This is one of those series I'd have read more of, if my vacation had been a few days longer. I had a pretty large stack of them. I started reading them in an effort to deal with my post-election funk, and the overall gentleness of the series brought me to tears.
I wish I knew how many more volumes I'd have to read it make it past the point at which the anime stopped. Or at least the point at which Season 4 stopped – I recently learned that there's a Season 5 now. I'd love to see some completely new-to-me moments in this series, although I should add that seeing the anime first has in no way lessened my enjoyment of the manga.
Warning: this post includes spoilers.
Natsume's Book of Friends (manga, vol. 9) by Yuki Midorikawa, translated by Lillian Olsen – This volume contains three stories. In the first, Natsume saves a fuzzy little yokai called Karu, which is rumored to be vicious when in groups. However, it and other Karu save Natsume from a yokai that threatens to burn his home for (it thinks) stealing his ring, so Natsume realizes it can't be as bad as the rumors say. In the second story, Natsume is attacked by yokai in simian masks and ends up imprisoned at one of the Matoba estates. Matoba tries to convince Natsume to join the Matoba clan and leave behind humans who don't understand him and yokai who he says will eventually betray him. However, Natsume escapes with the help of all his yokai friends. The third story is a brief look back at an earlier time in Natsume's life, before he went to live with the Fujiwaras, from the POV of a female classmate of his who didn't really know him all that well but who still managed to look past his seemingly strange behavior.
I don't remember seeing the fuzzball yokai story in the anime, but maybe it was there and I just forgot about it. At any rate, the little guy was pretty cute, except for the sharp teeth.
I particularly liked this quote, said by Tanuma to Taki: “I once asked [Natsume] why he hasn't told Mr. and Mrs. Fujiwara what he can see. I thought he was stubborn. He said...it's because he wants them to keep on smiling. At first I didn't get it, but there are days I've had some dreams where he gets eaten by yokai. And I realized that's what he meant. He's late to school, and his classmates laugh, thinking he's overslept again. But a chill goes up my spine.” Oh, my heart. I loved this glimpse into what it's like to be Natsume's friend and to know a little about what he can see and what he goes through. Even if it's hard on Tanuma and Taki, I'm glad that Natsume has human friends who know his secret.
I don't recall liking the second story as much in the anime, but I enjoyed it in the manga because it really emphasized a couple things: one, that Natsume has come a long way and now has a great group of yokai friends, and two, that Natsume's yokai friends may actually make him more powerful than Matoba. That second bit really stuck with me. Matoba is someone who sees yokai as (at best) tools and (at worst) enemies of humans. He seems powerful, but there are likely limits to how much he can accomplish by trapping, tricking, and/or enslaving yokai, and at least a part of him has to be worried that he'll slip up and one of them will kill him. Natsume has encountered some dangerous yokai too, but he doesn't have to constantly force Nyanko-sensei and the other yokai to help him – they just do.
My favorite quote from the end of the second story (Natsume's thoughts): “I vowed to understand and to not look away from the plight of those I can see and hear.”
As far as the third story went, it was nice to see that there were a few people here and there who saw Natsume at least a little for the person he really was, and not the liar and attention-seeker that everyone kept saying he was. Midorikawa has shown readers stuff like this before, so it wasn't exactly new, but I still liked it because it expanded the world of this series a little more. It'd be nice if this girl and Natsume could cross paths again at some point, but, even if they don't, I feel like she'd think about him occasionally and hope he's doing okay.
Natsume's Book of Friends (manga, vol. 10) by Yuki Midorikawa, translated by Lillian Olsen – This volume contains two stories. In the first, Natsume finds himself forced to help a former classmate of his, Shibata. Shibata is in love with a girl he thinks might be a yokai, and he wants Natsume to confirm that she isn't. In the second story, Natori is hired to find and free a harvest god so that a pestilence god can't take over and make the crops in the area fail for the next 10 years. If he can't manage that, then he's supposed to exorcise the pestilence god. Meanwhile, yokai have convinced Natsume is pretend to be the harvest god until they can find and free the real one.
The story with Shibata was so-so – very similar to a lot of previous stories in this series, with a tragic love between a human and a yokai. However, I always enjoy getting little glimpses of Natsume's past, so it was nice to hear a bit more about him from someone who knew him before he went to live with the Fujiwaras. Even if that person was basically blackmailing him.
My favorite detail from that story: Natsume getting birthday cake for Mr. Fujiwara. I seriously love the Fujiwaras. They're just perfect.
The second story was, visually, one of my favorites from the anime, and I enjoyed it in the manga as well. The character designs for the harvest and pestilence gods were so pretty. I suppose the story wasn't really anything special, but it was still fun seeing Natori again. Unlike Matoba, Natori is willing to meet Natsume halfway. In this volume he takes a huge risk, trusting that in the end Natsume will arrive at a solution that will work for everybody. A nice quote from Natsume: “Once the fever's gone down, I should go visit Mr. Natori. We still have our philosophical differences, but...but it also felt like we could complement each other because of those differences.”
As always, this is a lovely series, and I look forward to reading more of it. It has such a gentle and peaceful feel to it.