Natsume’s Book of Friends Manga Review Volume 16

Helping Our Friends

We’re back with the next volume of Natsume’s Book of Friends and I absolutely loved this one. Okay, I love all of them, but this one seemed extra-special. Natsume always feels like he is taking without giving anything back, which isn’t true but it is how he feels, and he’s incredibly grateful for the friendships he has create with Taki and Tanuma even while he tries to look out for them and keep them safe.

This volume focuses very much on these relationships with the first two chapters dealing with Taki and the second two dealing with Tanuma. Both stories are absolutely glorious and then we get a really nice extra story at the end in case you haven’t had enough Natsume (and let’s be honest, there’s never enough Natsume).

Chapter 64 and 65

Naturally Natsume gets involved and at first fears the yokai aims to harm Taki but soon realises the yokai wants to thank her but doesn’t really know why. Once again the different time spans of humans and yokai comes into play as the yokai realises the futility of a friendship with a human yet still feels drawn to Taki.

It has been awhile since Taki has featured as anything more than just someone in passing and it was great to get back to her story and her house. This time she has helped a yokai leave her house after it got confused by all of her grandfather’s spells and the yokai now wants something to do with her, but isn’t quite sure what.

There’s also some other yokai in the house which leads to a really fun couple of chapters. it also makes Natsume think once again about his position and his relationship with Taki. While he tries not to keep too many secrets from her these days there are still some things he just can’t say and that keeps a small distance between them.

If you’ve been waiting for more of Taki this story will certainly give you exactly what you wanted.

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Natsume's Book of Friends, Vol. 16

Chapter 66 and 67

After the joy and breath of fresh air that was Taki’s visit, we move straight into a trip with Natsume and friends (Tanuma, Nishimura and Kitamoto). They are visiting a place Tanuma went to often as a child and they soon encounter a mystery with a yokai and a mask. Tanuma helps Natsume by keeping Nichimura and Kitamoto out of the way while Natsume tries to uncover the identity of the yokai.

Once again this story makes it clear that even though Tanuma doesn’t have the gift that Natsume has, a lot of his childhood experiences are quite similar. He saw weird things as a kid and was also sick a lot which meant he didn’t have a huge number of friends. It turns out, one of the ‘friends’ he had wasn’t all she appeared to be.

Again this story focuses very much on the distance between Natsume and others and the reasons for the secrets and lies that build the walls around him. While Tanuma is the closest thing to a true friend Natsume has ever had, there’s still a barrier between them even if Tanuma has been given a lot more access to Natsume’s true self than most people.

Again, it is a really fun story and one that builds on what we know about these characters in the best possible way. There’s also some really lovely art in this one, particularly when Tanuma smiles at the end. It is so precious.

As usual, I can’t wait to get into the next volume of this manga. This series continues to build from strength to strength and while I love the stories that focus on the exorcists, this volume focusing on Natsume’s school friends was a real delight.

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Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 15 Review

Striving Toward Impossible Goals

With most of my reviews of the various volumes of Natsume’s Book of Friends I’ve tried to find a common theme that links the stories or ideas. Unfortunately I came up short in volume 15. Not because the volume isn’t great, but because each story has its own distinct tone. That said, I had a great deal of fun reading this volume and not just because the first three chapters deal with Natori.

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Natsume's Book of Friends, Vol. 15
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Chapters 60 – 62

I remember how great this story was in the anime. It was the ‘oh no’ moment where Natori overheard the yokai talking to Natsume and finally learned a little bit about what Natsume was keeping from him. With Natori’s ambiguous character where we are never really sure if he’s a good guy or not, this has great emotional impact and leaves you on egg-shells waiting to find out what comes from this situation.

However, that’s the end of the story. This one mostly focuses on Natsume helping Natori out with a job. A retire exorcist’s home is being attacked and it turns out that two of the servants have been trapped outside the house and have become enraged believing their master shut them out. It is another reminder that human and yokai relationships won’t last forever but for now Natsume is just trying to help the best he can.

