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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Manga Review: Natsume's Book of Friends GN 7

Natsume's Book of Friends volume 7
Author: Yuki Midorikawa
Viz Media/Shojo Beat
200 pages

Someone is attacking yokai and stealing their blood, and Takashi is dismayed to discover that the assailant is human! The more he investigates the attacks, the more danger he finds himself in as he digs deeper into the occult world of the exorcists. Someone is planning something horrible and even the help of Natori – actor and exorcist extraordinaire – might not be enough to save the yokai . . . or Takashi!

Spoiler warning: Slight spoilers for what happens in this volume are in the review below.

In this volume of Natsume Yuujinchou (I just can't get used to calling it by its translated name!), we get an eerily close work into the world of exorcists, examine the relationships of one Natsume Takashi, see yokai learning how to play shadow tag, and see one of manga-ka Yuki Midorikawa's earlier short works – which, it will surprise no one, involves the supernatural world blending in with the human world. All in all, another outstanding volume of manga that deserves praise as well as fannish examination. And, of course, plenty of squee over Nyanko-sensei being typical adorable stubborn-headed Nyanko-sensei.

Read the rest of the review after the jump!

Exorcists: those who make a living banishing yokai and sending spirits to their final resting places. So far in the series, the only exorcist we had met was Natori, the morally grey actor with a curse of his own who makes Natsume uncomfortable with his attitude towards the world of ayakashi. But now we are introduced to a whole new group of exorcists, the Matobas, led by a young man with an eye patch whose own attitude towards yokai puts Natori’s in a much better light by comparison. In short, these people are the kind of people Natsume doesn’t want to become: humans who have the gift and use it against yokai without feeling or caring, apathetically getting involved in the affairs of the other world for less-than-kind reasons. They use yokai as bait for their plans and this is what spurs Natsume to foil their scheme in the forest. I’m looking forward to seeing more of these people in later volumes, mainly because they add an extra view point to the class of humans who can see yokai and answer the call of their unlikely gift – either with kindness or with sorrowful acts.

The main focus of this volume is Natsume Takashi and his standing as a human who can see yokai and exists in both spheres while trying to live a ‘normal’ life. It’s this volume that Natsume has to confront a lot of icky ideas about humans and spirits that he had been avoiding before, such as the fact that not all humans can be trusted, and not all yokai need saving. We also see some very Natsume character traits come to light – mainly his fiercely protective side when it comes to his friends and his naivety that people are inherently good and can be trusted, although it seems this naivety is becoming more and more jaded the more he meets people like Matoba who use people – human or yokai – to make selfish gains. Natsume is growing up and the moment of true emotional maturation might be somewhere close on the horizon; he is no longer the reclusive closed-off person he was six volumes ago, that is sure.

This is not to say that volume seven of Natsume Yuujinchou is all dark and dramatic the entire 200 pages; there is a delightfully amusing special episode at the end of the volume about Natsume, Nyanko-sensei, and their yokai friends as throw a party for Natsume and learn how to play the human game of shadow tag, which will be familiar to anyone who has ever been on a playground in the mid-day sun with nothing else to do. Naturally, it all gets silly very soon as they try to figure out the rules of shadow tag, which ends up with Nyanko-sensei and Misuzu stepping on everyone and Natsume falling into a pit. Whoops? It still ends up being a sweet and amusing little side story that shows how many friends of the yokai variety Natsume has made since inheriting the Book of Friends.

Seven volumes in and Natsume Yuujinchou hasn’t missed a beat. It’s still the same wonderful, poignant, magical series of man and beast that it’s been for years and the quality has yet to dip since its start. I can only hope the conclusion of Natsume’s story – whenever that might be – will be as satisfying as the journey to that end.