Natsume Yuujinchou, alternatively called Natsume’s Book of Friends, is a pretty amazing and popular anime title coming out of Japan. NIS America has just released a premium box set edition of season 1 & 2 retailing at $70 full price just in time for the holiday season, and I recently got a hold of a copy to review it of course!
Lets start off at the beginning, is Natsume Yuujinchou worth purchasing in the first place and what is it about? Natsume Yuujinchou is definitely the type of anime with a specific audience in mind. I would categorize is as a family-oriented, folktale, slice of life. If you liked Fruits Baskets and Kimi ni Todoke, I definitely think you will like this. Don’t be fooled by those two though, this anime is not a shoujo or shonen by any means, and is a show that I think is accessible to all ages, and genders.
The story revolves around Takashi Natsume (Hiroshi Kamiya), and his unlikely partnership with Nyanko-sensei (Kazuhiko Inoue), brought together by his grandmother’s powerfulBook of Friends. What brings them together is Natsume can see spirits, as his grandmother Reiko could. Reiko has left Natsume her Book of Friends, which has the names of many demons that Reiko has defeated. Now the spirits and demons, want to either control the book (which gives its possessor the power to control any spirit whose name is in the book), or to get their names returned to them. So the unlikely duo spend each episode with a new spirit and that particular spirits story.
I liked this show a lot and highly recommend it. It has a wonderful earthiness and smallness that pervades how they present every day life that mixes well with the everyday mysticism of Japanese culture they are portraying, which I found to be incredibly refreshing. The animation is gorgeous, the voice-acting superb, and the pacing is fabulous. Even the opening and ending are wonderful, especially the ending because of how it evokes the sound of traditional Japanese music.
The stories of each of the spirits that Natsume and Nyanko sensei deal with range from endearing, to heartbreaking, and yet each episode is uplifting. I will admit that I cried in a couple of the episodes, but what Natsume Yujinchou does so well is its always refreshing, never hopeless. They do an excellent job of making you empathize with the characters, and humanizing all their stories. This show is not epic in scope nor is it action packed but it far surpasses what it sets out to do.
The Premium Box Set edition is pretty nice. I love the packaging and the cover and the back cover are both beautiful and very true to the series that you’ll be getting. The paper feels high quality, the texture is very reminiscent of Japanese traditional paintings. Putting Natsume on the cover with Nyanko-sensei and Reiko on the back cover really serves as book ends and it allows you to choose which side you want to show off, and is beautiful in and of itself.
Moving on to the inside, the inside comes with the extra book and two DVD cases. My one major complaint about how this series is packaged is how they put the discs in. The book and DVD’s are accessed by pulling them from the sides, and each DVD case is separate so if you want to reach the inside one you have to pull everything out to get to it. I would have preferred if they were put in the same container so to speak because I could see it becoming a pain whenever you wanted to just look at one DVD, or if you had the book pulled out then you had to pull out everything to get it back in.
The DVD cases themselves are also kind of cheap looking, and for how expensive and beautiful the outside packaging is and the quality of the bonus book, I felt like they could have made the DVD cases themselves a bit more expensive looking as well to match. The extra book is packed with extras. There are four sections, the first is an paragraph long synopsis of each episode of the series, followed by a translated interview with the Director (Takahiro Omori), and the last section is all character designs of the characters and spirits of the series. The final part is more of a traditional artbook, full of gorgeous pictures.
Rating: Series, A+; Box Set, B+
I gave the series an A+ because it far surpasses what I expected, and it does what it sets out to do extraordinarily well. The Box Set I gave a B+ mostly because I loved the outside packaging and the quality of the book. I think its a bit pricy, especially for how the DVD themselves were packaged but not too overly expensive (like some other series have been getting!).
This would definitely be a great gift for the Holiday’s though, the series itself is amazing, and the packaging is beautiful! If you are interested in purchasing the series you can find it here.
Sources: Screencaps here