There’s some great moments between Natsume and Natori, some darker moments where Natsume looks be to in danger, and as usual a calm that comes at the end. It is a nicely written story and I loved how they spread it over three chapters giving it the time it needed to develop so that the ending really hit home.

Visually, these chapters seem a little less impressive than previous ones. Even Natori doesn’t bring his usual sparkle to the scenes. However, the story more than makes up for it and so it was great to read.

Chapter 63

We move on to a stand alone story about a small yokai who wants to join a parade but isn’t strong enough. This one is interesting in that it is the yokai who learns from the experience rather than Natsume, though it seems like at first the yokai might betray Natsume and hand him over as a tribute even though Natsume has been helping him. Nyanko-Sensei does nothing as he expects Natsume to learn from the experience, but instead the yokai has a change of heart.

Given we’re so often told that yokai don’t change this was a really cute story and an interesting one as we see immediately how Natsume’s interactions with the yokai have changed him. It would have been nice for Natsume to take something from this encounter as well, but there was enough going on here.

Special Episode: Touko and Shigeru

Now despite this being an ‘extra’ this story was my favourite of the lot in this volume. I also loved this story when we saw it in the anime. The Fujiwara’s took Natsume in but we so seldom get a full story focused on them. The rare ones we do see are always mine-fields of rich emotions and just full of love and healing energy and to be honest when I read this I really needed it at the time.

It doesn’t hurt that this is one of the prettiest stories in the volume with the passing of time depicted beautifully through various scenes looking at the sky. Touko and Natsume’s relationship is slightly redefined by the end of the chapter and it just makes you realise once again how much love and warmth the Fujiwara’s have enveloped Natsume in.

Absolutely lovely read and I fully recommend reading this volume.

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The Benefits and Pleasure of Reading Light Novels

Normally this is the time of week I’d have a light novel or manga review and I certainly have more than a few books stacked on my desk and ready for their reviews to be written or finalised. However, recently I was asked what I enjoyed about reading light novels and it made me start thinking about the changes in my reading habits over the past two years since I started reading my very first light novel series, Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash.

My whole life I’ve been obsessed with books. I fill shelves with them, spend hours rummaging through dusty boxes and shelves in second hand book stores, and spend more than a fair bit of time online shopping for books. However, growing up my focus was decided split with fantasy, science fiction and horror books on the one side and the standard classic literature list on the other. At university I expanded more into a range of authors who pioneered or represented movements or were renowned in some form or another, though I definitely kept enjoying my genre fiction.

It was pretty standard for me to be carrying two to three novels on me at any one time and cycle through them based on my mood or how much time I had to sit and read.

Maka Albarn - Soul Eater - Reading books

Then adulting happened.

I know, becoming an adult is kind of that thing we all have to do. But it had a definite impact on my reading because after spending a day reading for work meant by the time I came home I wanted entertainment that was less immersive and demanding of me and so movies and games filled the recreation time, as did my growing obsession with anime. I still read books, but they became something I stacked away and stored for long weekends or holidays where I would devour two or three in quick succession. Young adult novels became more standard in my collection because they were quicker to read and I was sure to complete it before I got distracted by work again.

As my anime obsession grew, so did my curiosity with the source material of many anime and while I wasn’t overly keen on reading manga, I decided it was time to plunge into light novels.

Fortunately for me I picked wisely.

At first I ordered one volume of one series when it was on sale and thought the worst that could happen was it would end up donated to a charity where it would end up sold on to someone else. However, I kind of became hooked.

For all that the first volume of Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash is not a perfect book by any means, the story rolls over you easily and carried you along to the end. There’s enough description to sketch in the world and character dialogue to give them shape, but it doesn’t get bogged down in details or tedious conversations that serve no purpose.

In a nutshell, it is easy and undemanding to read. Plus, easily devoured in a single sitting or over a couple of evenings so even with work demands it was something I could sink my teeth into and enjoy.

However, as my collection of light novels and manga (because one opened the door to the other) grew I ran into a few problems as well as a few really good points.

