Natsume's Book of Friends volume 16
Author: Yuki Midorikawa
Viz Manga/Shojo Beat
Author: Yuki Midorikawa
Viz Manga/Shojo Beat
Natsume's human friend Taki can only see yokai if they walk through one of her spell circles. Although many yokai see her spells as aggressive traps, putting her at risk of their retaliation, the latest yokai to pass through her circle may have something other than revenge in his heart. But is that any better...? (Source: Viz)
Spoiler alert: Review contains spoilers for this volume of Natsume Yuujinchou/Natsume's Book of Friends.
It's no small secret that Natsume Yuujinchou is a slow burning story that prefers to explore its characters through multiple stories over time rather than punch up every volume with explosive plot twists. And it has worked well for the series over these past volumes. This latest volume continues the trend but also brings new dimensions to Natsume's relationships, whether it's with his human friends or with the yokai world. When his human friends are drawn into the supernatural and he's the only one who can help, how will Natsume respond?
The first story involves Taki, who uses her spell circle to see a yokai, only to end up involved in the activities of multiple yokai in her home. Naturally, she needs Natsume, someone who can naturally see yokai everywhere, to help her out. What Natsume finds out about the yokai who stands at Taki's window however is enough to break his heart.
It was nice to see Taki again, as one of Natsume's friends who are part of the yokai realm but not completely in it—but enough to understand what Natsume goes through on a regular basis. Like many Midorikawa stories, it doesn't come down on whether or not Taki's spell circles are dangerous to use. After all, they were handed down to her and are a family relic. On the other hand, it draws her into a world she doesn't completely understand, one that is dangerous and unkind to humans.
Compare this with the second story, in which Natsume and his friends, including Tanuma, take a long weekend away from their hometown to help out at an inn in the country. The inn is run by Tanuma's aunt and Mrs. Ito, and several other people are also staying at this inn to attend a local festival. Naturally, something is amiss, one of the occupants is not who they seem, and Natsume's investigation leads to him finding out something about Mrs. Ito he might have preferred to leave unknown.
The difference between Taki and Tanuma's respective tales is that, in Taki's tale, the yokai want to leave. They can't because of the wards set up by Taki's family, and they need Natsume's help to navigate towards freedom. But in Tanuma's tale, Mrs. Ito does not want to leave or reveal herself as yokai. She enjoys helping run the inn and looking after her human wards, especially young Tanuma (which makes the ending of that story even more melancholy for everyone involved).
In this volume, Midorikawa does a stellar job weaving together the problems of humans and yokai together into one coherent story. She also shows that while humans and yokai have differences, their similarities—the loneliness, the need to be needed and loved—crosses through any species barriers. As a medium between these two realms, Natsume feels all of these things from both sides acutely. It's no wonder that he has barriers and that he has had problems revealing his true self for so long; he has to deal with the woes of both worlds at the same time. And, of course, Nyanko-sensei's constant demands for food and booze and the Yuujinchou.
The special episode in Natsume Yuujinchou's sixteenth volume is a basic supernatural mystery story with a legacy attached. Natsume gets through the mystery of the pot of ash through being the grandson of Reiko Natsume, and their similar faces opens doors for him despite him insisting he's not Reiko. Good thing Nyanko is there to tell Natsume the hard truth he needs to hear: yokai will almost always see him as Reiko, so make use of it while you can, and accept that connection between grandmother and grandsson.
A lot of typical Yuki Midorikawa artwork and paneling work in this volume. That means great cover art/chapter art, a lot of dark atmospheric scenes as well as goofy Natsume-and-Nyanko humorous moments, and just great art overall. The last page for Chapter 64 is one of the most emotionally striking so far. A color art book for Natsume wouldn't be remiss at this point.
Overall, the sixteenth book for Natsume Yuujinchou hits all the right notes and brings together many of the continuing themes of the series in two major stories for Natsume and his friends. Natsume still has to get a handle on how he uses his abilities and for whom, as well as what he'll do for his friends and why. If he's starting to feel used by those he consider friends, we may well see him gradually slide back from the human world and into the yokai world. Which world Natsume will end up in remains to be seen.