Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Natsume's Book of Friends, Volume 3 by Yuki Midorikawa

Takashi Natsume is teenaged boy who can see Yokai, or spirits. Because his gift caused him to be rejected by so many in his family after his own parents died, he has learned to keep his powers and talents a secret. Now, with the help of a spirit named Madara, who he calls Nyanko-sensei after his form, which is that of a ceramic Maneki-Neko or "Beckoning/Lucky Cat", he is attempting to return to the Yokai the names that his grandmother extorted out of them in her "Book of Friends". But ever since he made the decision to return them their names, he has learned a great deal more about the Yokai than he ever knew before.

In this volume, Natsume is suprised by a Yokai who looks almost exactly like Nyanko-sensei, right down to the Maneki-neko body. But when it steals "The Book of Friends" and takes off, it's up to Natsume and Madara to get it back, even if Natsume has to pretend to be a Yokai to do so. As they infiltrate the Yokai drinking party, they discover that the Yokai plan to attack humans to get "The King" back... the King, who has been imprisoned in the Black Maneki-Neko. But can Natsume discover the King's real name and free him in time to keep the humans safe?

Then, it's the time of the fireflies. Natsume and Nyanko go into the forest to look for them, and find a sleeping man being haunted by a Yokai. It turns out that the Yokai and the man were once friends when he could see Yokai, but he grew out of his ability to see them, and can no longer see her. She wants to see him in his finery when he is to be married, so she stays with Natsume until then. But as Natsume grows closer with the female Yokai he calls Veyo, can he find out her story and reunite her with the man she loved, and who loved her one last time?

Then, Natori returns to ask the help of Natsume in tracking down a Yokai. Not only is it a horrible one, it chased another Yokai into Natsume's closet, leaving a trail of Yokai blood only he can see. This time, there is a reward for the yokai and Natsume is interested, since it ran away from his closet when he and Natori found it, leaving the injured bird-Yokai behind. Natori takes Natsume to a meeting of exorcists, some of whom know of his grandmother. But can he trust them, or will they all turn out like Natori was at first? And when he and Natori track down the evil Yokai, will they be able to catch it and seal it away?

One day, when Natsume returns from school, he encounters a hungry Yokai who travels through the cracks in walls and floors. After he feeds her, she tells him that there is a bird's nest in the yard, and that the birds will hatch today. And there is and they do, but there is one egg left behind, still warm. Natsume decides to try and hatch it, but what is in the egg, and what will hatch from it? Something good, or something evil?

Once again, this series affected me deeply, nearly bringing me to tears several times, which is very unusual, especially for a manga. But for some reason, this series seems to being out the best in both the humans and the yokai, and reading that was very emotionally affecting, especially when the stories end happily for both the humans and the yokai... not that this means a traditional happy ending, but one in which the human survives, and the yokai is affected by their friendship in a happy way.

My favorite stories in this one are the one with Veyo and the one with the Dragon egg, as both were bittersweet, but beautiful. Veyo was affected happily by the human she came to know, and she was simply happy to have known him. And likewise, the story of the Dragon Egg showed the Yokai to have been positively affected by being raised by Natsume. I do hope that he comes back someday to repay Natsume, more than just helping him against the Yokai who was hunting the Dragon for a meal for its master.

I really love this series, and every time I read it, I just end up wanting to read more and see how Natsume affects the lives of those around him, almost always for the better. And I think he will also affect Natori's life as well, not just by Natori using him as a tool against other (bad or evil) Yokai, but against the other Yokai exorcists as well, none of whom seem to have Natsume's respect for Yokai or sensitivity in dealing with them. And strangely, it's Madara/Nyanko-sensei's "protection" that has allowed Natsume to see that Yokai are just as individual as humans. While some of them are bad, not all of them, or even most of them, are. It's a series that makes me think, and I love it. Highly recommended.

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