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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Natsume Yuujinchou Season 6 Episode 11

Review – Some spoilers:

Can we get a season 7 announcement, please?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Natsume Yuujinchou Season 6 Episode 10

Review:

Is there really only one more episode of this? Really? And the next season is…?

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For a second last episode of the season, episode 10 of Natsume Yuujinchou pulled out all the punches. We are dealing with exorcists again and Natori most definitely did not forget about the Book of Friends.

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That said, this episode seems to be positioning us to see him as an actual friend and given he’s been covered in shades of grey as to where his true motives lie for a fair while it would be nice to think that is true. Though there’s always the chance of another twist in the tale.

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But in case exorcists searching a mansion for a study full of spells while Natori gently probes Natsume for hints about what he has via Hiiragi is not enough to keep you entertained in what is normally a much more relaxing story, lets throw in some Reiko stuff just to bring everything together. About the only part of Natsume’s life that gets left out here is his normal school life and normal human friends but that probably would have been pushing it to incorporate that as well.

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That said, though, this is another two parter story so we’ll just have to wait until next week to see how this all plays out but I couldn’t be happier with how this season seems to be finishing up. My only complaint is that it is finishing.


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Natsume Yuujinchou Season 6 Episode 9

Review:

Natsume returned to its usual episodic formula this week. No returning characters of old, no Reiko flashbacks, just a strange shrine on a hill and a flood inside a building.

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Yep, nothing suspicious here.

That said, this isn’t a bad thing as Natsume uses its episodic format to its advantage creating a charming self-contained narrative even as the audience get to enjoy the results of the bonds Natsume has forged with his human friends. Nyanko-Sensei even gets a cute make-over for part of the episode pretending for some reason to be a boar piglet.

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Seriously cute. Anyway, I really enjoyed this episode but it is pretty standard Natsume. Then of course we got the preview for next week and it looks like they aren’t going to make us wait for another season to know what Natori is going to do now that he’s suspecting Natsume has something powerful. While it doesn’t give much away I’m now really excited for next week.


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Friday’s Feature: Why is the Natsume Yuujinchou Anime Still Endearing After Six Seasons?

There’s no mistaking that I truly love Natsume Yuujinchou. You just need to look at the sheer number of posts I’ve tagged with Natsume to know that I not only like watching it, I like to talk about Natsume, a lot. I don’t remember who recommended it to me or why I tried it initially, but I know that once I started this adorable show I never could stop. Even when I ran out of episodes I would happily go back and just watch them all again. Had a bad day at work, or a bad week? Take a double episode of Natsume and go to bed smiling. However, while watching season six of this anime, I began to wonder how this show has retained its magic formula and even managed to become more entertaining with time given so many shows, particularly ones where new seasons just keep getting added on, become progressively less than what they were.

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I started making a list of all the great things about Natsume. The list got extremely long by the end so I ended up condensing them into a few main points:

  • The characters particularly the central characters of Natsume and Nyanko-Sensei.
  • The episodic format of the show with themes and character growth that run through the series.
  • The feelings this show inspires in its audience.
  • The art and animation while not the most brilliant ever perfectly fit the show you are watching.
  • Every opening theme that has ever been attached to this show.

There were quite a few other points on the initial list but that isn’t surprising given I love the show. However, making this list actually helped me figure out exactly why this show succeeds season after season.

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Reason 1: The way the characters are presented to the audience.

In so many long running shows the main protagonists (and a lot of the support cast) either have a single defining personality trait or goal. Or, worse, the characters actually lose any defining trait over time slowly becoming generic and featureless in amongst a sea of other characters.

Natsume defies this trend in storytelling. He starts out fairly generic, as do most of the characters in the show, and the show has gradually fleshed them out over nearly six seasons. The affect of this on the audience is essentially feeling like we’ve naturally gotten to know someone. First introductions are fairly superficial and then we’ve slowly been allowed to see who they are underneath those initial impressions.

And this doesn’t seem accidental. Within episodes we regularly meet the yokai of the week and are given one impression before Natsume looks deeper and we realise the other side of the character. This pattern repeating over longer periods of time with the human characters and recurring yokai seems like a deliberate thematic choice of the show as it examines who Natsume is and who he is becoming.

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Which, is the second part of this story. The characters are changing. Even as we get to know who they are or who they were (through flash backs), events in the seasons we’ve seen have changed them. There’s no magic reset at the end of the episode so next episode everyone is back to the cookie cutter model we start with each week in a true sit-com style. This is an ongoing story and these characters are dynamic even if the slow pace of the show sometimes makes it seem like little progress is occurring.

Clearly Natsume, as the title character, has experienced the largest growth and development as he has slowly opened up to both human and yokai characters. However, he isn’t along in this constant change and you can see Nyanko-Sensei has softened significantly toward Natsume since season 1. His threats to eat his human companion have diminished and even when they are inserted they now seem half-hearted. He offers advice more freely and is more willing to warn Natsume of danger. He’s gone from being curious and self-interested to being genuinely fond of Natsume and this relationship is really interesting to watch.

Even Reiko, Natsume’s deceased grandmother has been given character growth as Natsume has slowly learned more about her. The end result is a world that feels incredbily rich and populated with real characters that over six seasons you’ve become friends with yourself and you genuinely care for.

