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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Manga Review: Natsume's Book of Friends GN 9

Natsume's Book of Friends volume 9
Author: Yuki Midorikawa
Viz Media/Shojo Beat
192 pages

Natsume learns that no good deed goes unpunished when an irate yokai accuses him of stealing her ring when she came to the Fujiwara house to get her name returned. Natsume thinks he knows where the ring has disappeared to, but can he find it in time, or will the place he’s come to think of as home be destroyed by the vengeful yokai?!

Spoiler warning: Contains major spoilers for the Natsume Yuujinchou manga series so far. Read on with caution!

There are no words in the English language yet invented to describe how much I absolutely love the Natsume Yuujinchou manga. The linguistics of the world have not yet accurately formed a vocabulary for the feelings that well deep inside my heart every time I open the latest volume of Natsume’s stories, or the feelings that linger within me when I close the book for the last time, already anticipating the next volume in the series. 

It is one of those magical series that you have to read to understand why, and volume nine is a landmark volume for everyone involved – for Natsume, for Nyanko-sensei, for his friends both human and yokai – but it does all of these things quietly, intelligently, in typical Yuujinchou fashion. And this is what makes Natsume’s Book Of Friends a must-read manga across the board.

In this volume of Natsume’s Book Of Friends/Natsume Yuujinchou, Natsume’s unnaturally naïve and loving nature leads him into yet another pickle when helping out a fluffy cute yokai only gets him into trouble with another who thinks he has stolen an item of hers.  This is soon followed by an adventure of dramatic proportions when a group of dangerous yokai comes after Natsume in unexpected places to get the Book – but while in the forest, Natsume is unexpectedly captured by a certain family of exorcists, bent on using Natsume as a tool for destroying the native yokai.

Yes, this volume brings the return of the Matoba clan, whose attitude towards the supernatural verges on cruel and unusual. If you can tell, I am no fan of the Matobas or the treatment they give Natsume in this volume, which is emotional manipulation and bullying. It seems that in the Natsume Yuujinchou ‘verse, exorcists are not seen in a good light, especially since their trade is in exterminating and containing yokai perceived as threats to human society.  Seeing that Natori is also an exorcist, this may bring a bit of a shift in his already uneasy relationship with Natsume.

But the star of this volume is really Natsume – Natsume as well as Nyanko-sensei, whose relationship is one of those brought to the forefront during these certain story arcs. It’s beautiful to watch Natsume’s character develop over time, and in this volume, he really does develop majorly when it comes to where he stands between humans and yokai – having the ability to interact with yokai but wanting to keep living with the humans who don’t understand his true self. He makes it very clear in this volume that he wants to help whoever he can that crosses his path, human or yokai, and in turn Nyanko-sensei has made it very clear that he is Natsume’s protector against those who would wish the young boy harm; he has obviously taken a deep liking to being in Natsume’s company and not just to get the Book of Friends when Takashi passes away.

Honestly, if you – like me – love everything about Natsume Takashi and his stupidly adorable face and his tendency to help first and think last or think with his fists when he gets frustrated at someone obnoxious, then you will most certainly love this volume. It is a 200+ page celebration of everything Natsume is: someone who has lived with something he can’t control but doesn’t hate anyone for his hard life; someone who would rather give selflessly to people he has just met than think about himself; someone who wants to live with humans who don’t understand what he goes through every day because he still believes in the intrinsic positive value of all living beings, yokai or not. Sometimes he gets frustrated with Nyanko-sensei’s teetotaler antics and straight up punches him. Sometimes he comes home covered in dirt from yet another supernatural encounter and tells his aunt a different story because he doesn’t want to hurt his new family’s feelings. Sometimes he exhausts himself giving out names to the yokai that visit him because that’s what he promised, even if he ends up passing out at the end of the day. Why? Because he’s Natsume bloody Takashi, that’s why. If you don’t love him after this book, no one can help you. If you already love him, you will find that it is totally possible to love Natsume (and Nyanko-sensei!) more.

So, err, short version: Natsume’s Book of Friends volume nine is amazing. End of story. If you aren’t reading this series yet – well, you should be!

You can read more info about Natsume’s Book of Friends at the Shojo Beat site, and watch streaming episodes of Natsume Yuujinchou at Crunchyroll right now!