Title: “Natsume’s Book of Friends (Natsume Yuujinchou): Volume 13”
Author: Midorikawa Yuki
Genre: Paranormal, Manga & Comics
Publication Date: December 4, 2012 (Viz – North America)
Source: Edelweiss Review Copy
Summary: Takashi Natsume can see the spirits and demons that hide from the rest of humanity. He has always been set apart from other people because of his gift, drifting from relative to relative, never fitting in. Now he’s a troubled high school student who has come to live in the small town where his grandmother grew up. And there he discovers that he has inherited more than just the Sight from the mysterious Reiko.Intrigues abound in the world of professional exorcism, and Natsume wants nothing to do with it. But he has no choice when Matoba, head of a prominent exorcist clan, blackmails him into coming to an exorcist meeting. Is Natsume’s fate sealed when one of his special talents is exposed in front of Matoba?
☆: 4/5 stars – another great installment in the “Natsume” series!
Review: While I admit I’m not entirely caught up with this series as of yet, one of the things I love the most about “Natsume Yuujinchou” is that you can pretty much start at any volume in the manga and still be able to get oriented and easily sink into the story. Midorikawa is a ridiculously talented storyteller and artist, and volume 13 in the “Natsume” saga is just all the more proof of that. If you haven’t started this series yet, while volume 13 isn’t the ideal place to start, it’s still a great one to try your hand at to see how comfortable you feel with Midorikawa’s style.
With slow, delicious storytelling, we’re right in the middle of the “Exorcist” arc, with Natsume trying to live his life by gently dealing with youkai (monsters) and try to make sure they don’t meet terrible ends by the exorcists, vengeful families that want nothing more than to finish those youkai off. Natsume (and his grandmother, who started the yuujinchou (“the book of friends”), has this attitude of live and let live, whereas all of these other exorcists families like Matoba (with the seeming few exceptions of men like Natori and his youkai servant, Hiiragi) have the absolute opposite way of wanting to deal with the shrinking youkai population. It’s a wonderful way of really comparing and contrasting the new world way of doing things compared with the old world (pre-modernization, which in this case would be pre-Meiji era, or pre-1868) when it comes to religion, superstition, and mythological creatures. This volume just really shows all the more how severe these two differences are, and one could even possibly say that this is a possible social commentary on how things are in Japan right now within its culture (the battle of retaining the old culture while dealing with globalization).
What peaked my interest the most about this volume in particular was that we hear Natori confirm that children (with the Sight) like Natsume are becoming increasingly rare, and thus that’s why the exorcist families like Matoba are trying to get their hands on him. After about six volumes or so of going back and forth between dealing with youkai his own way and trying to save them from the brutal treatment of banishment by Matoba’s hands, we get confirmation that yes, children like Natsume are a dying breed, and that’s what’s fueled the exorcism arc the way that it has. Even though it’s a rather late admission, everything now makes a lot more sense in hindsight when looking back on the past six or so volumes where we deal with Matoba and families like his with banishment, trying to get Natsume to work for him by any means necessary (including kidnapping), and trying to preserve the youkai world as it is now, even as it’s slowly starting to die out.
So for the reader who, like me, was starting to get frustrated in terms of why this arc is so long? Stick with it, because volume 13 is full of very important and tasty admissions like Natori’s, as well as Matoba’s “offer” to once again try to get Natsume to work with him to kill off youkai.
What was also wonderful in this volume was Midorikawa’s very understated, gentle art style. Much like “Mushishi” (which has a bit of a similar storyline), the art can go to insanely detailed to just mere sketches and not lose any quality of the story itself. You can kind of see why Midorikawa has won awards for her work (notably, her very “Natsume”-related previous work of short stories, “Hotarubi no Mori e”, made into a film last year). I keep hoping for a “Hotarubi”/”Natsume” crossover, since there are quite a few similarities between the two series, especially now that the “Hotarubi” film is out on DVD in Japan. Absolutely gorgeous artwork with a pace that’s both slice-of-life pleasantly slow yet darkly sinister, this is just another feather in Midorikawa’s hat when it comes to her mangaka skills. What’s funnier, is that the author even talks about the film version of “Hotarubi” in one of her side panels within this panel. Awesome.
Even though this particular volume’s plot has to do with the mystery of who’s cursing exorcists, it still begs the question – which is better for the youkai, and thus, for the world? No youkai at all from the dangerous banishments that the vengeful exorcist families like Matoba use? Or the gentler, name reclamation that Natsume (and his grandmother) use along side Nyanko-sensei? Is it youkai who are getting angry and cursing the exorcists? Or is it the more sinister human element trying to eliminate the gentler competition like Natsume and Natori instead? Midorikawa asks us questions that are really important in this volume under the metaphor of youkai and human relations, which is – what should remain? The old culture? Or new globalization? Can we coexist together at all? It’s a wonderful thing to read, once you take the entire arc into consideration and it will definitely give you something to think deeply upon.
“Natsume’s Book of Friends (Natsume Yuujinchou): Volume 13” will be out December 4, 2012 in North America from Viz, so be sure to check it out when you get the chance. It’s definitely a volume you can’t miss in this series, and just kind of reminds me why it’s one of my favorites.