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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Manga Review: Natsume's Book of Friends GN 12

Natsume's Book of Friends volume 12
Author: Yuki Midorikawa
Viz Media/Shojo Beat
192 pages
Natsume meets a kindhearted yokai who has found a ruined letter he desperately needs to read. There is another yokai who has power over paper who might be able to help him. But this yokai's name is sealed in the Book of Friends... Will it be willing to help the grandson of the woman who bound it?! (Source: Viz Media)
It is officially the perfect sort of weather to read Natsume Yuujinchou: when the world is cold and blustery, and you need sweet, warm stories to wrap yourself around and get lost in. If any series would be my top choice for such treatment, it would be Natsume's. This twelfth volume is yet another reason why Natsume's Book of Friends continues to be the best supernatural/slice-of-life series running with Shojo Beat.
Also, Nyanko-sensei is truly the best sidekick - although the walking maneki neko would probably lose his mind if he heard himself being referred to as such. Ha!

In this volume, Natsume continues to walk the line between the human and supernatural/yokai realm, wrestles with the legacy of his grandmother, Reiko, and finds that he needs his human friends more than he can ever fully realize. We see more of the yokai world and how it operates, and the return of a character who makes a living dealing with yokai in rather final ways.
And, as usual, the blurb does not tell the whole story. In fact, the story of the yokai who can fix paper only takes up the first chapter of the book. The bulk of volume twelve is dedicated to Natsume's troubles as he finds himself trapped in a jar and must rely on Nyanko-sensei and Tanuma (who really only gets involved because Nyanko-sensei can't accurately impersonate Natsume to save their lives). It's a pretty great story, full of action and drama and much emotional resonance for all involved, especially Natsume.
This was a really great volume for Natsume. His ordeal with Tanuma and Omibashira have broken down the barriers between himself and Tanuma when it comes to Natsume's daily yokai dealings. Just as Natsume feels guilty for putting stress on his friends with the problems of others, his friends seem to feel guilty for not being able to sufficiently help Natsume with his problems. As much as this is a story about the supernatural and the bizarre, it is also one of adolescence and relationships, and how young folks like Natsume have to learn how to become more open with their emotions and their issues so they can become closer.
I'm also greatly intrigued by Nyanko-sensei in this volume, who continues to protect Natsume despite it being against his interests - I mean, at this point, it's obvious that Nyankichi actually cares about the boy or he would have stolen the book of friends while Natsume was sleeping. What is really interesting is the relative ease that Nyanko-sensei has with shifting into the form of Natsume's deceased grandmother, Reiko, who we also see more of via flashbacks in this book. Nyanko-sensei also shifts quickly into the form of Natsume and, funnily enough, can't even fool Tanuma with his shape-shifting kabuki act.
This volume also provided a very fascinating look into the yokai world and the different types that inhabit it. Natsume's Book of Friends has always done a very good job of showing that yokai are a diverse bunch, some good, some bad, some morally gray, and some - well - are Nyanko-sensei. I felt for the chipped little cup with legs as well as the awkward yokai who lived in the old shrine. It seems that the yokai who have the saddest lives are the ones who willingly interact with humans; humans wither and die in the blink of an eye, while yokai's lives linger on for hundreds of years.

Gorgeous artwork, lovely characters, and slow burning plot development that just gets better with each chapter - this book is the best of Natsume Yuujinchou in a nutshell. For the patient reader, it seems they will soon be rewarded. As usual, I'm looking forward to seeing how Natsume has changed after this latest series of yokai encounters - him and his friends.