My main problem was storage space. Because of the quick read time and number of volumes in some sets it became quickly apparent I was going to need to a new shelf to store them on. But the other issue is that each series seems to be its own specific shape. Some are wider or taller than others and so stacking books has become quite the game of jenga and I’m not entirely convinced I’m the best person for the job. Particularly when I decide to read an older volume and pull it out from under a precarious stack, or the latest volume of a series I just read needs to be placed under another series requiring some careful handling.

This is a dream come true, a room totally surrounded by books.

Admittedly, a lot of people are probably just better at dealing with stacks that don’t perfectly align but for me everytime I look at the light novel collection I just want to try to make all the spines line up neatly and I’ve yet to succeed because they just don’t.

The other problem is naturally cost. While each book doesn’t cost all that much, particularly taking into account the frequency of online sales, the speed at which the books are read and again, the number of volumes each set will end up with, means that the cost of books rapidly adds up. It isn’t insurmountable but in order to stop myself binge spending on any other given day I plan lists and schedules for my next book order to keep it all under control and under budget.

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Yet both of these are petty complaints.

The books I’ve bought and read so far have been fun and entertaining. They’ve given me a raft of colourful characters and settings and plots that are incredibly. In the case of Grimgar and DanMachi the books have filled the void left by anime that next concluded the story and in the case of the Natsume manga I’ve found a new and amazing way to experience a story I loved in anime form. Arifureta gave me something different in a genre I’m familiar with from anime, and so on and so forth.

I love the artwork that is included in these books, whether it is the fold out work at the beginning of the volumes or the images scattered throughout, it just adds something to the reading experience. And certainly I appreciate any book that is easily slotted into a handbag or travel bag. That and a book that doesn’t hurt when it falls on my face because I fell asleep while reading.

Certainly I’ve ordered the first volume of some series and it just hasn’t worked for me and I’ve not continued on, but that is true of all types of books. Growing up there was a huge second hand book sale that took place every six months and the last day of the sale always had a fill-a-bag option and so I would plunder the fantasy section of any and everything I hadn’t read. I worked on the standard idea that only one in every ten books I started would actually be amazing and only three in ten would be good enough to end up on my book shelf. The rest would be read and then returned to the charity to end up at the next book sale. The only tragedy being that one particular book got purchased on three separate occasions.

Yeah, No Game No Life looked like it should be perfect for me, but just didn’t work out.

From that point of view, I’ve had far more hits than misses when it comes to reading light novels, though given a lot that I’ve chosen I’ve watched the anime of, I’m not going in blind to very many.

While a few people I know feel I’ve gone backwards a bit in my reading, all I can say is that I’m having as much fun as every consuming stories. While the pictures on the covers of the books I’m reading these days may be brighter, what hasn’t changed is my general love of words and nicely flowing plot with characters I can get behind and want to see succeed.

Next week I’ll get back to actually reviewing something from the stack before it takes over my desk entirely but before then, if you read light novels I’d love to know what you find appealing about them?

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Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 13 Review

It has been awhile since I’ve written a Natsume review and I’ve now got quite the stack of books to catch up on as I’m now at volume 17 and hungry for more. That said, I absolutely loved volume 13 (big surprise).

I will admit, my most recent trip to Japan was great as I picked up quite a bit of Natsume merchandise including a Nyanko pillow, a small Little Fox plush, a figure of Natori, and the first five volumes of the manga in Japanese because if I ever get some quiet time I’m going to work on my translation skills again and see if I can get through them. So at the moment, I am very much surrounding myself with Natsume and I cannot get enough.

However, for now I’ll get into reviewing volume 13 which I was really excited about because it brings Natsume face to face with Matoba again.

Chapters 52 – 54: Behind the Chains

This is a story I particularly loved in the anime as it brings Matoba calling on Natsume and asking him for a favour. Only in true Matoba fashion it isn’t so much asking as demanding and when that doesn’t work, threatening. Natori is aware Matoba has approached Natsume and is working away in the background, and Nyanko is as usual being sassy when Matoba is present but working hard to protect Natsume despite the exorcist charms making him somewhat weaker than normal.

