Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 7 Review – Matoba Makes the Scene

Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 7 Manga Cover

No surprise that I got excited when I saw the cover of this volume. Natori has been hanging around for awhile but in volume 7 we finally get introduced to Matoba. And what an introduction. With four chapters worth of story, this is certainly an entrance worth paying attention to.

There’s also another special episode which features the yokai and Natsume playing a game of tag and then another separate story at the end, but I’m not going to review it because this is definitely all about Matoba.

Chapters 23 – 26

One odd thing that I noticed with this volume is that the back of the book that does a quick chapter summary actually only lists this story as chapters 23 – 25 but then there are definitely four chapter markers in the story (and these are some of the most beautiful the series has given us so far). It isn’t really a problem, it is just a bit odd as I’m wondering where chapter 26 disappeared to when they went to write the summary.

So other than pretty chapter cover pages, what do these chapters brings us?

Well, I finally understand why Irina loves Matoba so much. While I found him an intriguing character in the anime, his presence in these chapters of the manga is amazing. He’s a force of nature and a blast of darkness into Natsume’s life. Where most of the characters we’ve encountered have been at their core nice people or at least frequenting that grey area in between right and wrong, Matoba is an incredibly rational and cold character and he does not like yokai or view them as anything more than tools.

Given the story is framed entirely from Natsume’s perspective and Matoba’s view is so at odds with his, it puts these two against each other. It also re-positions Natori as the middle ground and so it is vital that Natori is present in this story. Natori is the exorcist we are most familiar with and up until has been the one we’ve been a little wary of even though he has helped Natsume in the past. Particularly after volume 6 where Natori and Natsume go more or less head-to-head, these chapters really help to bring Natori back into the kind of an ally point of view particularly when contrasted with Matoba’s relentless pursuit of power.

Even in the anime, Matoba’s stories were always some of the darkest and most memorable, and reading it is no exception. If anything, this story, carried over four chapters, has far more impact here than it did played out over two episodes. There’s more time to linger on particular moments and more time to think about just how dangerous the situation is that Natsume now finds himself. It is comparable to when we met Taki and Natsume was kidnapped by a yokai, only things get a great deal more serious for longer here.

Needless to say, I loved this volume and reading this story. These chapters are the best I have read so far and I really look forward to whenever Matoba appears next. If it like the anime his appearances will be few and far between and that is a shame because he really heightened my emotional response to this story and made me feel a real sense of unease and danger.

I also like that Natsume is forced to deal with his own views on yokai whenever he is confronted by other exorcists. The drama that it creates is always good fun and I feel we see Natsume at his best when put in these situations.

Looking forward to more from Natsume and I’m really looking forward to getting beyond what I’ve watched. Because if the stories afterwards are anything like this one was then it will be an absolute delight to read.

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If you’re interested in reading Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 7 it is available on the Book Depository.

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Karandi James
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Natsume Yuujinchou Season 6 Episode 11

Review – Some spoilers:

Can we get a season 7 announcement, please?

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This episode resumes the hunt for the study and as usual Natsume’s keen eyes and a deeper understanding of yokai and those who can clearly see yokai find the necessary clues that eventually lead the group to the study door. That said, Natori does have a moment of doubt about whether he should hear what Natsume has to say regarding the Book of Friends later in the episode.

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So as much as Natori continues to play the understanding guy they are leaving his character and his relationship to Natsume ambiguous right to the end. I find it fascinating how this show didn’t resolve this point but still made this feel satisfying. We did take another step in this relationship with Natsume ultimately explaining the situation with Reiko to Natori and we heard Natori’s response. First the one he said clearly to Natsume:

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And then the one he made sure Natsume didn’t hear:

It isn’t exactly a declaration that Natori is going to try to take the book or destroy it, but it kind of indicates Natori isn’t just going to say, ‘cool, you’re grandmother left you a really dangerous book’. It will be interesting to see how this progresses, assuming of course we get more of this show.

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The other point that has to be mentioned is that for the first time a yokai has suggested knowing a male relative of Natsume. We kind of knew he had to have family other than Reiko and his dead parents but they’ve never been mentioned. And as Natsume wonders later, what connection did a former relative of his have with the exorcists? It is obvious that Nanase of the Matoba clan had some sort of relationship with Reiko other than the one childhood encounter we’ve seen, but is Natsume more closely tied to the exorcists than he realises?

