Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 11 Manga Review

Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 11 Cover

It is always great when a story remains consistently this great and volume 11 of Natsume’s Book of Friends maintains everything that has been good about the series so far. While we move away from the exorcists to focus more on Natsume’s growing group of human friends and to face Natsume’s past, this volume continues to be a compelling read and fleshes out Natsume’s character and that of his friends Taki and Tanuma.

Chatpers 42 and 43: Sealed

The first story deals with Tanuma and Natsume arriving at Taki’s home during a rain shower. After some pleasantries they end up assisting her in cleaning out a store room and in the process Natsume accidentally breaks a seal on a yokai that Taki’s grandfather accidentally imprisoned. It isn’t exactly looking for a pleasant conversation.

Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 11

This was great because it does put the three of these human characters together in a way that hasn’t really been done previously. Natsume is friends with Tanuma and friends with Taki, but previously the two of them have had little interaction. As the two characters who know the most about Natsume it is great to see them together here and trying to help Natsume as he is dealing with the yokai.

Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 11

We also learn more about Taki’s grandfather and the way the yokai responded to him. While he couldn’t see yokai as Natsume can, he was very much obsessed with them and gather quite a crowd around him during his life. These yokai ultimately decide to help out in this story and that saves the day. Taki thanking them was an adorable moment even though she also can’t see them without the aid of the circle and generally speaking they aren’t willing to step in it.

Chapters 44 – 46: Long Way Home

Any of the stories that give us more insight into Natsume’s lonely childhood are really fantastic and this story gives us a double hit. Firstly we see another family he stayed with previously and how well that went… And we also see Natsume dealing with the sale of his family home and his final goodbye to it. Throw in a yokai that tormented him as a child and you have a really great story.

What really sells this is how much readers have come to love Natsume over the previous en volumes. If this story had come in earlier, it may not have had the impact it does here. But with Natsume where he is on his character journey, this seemed like the perfect moment for some reflection and facing the past and it was handled beautifully.

Nyanko-Sensei is of course along for the ride and so we get a little more of the relationship between Nyanko and Natsume, but the focus is unmistakably on Natsume’s growth.

All and all, volume 11 did not disappoint and I am read to sink my teeth into volume 12.

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Karandi James
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Arifureta: From Commonplace To World’s Strongest Volume 4 Light Novel Review

Arifureta Volume 4 Cover

Complete a quest, rescue a child, save the hero, and win the girls!

Okay, volume 3 and I of this particular series parted on a fairly rough note. They’d introduced a character I pretty much despised and she was eating a lot of page time with comments I found neither interesting nor funny. I felt perhaps that this would be the end of my acquaintance with these characters and that we would go our separate ways after this volume.

Let me assure you, I’m not parting ways with this series.

The annoying character is most definitely still there, though with so much else happening in this volume Tio’s presence feels muted or diluted at least. But, everything is happening in this volume.

Arifureta Volume 4 Shea gets a new collar

There are two fairly major stories that happen in this volume and then they are book-ended by information that is pretty crucial to the ongoing narrative. It makes for a very satisfying read in a series where drama introduced within a volume resolves but the greater story it is apart of continues fairly seamlessly. This is my favourite kind of series to read where I feel like I was given a wonderful conclusion yet am desperate to read more to find out what the next thing for the characters is.

The first part of the story feels less consequential though it does introduce us to another character (yet another girl) that is going to have a fair impact on Hajime. After volume 3 reunited Hajime with his teacher, he’s definitely started thawing though that isn’t a huge improvement given he still treats most everyone outside of his harem as his enemy. No, they give Hajime a child to protect and while that could have gotten very inappropriate and a little uncomfortable given Hajime’s relationships with the other girls in his life, they actually make this one a fairly wholesome guardian and daughter relationship and the impact of having someone vulnerable and impressionable to protect pushes Hajime’s personality yet further toward the Hajime we met back in volume 1.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want that Hajime back. However the extreme personality make-over took Hajime to a place where he’s almost impossible to connect with so these small steps back to humanity are actually really appreciated and keep each step of the journey feeling fresh. Hajime isn’t wavering in his plans to defeat the gods and get himself back home and he’s still willing to trample whoever he needs to get there. But he is now carrying quite a few others with him.

While this was the shorter section of the book, it was nicely done. There were some battles and some city-wide destruction, and then Hajime moved on.

