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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Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 6 Review – The Stands We Take

Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 6 Cover

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.

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Natsume Week: On Feeling Alone

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.

If you want the schedule we have:

  • Monday = Scott
  • Tuesday = Keiko
  • Wednesday = Me
  • Thursday = Irina
  • Friday = Arthifis
  • Saturday = Biblionyan
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On Feeling Alone

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Natsume Season 6
The Fujiwaras – Best anime parents ever.

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.

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Though despite her protests, Reiko did still get involved in quite a few yokai problems.

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.

Natsume Group
The yokai certainly learn to love 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.

Natsume

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.

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Karandi James
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Natsume Yujincho Seasons 1 – 4 Review: Great Characters, Great Atmosphere, and Just Pure Relaxation

This is part of a series of re-posts of older reviews on 100 Word Anime. The original review came out in May 2016 and can be found here.

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It might seem strange that I love Natsume. Given my usual tastes for faster paced stories, stories that are a little bit darker, or stories that do something a bit unexpected, there really isn’t any reason for me to be such a huge fan of Natsume.

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And yet there is something incredibly compelling and adorable about Natsume himself that manages to draw me into this world and makes me want to spend more and more time with him.  Natsume in the early episodes of season 1 is damaged, and that damage doesn’t just disappear. It fades and comes out in different ways at appropriate times, and slowly, ever so slowly, it is being healed, but there isn’t an instant fix.

In point of fact, it’s hard to even notice how far Natsume has developed as a character until you go from an episode mid-way through season 4 and maybe watch an episode from late season 1 or early season 2. Natsume is a dynamic character who continues to take on board the experiences he goes through and these become integrated into his overall character. While it is subtle development it is consistent and ultimately it makes this whole story feel authentic in a way few manage. And it isn’t just Natsume.

All of the characters in this show develop slowly but surely in ways that fit with the experiences they go through. You really feel like you are part of this group and watching this show is like catching up with old friends. There’s a strength of writing and character development that you do not normally come across. This is something Irina and I explored when we took on the Natsume Supporter Character Battle to determine who the best supporting character was in this story. It ended up being a heart-breaking experience as we pitted truly great cast members against one another.

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The plot also moves. While each episode really is the yokai of the week appears with either a problem to be solved or a desire to get their name back, each season feels like it is moving forward. Season one helps Natsume overcome his unreasonable hatred of all yokai. Season two sees him developing some actual human relationships that aren’t superficial or simply being acted out. Season three helps Natsume begin to understand Reiko (his grandmother) and her actions. The season four plunges us into finally facing some of Natsume’s child-hood trauma and finding some closure.

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Natsume Supporter Battle – Final Thoughts

Irina (I Drink and Watch Anime) and I had a fantastic time on the series of posts where we put the support cast of Natsume to the test (although mostly we tested our own ability to make hard choices and eliminate characters from the contest).

If you missed any of these posts, check out my feature from the end of that week where I link to all of the posts in the series.

However, it is time to say goodbye to this particular project and with that I mean it is time to announce the reader’s pick for best supporting character of Natsume.

Now I know a lot of our readers couldn’t vote because they haven’t watched Natsume Yuujinchou yet (what are you waiting for), or they hadn’t watched through to the later seasons. However, we do have a clear winner from the readers and while it isn’t a character that either Irina or I chose, I don’t think either one of us would be that unhappy with who won.

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And there we go. It is official. Hinoe rocks.

Not that Irina and I didn’t already know that given how hard it was to see her lose out in her particular match up.

The part of this that I was interested to see was that our choices (Natori and Matoba) weren’t even in the top 3 of the reader’s choices. Part of me wonders if that was because people were helping those characters we knocked out or if the exorcists just aren’t that popular (though fan art would suggest otherwise). So, I’d love to know if you voted and who you voted for and why.

Still, the really important take away is that Natori did beat Matoba in the poll by 2 votes. Sorry, Irina, I couldn’t help it. I love Natori. Matoba is one of my favourite antagonistic characters and incredibly valuable to the Natsume universe, but Natori is going to remain my favourite character outside of Natsume, Reiko and Nyanko-Sensei.

It is actually kind of sad to say goodbye to this project but hopefully it won’t be goodbye to Natsume forever. Fingers crossed for many more anime seasons in the future.

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Just Because Series Review: High School Romance On Display

Overview:

Eita has returned to the town he used to live in during his third year of high school. As he is reunited with old friends we see these characters prepare to leave high school and figure out what they want to do next.

Review:

As you can probably tell from the overview, this story isn’t exactly rushing to do much. It really is just the story of the daily lives of these high school students as they think about their future and the people around them. At the core of the story are a couple of romances as Eita’s friend Soma is the love interest of Natsume but has his eyes on the shy Morikawa, and Eita’s had a long time unrequited crush on Natsume but gains the attention of Ena, a junior in the photography club.