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Reason 2: The overall themes of the show strike directly at the heart.

Okay, that was cheesy, but it is Natsume so it kind of had to be.

But really, the experience of watching Natsume, is one of trying to understand what it means to be human and the choices people make and why. For all the fantastical creatures and goings on, it is a story about the choices you make in life and the consequences that come from them as well as one that focusses very much on the connections that result from encounters with others.

In this the episodic nature of the show really helps it to succeed. Characters can enter the show for an episode or two and drift off only to return a season of so later but the connection they forged still exists. What this allows is for the show to never overly clutter itself with too many characters at once and we’re never wondering why such-and-such a character is even in a scene because other than Natsume, none of the characters are guaranteed an appearance if they are not necessary to the story. Even Natsume occasionally gets written out of his own narrative in order for the focus to be where it needs to be.

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For a show that is regularly as sickeningly sweet as Natsume, it knows when not to pull a happy ending out of nothing and it isn’t against leaving the characters wondering if their choice was wrong. It also doesn’t shy away from the darker side of human nature when you think about how most of Natsume’s relatives have treated him and still speak to him and about him. What makes this show a bit different is that it doesn’t wallow in its own darkness or exploit it for sensationalistic purposes. The darkness is there, but like everything else, Natsume chooses how and when to confront it and when to leave things be. It is a very real part of the narrative and while sometimes you may actively dislike a character, generally speaking you are supposed to if that is the feeling you are getting.

After five and a half seasons, my current thoughts about Natsume are that this is actually getting better as it goes. The show continues to weave backstory and lore into a world that already feels rich and real and continues to have Natsume face situations where we confront the human and inhuman equally. Hopefully season 6 can continue to shine.

There were a whole bunch of characters and ideas that I love about this show that I restrained myself from rambling about, but seriously, I’d love to know your thoughts on Natsume. Do you think Natsume has gotten better or is the charm wearing off after so many seasons?

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Natsume Yuujinchou Go Series Review

Overview:

The fifth season of Natsume Yuujinchou, Natsume Yuujinchou Go picks up following Natsume as he interacts with his human and yokai friends. Season 5 does seem to be focussing a lot on the minor character backstories. I reviewed this week to week here if you want to check out my thoughts on individual episodes.

Review:

I’m keeping this one super short because I’ve already reviewed the first four seasons of this and revisited it and to be honest season 5 doesn’t really break away from what the other 4 seasons have done. Pretty much don’t start with this season. Watch the first four. While the show does take an episodic approach, it is the small changes in Natsume over the five seasons that help this show to really soar so you kind of need to watch it in order.

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As I said in the overview, this season spends a lot of time with some of the other characters and fills in their back stories which was a nice diversion from the yokai of the week episodes (though we still had these as it is Natsume after all). Probably my biggest issue with season 5 is the limited focus Natsume himself gets, though after 4 seasons I guess it would be hard to continue to focus exclusively on him. And then Nyanko-Sensei has pretty much been sidelined for the entire season this time and given he’s my favourite character I just kept wanting him to be more involved. He does get a few good moments and we can clearly see how far he’s grown as a character but I just wanted more.

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Natsume is still Natsume however and visually is cute but fairly washed out and none of the characters are particularly striking in their appearance (by the way, the picture above is a young Natori and not Natsume but it is hard to tell). The music is still really relaxing and just kind of fun to listen to and the episodes still resolve nicely and mostly happily without falling into the realm of overly sickly sweet.

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Seriously, check out my review of the first four seasons and then if you like fantasy or slice of life at all go watch the show. It is amazing and there is a reason I’ve watched 5 seasons of it despite it being incredibly slow moving which is usually enough for me to give a show the flick.

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Natsume Yuujinchou Go Special

Review:

Okay, I hate filler and I hate recap episodes but I didn’t hate this – and not just because it is Natsume and so automatically gets a pass on most things. Firstly, they didn’t try to given it a number in the series and pass it off as an actual episode, it was clear it was a special. The second reason this kind of worked was because Natsume is episodic in the first place so having a random stand-alone adventure isn’t really an issue in terms of upsetting the overall pace of the narrative (in fact it is difficult to determine how this was really different from any other episode other than they didn’t actually mention the book of friends or his grandmother for the entire episode). That said, I don’t know if this was actually new or something older and I guess it doesn’t matter given I’d never seen it before.

So reviewing this as an episode? I really enjoyed it. If you haven’t watched all the other episodes you won’t get anything out of this. Essentially they split up Nyanko-Sensei and Natsume for arbitrary reasons and then Natsume spends the episode wandering around looking for Nyanko-Sensei and conveniently runs into and has a conversation with each of his friends from school (which is great because we haven’t seen some of these characters much at all this season). Nyanko-Sensei meets two human kids and for reasons that only seem explained best as Natsume’s influence, he ends up helping them complete an errand and in the process runs into most of the friendly yokai who have met Natsume and show up from time to time (and again, some of these have had very limited screen time this season so it was a nice little nostalgia trip). But that’s all there is to this. If you want to see some old favourite characters, jump right in. If not, wait until next week and a new episode.

(As an added note – if I’d been guiding those kids I’d have left them to the other yokai after the second round of tears. Yep, I’m not great with crying children.)