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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Karandi James
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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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They Can’t All Be Natsume – Nor Do They Need To Be

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As a reviewer I try to avoid comparison where possible between one story and the next (and previously wrote a feature about it – comparing apples and oranges), but it is kind of inevitable that comparisons will be made. Partly that is because similar characters or stories will remind you of the previous one though other reasons for comparing are to make a point clear, to point out the strength or weakness of a story, or to help your audience to really get a feel for what you are talking about by linking it to something they are likely more familiar with.

Still, comparisons aren’t always all that helpful. I recently went looking for some reviews of Kamisama Kiss online and found comparisons everywhere (I was curious about what people had said at the time it came out because that was pre-blogging days so I hadn’t really read any reviews of people who watched it when it first came out). On several occasions I found it compared to Fruits Basket or InuYasha and it seldom came out favourably.

While as a shoujo, the comparison to Fruits Basket kind of makes sense, the overall tone and feel of the stories are entirely different. I watch Kamisama Kiss when I want to just have a bit of a laugh and soak up some cute yokai vibes. Sure, it doesn’t really manage character drama all the deftly, but there is the occasional moment where it hits the spot, but realistically, you kind of watch Kamisama Kiss for the weird antics as Nanami learns to be a land god and the supernatural reverse harem that forms around her.

Fruits Basket on the other-hand I watch when I want to go through a bit of an emotional journey. I usually watch it when I’m feeling low and don’t know the reasons for feeling that way. Watching Fruits Basket and watching Tohru help others really helps process your own emotions and there’s definitely a cathartic effect as you see each of the characters she touches slowly come to terms with themselves. About the only complaint for the original series, other than the dated visuals, would be the lack of ending, which is why I’m super excited about the upcoming rebooted series. Whichever way, I wouldn’t have even thought of comparing it to Kamisama Kiss because in terms of why I enjoy it, it couldn’t be more different.

I can’t really comment on its similarity or dissimilarity to InuYasha because despite that one being on my watch list for a very long time, I’ve still yet to actually watch it.

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Natsume Yuujin-Cho (Natsume's Book of Friends) Nyanko Sensei Ani-Art Mug Cup

So as the title of this post suggests, recently I found myself comparing The Morose Mononokean to Natsume Yuujinchou. Actually, worse than comparing, I mostly pointed out that The Morose Mononokean couldn’t hold the emotional weight of something like Natsume. And that’s actually really true but it is more or less true of the vast majority of anime and not an actual complaint about The Morose Mononokean.

Now when watching these shows, comparisons do seem more or less inevitable. They both follow teenage boys who have the ability to see yokai. More importantly, the first season of The Morose Mononokean and Natsume Yuujinchou more or less follow the yokai of the week format where a new yokai is introduce, the main characters encounter it and it is either threatening or friendly, there’s a little bit of misunderstanding or a problem to resolve, then someone we fix things and we learn and grow from the situation. Rinse – repeat. Yokai of the week.

However, Natsume Yuujinchou, for all that it really is a monster of the week kind of story, has managed subtle and continuous character growth and built an impressive supporting cast that all feel like fully developed characters in their own right. Admittedly, it is now six seasons in, but it is still impressive how you barely notice the character growth until you go back to the beginning and then you realise just how much ground each character has gained. It is such a natural drip feed of growth and development that you really don’t even notice it but the results are there to see in how each season Natsume is that little bit stronger than he was and his relationships with those around him are that little bit deeper and more interesting.

Natsume Yuujinchou

In short, Natsume is pretty brilliant and you should definitely watch it.

The Morose Mononokean is not.

And that isn’t actually slapping it down. The Morose Mononokean season one was decidedly average in every way. It used the yokai of the week format well enough. The characters were entertaining and the back and forth between the two main characters was actually pretty entertaining. Visually it was okay, but they really did a great job contrasting the mundane world and the yokai world through the use of colours. Everything about it functioned, though it never delivered much in the way of an emotional punch and the characters remained more or less as they began, though a bit more of an understanding was forged between the two main characters.

In fairness, I don’t think it was really trying to pack much of an emotional punch. There are more ‘comedic’ moments dotted throughout, and Ashiya, as the protagonist, is quite the loud and reactive character responding to things with over the top expressions and shock rather than calm deliberation. The yokai frequently aren’t really given a voice and other than fuzzy, Ashiya isn’t really developing much in the way of a relationship with them and he wasn’t shunned or outcast so he doesn’t have to go through the emotional growth Natsume needed at the start of season one.

While that makes The Morose Mononokean a somewhat less compelling watch, it works as it is. Season two expands on the world building and the characters and it has become a much stronger story in its own right. It still has a vastly different tone and feel to Natsume, despite the surface level similarities in premise, but it really is its own show.

But telling someone The Morose Mononokean isn’t as good as Natsume Yuujinchou isn’t exactly helpful when it comes to reviewing, however true I might personally feel that to be. Nor is telling someone that it is similar to Natsume overly helpful because if someone starts it expecting another Natsume, they are surely going to be disappointed.

I think as a reviewer I am going to continue to strive not to overly rely on comparisons to convey my feelings about an anime. They certainly will happen and sometimes fairly thoughtlessly, but I hopefully won’t use them as my main summation of a show. In the case of The Morose Mononokean, through season two I have definitely come to appreciate it for what it is on its own and I’m no longer really looking at what I feel it is missing. Hopefully when it ends and I write my final review my thoughts on it as its own entity come through loud and clear.

Now here’s a question: The Little Fox or Fuzzy? Which is the cuter yokai?

In the meantime, I’d love to know your thoughts on comparisons in reviews and whether you find them helpful or not. Please leave a comment below and get the conversation started.

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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

Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 9 Manga Review

Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 9 Cover Art

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

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

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

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

Chapters 32 and 33: Little One

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

Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 9 Fur Ball

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

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

Chapters 34 – 36: The Eastern Forest

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

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

Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 9

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

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

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Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 8 Manga Review

Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 8 Manga Cover

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

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

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

Chapter 27 – Natsume Participates in the Culture Festival

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

Natsume Yuujinchou Volume 8 Chapter 27

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

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

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

Chapters 28 and 29 – Reflections

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

Natsume Yuujinchou Chapter 28

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

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

Chapters 30 and 31 – A Place To Belong

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

Natsume Yuujinchou Chapter 30

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

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

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

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