastically different, as in not even the same species. The subject matter is treated with this shows customary tenderness and yes – I was sniveling the whole time.
For the most part, this season kept the very episodic format established in the previous ones but these varied more from one to the next. Relatively few names were returned, I imagine to Nyanko’s great relief, and the episodes felt less formulaic. I was enjoying the peaceful and stirring slices of life but felt the tiniest sting of disappointment that my season 2 predictions of a great Yokai war were so completely off the mark.
And then episode 6 rolled in and: mike dropped, shots fired, game changed: Enter Matoba. The mid-season hiked up the action with a tense two-episode arc that even included a cliff hanger. This was some legit thrilling shonen action stuff and set up a set of events that had repercussions beyond their limited episodes. We finally get a glimpse of an actual antagonist in Matoba and I’m willing to bet we will get a much better look in time. All my crazy conspiracy theories were suddenly revived!
We also got our very first indication that Madara is not in fact invincible. The next episode which clearly showed a wounded and uncharacteristically vulnerable Nyanko, actually trying to spare Natsume any worry, was both heartbreaking and infinitely endearing. My poor dog got hugged so much – he didn’t like it. Natsume’s ultimate realization that he had changed to the point where he could no longer function all by himself, the odd duality of fear and comfort that this brought him was almost as touching.
The remaining episodes provided us with another tense two-parter that further established Natsume’s relationship with Tanuma. I guess I was wrong about him getting pushed to the side, he is very present this season and is a sort of figurehead for the human aspect of Natsume’s life. In Tanuma, Natsume for the first time sees someone who could potentially truly relate to him. And this season, we get a chance to hear what Tanuma thinks about it on his end. The frustration of wanting to help but never knowing how. Of having understanding just out of reach. Of wanting to ask but not wanting to pry. In a way, Tanuma personifies Natsume’s dilemma, as explaining everything to him is extremely comforting but also puts Tanuma in danger. The series finally gives us a true sense of teamwork and community. It’s very easy to see how this could be frightening, once you get such a gift, the fear of losing it will be intense.
Between all this surprisingly thrilling action, we are treated to not one but two episodes which at last give us an unobstructed view of Natsume’s past. It’s as if the show is mirroring Natsume’s own evolution and finally trusts us enough to let us in just a little. These are both powerfully poignant episodes and we get the harrowing reveal that Natsume’s past was not only woefully neglectful but actually abusive. I have rarely wanted to hug my TV so much. Once again, we are reminded that no one can weave heart wrenching melancholy, kind hearted sweetness and surprisingly frightening menace quite a expertly as Natsume’s book of friends.
By now, this series has a bit of a tradition of ending seasons on a high note. This time we get an actual party and the joyful atmosphere is a welcomed picker upper. This said, the very last scene shows Natsume figuratively having to choose between Humans and Yokai. Ultimately, Nyanko and him end up on opposite sides. This may be nothing but it could also be some sneaky foreshadowing and I can’t help but worry.
All in all, this was a fantastic season. Still not quite as overtly emotional as season 1, but moderating the deeply touching with high paced action which made it difficult to look away. I really can’t wait to watch season 4 but I’m forcing myself to because reasons.
I predict that we will see more of Matoba and Natori and once again the exorcist guild will come into play and have a larger impact on the storyline.
Random thoughts: Natsume seemed a little easier to overpower this season and much less “punchy”. Also, the kappa’s voice was just adorable. Finally, That super cute fox boy had a half coherent tear-filled speech at the end of his episode that sounded so much like a real little kid when they get too excited to line up their thoughts straight that even I found it charming.
What this anime taught me: You can’t truly give others a chance without putting your own effort in.
If your drinking to forget than please pay us in advance
Suggested drink: New Friend
- Every time a Yokai comes in through Natsume’s window – take a sip
- Every time sensei plays with the grass thingie – smile
- Every time Natsume passes out -take a sip
- Every time the are awesome fist bumps – take a sip
- Every time we see cherry blossoms – take a sip
- Every time Tanuma gets a headache – take a sip and worry a little
- Every time Madara saves the day – take a sip
- Every time Natori sparkles – take a sip
- Every time we see a returning character – raise your glass
- Every time we see young Natsume – awww