Natsume Volume 4 takes a slightly different turn. In this volume we get three chapters and then three short stories. Admittedly, one of those short stories is featuring the Little Fox so I was super happy to read it but it was an interesting change where the first three volumes had four chapters fairly consistently. The other thing is that I realised that they turned each of these shorts into episodes just like the other stories and I started thinking about what was added and changed to flesh the stories out. At some point I might have to watch the episodes in question while I have the manga with me just to see.
Regardless, I absolutely loved this volume. There are some really great stories in it and the art seems to have also taken a step up in consistency (there were always beautiful images but some of the bits inbetween were rough at times and this volume seems far more constant in its delivery). All and all, this was a great read.
Incidentally, there was also a page dedicated to explaining how to draw Nyanko-Sensei. I will admit I attempted it. I suck. Moving on. Still really fun to come across though.
Chapter 13: Melting in Spring
I’ll be honest, I didn’t much like this story in the anime. It was okay, but I never really connected with the yokai, Gen. The story is about a yokai Natsume meets while playing in the snow with Nyanko Sensei. Natsume has made a snow bunny and the yokai, attempting to possess Natsume ends up inside the snow bunny. There’s a tragic back story involved and of course the yokai just has a goal to accomplish and recruits Natsume’s assistance.
I’m just going to say this is one of the most gorgeous chapter title pages I’ve come across so far, though each volume seems to get better and better so I’m really excited to see what is coming next. Still, I could stare at this page for ages.
This might seem odd, but I really feel that the story of Gen and Sui is a little too rushed here. We meet these characters, learn of their tragedy, Natsume tries to help them, and ultimately the two of them part from Natsume. The impact on Natsume of this parting is one that he takes the time to really articulate to Nyanko Sensei. There are so many characters who pass through Natsume’s life that this idea of parting has been present since the beginning, but this chapter really takes the time to try and express Natsume’s feelings toward it, and because I didn’t connect with Gen it just doesn’t quite resonate with me.
Still, it certainly captures the spirit of so many of the stories for Natsume so while I’m not the biggest fan of this one, I appreciate the thematic connection with other stories.
Chapter Fourteen: Natsume Goes to a Hot Spring
Did I mention I love Natori as a character so seeing him return in Chapter Fourteen was fantastic. And the story of Natori taking Natsume to the hot springs with his usual slightly ambiguous goals and motives is just kind of the perfect story. This one balances out so many elements with Natsume helping yokai, reflecting on his childhood and how he interacts with others, the clashing ideologies of Natori and Natsume, as well as Natsume realising he has found a place to call home. It just works so well and I absolutely loved reading it (and I may have reread it several times already).
One thing that occurred to me while reading this is that I really would like to learn more about the exorcists in general and their methods. While we learn a little in the anime drip-fed over six seasons, and clearly that information is in the manga spread throughout the stories, there’s still so much about the various exorcists and their different approaches that is just kind of cloaked in mystery. I get why, given we’re being introduced into this world through Natsume’s experiences, but at the same time, I’m really curious. That’s probably why I smile in delight every time the anime (and now that manga) brings us a story that focuses on these elements.
Sneak preview, I’m a few volumes ahead of my reviewing at this point and I’m over the moon by the introduction of Matoba.
Still, chapter fourteen has a rare occurrence with Natsume actually crying, admittedly in his sleep after a troubling dream, but it is a nice reminder that he is human and has had a fairly troubled childhood. He’s not really equipped to deal with some of the emotions he’s facing and he’s struggling to figure out how to really interact with others. His complicated relationship with Natori is definitely something that really brings this aspect of his character to the forefront and it is one I really enjoy watching develop. Looking forward to more Natori in the future.
Chapter Fifteen: The Man Among the Cherry Blossoms
I read the author’s comments on this chapter at the end of the manga and I’m really glad that it ended up the way it did. Apparently they had considered a story where a tree grew out of Natsume, and while Natsume does have some dark moments, that just seems like something straight out of a horror. Still, the include a sketch of that in the back so if you are curious it is well worth checking out (poor Natsume).
Ultimately, this one is a pretty slow story, but one that is still a great read. Natsume acquires a painting of some cherry blossoms not in bloom and later meets a yokai who wants the image returned because of the man inside the painting. Unfortunately it seems to be stuck to Natsume’s wall so the two wait for it to come off. In the meantime, Natsume starts getting sick and they realise the painting is drawing life from Natsume (which I guess is almost as grotesque as it literally growing out of him, but visually looks a lot prettier).
I love how this story resolves and how even though this one is a parting, it is one that celebrates the time that the characters had together. If any story in this volume really drives home that ongoing idea of transience and taking hold of the time you have, it is chapter fifteen and it is a really beautiful read even though not a lot really happens.
Special Episodes 1 – 3
Nyanko Sensei saving a girl fallen into a hole, the Little Fox following Natsume around, and young Natsume being tormented by a bored yokai, these stories are just plain fun. Each one has been used in the anime so they’ll be familiar if you’ve watched it, and while these are quick reads, they each add an interesting character or idea and build on what we know about Natsume or Nyanko Sensei. Really fun way to end the volume.
If you’re interested in reading Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 4 it is available on the Book Depository.
- Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 1
- Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 2
- Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 3
- Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 4
- Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 5
- Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 6
- Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 7
- Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 8