Which brings us to the second stage of the book. Finally Hajime is going to come face to face with the hero’s party and the other students. When first requested to go and rescue them, I really figured he’d walk away. Despite meeting Aiko in the last book and thawing a bit, and despite the influence of the child he was looking after, I honestly didn’t see Hajime as having captured enough of who he was to care about his former classmates.

Turns out I was right and wrong.

Arifureta Volume 4 Hajime and Kaori

It wasn’t the class he went to save but rather Kaori, the one person in the class who had been nice to him.

This is perhaps the first volume since the first that has devoted any time to fleshing out the students and their personalities and interactions. It is also the first time we find out why Kaori was so distraught when Hajime ‘died’ back in volume 1, you know, other than seeing a classmate fall into an abyss.

Arifureta Volume 4 - Kaori and Shizuku watch Hajime

It is a lovely bit of character development and they managed to simultaneously work in some world building because the students encountered a demon who ended up being way stronger than anticipated and surrounded by incredibly powerful monsters. We finally get a bit of a look at the threat the students were summoned to defeat.

All and all there’s little to complain about in this volume as it seems to keep powering from one event to the next and each part feels meaningful. There’s some excellent character moments from a huge number of the cast, and the ending will leave you wanting the next volume ASAP.

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Karandi James
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Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 10 Manga Review

Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 10 Cover

Natori is back and that always makes things complicated.

Volume 10 of Natsume’s Book of Friends is divided into two stories. The first covers chapters 37 and 38 and is called ‘False Friend’ and the second, covered in chapters 39 – 41 is ‘The Harvest Festival’. Both of these stories appeared in the anime and were both stories I really enjoyed so there were very few surprises to be found here, but once again the manga brings that little something extra to each of these character and made the experience of reading it feel rewarding.

Natsume's Book of Friends Chapter 39
The characters are still absolutely beautiful to look at in this volume and I love the chapter title pages.

I did struggle for a bit trying to find a theme that connected these stories. Ultimately I decided it was about misunderstandings. False Friend has Natsume’s motives being questioned by a guy who used to tease Natsume but now needs his help and The Harvest Festival really looks at how well Natsume and Natori understand each other and what they are trying to accomplish. All and all, volume ten was a worthy addition to this series.

Chapters 37 – 38 False Friend

This story introduces us to Shibata who used to go to school with Natsume and always believed he was a liar. In this story he has sought out Natsume because he has a weird feeling about a girl he likes and somehow he suspects she might not be all she seems. With no one else to rely on, he drags Natsume into it in order to determine if she is human or not.

Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 10

The story itself is pretty standard here with Natsume struggling to differentiate between human and yokai and when he finally does determine the truth, he is not believed by the human who asked him for help in the first place. It is a wonderful reminder that even though Natsume is very protected by the circle of friends he has made since moving in with the Fujiwaras, the world at large still won’t believe in him and there are those who will still judge him. I really liked how they showed the emotional turmoil not being believed again put Natsume through in this story.

In the end, Shibata does come to believe but he’s still a thorny reminder of what Natsume went through as a child and a character who brings more conflicted feelings with him.

Chapters 39 – 41 The Harvest Festival

Natori has been asked to deal with a god on a mountain and is told to take drastic action if necessary. Of course, given the limited time he has before the Harvest Festival is meant to take place and he fact that there is little to no chance of him actually locating the other sealed god and resolving the situation peacefully, the other exorcists are more of less pushing the job of facing a god of pestilence onto Natori. It is another one of those rare glimpses into the world of the exorcists and no matter how you look at it, they seem really shady sometimes and their motives are always a little bit questionable. No wonder Natori always comes across as a little hard to read.

Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 10 Natori

However, it wouldn’t be a Natsume story if Natsume wasn’t somehow caught up in events. Even before Natori goes to the mountain, the sealed gods underlings have recruited Natsume to pretend to be the god that has been sealed in order to allow them time to continue searching for their master and to prevent famine and all manner of catastrophe occurring.

Once again we see Natsume and Natori coming at the same problem from different perspectives with Natsume only wishing to locate and release the sealed god and Natori willing to give that up as futile if he must and take more direct action. At the same time, Natsume wants to trust and rely on Natori, and Natori for his part doesn’t really seem to want to entirely crush Natsume’s view. The way they walk on eggshells around their differences really shows how much they value the relationship they have created even if they don’t always see things eye to eye.

