Wednesday, January 10, 2018

REVIEW: Natsume's Book of Friends (manga, vols. 11-13) by Yuki Midorikawa, translated by Lillian Olsen

Another vacation reading post. I had a huge stack of these available during my vacation. I somehow forgot how good this series was and put off starting them until just a few days before I had to go back home, so I only managed to get through three of them. I'm definitely going to be continuing this series during my next vacation. I'm pretty sure I still haven't made it past the point where the anime stopped (or at least what I've seen of the anime, since apparently there's now more).

As usual with these vacation reading posts, there are spoilers beyond this point.

Natsume's Book of Friends (manga, vol. 11) by Yuki Midorikawa, translated by Lillian Olsen - In the first part of the volume, Natsume and Tanuma help Taki clean up the creepy storage places at her home (her grandpa's old home? my notes are unclear). In the process, they awaken a dangerous doll yokai that Taki's grandfather accidentally sealed. In the next part of the volume, Natsume realizes that he's finally emotionally capable of looking at his parents' photo again. He also decides that he wants to visit his parents' old home one last time before it's sold. In order to visit the house, though, he first has to go to the family he used to live with to get the key. This requires dealing with an increasingly dangerous insect-eating yokai and the family's daughter, who was always jealous of the attention Natsume was given when he lived with them.

I always forget how warm and gentle this series is. Even when it breaks my heart, it does so softly. The art style doesn't really appeal to me - too light and scratchy (or wispy?) - but it works fine for this series and I love the characters and stories enough that it doesn't matter.

I absolutely love volumes like this one, that deal with Natsume's friendships. He's gradually learning to trust his human friends and ask them for help, and to accept help when it's offered. The bit where Tanuma had all his and Natsume's friends stop what they were doing and look for Natsume's missing photo was wonderful.

I also enjoyed the flashbacks to Natsume's past, and the brief glimpses of the Fujiwaras just being all domestic and kind. This is a "fuzzy blanket" sort of series, the kind of thing I want to wrap myself up in.

Natsume's Book of Friends (manga, vol. 12) by Yuki Midorikawa, translated by Lillian Olsen - In the first part of the volume, a yokai tricks Natsume into letting him in - he wants Natsume to use the Book of Friends to summon a yokai named Karikami in order to restore a fragile old note. Natsume gradually learns that the yokai had once loved a human woman. The man she loved left without telling her and married someone else. To keep her from being hurt, the yokai pretended to be the man for a while. In the next part of the volume, Natsume meets an elderly former god who wants to return a mirror to a dangerous yokai who, it turns out, was actually Reiko, Natsume's grandmother. The volume ends with a story in which Natsume gets trapped in a jar by a yokai. Tanuma tries to save him and ends up in trouble, at risk of being eaten by yokai. He and Natori finally cross paths.

The first story was very bittersweet and part of an established pattern in this series, in which yokai have fond memories of humans they loved who have long since moved elsewhere or died. I couldn't help but wonder about the woman's part in this story, and what she thought about this strange event in her life.

The second story felt a little scattered - it was intertwined with a cup yokai and a dangerous yokai that could cause trouble for the Fujiwara household. Still, it was nice to see Reiko again, even though it was yet another bittersweet moment in her life. The poor girl thought she'd finally found a human friend, and it turned out it was yet another yokai. I wonder if the series will ever touch on how she died, and who the father of her child was? I hope he was one of the rare humans she could trust, but I worry that he wasn't.

The third story hurt my heart. There was Tanuma, trying to help Natsume but worried that he was just making things worse. And Natsume, worried about Tanuma getting caught up in his messes - he still can't help his knee-jerk desire to keep his supernatural troubles from his friends. Natori is what Natsume might have been, if things had gone a little differently, and he knows it. He's jaded, but hopeful that Natsume can have the kind of life and relationships that he felt he had to cut himself off from.

Not as good as the previous volume, but still quite good.

Natsume's Book of Friends (manga, vol. 13) by Yuki Midorikawa, translated by Lillian Olsen - In the first part of the volume, Matoba offers Natsume a job. Natsume doesn't want to accept, but he does agree to help with Matoba's little problem, a mask yokai hiding somewhere in his gathering of exorcists. Natori helps Natsume out by getting rid of Matoba's letter. The next part of the volume is a bit from Nishimura's POV - how he and Natsume met and became friends. He never realizes it, but Natsume took care of a yokai that had been plaguing his family. The volume ends with a story from Kitamoto's POV - how he met and befriended Natsume, and also Tanuma. He connects with Natsume over their shared anxiety about what to do once high school is over.

The stuff with Matoba was interesting and more suspenseful and action-filled than the rest of the volume. Still, I didn't like that part quite as much as the chapters that came after it. The Matoba clan feels so dark and cold compared to most of the people and beings Natsume interacts with. It was nice to see Natori again, though.

The two chapters from Kitamoto and Nishimura's POVs were great examples of why I love this series. Nishimura was such a nice guy, trying to befriend awkward Natsume. Tanuma and Taki are great, but it's also good to see people who have absolutely no clue about Natsume's abilities liking him and enjoying being with him, even though he probably comes across as a little strange from time to time. Kitamoto's chapter was nice too. I liked how he and Natsume had the same sort of seriousness and sense of responsibility - they both want to avoid being a burden on their family, although for different reasons.

I feel like every time I try to describe how good this series is, I make it sound boring...

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