Natsume's Book of Friends volume 10
Author: Yuki Midorikawa
Viz Media/Shojo Beat
One of Natsume’s elementary school classmates is in town, but the unexpected reunion is for a dark purpose. Shibata knows Natsume’s secret, and threatens to expose it if Natsume doesn’t do what he says!
Spoiler warning: Contains major spoilers for the Natsume Yuujinchou manga series so far. Read on with caution!
Natsume’s Book of Friends is still the best supernatural shojo manga you aren’t reading even though you most definitely should be. It has a lot of things going for it, like gorgeous artwork and an amazing cast of characters, but this particular volume highlights one of its best strengths: the continuing character arc of one Takashi Natsume, the boy who can see yokai. In this most recent volume, he has some true moments of growth related to his relations with both humans and the supernatural which are beautiful to witness, and it’s this kind of gradual yet worthwhile development in a protagonist that makes Natsume’s story an essential one for manga fans across the board.
First things first: don’t get fooled by the synopsis on the volume cover. Despite one’s initial reactions, Shibata is not the crass jerk out to ruin Natsume that you might assume he is. He may not be the nicest guy on the block, and his methods in asking Natsume to assist him in his problem are not the best, but he turns out to be one of those classic Midorikawa characters that are flawed but almost loveable in how honest and forward they are at times.
I didn’t think so at volume’s beginning, but by the end of Shibata’s respective storyline, I was hoping the two boys would meet again soon. It’s nice to see a figure from Natsume’s past that doesn’t ultimately end up hurting him.
The rest of the volume is dedicated to the harvest god debacle, in which Natsume must dress up as the harvest god while he, Nyanko-sensei, and the exorcist Natori find the real one before the god of pestilence decides to ruin the Misumi land for the next decade. Naturally, this involves Natsume in an elaborate costume as he attempts to fool the other yokai into thinking he’s a harvest god and not a human, with Nyanko-sensei posing as his courtly bodyguard. Let’s be honest, Natsume looks absolutely gorgeous in the harvest god costume; just look at the cover image again if you need convincing.
But this is a volume that shows that Natsume once again can’t help but sacrifice his own self if it means that others could be saved – and shows Natsume that it is okay to rely on those around him if it makes his struggle even a little easier, if it can relieve him of his burden even a little, something he has had a hard time realizing up until this point. As even the manga-ka herself points out, Natsume is slowly begin to open up to those he considers his loved ones, allowing his vulnerable spots to show at times.
And this is what makes me love Takashi Natsume; he’s stubborn and naïve and not afraid to put himself on the line for people he barely knows, but the closer he inevitably draws towards those he loves, the more his carefully crafted armor built from years of childhood trauma starts cracking, showing the innermost Natsume that has been hidden for so long.
Plus, his ongoing relationship with Natori is always a good source of drama, considering Natsume doesn’t exactly approve of Natori’s handling of situations at times. I have to wonder how long their friendship is going to last or is Natsume’s overall accepting nature going to draw the line with Natori and his family’s actions. Considering that Natori would probably put half of Natsume’s yokai friends into seals if assigned to, one has to imagine it won’t end well for either of them.
Overall, another excellent entry in the Natsume’s Book Of Friends series. And, as usual, I can only hope more of Midorikawa’s works get licensed for English release; Viz Media, please consider it!