Anyway, it is another great story and another great bit of world and character building just making this volume of Natsume another superb read. I very much recommend giving it a go.

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Karandi James
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Natsume’s Book of Friends, Vol. 10
Natsume's Book of Friends, Vol. 10

Goblin Slayer Volume 4 Light Novel Review

Goblin Slayer Volume 4 Cover Image

The party are all doing their own thing in this volume and in the end we get small vignettes of characters living in this world.

While the first three Goblin Slayer books have jumped around a little bit between adventures and quests and some slice of life stuff, the fourth volume really does feel more like a collection of short stories loosely connected via the setting and the cast. Expect no epic goblin slaying antics in this one, as we follow Rookie Warrior and Apprentice Priestess into the sewers (a story that appeared in the anime much earlier on in the timeline), Goblin Slayer doing his solo goblin slaying thing, some shopping, drinking and other mundane tasks, and the defeat of a necromancer.

Goblin Slayer - Rookie Warrior and Apprentice Priestess

If that all seems horribly unfocused (and it didn’t even cover everything) then you have a fair idea of the reading experience. I found this volume worked best when I read a chapter (or story) and then stopped for the day, picking it up later to read another story. There was no real flow or connection between sections but each story on its own was kind of interesting enough.

While Goblin Slayer features in a number of the stories, there are plenty of moments for other characters, both major ones like Priestess and High Elf Archer, and more background characters like Heavy Knight, get some time to be developed as characters. It all adds to the sense that this is a world, real and whole and these characters don’t just cease to exist when their adventures end. Their lives continue off-screen or off-page so to speak and this volume very much feels like a glimpse at some of that down time (and not so down time when you see what Goblin Slayer is still getting up to).

Goblin Slayer - Yep, he's slaying goblins
Is this down time?

Now, when you get the end and read the afterward, the scattered feeling of the book really makes sense as the author explains that this collection of stories take place largely between volumes 1 and 2 or volumes 2 and 3. So at least that disconnected feel was deliberate.

This one I’d recommend if you are really into the setting of Goblin Slayer and would love more of the support cast. However, if you are wanting the grand adventure, I would simply skip this one and head to volume 5 (review coming soon) because honestly it is a much stronger narrative and one that is really exciting to read (can’t wait to review it). I had fun with this because I do really enjoy the world of Goblin Slayer but again, this wasn’t the greatest of reads as a whole.

Goblin Slayer - High Elf Archer and Guild Girl

That said, I’d love to know your thoughts if you’ve read this one, and there are definitely some fun stories in here, so if you enjoy sharp, short stories featuring these characters this one will probably entertain.

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Goblin Slayer Vol. 4 (light novel)
Goblin Slayer Vol. 4 (light novel)

Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 9 Manga Review

Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 9 Cover Art

Fur balls and exorcists, Volume 9 of Natsume’s Book of Friends is a great read.

It kind of took away some of the fun of finding a theme for this volume when it is explained at the end of the book that Yuki Midorikawa was focusing on herds and groups. The two stories in the volume both clearly explore this idea and it makes for some interesting speculation about the structure of the yokai world and for how exorcists operate.

In case I haven’t mentioned it recently, the cover art on these volumes is gorgeous (as are the chapter title pages) and it just gets better each volume. Chapter 35 in particular featuring Matoba is really nicely done this time around and while I couldn’t find a nice full picture of it, here’s a bit of a look.

Natsume's Book of Friends Matoba
Can we get a spin-off that just follows Matoba please?

Chapters 32 and 33: Little One

This two part story starts as normal for Natsume with him rushing in to rescue what he thinks is a kitten (and who else loves Natsume for wanting to save a kitten) and he ends up getting involved with a fur ball of a yokai. Things would be fine except that another yokai accuses Natsume of stealing a ring and it turns out the ring ended up caught in the fur ball’s hair and so complications follow.

Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 9 Fur Ball

This story didn’t have all that much impact in the anime. It worked well enough but seemed just another monster of the week story. Reading it I got far more of a sense that this story is about Natsume’s growing connection with the yokai world as his ‘friends’ help him track down the fur ball and his group in order to retrieve the ring. It’s an idea that will be repeated in the second story of this volume. Natsume is getting really drawn into the yokai world to the point where he barely even hesitates now to get involved whereas earlier he was wary of yokai or getting too caught up in their actions.

