Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 5 Manga Review: Friends Past and Present

Volume 5 of Natsume’s Book of Friends gives us a wide variety of characters and stories and really does look at the influence of the past on the present. We also meet Taki in a double chapter story that is as superb to read as it was to watch.

It feels like a lot of this volume is quite a bit darker than normal as each of the stories has a real risk to the characters and a real sense of tragedy hanging over it. While each is resolved in its own way, it feels like now that we’ve been introduced to the world of yokai and begun to understand its dangers, they are now expanding on the perils Natsume faces. Still, it isn’t all doom and gloom (not that it would be a problem if it was as I quite liked the darker anime episodes so I really enjoyed reading this volume) as we have another special story included in this volume that focuses on Tanuma and Natsume.

Chapter 16: Ageless Feelings

Perhaps the weakest of the stories in volume 5, chapter 16 still delivers a fairly compelling read when Natsume goes on a study trip with his friends and meets an old woman looking for a childhood friend and then a mermaid. The reason this story doesn’t quite hit home is because it is the old woman’s tragedy that we’re seeing unfold here and Natsume is more or less a bystander.

Then again, Natsume never stays a bystander for long and certainly he takes an active role in resolving the conflict. Still, as much as the ending is kind of nice, it is also fairly tragic that the woman has carried a feeling of guilt for so long and that the mermaid has harboured her ill will for so long. While it definitely reflects human nature, the situation is just kind of sad no matter how you look at it.

Chapters 17 & 18: Do Not Call

And now Natsume is going to meet Taki. She’s a fantastic character in the anime and her introductory story is one where both she and Natsume go through some very real danger. I was pleased to see this one in the manga and surprised by how affective some of the scenes were. The start of chapter 18 in particular when Natsume has been captured by the yokai was so much starker and seemingly darker here in the manga in the black and white than the anime managed.

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Taki’s link to the past is her grandfather and the knowledge he left her, incomplete though it was. In fact, it was her grandfather’s magic circle design that got Taki in trouble with a really nasty yokai and ultimately dragged Natsume into the conflict. Yet, Taki really loved her grandfather and she cherishes her connection with him despite all the bad things that it might lead to.

We also see Natsume and Taki forge a fairly solid friendship in a short time period. They both have connections to the yokai world through their grandparents and facing this kind of danger just naturally got them closer together. What I love though is that it isn’t a romantic relationship but very much one of mutual respect and friendship. Taki is such a great character and this story that brings her into the Natsume world is a fantastic read.

Chapter 19: Temporary House

But the great characters just keep coming. After introducing Taki to us, we get a story that focuses very much on Reiko and her past actions and the troubles they bring to Natsume in the present. After being spotted by a yokai and followed home, Natsume learns that this yokai had been in the house before when Shigure was a boy but somehow all the misfortunes had stopped after a mysterious girl had visited the house.

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Natsume’s relationship with Reiko has remained ambiguous. On the one hand, she is the one who could see the same things Natsume sees and it is her book that Natsume now owns and is trying to return the names from. She is also a distorted reflection of him as she became isolated from both humans and yokai because of her gift.

We see this distortion again when Natsume uses the same spell he sees Reiko using in the past to chase away the yokai causing immense damage to the room. Where Reiko ran away and never returned to the house, Natsume apologises and is welcomed as a part of the household. It is a touching story and one I really loved reading as it really did help to see Reiko a bit more clearly.

Special Episode 4

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Only one special in this volume, which is fine given how satisfying the other stories were. This one focuses on Tanuma inviting Natsume over to his house. We’ve seen this scene in the anime where Tanuma wants to show the shadow fish to Natsume and we realise Natsume can in fact see the real fish and not just their shadows. Still, much like Taki, Tanuma is a great character and a solid friend to Natsume and seeing these small steps as they build their friendship is fantastic.

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If you’re interested in reading Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 5 it is available on the Book Depository.

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Karandi James
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Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 4 Manga Review: The Pain of Farewell

Natsume Volume 4 takes a slightly different turn. In this volume we get three chapters and then three short stories. Admittedly, one of those short stories is featuring the Little Fox so I was super happy to read it but it was an interesting change where the first three volumes had four chapters fairly consistently. The other thing is that I realised that they turned each of these shorts into episodes just like the other stories and I started thinking about what was added and changed to flesh the stories out. At some point I might have to watch the episodes in question while I have the manga with me just to see.

Regardless, I absolutely loved this volume. There are some really great stories in it and the art seems to have also taken a step up in consistency (there were always beautiful images but some of the bits inbetween were rough at times and this volume seems far more constant in its delivery). All and all, this was a great read.