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And that is more or less all she wrote about this one. The characters are all very believable as high school students just going through the motions of finishing school and second guessing the choices they’ve made for what comes next. They hesitate, don’t have the conversations they need to have, come up with silly rules (I’ll confess if) and basically mope when things don’t go their way. Despite that, it ends up being an oddly compelling if fairly forgettable viewing experience.

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The animation definitely suffers though. These characters look fine when having conversations but motion (particularly running) ends up looking painfully awkward and to be honest I really just wanted the characters to stay still because at times it was outright distracting.

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Otherwise, there isn’t a lot to say about this. I really enjoyed spending time with this group of characters. They frustrated me at times and made silly choices but they were all characters I could relate to in that I could probably think of half a dozen or so people in my real like that would do exactly what they were doing. The pace of the story is pretty slow and the final episodes really drag, but for a once watch through, this is certainly pleasant enough.

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If you go in expecting a fairly low key romance/slice of life thing, you will probably be pretty happy with this one.

Episode Reviews:


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Karandi James

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Natsume’s Supporter’s Battle For Supremacy Round 3 Part A

This is a collaboration between Karandi and Irina.

If you need to catch up:

Be sure to check out Irina’s blog tomorrow for the conclusion to Round 3.

Matoba vs Natori

Krandi: Irina, why did we do this to ourselves? Seriously, what were we thinking?

Irina: Clearly we weren’t...

Karandi: After two rounds it has come down to exorcist vs exorcist. Both complex and interesting characters walking different paths along the moral spectrum and yet at this point in the anime, neither one has had their overall motive or character fully revealed leading to plenty of speculation.

We have said good-bye to some truly fantastic characters in rounds one and two and I think that is what needs to be remembered most about this show. While it is Natsume’s Book of Friends, the story that unfolds is made truly interesting by the love and care put in to each and every member of the support cast, no matter how minor a role they may seem to play within a season. These are characters we can relate to, can sympathise with, be wary of, be annoyed at, and characters we might want to meet ourselves. So this series of posts has accomplished its goal of shining the spotlight on this series and one of its core strengths, the supporting cast of characters.

For this final round, we’ve decided to reflect on our views of both characters rather than going head to head. But if you take nothing else away from this series, I’m taking away that I won the first round.

Irina: Pffth second place is just first loser unless I lose this round in which case second place is awesome, better than first even! Somehow…

For this round Irina will make her final case for Matoba.

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Irina: Through six reviews for the various seasons of  Natsume’s Book of Friends, Matoba has been my favorite character twice, a distinction only shared with Nyanko and even then only in specific incarnations (Nyanko as Natsume forever!) There’s a reason for that and a reason my boy Seiji made it all the way to the final round. He rocks.

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Matoba is a slap in the face of a character, a spark thrown into the Natsume story that makes everything more exciting. I have always enjoyed characters in series that I would not necessarily like to meet in real life. Although this may not be the case here… I got a soft spot for attractive troublemakers. Matoba is definitely ruthless and singularly determined. This leads him to act in ways that can appear brash. He lacks the gentle touch everyone else in this series seems to possess. But when considered as a whole, he is undeniably rational and, if nothing else, diligent.

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His entire life, Matoba has carried the burden of responsibility. The responsibility for the livelihood and safety of his clan, the unique duty one has when they are one of the few who can see Yokai and the weight of his particularly well developed talent. All these elements have made him into a man that cannot afford to take chances. A man whose misplaced kindness could end up hurting those who depend on him, and so he is sparring and greedy with it. It is unfair to ask others to pay for your altruism and that is a lesson Matoba seems to have learned well. He isn’t flighty or selfish. Childishly pursuing whatever strikes his fancy or playing the good guy. Matoba does what needs to get done. It may not be as instantly likable but it’s a trait that deserves respect and one that makes the story so much more affecting.

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The characters that push aside emotionality in favour of common sense are absolutely primordial to framing the story and putting everyone else in proper context. Matoba’s perfectly justifiable conflicts with Natsume become that much more interesting because they are not a question of right and wrong. They allow for introspection and questioning that ultimately make the story much deeper than it otherwise would have been.

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Moreover, Seiji knows when to take a bow. There has never been a moment when Matoba was onscreen and I was bored. His appearances have been used to such optimal effect that his simple presence confers a sense of excitement and anticipation. You know somethings going to happen if Matoba’s there and he always leaves you wanting more.

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A lot more in fact. We have only gotten crumbs of his backstory so far and clearly there’s a lot more left to tell. What we do know is that this man holds most of the secrets of the Natsume Universe and exploring his character will unlock a whole new world for both the viewers and the actors.

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At the end of the day, most stories, even ones as peaceful and sensitive as Natsume’s, need some form of conflict and few things can elevate a narrative quite like a worthy and interesting antagonist. Matoba is exactly that. He is build with the same care and nuance as any  hero. He manages to be relatable or at least understandable, while still undeniably menacing. The element he brings is completely unique in the story and no one else can play this role.

KarandiIs Irina right? Tomorrow, I’ll make my case in part B on Irina’s blog.

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