Natsume’s Book of Friends The Movie – Ephemeral Bonds and just a touch more

It’s never really ideal to be watching a movie before noon in my opinion. It’s just a bit of weird timing, your head’s usually in a weird space, and somehow on a Monday in Sendai it was still crowded at the theater. I was watching the ‘few seats remaining’ keep flashing by Natsume’s title and was silently freaking out. There are small miracles in life and I managed to snag one of the last seats in the theatre for another sold-out show.

On the way in, I also got a nifty Halloween themed clear file that I wasn’t expecting. But hey; it’s Natsume and it was free so I’ll take it. I knew the theater was going to be packed, but I hadn’t fully realized how many people, at least in Sendai love Natsume as much as I do. It was comforting to be around some like-minded fans to settle in for an hour and 44 minute movie.

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Natsume the movie, opens pretty similarly to how an episode of Natsume typically opens. There’s a yokai seeking to have their name returned, Natsume returns it, receives their memory of Reiko’s challenge, and they move along. Except when they don’t, or more specifically even without the contract, a certain yokai manages to help Natsume out throughout the film.

However, this is a bit different as Natsume runs into a former classmate Yuki, who he happened to have quite the bad memory with especially in regards to a yokai. On top of that encounter, he meets Yorie, a paper-cutter craftswoman who knew of Reiko when she was younger. She lives off in the woods with her son, Mukuo who is quite the klutz. Throw in on top of it all that there’s a very strange yokai lurking in the area where even Nyanko Sensei is a bit on gaurd.

During one of Sensei’s patrols, he manages to have a yokai seed attach to his fur. Without much thought, Natsume removes it and throws it outside of the house, where a tree then blooms. Rather short sighted, Nyanko Sensei eats the fruit bore from the seed from Yorie’s town, and the adventure begins.

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Please squeal at how cute Nyanko-Sensei look with me and Taiki.

I don’t feel compelled to talk about the characters, since talking too much about those who are introduced in this movie gives away a lot of the ‘surprise’ within the movie. Just know that Nyanko-Sensei is extra cute in this film, where no one can resist him. Natsume, as always is the peace keeper doing his most not to harm anyone, human or yokai which adds on some peril.

Is it bad that I didn’t really have too strong of a opinion on this film? Being honest, I couldn’t quite keep up with the Japanese only dialogue which was part of the problem. I understood the grand majority (85% ish) of what was said, but it felt a  bit dialogue heavy at times.

What I was hoping for in the movie, is that the ‘Natsume-pace’ would excel in a longer format. If I could be completely enraptured with a slower pace episode, imagine sitting down for a feature length film! This was not the case however.

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I wanted these feelings the whole film.

I mentioned that it felt very much like an extended episode, and I think that was the problem. The elements from episode to episode that I love; dialogue, interactions from Natsume to yokai, and Natsume to other humans are so interesting and endearing! However, these interactions tended to drag on the long side. I understood the logic of doing so with the new characters, but to spend so much time ‘developing’ with the pre-established characters felt obnoxious.

Retrospectively, I understand the logic. This film was meant to be inclusive for those who have watched the series, and do know the character dynamics as well as people who’ve never seen it before. Therefore, it’s meant to be a bit slower so they can track. It’s not an insult to the hardcore fans, but it’s something worthy to note.

However, everything else works and works absolutely wonderfully. The animation is absolutely on par with previous seasons and OVA’s. Aniplex did not cut corners with this first film. The story, is a lot more compelling consider what type, and how powerful of a yokai Natsume is working with. Especially since it’s one of my favorite yokai of all times, that I was hoping to see it appear somewhere and absolutely was not expecting it in this film. For me, it was a real treat.

The plot, it a pretty standard Natsume plot, but it fits better as a film then if it had been split into three episodes or even two OVA’s. A good call on Aniplex to make a film for it. I’m not the best at decoding mysteries, so this one had me on my toes and pleasantly surprised by how everything fit together and was explained.

The usual crew is in the film, and we get some pretty cool moments as well. I must say, hearing Yorie’s side of things regarding Reiko was eye opening. Considering we usually only get Reiko or the yokai’s perspective, having someone else contribute their thoughts… absolutely brilliant.

For my nagging about dialogue (I need to study more Japanese), and pacing (don’t know what I was expecting something different), I enjoyed the film. Not enough to cry, but enough to get a bit torn up at certain points and really feel for Natsume as I usually do.

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For Natsume fans, an absolute no brainer to watch. For those not familiar with the franchise, it’s still comfortable to watch and dip your toes into the series without the commitment of a full season. I’ll be curious if they ever do a second film, or what future plans are. Of course, I’ll be there and ready to support it if and when it happens!

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