Incidentally, there was also a page dedicated to explaining how to draw Nyanko-Sensei. I will admit I attempted it. I suck. Moving on. Still really fun to come across though.

Chapter 13: Melting in Spring

I’ll be honest, I didn’t much like this story in the anime. It was okay, but I never really connected with the yokai, Gen. The story is about a yokai Natsume meets while playing in the snow with Nyanko Sensei. Natsume has made a snow bunny and the yokai, attempting to possess Natsume ends up inside the snow bunny. There’s a tragic back story involved and of course the yokai just has a goal to accomplish and recruits Natsume’s assistance.

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I’m just going to say this is one of the most gorgeous chapter title pages I’ve come across so far, though each volume seems to get better and better so I’m really excited to see what is coming next. Still, I could stare at this page for ages.

This might seem odd, but I really feel that the story of Gen and Sui is a little too rushed here. We meet these characters, learn of their tragedy, Natsume tries to help them, and ultimately the two of them part from Natsume. The impact on Natsume of this parting is one that he takes the time to really articulate to Nyanko Sensei. There are so many characters who pass through Natsume’s life that this idea of parting has been present since the beginning, but this chapter really takes the time to try and express Natsume’s feelings toward it, and because I didn’t connect with Gen it just doesn’t quite resonate with me.

Still, it certainly captures the spirit of so many of the stories for Natsume so while I’m not the biggest fan of this one, I appreciate the thematic connection with other stories.

Chapter Fourteen: Natsume Goes to a Hot Spring

Did I mention I love Natori as a character so seeing him return in Chapter Fourteen was fantastic. And the story of Natori taking Natsume to the hot springs with his usual slightly ambiguous goals and motives is just kind of the perfect story. This one balances out so many elements with Natsume helping yokai, reflecting on his childhood and how he interacts with others, the clashing ideologies of Natori and Natsume, as well as Natsume realising he has found a place to call home. It just works so well and I absolutely loved reading it (and I may have reread it several times already).

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One thing that occurred to me while reading this is that I really would like to learn more about the exorcists in general and their methods. While we learn a little in the anime drip-fed over six seasons, and clearly that information is in the manga spread throughout the stories, there’s still so much about the various exorcists and their different approaches that is just kind of cloaked in mystery. I get why, given we’re being introduced into this world through Natsume’s experiences, but at the same time, I’m really curious. That’s probably why I smile in delight every time the anime (and now that manga) brings us a story that focuses on these elements.

Sneak preview, I’m a few volumes ahead of my reviewing at this point and I’m over the moon by the introduction of Matoba.

Still, chapter fourteen has a rare occurrence with Natsume actually crying, admittedly in his sleep after a troubling dream, but it is a nice reminder that he is human and has had a fairly troubled childhood. He’s not really equipped to deal with some of the emotions he’s facing and he’s struggling to figure out how to really interact with others. His complicated relationship with Natori is definitely something that really brings this aspect of his character to the forefront and it is one I really enjoy watching develop. Looking forward to more Natori in the future.

Chapter Fifteen: The Man Among the Cherry Blossoms

I read the author’s comments on this chapter at the end of the manga and I’m really glad that it ended up the way it did. Apparently they had considered a story where a tree grew out of Natsume, and while Natsume does have some dark moments, that just seems like something straight out of a horror. Still, the include a sketch of that in the back so if you are curious it is well worth checking out (poor Natsume).

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Ultimately, this one is a pretty slow story, but one that is still a great read. Natsume acquires a painting of some cherry blossoms not in bloom and later meets a yokai who wants the image returned because of the man inside the painting. Unfortunately it seems to be stuck to Natsume’s wall so the two wait for it to come off. In the meantime, Natsume starts getting sick and they realise the painting is drawing life from Natsume (which I guess is almost as grotesque as it literally growing out of him, but visually looks a lot prettier).

I love how this story resolves and how even though this one is a parting, it is one that celebrates the time that the characters had together. If any story in this volume really drives home that ongoing idea of transience and taking hold of the time you have, it is chapter fifteen and it is a really beautiful read even though not a lot really happens.

Special Episodes 1 – 3

Nyanko Sensei saving a girl fallen into a hole, the Little Fox following Natsume around, and young Natsume being tormented by a bored yokai, these stories are just plain fun. Each one has been used in the anime so they’ll be familiar if you’ve watched it, and while these are quick reads, they each add an interesting character or idea and build on what we know about Natsume or Nyanko Sensei. Really fun way to end the volume.

Affiliate Link:
If you’re interested in reading Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 4 it is available on the Book Depository.

Thanks for reading
Karandi James
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