There’s a lot to love about this story as it brings great characters together, provides more insight into the world of exorcists as well as the different ways the Matoba go about it compared to someone like Natori, and it also shows us Natsume’s incredible natural talents. The search for the yokai possessing exorcists works wells enough to hold all of this together but that particular issue is so much less interesting than the tension that exists every time Natsume and Matoba are anywhere near each other.

The art is nicely done as usual with some excellent chapter introductions but scenes of the guests in the Matoba house are a little messy in terms of details and the faces of background characters aren’t particularly amazing. It is a minor complaint in amongst a great story but worth noting.

Still, this story didn’t disappoint and the volume wasn’t done.

Specials: Nishimura and Natsume, Kitamoto and Natsume

After the sensational exorcist focused story for the majority of the volume, the second part goes firmly into the slice of life aspects of Natsume and what this volume shows is that there is great balance in the story between these more human moments that hit the emotions hard, and those tense and exciting moments where the supernatural takes centre stage.

These are two characters that, while they have a presence in the anime it hasn’t been very prominent. These two stories are really a great chance to see how these two very normal and ordinary school friends came to be friends with and understand, to a point, Natsume and accepted him for who he was. They are touching and heartwarming stories and just the perfect thing to read to leave you with a smile.

I probably don’t need to reiterate, but this series is so fantastic to read. I’ll cover something else next week but then I’ll be back with my next Natsume review.

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Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 12 Manga Review

Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 12 Cover

Relying on and Reaching Out To Others

We all know Natsume is a bit cut off emotionally. Volume 12 does an excellent job of showcasing the relationships he’s forged as well as pushing him to realise he cannot do everything alone and nor does he really want to. It is a great collection of stories and with Natori showing up for the final three chapters I was pretty thrilled with this volume.

Chapter 47 Answer Instead

This is perhaps the weakest story in the volume, though it is still pretty interesting. A yokai who mimics human voices asks Natsume for his help in finding another yokai who can restore paper so that he can read a note left by a human many years ago. As usual, Natsume gets very caught up in helping the yokai but it ends up being a pretty sad story.

Or maybe bittersweet would be the better way to phrase it.

The yokai lost his chance because he feared the outcome of making a real connection with the human girl and that sets the scene for the remaining stories in the volume.

Chapter 48 Name of the Mysterious One

It wouldn’t be a Natsume story about connecting with others without dealing with Reiko’s life. I really liked this story when I saw it in the anime and here it was just as fun to read and just as heart warming.

Natsume encounters an elderly lady who turns out to be a yokai, or maybe a former god, it is a little unclear. Whichever way, the woman asks for Natsume’s help in finding a powerful yokai to return a mirror to. As more of the story comes out, Natsume realises that the one the woman is looking for is Reiko.

Once again we see and hear about the lonely life Reiko had as she was unable to connect with either yokai or humans. And once again, we see how far Natsume has come in separating himself from that path.

Chapter 49 – 51 Beyond the Glass

This story involves both Tanuma and Natori and it is truly fantastic. Both of these characters know about Natsume being able to see yokai but Tanuma can’t see them himself or help much whereas Natori believes he knows better than Natsume when it comes to dealing with yokai. It makes for an interesting encounter.

Natsume unfortunately draws the attention of two yokai who imprison him in a bottle. As Tanuma tries to help him, he gets injured and the bottle is stolen by the yokai. Tanuma however isn’t going to leave it at that and tries to rescue Natsume, though fortunately Natori is also there to help of things might have gotten ugly.

The danger Natsume poses to his friends is all too clear here and yet without Tanuma, Natsume would not have made it through this encounter.

The contrast between each character, Natori, Tanuma and Natsume, is really nicely explored in this story and following on from the story about Reiko it really helps to distinguish how each of these characters are choosing to live and grow and the connections they have or sever.

I love reading these stories because they always leave me thinking, with a quiet smile, and just wanting to read more. Volume 12 is no exception and is a great, relaxing read.

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