I ended up really enjoying reading this, far more than I enjoyed watching it in the anime. Really great fun.

Chapters 34 – 36: The Eastern Forest

Despite Natsume’s growing attachment to the yokai world he’s still pretty determined to keep his human friends out of it. This becomes much harder when a group of masked yokai ambush him at school. Needless to say, that doesn’t exactly set the tone for a great relationship between Natsume and the newly introduced yokai who kidnap him and demand he hand over the book of friends.

What follows is an interesting story that I absolutely loved in the anime and really enjoyed seeing in the manga form as we get our clearest look at Matoba yet as he hunts the yokai in the Eastern Forest and naturally Natsume gets caught up in it.

Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 9

There’s a really powerful scene where Matoba is talking to Natsume about his family and I absolutely love how this plays out here. It comes right at the end of one chapter so of course makes you just get straight into the next one. It is very rare that someone other than yokai talk to Natsume about Reiko and I’m really very curious to find out if Matoba knows more than what he says here. Hopefully we’ll find out more in future volumes but this was a great reading experience.

I really can’t recommend this series enough and I’ll be getting onto reviewing the next book very soon.

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Karandi James
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Arifureta: From Commonplace To World’s Strongest Volume 3 Light Novel Review

Arifureta Volume 3 Cover

Another volume and another girl and if I thought Shea the Bunny Girl was annoying, wait until we meet this one.

You know, I’m going to take back every mean thing I said about Shea in volume 2. Yes, she felt like an unnecessary additional character who existed just to create a harem, but at least she had a clear goal of her own and while she might sulk a bit she mostly worked hard. All of those traits are clearly on display in volume 3 and despite the clear harem established with Yue, Shea and Hajime, they’ve actually managed to make the dynamic between the trio work. And yet, in the process of making me actually accept the previous additional member to the harem, volume 3 throws yet another girl into the mix. This time its a dragon.

Arifureta Volume 3 - Hajime and Yue

But backing off that point a bit, because criticising a harem fantasy for having a harem in it is kind of on the pointless side, volume 3 is a really exciting read. Hajime racing to rescue someone from a mountain that has rumours of monsters and in the process running across his teacher and a handful of his classmates. This is the first reunion since Hajime fell and his incredibly different appearance and mannerism become a key plot point for really the first time since volume 1.

In volume 2, despite encountering many characters, none of them knew Hajime or had any frame of reference. So his hostile, Yue and me against the world, attitude was just seen as his default. But running into the teacher who knew the Hajime before his life was pushed to the breaking point brings a new and fairly exciting character development that I really hope gets followed up on.

Arifureta Volume 3 - Hajime meets Aiko.

We’ve got some great action sequences in this book with Hajime’s ability to make weapons and vehicles based off his memory of one’s on earth adding a bit of a different flavour to battles in what would otherwise be fairly traditional fantasy settings. Pulling a Gatling gun on a dragon is certainly a novelty. Throw in some solid magical efforts and the team work between Hajime, Shea and Yue and all and all it makes for a very satisfying read that continues the story, injects some excitement, and sets up future plot developments.

I’d continue to sing the book’s praises except for Tio. And I’d love to detail just why Tio is so horrible but unfortunately that would step majorly into spoilers so I’ll keep in general.

You know, I get that sometimes characters are annoying on purpose and when even the other characters in the story can’t stand them I assume it is supposed to be on purpose. However, there are almost no words to explain how annoying she is. Fortunately you only have to really put up with her in the latter stages of the book, but literally everything she says made me want to stop reading. She’s like the most intrusive fan-service character ever invented.

Arifureta Volume 3 - Tio

I walked away from this volume thinking how one character managed to sour the entire experience. Because outside of her, I really had fun with this story, but I had to think really hard about that because her presence becomes such an issue. If I hadn’t had the next volume already I may have thought twice about continuing on.

I will admit though, that your tolerance of her antics may vary and if a girl asking to have her butt violated doesn’t completely turn your stomach then you might have a great deal more fun here in general.

So on that note, while I still really see a lot of potential in this overall narrative and I really like the majority of the characters, there’s definitely a sticking point at volume 3 so I can’t completely recommend it.

