Natsume's Book of Friends season 3
After living so long with the Fujiwaras, Natsume has actually reached the point where he has made a lot of friends, not only on the human side, but also on the yokai side. More than ever, he realizes that it's not easy keeping secrets from one's friends, even from the ones who know about his ability to see yokai.
It's more than a bit ironic that I find myself looking back on this show now that I just completed this third season, because that's also largely what goes on in season 3. To be sure, the whole show has always been about our titular character Natsume reflecting on his situation, but up until this point, it's been more of a remembrance for Natsume how things used to be a lot worse.
Being taken in by the Fujiwaras will always be considered the big turning point for Natsume Takashi, and never has that been clearer than now. Throughout the two first season, he has bonded with a lot of people, some of them spirits, and season 3 is what brings it all together and clearly states "This is it. This is the point you have reached, where, for the first time, you can look back on your life with fondness." Another show I recently reviewed; Usagi Drop, had a slogan that went something along the lines of "Don't you think this world is better than you expected?" Those words are just as appropriate here.
The two first seasons didn't always reach perfection. Some of the episodes turned out to be filler, and in some cases, pretty bad filler at that. Contentwise, season 3 is no different in that regard, but qualitywise, season 3's fillers are heads and shoulders above what has passed before. But more importantly, season 3 does something the two first seasons didn't do: they let Natsume's friends into the spotlight. And not only Kitamoto and Nishimura, two of the "regulars" he meets in class, but Tanuma Kaname and Taki Tooru becomes downright regulars throughout the show, which is just and right, seeing as the two of them are the only ones who knows Natsume's secret. And seeing as they do (no pun intended), part of what makes season 3 so endearing is to see how and why they want to understand, despite Taki's total lack of and Tanuma's greatly weakened ability to see yokai themselves, and how Natsume also realizes that suddenly he doesn't want people to get involved because they're his family, his friends.
And speaking of which, Natsume's relationship with the yokai half is as strong as ever. In what I'm assuming is a filler episode (for now), we see Natsume going on a trip, to the mountain where the Kogitsune lives, and it's clear that the earlier self-appointed "crybaby weakling" has grown up and learned how to properly take care of himself. (Which includes dealing with bullies.) And yet, he is as unable as ever to deal with his emotions once they build up.
On a more subtle note, viewers will also notice that while Natsume and Nyanko-sensei still exchange witty banter on a daily basis, it's clear that the relationship between the two are stronger than ever. Nyanko-sensei hardly mentions the Book of Friends now, much less in a possessive manner. (Mostly in the first episode, during the re-introduction segment that some multi-season shows tend to run at the beginning of each season.) Those of you who remember the end of the second episode of the first season, the manga version of that added a frame where the Tsuyukami gently admonished Nyanko-sensei with the line "Madara, one day... you too will understand." For all his heffing and hawing even now, I suspect he's starting to.
In that regard, season 3 doesn't betray its viewers. The show is still an episodic recollection of the events of a group of humans and yokai, and the young boy caught up between them all. There are actually two whole double-episode arcs this time around, but it doesn't make them feel like they're overstaying their welcome. One actually introduces what I assume will be one of the antagonists of the show; Matoba Seiji, his introduction being sinister enough to make it clear we'll be seeing him again in the future, and it will most likely not be on friendly terms.
The art in Natsume's Book of Friends season 3 still keeps its relatively high standard. While there are action scenes, they are also relatively few and far between. The animation is not necessarily amazing, but the show still has the sense to really splurge on some of the key moments, to make sure they look as nice as possible. Kamiya Hiroshi still does a great job portraying the soft-spoken Natsume, while Kobayashi Sanae and Inoue Kazuhiko both give Madara's two forms great divergent tones; Sanae as his round, tubby more-interested-in-eating-drinking-and-goofing-off self and Kazuhiko as the fully formed Madara in all his deep, growling glory.
And much like Natsume himself, the show has matured, throwing off its rougher and lesser edges. Mostly gentle and reflective, yet still capable of shifting into intrigue and the promise of further overarcing plots in the future. However, Natsume's Book of Friends has mostly been a show for quiet reflection and the creation of the bond that ties them all together. It's certainly aware of this; choosing to end this season, not with a bang, but with fun and games and the promise to return another day.
Nothing is perfect, but for those of you who are still around, Natsume Yuujinchou has unquestionably earned that fifth star. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: As with the two former seasons, most of the objectionable material in Natsume Yuujinchou can be found in the violence, mild as it is. Still, you have to bear witness to yokai literally being erased from existance, so it's definitely not for the young 'uns.
Version(s) Viewed: Crunchyroll stream, sub only.
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Natsume's Book of Friends season 3 © 2011 Aniplex, Brains Base
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