Hello friend, Happy New Year! I know it is not Monday anymore, but I wanted to start this year with a review from the latest English released volume of my beloved Natsume’s Book of Friends. It’s latest installment (volume 21) is out today and if you were craving for soothing chapters, you wishes have been granted. This volume contains 4 stories, one of them is an special. I will share a picture with some of my Natsume treasures at the end of the post.
If you didn’t read my previous post about this work, I can summarize it as an episodic manga that makes you reflect on and pay attention to the core emotions and principles of human nature (friendship, devotion, greediness, forgiveness, impermanence, etc) through Natsume’s interactions with humans, ayakashi and those close to him (both humans and ayakashi). I see this manga as a journey of self-discovery where Natsume faces his fears, tries to understand others and realizes what is important in his life. The story’s setting is rural Japan (most of the backgrounds are inspired/taken from real places in Kumamoto, where the author lives) and revolves mainly around Natsume’s and Nyanko sensei’s (his ayakashi bodyguard/cat pet/bff/side-kick) everyday encounters with ayakashi.
In the first story, Natsume decides to search for Nyanko sensei in the forest. While Nyanko went out to have fun, this time Natsume feels curious about what his bodyguard is up to. While getting involved (as usual) with a weak ayakashi he met in the forest, Natsume come’s to understand Nyanko a little bit more. If this was a game, Natume-Nyanko relationship would have gained +1 trust point in this story.
Second story focuses on Kitamoto, one of Natsume’s friends from school. While solving the mystery of an old bookshop, we get to know more about Kitamoto’s personality and family background. This is one of those stories that leaves you thinking how, even though people smile and act like everything is perfect with their lives, we all have our own struggles. This was the blandest story of the volume, but we got from Natsume-Kitamoto’s relationship a +1 friendship point.
Third story was my favorite, prepare for some feels. It revolves around an ayakashi who wants to go back home, and ends up in Natsume’s house possessing a miniature clay figurine. What kind of clay figurine? Glad you asked, a mini Nyanko sensei figurine! (made by Natsume). That mini Nyanko was adorable. We had a black Nyanko in a previous episode and now we got a mini. If I could name this story, it would be “Mini Nyanko is a cinnamon roll we must protect”.
Lastly, the special is about Natori’s past told in present tense from Natori’s point of view. I’m always eager to know more about Natori because, even if he is Natsume’s friend, he works as an exorcist of ayakashi. His intentions and inner feelings are not made as clear as with other characters, which gives room for speculation as if the day will come when he betrays and takes advantage of Natsume’s friendship. This special was superb, not only we get to see Natori’s life as a student (he feels like Natsume), but we also learn a lot about Matoba. There is a lot of important information in these pages but I wont spoil it for you.
If you do decide to give this manga a try, these are a few things to keep in mind:
- The main plot is interesting, but I don’t believe that’s the main reason people keep reading it. It has a very slow peace so it doesn’t suit those who binge read to get satisfaction from complex plots that keep them turning those pages until everything is said and done. This is a story you enjoy slowly. You read one dialogue, stare at it, then let in sink into your soul like you would with an inspirational quote. If you are willing to internalize the dialogues and discover what is said between lines, you will find much pleasure in reading this manga.
- The art is simple and human characters can look too similar to each other. Ayakashi are often more diverse and interesting to look at. If you want flashy illustrations with intricate backgrounds and overly expressive faces, you wont get much of it here. It goes hand in hand with the story, Midorikawa’s illustrations are whimsical and the lack of detail, specially on faces, allows you to focus on what they are saying, rather on how they look. It forces you to pay attention to their words.
- The more you empathize with the wisdom from these episodes and let them reach your heart, the more you will enjoy them. Sitting in front of a calm pond that soothes and relaxes doesn’t suit everyone but, for those who do, it can become their favorite spot. Will this become your favorite manga as well?.
*I got an eArc from Viz Media via Edelweiss (how awesome is that?!)
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