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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Volume 6 was a little bit different with three chapters dedicated to the story of Natsume and Taki befriending Kai, a troubled kid who seems to be being stalked by a yokai. The situation gets more complicated when Natsume realises Natori is in town and might also be after Kai. In addition to this story we also get two shorter stories, one featuring the very adorable Little Fox and one featuring Reiko and then just a random story about other characters (will admit I wasn’t as in to that).
Chapters 20 – 22
It was kind of refreshing to see that Natsume wasn’t actually the one being targeted in this story. Quite by chance he comes across Kai and releases him from a box but then he has the hard job of winning over Kai’s trust. If you want some warm and fluffy feels, watching Taki, Kai and Natsume enjoying nature together is sure to hit the spot.
However, as with most Natsume stories it isn’t all sunshine and light and Kai continues to be targeted. After a while, Natsume realises Natori is back and the is the one out to get Kai, and with that comes the realisation that Kai isn’t actually a human child. We’ve seen Natsume confuse humans and yokai before but this time, Natsme doesn’t reject Kai after the truth is known. Instead, he stands firm beside Kai even as Natori tells Natsume to stay out of it.
This ends up putting Natsume in a fairly dangerous place between Natori and Kai as Kai ceases to trust Natsume and the conclusion of this story is very satisfying.
We’ve seen these characters grow so much and the relationships between them grow, change, get tested, and reforged and this story really continues this beautifully. The odd relationship Natsume has with Natori that isn’t quite friendship because there’s still a layer of mistrust there continues to be a highlight of this story. Taki’s presence is wonderful as a human friend to Natsume and someone who can help him in small ways. And Kai is wonderful as a yokai who is also alone and isolated and feels the sting of betrayal.
It’s just a good story and it was given sufficient room in these three chapters to really spread its wings and be the story it needed to be.
Special Episode 5
This special episode reunites Natsume with the Little Fox. Seriously, the Little Fox could just sit still and smile at us on the page and I’d probably be delighted. He’s such a cute character. But his interactions with Natsume continue to be really fantastic.
There’s not much to this story and we did see this one in the anime where the Little Fox travels to see Natsume before Natsume takes him back home, but that doesn’t stop it being truly adorable.
Special Episode 6
The story of Reiko and Hinoe’s meeting is retold in this special story. Again, this one has been seen in the anime but it is a charming short story and gives us a bit more insight into Reiko and Hinoe and their relationship and it is just a bit of fun.
The Corner of the Schoolhouse
This one shot story is entirely focused on some different characters and a romance. I’m going to be honest, I didn’t really think much of it, but that’s probably because I was reading a Natsume book and was eager to get to the next chapter of Natsume so all and all the story works, it is cute, but I wasn’t that interested.
This is a great week to be blogging with Scott from Mechanical Anime Reviews having organised a week for us to write about, explore and celebrate the beauty that is the Natsume Yuujinchou anime. And I’m really, really glad because I don’t get to talk about this anime enough, though my current read through the manga has given me another excuse to make Natsume themed posts.
For anyone who has watched Natsume Yuujinchou the theme of loneliness and isolation is one that you will be very familiar with. However, unlike so many other shows that isolate their protagonist, Natsume isn’t trying to be edgy or to sensationalise an issue. Instead, Natsume seeks to explore the many reasons people (and yokai) feel alone and how loneliness can shape their life.
Natsume is isolated because he has walked in between worlds his whole life with no one who understands what he is going through. As a child who could see yokai that no one else around him could see, and with no parents or stable home environment, he had no immediate familial connection to ground him. Afraid of the yokai or angry with them for being the essential cause of the taunts he endured from others, Natsume couldn’t make friends with either humans (who believed him to be a liar or unhinged) or with yokai.
Even the light wishes to separate Natsume from others.
And again, where this becomes different from other stories is that Natsume is not bitter or resentful toward the people in his life who have isolated him. Despite knowing how he’s been treated, he speaks of past families as being ‘good people’ or ‘nice to begin with’. He blames his own actions and strangeness for their distance. He isn’t desperate to connect with other but still longs for it. He builds a wall to protect himself but he keeps hoping someone will find a way inside or that he will meet someone like him that he won’t need to keep the wall between.
Desperate for a friend and someone to talk to.
Because ultimately, Natsume Yuujinchou is not a story about an isolated boy feeling sorry himself or struggling to come to terms with loneliness. Natsume’s Book of Friends is a story that celebrates those new encounters that allow us to open ourselves up again, sometimes leaving ourselves open to new pain but sometimes finding new family and friends and people that will leave a lasting impression. It is also the story of a boy who understands what it means to be alone and so has empathy for others who are ostracised even if the reason for their isolation is vastly different from his own.
Fortunately, it also doesn’t become a story where everything can be beaten with teamwork and the power of friendship either. Natsume is still one of only a few characters who can even see yokai and is regularly at odds ideologically with others who see them. This means he often acts alone and is forced to overcome quite dangerous situations by himself. The bonds he makes give him a reason to not give in or be too reckless but individualism isn’t totally taken away by the idea of working with others which also makes this story feel quite unique in its take on the theme of loneliness.
Where the story excels is that we begin in the middle, with Natsume already having been taken in by the Fujiwaras. It is their kindness that allows Natsume to begin lowering his walls, though not yet dismantling them. We see Natsume’s childhood and incidents that have constructed his reticent personality as we meet him in the first season only in flash backs that come spaced throughout the series. And in every flash back of Natsume we see him standing alone or being isolated from others. The few times people have reached out to him in flash backs they are normally torn away again, or Natsume pushes them away, by the time the flash back ends.
However, the Fujiwaras, as lovely as they are, do not know Natsume’s secret so as much as Natsume has built a family with them, and one he wants to protect, they alone wouldn’t have been enough to lower all the walls he has constructed. It is Natsume’s encounter with Madara/Nyanko Sensei that truly allows transformation to occur. Nyanko Sensei knew Reiko, Natsume’s grandmother, and acts as a bridge between Natsume and other yokai. So the Fujiwaras and the friends Natsume make at school start drawing him back into human relationships, at the same time that Natsume and Nyanko Sensei make a pact and begin working together drawing Natsume back into yokai relationships.
The parallels drawn between Reiko and Natsume are quite deliberate. As Natsume works to return the names Reiko collected in the book of friends, Natsume learns more of her life as he sees a vision of her when he returns a name. Natsume himself has said that Reiko is always alone when he sees her. She lived a short and seemingly mostly isolated life from humans and one where her relationship with yokai was combative. She never found that middle path to walk that Natsume seems to so desperately want to find. While in season one, Natsume and Reiko were nearly mirrors of each other, it is Natsume’s kindness and willingness to get involved with others, despite past wounds, that begins to build a community around himself. By season six, Natsume can no longer be thought of as alone. While there are still scenes where he and Nyanko are apart from others, there is almost always someone or some group waiting for him.
This is a story of hope and one of never giving up or giving in to self pity. One of doing what you can do and trying again even when it feels like it is pointless. Certainly Natsume had given up at various points in his life and it did take the catalyst of meeting those who would stand by him to get him moving again, but ultimately it is Natsume who has used those opportunities to forge lasting connections with others.
In case you haven’t noticed, I love Natsume Yuujinchou as a story. I love how it explores this theme and so many others. I love how multilayered the idea of loneliness is as we explore it from multiple character perspectives. And I love that the scars of loneliness are still visible even six seasons even though so much character growth and progress has been made. This is an unmissable anime and one that is truly an emotional journey worth taking.