Natsume's Book of Friends the Movie: Ephemeral Bond
Driven by the memories of his grandmother through yet another name return from the Book of Friends, Natsume Takahashi finds himself involved in the affairs of Tsumura Yorie, a woman who showed up in Reiko's memories, and her son Mukuo. But when a mishap splits Nyanko-sensei into three smaller (and younger) copies of himself, Natsume has to look into this mystery involving Yorie, a mysterious yokai that keeps hanging around her home area and an old legend about a yokai that can take people's memories away.
The Natsume's Book of Friends franchise has always been good at keeping a nice balance between spiritualism in the realm of the supernatural lore of its own home country and the modernisation thereof, without coming across as disingenious, insincere or disrespectful. Furthermore, rather than painting everything in broad strokes, the series has always been good at keeping things balanced on a neutral ground rather than a gray, moralitywise. As the movie is quick to remind us, Natsume Takashi haven't often had an easy childhood, but rather than painting all his earlier tormentors as evil, it does a good job at illustrating how one careless thought isn't necessarily terrible on its own, when someone experiences almost nothing but, it can have a pretty negative impact on one's life. It's food for thought rather than a pointed finger, and instead of painting one side as "the right" and the other as "the wrong", Natsume's Book of Friends shows how both human beings and yokai can be terrible, but also how they can be absolutely wonderful beings.
While the TV series had its share of double episodes, this movie runs a good 104 minutes, and I was a bit worried how one would present a story that would span nearly five episodes of TV series runtime, especially since -- despite occasional moments of energetic action -- Natsume's Book of Friends are best known for its quiet, serene reflection about what it means to create bonds, whether that be between human beings, or even between a human and a yokai. Like many movies based on TV series, Ephemeral Bond sees fit to remind us about quite a few things regarding this franchise that watchers of the TV series are quite familiar with now, so if I may lay one nitpick on this movie's feet, then it would be this particular aspect. That being said, Ephemeral Bond is generally good at doing this without sounding too much like a reverse "as you know" dialogue, and in fairness, it does make it a bit easier for people who has never watched any of the TV series to go watch this movie in the theater (if that is an option where you live.)
And as it turns out, a movie length suits Natsume's Book of Friends well. Earlier episodes have been mostly self-contained as stories go, although in this movie's case, it's more that we have three parallell stories in one, all of them marginally related to each other, with some other minor tidbits about Natsume's past sprinkled on for good measure. The main -- and most interesting -- part is centered around Yorie and her son, since she's the one who showed up in Reiko's past. The title Ephemeral Bond serves as a guiding stone here, as it ties directly into the legend of the memory-altering yokai and how Natsume gets another reminder that legends are sometimes rooted in truth when he finds his friends starting to forget things. Of course, Natsume's Book of Friends also never shies away from reminding us that any kind of relationship between humans and yokai -- they don't have to be romantic ones -- are always going to come across as ephemeral for the yokai in question.
Animationwise, Ephemeral Bond is honestly more akin to a well-animated TV episode rather than a full out movie. This isn't really a problem, though, as Natsume's Book of Friends lives and breathes quiet reflection, and although there are a few action spots in this movie as well, they're animated well enough that you probably won't be impressed, but it won't take you out of the movie either. On the plus side, the art is nice enough that Yorie's... job? Hobby? ...of doing paper cutting art gets a place in the spotlight, and it's a lovely little splash of color among the shenanigans and the way this movie rifles through your emotions much in the same way the TV series did... if you ever watched any of it before looking into this movie.
Ephemeral Bond also does a great job in shedding some more light in the enigma that is Reiko. The main payload of material centered around her is, as usual, presented through stories or memories imparted by the yokai whose names Takashi returns, and this is no less the case here. In her eyes, everyone has always been afraid of her, or at least never particularly friendly, but Ephemeral Bond actually managed to sneakily introduce us to an alternate kind. Much as I'd like to talk about that, the revelation serves as a bit of a personal growth for Takashi, who much too easily could relate to the looks Reiko got in the flashbacks or the stories either yokai or other human beings would share, mostly because of his own circumstances. But even beyond Reiko's circumstances, Natsume's Book of Friends is always as its best when it presents a circumstance and then proceeds to prod at the things you take from it. Which makes the movie hard to talk about, because the discoveries you make throughout this franchise is what makes Natsume's Book of Friends so much fun to watch, and I don't want to give too much away.
Also, if you have seen any of the TV shows -- or read my review for the very first season -- you might have picked up on how fiercely the show can jab you right in the emotional center. Depending on how easily a show can get to you, you might want to prepare yourselves for this movie too. While it's not depressing per se -- the show never truly is -- you will feel this movie's full weight by the time the credits roll around. Tissues might be a required item.
Minor nitpicks aside, Ephemeral Bond feels like a wonderful addition to the Natsume's Book of Friends continuum. It might feel a bit like it's rethreading old material, but it does so in a good way that introduces enough angles to still feel fresh. It's been a while since I've allowed myself the time to watch anything -- my backlog has already grown to intimidating levels, and the fact that streaming sources now provide me with more anime than I'll ever have time to watch does not make this any easier -- but Ephemeral Bond feels much like meeting an old friend and catching up with them, and it's a good feeling. Natsume's Book of Friends the Movie: Ephemeral Bond is simply a very good movie that no fan of the TV series or the manga should miss, and is accessible (and explainy) enough that you'll probably be able to watch it even if you weren't. Now, if someone would just release season 5 and 6 of the TV series officially on physical media....
It contains all the best things about Natsume's Book of Friends, so whether you are a fan or not, you should definitely be watching it. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: There is some violence in this movie, although nothing too severe. The movie, much like the TV series, also deals with slightly more mature subjects that makes it a bit unsuitable for children, but should be fine for teens.
Version(s) Viewed: Bluray, Japanese with English subs only.
Review Status: Full (1/1)
Natsume's Book of Friends the Movie: Ephemeral Bond © 2018 Shuka.
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