Natsume’s Book of Friends 4

February 10, 2012

Yuki Midorikawa – Viz – 2010 – 13+ volumes

Still playing catch-up with this series, and loving every page. Such a slow, sweet style of storytelling, and I still get a kick out of seeing all the monsters that come out of the woodwork. Some of them are really scary, too. For some reason, it makes me think of the illustrations from Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark, but Natsume’s Book of Friends isn’t that scary.

I’m still kinda waiting for the regular serialization to start. Judging by the notes in the back, this series is still running in seasonal extra issues of Lala Magazine. It’s good enough that I’m sure it was brought into the regular Lala Magazine fold at some point, and while I’m sure it still tells mostly one-shot stories, I would love for it to reach a point where the premise doesn’t have to be re-explained in every story.

There are three stories in this volume, all of them strangely bittersweet. In the first, Natsume and Nyanko-sensei help out a yokai guardian, who is trying to gain control of an evil spirit that has been terrorizing the area. Much like Nyanko-sensei is a yokai that has fused with a strange clay cat sculpture, the yokai guardian fuses with a snow bunny that Natsume makes and uses magic to appear as a bunny-boy. It’s a nice story about both Natsume and the guardian doing what they can to control the evil spirit, but the bittersweet part comes when we learn what the evil spirit really is. It’s a nice story, but very sad as well, in a way that this series is very good at.

Actually, this series is probably one of the best examples of “mono no aware” manga I can think of. That is, many of the stories are about Natsume appreciating his life and realizing what he has, for fear the future won’t be nearly as pleasant since he could die and leave Nyanko-sensei, or his guardians could find out and force him out of their house, or his friends could shun him again, et cetera. Usually, mono no aware stories are a little more grounded in reality than this, and are a little more mundane as a result. That this series can still pull it off using demons and a boy who can seem them is quite a feat.

The second story is about Natsume’s friend, an exorcist named Natori. The two of them go on an overnight trip together, an activity that neither has done, but that Natsume, at least, is very much looking forward to. He begins to suspect something is wrong at the inn they go to, but he doesn’t mention anything for fear of spoiling their trip. Turns out that neither Natsume nor Natori was being completely honest, and they hurt each other as a result. Again, the bittersweetness comes at the end, when the moral of the story is that they want to be friends, but can’t tell the other the truth for fear of what they will think. There’s a happy resolution, but the distance between the two is still a little painful.

The third story is about Natsume himself, and is a nice little story about he and Nyanko-sensei trying to de-yokai a painting that seems to have latched onto Natsume and is siphoning his power. Natsume doesn’t want to simply destroy the painting, since it is an important memory for a yokai, but it is slowly killing him, and Nyanko-sensei wants to just get rid of it. The bittersweetness is in the memory of the painting, which was found by a yokai who would always meet a particular human in a field while cherry blossoms bloomed, hiding in the trees so that the human couldn’t see her face. The human stopped coming, and the yokai found a painting that coincidentally was of the field, and had the human in it. She began traveling the world, looking for the human, hoping that the painting would remind him of the field where they met every year. The human died, of course, but the yokai still treasures the painting and her memory. See? It’s horribly sad, but the yokai learns to cherish her memory, and the journey with the painting was also something special to her.

It’s a cute series, and while it’s not an extraordinary or exciting read, I love the way it is slowly building the characters, and it still manages to be fairly engaging and quite unique. The fact that the focus is on cherishing the present brings me a lot closer to the characters, and there are few series that can depict the likes of Nyanko-sensei and Natsume and make me really feel what makes their mundane (or, in this case, not so much) lives special to them. It’s wonderful, and I hope it’s getting all the readers it deserves.

One Response to “Natsume’s Book of Friends 4”

  1. I really like that descriptor “cherishing.” It captures something about the series very well. I’m looking forward to more of your reviews of later volumes!

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