Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 15 Review

Striving Toward Impossible Goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 63

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

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

Special Episode: Touko and Shigeru

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

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

Absolutely lovely read and I fully recommend reading this volume.

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Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 14

What is precious to you?

Another volume of Natsume and another delightful read. This volume focuses very much on losing things which are precious to you, or trying to protect them, and the result is a lovely and warm read as we see once again how Natsume has to balance his life in dealing with yokai who mistake him for Reiko, whether he helps yokai, or defending his very human world from unwanted yokai intrusion.

Chapter 55

The first story starts off more or less as many stories do in Natsume. He’s more or less minding his own business and yet is attacked by a pair of yokai who steal his voice to prevent them from calling their names or for help. He manages to escape from them but is picked up by another yokai who mistakes him for Reiko and unfortunately he can’t explain the situation.

There’s something very sad about this story as we see another yokai who has patiently waited for Reiko to return only she never will. It isn’t the first time we’ve been in this situation or that Natsume has felt sorry for a yokai for this reason, but as usual, the emotional impact hits hone. Not to mention Nyanko once again shows that he isn’t just treating Natsume like a snack anymore and comes to collect him.

All and all, it is a nice lead in to the volume and a fun story to read even if it isn’t particularly stand-out from the series (it is very hard to be stand-out when the stories are so consistently good).

Chapter 56

Natsume’s Book of Friends then brings us another standard set-up but makes it feel fresh through seeing how Natsume has changed in his approach to dealing with yokai. In this story a young looking girl yokai, she’s actually pretty old, has lost her towel and he returns it to her. However, it turns out the towel belongs to a human and she wants to return it. So begins Natsume’s efforts to reconnect two people whose times are very different.

The difference between a yokai life and a human life has also been a recurring theme in Natsume, and this story really makes it hit home that while for a yokai only a little time had past almost an entire human life had gone by. It makes you wonder how it will be for Natsume one day or for the yokai he’s befriended as sooner or later the reality of their lives is going to intrude.

This story is adorable and it was equally adorable in the anime.

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Natsume's Book of Friends, Vol. 14

Chapters 57 – 59

Then we get to the pointy end of the book where we see Natsume face off against a yokai in a pot who declares that if he doesn’t return what was stolen she’ll steal what is most precious to him. Such a threat back at the beginning of this series wouldn’t have had anywhere near the weight given Natsume’s lack of attachment to people or places. Now however that thought is terrifying to him even though it would be difficult to decide exactly what that most precious thing might be. Certainly difficult for a yokai to determine what it would be and it would have been interesting to see what was stolen but this time we just have to imagine it.

With the help of Nyanko and other yokai he meets along the way, Natsume eventually pieces together the story of Reiko and her encounter with the yokai. Once again we see how Reiko was shunned for most of her life and we can see that while Reiko and Natsume are similar, there are distinct differences and those largely exist because of the connections and friendships Natsume has managed to create and holds onto.

While not the strongest of stories overall, it is very affective and is a nice way to complete this volume.

Only, there is also a special story about the mid-level yokai finding some medicine for Natsume when he is sick. Even they know their attachment to such a frail human is foolish and can only end in tragedy and yet they cannot sever the ties between themselves and Natsume at this time. It is nice to see Natsume isn’t the only one aware of the strings that tie all these characters together at this point. Not to mention, this story is really pretty to read.

Anyway, as usual, I’m loving these books and eagerly awaiting the opportunity to review the next one.

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Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 13 Review

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

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

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

Chapters 52 – 54: Behind the Chains

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

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

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

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

Specials: Nishimura and Natsume, Kitamoto and Natsume

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

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

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

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Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 12 Manga Review

Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 12 Cover

Relying on and Reaching Out To Others

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

Chapter 47 Answer Instead

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

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

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

Chapter 48 Name of the Mysterious One

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

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

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

Chapter 49 – 51 Beyond the Glass

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

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

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

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

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

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Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 11 Manga Review

Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 11 Cover

It is always great when a story remains consistently this great and volume 11 of Natsume’s Book of Friends maintains everything that has been good about the series so far. While we move away from the exorcists to focus more on Natsume’s growing group of human friends and to face Natsume’s past, this volume continues to be a compelling read and fleshes out Natsume’s character and that of his friends Taki and Tanuma.

Chatpers 42 and 43: Sealed

The first story deals with Tanuma and Natsume arriving at Taki’s home during a rain shower. After some pleasantries they end up assisting her in cleaning out a store room and in the process Natsume accidentally breaks a seal on a yokai that Taki’s grandfather accidentally imprisoned. It isn’t exactly looking for a pleasant conversation.

Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 11

This was great because it does put the three of these human characters together in a way that hasn’t really been done previously. Natsume is friends with Tanuma and friends with Taki, but previously the two of them have had little interaction. As the two characters who know the most about Natsume it is great to see them together here and trying to help Natsume as he is dealing with the yokai.

Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 11

We also learn more about Taki’s grandfather and the way the yokai responded to him. While he couldn’t see yokai as Natsume can, he was very much obsessed with them and gather quite a crowd around him during his life. These yokai ultimately decide to help out in this story and that saves the day. Taki thanking them was an adorable moment even though she also can’t see them without the aid of the circle and generally speaking they aren’t willing to step in it.

Chapters 44 – 46: Long Way Home

Any of the stories that give us more insight into Natsume’s lonely childhood are really fantastic and this story gives us a double hit. Firstly we see another family he stayed with previously and how well that went… And we also see Natsume dealing with the sale of his family home and his final goodbye to it. Throw in a yokai that tormented him as a child and you have a really great story.

What really sells this is how much readers have come to love Natsume over the previous en volumes. If this story had come in earlier, it may not have had the impact it does here. But with Natsume where he is on his character journey, this seemed like the perfect moment for some reflection and facing the past and it was handled beautifully.

Nyanko-Sensei is of course along for the ride and so we get a little more of the relationship between Nyanko and Natsume, but the focus is unmistakably on Natsume’s growth.

All and all, volume 11 did not disappoint and I am read to sink my teeth into volume 12.

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Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 10 Manga Review

Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 10 Cover

Natori is back and that always makes things complicated.

Volume 10 of Natsume’s Book of Friends is divided into two stories. The first covers chapters 37 and 38 and is called ‘False Friend’ and the second, covered in chapters 39 – 41 is ‘The Harvest Festival’. Both of these stories appeared in the anime and were both stories I really enjoyed so there were very few surprises to be found here, but once again the manga brings that little something extra to each of these character and made the experience of reading it feel rewarding.

Natsume's Book of Friends Chapter 39
The characters are still absolutely beautiful to look at in this volume and I love the chapter title pages.

I did struggle for a bit trying to find a theme that connected these stories. Ultimately I decided it was about misunderstandings. False Friend has Natsume’s motives being questioned by a guy who used to tease Natsume but now needs his help and The Harvest Festival really looks at how well Natsume and Natori understand each other and what they are trying to accomplish. All and all, volume ten was a worthy addition to this series.

Chapters 37 – 38 False Friend

This story introduces us to Shibata who used to go to school with Natsume and always believed he was a liar. In this story he has sought out Natsume because he has a weird feeling about a girl he likes and somehow he suspects she might not be all she seems. With no one else to rely on, he drags Natsume into it in order to determine if she is human or not.

Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 10

The story itself is pretty standard here with Natsume struggling to differentiate between human and yokai and when he finally does determine the truth, he is not believed by the human who asked him for help in the first place. It is a wonderful reminder that even though Natsume is very protected by the circle of friends he has made since moving in with the Fujiwaras, the world at large still won’t believe in him and there are those who will still judge him. I really liked how they showed the emotional turmoil not being believed again put Natsume through in this story.

In the end, Shibata does come to believe but he’s still a thorny reminder of what Natsume went through as a child and a character who brings more conflicted feelings with him.

Chapters 39 – 41 The Harvest Festival

Natori has been asked to deal with a god on a mountain and is told to take drastic action if necessary. Of course, given the limited time he has before the Harvest Festival is meant to take place and he fact that there is little to no chance of him actually locating the other sealed god and resolving the situation peacefully, the other exorcists are more of less pushing the job of facing a god of pestilence onto Natori. It is another one of those rare glimpses into the world of the exorcists and no matter how you look at it, they seem really shady sometimes and their motives are always a little bit questionable. No wonder Natori always comes across as a little hard to read.

Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 10 Natori

However, it wouldn’t be a Natsume story if Natsume wasn’t somehow caught up in events. Even before Natori goes to the mountain, the sealed gods underlings have recruited Natsume to pretend to be the god that has been sealed in order to allow them time to continue searching for their master and to prevent famine and all manner of catastrophe occurring.

Once again we see Natsume and Natori coming at the same problem from different perspectives with Natsume only wishing to locate and release the sealed god and Natori willing to give that up as futile if he must and take more direct action. At the same time, Natsume wants to trust and rely on Natori, and Natori for his part doesn’t really seem to want to entirely crush Natsume’s view. The way they walk on eggshells around their differences really shows how much they value the relationship they have created even if they don’t always see things eye to eye.

Anyway, it is another great story and another great bit of world and character building just making this volume of Natsume another superb read. I very much recommend giving it a go.

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Natsume’s Book of Friends, Vol. 10
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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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