So this season is done and I’m really happy with how it has gone but will do a full review soon. That said, this is a show I always want more of.


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Natsume Yuujincho Roku Episode 5

Review:

I love this show. I always have and this episode really hit every reason why I love this show. The relationship between Natori and Natsume has always felt real and quite complicated this so much left unsaid between them (though the same could be said of every relationship between major characters in this show).

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There’s no doubt Natori actually has some genuine worries for Natsume’s safety but he is, first and foremost, an exorcist and one who does not trust the yokai. It has been a point of contention between the two from the beginning in how to deal with certain situations and last week Natori overheard that Natsume has something (apparently he doesn’t know what it is but he kind of knows it has to be powerful). So, his final line this week is kind of concerning in terms of where this relationship will go in the future (but at the same time kind of brilliant in terms of what it could do for the story).

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However, if that is too much drama in the Slice of Life, cavity inducing cuteness that is Natsume, focus instead of Nyanko and how adorable and compliant he was being this episode.

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Can I have one?

Natsume Yuujincho is available on Crunchyroll.


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Natsume Yuujinchou Season 6 Episode 4

Review:

I really do love the episodes where Natori or the other exorcists are involved. The added conflict Natsume faces not just between yokai and human but the different ways humans approach yokai really does give this series a little bit of drama and usually it comes with some a bit more tension and danger than the other episodes of this mostly sweet show.

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Once again, Natsume has stuck his nose into Natori’s business and there’s a good chance Natori has overheard a yokai stating that Natsume has the Book of Friends, one of the few secrets Natsume has kept from Natori because of his torn emotions when thinking about how Natori might react. It will be interesting to see next episode (it was TBC) whether they choose to finally get into this given its been a continuous point of contention for Natsume in regards to his friendship with Natori or whether they decide to put that conflict on the shelf for yet another season given both the characters seem happy enough not to address it.

Looking forward to the next part of this particular story (which actually concerns some ex-exorcist’s house and his daughter, but to be honest I’m finding the relationship between Natori and Natsume more interesting than the current monster of the week).

Natsume Yuujinchou is available on Crunchyroll.


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Blue Exorcist Season 1 Series Review

Okay it occurred to me now that the second season of this show has started that I hadn’t review season 1.

Overview:

Rin Okumura and his twin brother Yukio have been raised by Shiro Fujimoto, an eminent priest, so it comes as a shock when Rin discovers their biological father is actually Satan.

– From AnimeLab

Review:

I remember this was huge when it came out. Not quite Attack On Titan huge but still it was a pretty big deal. And when you watch the first episode which is wonderfully dramatic and Rin learns the truth about his parentage and his actions get Shiro, who has acted as his father, killed and all of the other things that happen in that action packed introduction, it is pretty amazing.

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Then there’s most of the rest of the series.

Not that Blue Exorcist is actually bad at any point. It’s quite well animated, there’s a series of zany characters who are learning about the world of exorcists and gaining powers while facing a diverse range of challenges. Probably the biggest issue is rather than just have a training group learning exorcism is that they decide to base it in a school with all the usual school setting tropes and to be honest the classroom scenes really drag the pace and serve no purpose in any of the story. Okay, Rin is bad at book studying. We get it. It was funny for about three seconds. Can we please move on and see an exorcist fight a demon now?

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And this is probably why I’ve never reviewed this show even though its been sitting on my list of reviews to write. For every moment of amazing over-the-top action/adventure with its mish-mash of religious tropes and ideas, there’s the sitting in the classroom, studying for an exam, inner-class rivalry, friendship games and all sorts of other things that just aren’t as interesting.

Shiemi is a good example of this. When she’s first introduced she’ a ridiculously shy character but Rin, being Rin, brings her out of her shell and after Rin and Yukio save her from a demon she ends up enrolling in the class. What follows is some of the lamest attempts at bullying and friendship making I’ve ever seen in a school based anime and that’s probably because Blue Exorcist is good at fighting things, cutting things down, strong emotional moments when facing more or less unbeatable odds. It isn’t good at being nuanced in social interactions. The fact that this sub-plot with Shiemi goes on for far too long before it is finally resolved in a ‘you helped us defend ourselves from a demon so you must be kind of cool so just forget all the mean things we did prior’ kind of way, only makes it worse. And after this, Shiemi pretty much ceases to be anything other than someone in the class. That close connection with Rin, the playful is she just a fan because he helped or does she have feelings for him moments just disappear and she literally becomes just another one of the group.

