Natsume’s Book of Friends 9
March 8, 2012
Yuki Midorikawa – Viz – 2011 – 13+ volumes
More of the same in this volume, but I really can’t get enough of the type of stories in this series. I’d probably read dozens more volumes just like this one.
In the first story, Natsume helps a little fuzzball yokai who he finds being attacked by crows one day. Predictably, this leads to an altercation between the herd that this yokai belongs to and a larger yokai, who wants to burn down the entire area in order to find a ring she lost. Friendship prevails in the end, and Natsume’s good deed doesn’t go unrewarded. Again, it’s just like a lot of the stories before it, but with the longer and more serious plotlines that have appeared recently, I enjoyed a return to the simple yokai stories from the beginning of the series immensely.
Not to mention the fact that slowly, very slowly, these stories are changing for the better as all the yokai that Natsume has helped since volume one show up intermittently to help him when he has problems like this. The C-listers and the beautiful female yokai figure into the plot of this one, too, and it is still quite touching that the lonely Natsume is slowly making friends with these strange creatures while trying to undo the subjugation that his lonely grandmother put them through while she was “making friends” with them in the best way she knew how. But it’s not in your face about any of this. The yokai simply show up to help. That’s why this series is such a great read.
The rest of the book is taken up by one of the darker, more serious stories. Not that I mind. Matoba the Exorcist comes back to torture both yokai and Natsume again. Natsume first falls prey to a gang of yokai that insist on getting the Book of Friends for themselves, and go as far as attacking him at school in front of his friends. Both the hostile yokai and Natsume become Matoba’s prisoners later in the story, and Natsume dances around the issue of his grandmother as long as he can under Matoba’s questioning. The escape is difficult, moreso since Natsume can’t stand to leave the hostile yokai with Matoba.
This story is great, and has a lot of angles to it (the fact that Natsume still wants to help the hostile yokai, that perhaps the fact he wants to save them from the human Matoba means he favors yoaki over humans, and that the network of yokai that help him to try and figure out what’s up with the hostile yokai is friendly and fast). I don’t mind the dark tone or length at all, and I love that the themes of friendship and the question of where Natsume fits in best are being emphasized more and more in each book.
But really, the best thing about this story is an image at the end. For all his power, and all the yokai servants that Matoba uses to keep Natsume at his residence and answering his questions, it’s nothing like all the yokai that come and help him at the end of the story. The image of all of them flying through the sky at the end of the chapter has been one of my absolute favorites in this understated, but fantastic series.
Seriously. It’s quiet and slow, and I can see how it might not appeal to some, but every volume makes me love this exponentially more. It’s not really going anywhere in a hurry, and part of me doesn’t like that there’s not yet an overarching storyline, or even a passage of time element. But this series makes up for it with its fantastic characters. I love reading each and every story, and all are good, solid reads. I feel like this is probably a must for anyone that loves character-centric shoujo manga and wants to try something outside the romantic norms of the genre.
This was a review copy provided by Viz.