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Karandi James
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Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 8 Manga Review

Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 8 Manga Cover

Encounters with friends, yokai, and the past all fill these gorgeous pages in volume 8 of Natsume’s Book of Friends.

As I’ve reviewed each volume I’ve tried to think of an appropriate theme to bring the stories together. In most cases it seemed fairly obvious but I will admit it took a second reading of this volume before it came to me. That isn’t actually a problem given each story is pretty solid entirely on its own, but it just makes the volume as a whole more cohesive if I find the thematic thread that draws each story together.

In this case I came to the conclusion that fear was the common factor across all the stories. However in typical Natsume fashion fear is turned around through friendship and connections and once again we have a truly magnificent volume on our hands. Natsume is really the story that just keeps on giving.

Chapter 27 – Natsume Participates in the Culture Festival

Here we have a charming story about Natsume involving himself in what is one of the more normal Japanese school events (at least if anime is anything to go by). However, while Natsume is longing to spend some normal time with Kitamoto and Nishimura, both of whom have had an active role in helping Natsume to adjust and to open himself up at school and in the community, a yokai rock is determined to get in Natsume’s way.

Natsume Yuujinchou Volume 8 Chapter 27

In what becomes another bit of a theme for this volume this story also features Nyanko Sensei in a more heroic role and not being coerced to help but genuinely looking out for Natsume’s well being. When we throw in Taki and Tanuma also coming to Natsume’s rescue at one point, this story really brings us a clear picture of the full life Natsume has built for himself since being taken in by the Fujiwaras.

However, with all these connections comes the fear of losing them and while Natsume still has that fear, he isn’t willing to let go of the friends he’s found.

It is a fantastic opening story for the volume and one I enjoyed reading more than I enjoyed the episode in the anime.

Chapters 28 and 29 – Reflections

This one is an amazing story that I loved in the anime. Tanuma gets a solid role in this story and ultimately ends up possessed by a yokai that wants its mirror back and it is up to Natsume to locate all the pieces. There’s a bit more direct action and even a little violence in this story as we have a yokai with a hammer also determined to get the mirror and he’ll break whatever or whoever he has to in order to get it.

Natsume Yuujinchou Chapter 28

However, while there’s more action than normal, the main story focus really is on both Tanuma and Natsume and their friendship. Tanuma is worried about Natsume and about Natsume being on his own whereas Natsume desperately doesn’t want to drag Tanuma into the world he sees because he fears for his safety. They are both well-meaning and both incredibly awkward but the beauty of this story is Tanuma does get a small glimpse of the world Natsume sees and the two do get closer to an understanding.

I find it interesting that the mirror story is more or less resolved off screen as the attention is very firmly on the characters and while Nyanko Sensei turns up at the end to resolve the story-line it really feels like the side-plot compared to the character journey unfolding. It’s a beautiful story and I love these two characters so much and wanted to give them both a hug.

Chapters 30 and 31 – A Place To Belong

There is a special episode after this one, but this is essentially the last story of the volume and while I thought ‘Reflections’ was great, this one is a personal favourite from the anime. We find out how Natsume came to be with the Fujiwara’s and see a fairly traumatic incident from his past involving a yokai. With that yokai returned and out for revenge against Natsume potentially endangering his new family, every fear Natsume has ever had in his dealings with the yokai comes to the surface.

Natsume Yuujinchou Chapter 30

But like the previous story, there’s a touching character story here. We see how far Natsume has come from the frightened child he was and we also see the deep bond between Nyanko Sensei and Natsume. Nyanko Sensei may play down his feelings for Natsume, but this story, more than any other in the volume, makes it clear where Nyanko stands.

This is also one of the rare occasions I’ve come across where the yokai is depicted as a monster in the dark (previously the yokai chasing Taki and the one in the cave with Matoba are about the only other two that have been framed so negatively from the beginning – at least as far as I can remember). Even the hammer yokai from chapters 28 and 29 gets more lit scenes than this one. It is a stark reminder that Natsume faces real danger and that those he loves are also at risk. Still, he’s strong enough now emotionally not to run from that and while he still worries for those around him he isn’t willing to give up the family he has found.

A very solid Natsume story and overall volume 8 was just a fantastic read.

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Karandi James
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