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And all of the students suffer more or less the same fate. They get a moment to shine, they get a moment that makes you want to roll your eyes and then they fade back into the crowd. It’s a shame because some of these characters actually have interesting stories (or seem like they might) to tell but ultimately they are there so that Rin has someone to bounce off.

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What this leaves is a reliance on Yukio and Rin to carry the characterisation of the story and that is definitely a mistake. These characters are good at what they do. They have opposite approaches to pretty much everything, they both have an inferiority complex toward the other, but they both lost their ‘father’ and they have both had to deal with keeping Rin’s secret. They should be interesting characters and yet Yukio is insufferable in his ‘woe-is-me’ attitude holding the fate of the world on his shoulders and refusing to actually talk about what is on his mind. His weak personality is actually exploited which is how we get to the finale so at least it served some narrative purpose but still wasn’t particularly compelling. Rin is just a charge in and hit everything kind of guy. That can work and when the show focusses on action it does work in this, but unfortunately watching this kind of character go about the day to day isn’t very fun. Trying to contrast his rough and ready attitude with a sickly sweet side doesn’t do much to balance him as a character and merely makes the tone of the show even less consistent.

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Okay, now it sounds like I hate the show which isn’t true. It actually is a fun ride with some great visual spectacles. I love the ending of this series (though I know a lot of people will disagree with that) and to be honest I’d have been happy with the show ending there but then there’s the movie and now a second season.

So, should you watch Blue Exorcist (assuming you haven’t)? If you like action with a bit of silly visual comedy, then you will probably enjoy most of what’s on offer here. Plus, Kuro, once he comes into the story, is the one of my favourite anime pets or mascots so he’s a lot of fun. If you are looking for something with a bit more character depth and a narrative that goes beyond ‘beat Satan’ then maybe you should look elsewhere.

Blue Exorist Episode 30

Review:

While I can appreciate a story that takes its time getting to a point, that’s kind of only if I’m finding the set up and opening moves interesting, and Blue Exorcist season 2 is suffering from a severe lack of interesting developments. After barely getting any story so far and wading through a lot of teen angst, we’re now flashing back while reading a letter from the head priest to Rin, which of course Rin can’t read because of how its written so Yukio is reading out loud.

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It isn’t that Fujimoto and learning more about him isn’t interesting and it isn’t that I think this won’t be relevant later, it’s just we’re now 5 episodes into this season and other than two eyes being stolen and people apparently trying to retrieve them, this plot is seriously not moving. I guess if you like the characters more, Rin’s struggle to control his powers and the potential of him becoming a target might be enough to engage you, but to be honest for me that’s just background noise and at the moment most of these episodes feel like background noise.

Blue Exorcist is available on AnimeLab.


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Karandi James.

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Blue Exorcist Episode 29

Review:

After three episodes of mostly teen angst, we finally get back to the whole someone stealing the eye thing and of course it’s the girl who got told one thing one time and decides it is an absolute regardless of evidence of lack of it. It’s amazing how easy it is to convince yourself of something when you perceive every event through the lens that what you think is true and you find a way to distort all the facts to fit that truth. I mean, she might be right, it isn’t like I think the superiors in the church are actually trustworthy given they all seem to have their own agendas, but it just seems that trusting Todo is a terrible idea.

Rin of course finaly figures out some basic flame control (thank goodness because I’m sick of sitting on the roof with him watching him destroy candles).

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And then of course loses control when confronting Bon about his father issues. It’s great that we’re reminded that Fujimoto was important to Rin and Rin is still harbouring guilt around his death, but when he interprets everyone else’s relationship through that lens it becomes irritating. Just because you’ve been through trauma does not give you the right to dictate the actions of others and while superficially the circumstances between Bon and his father seem similar, Rin is seriously butting in where he’s not needed. This is one of my pet hate character traits when watching anime. In honesty, I was happy when he got knocked out cold.

Blue Exorcist is available on AnimeLab.


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