Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Natsume's Book of Friends, Volume 4 by Yuki Midorikawa

Natsume has always been able to see Yokai, and all his life it has caused him trouble- causing him to be labelled as a liar by other children, and turning the relatives who took care of him after his own parents died to feel creeped out by him and pass him onto other relatives as soon as possible.

But now his situation has changed. He's decided not to tell everyone what he sees, and not to trouble his new guardians with the details of what he sees all the time, and his new guardians, who are very distant relatives to him, truly do care about him and his welfare. He's also made friends at school for the first time, and he also has a new guardian, a Yokai named Madara, who can be seen by everyone as a cat due to his long imprisonment in a Japanese Maneki-Neko or "Beckoning/Lucky cat" statue for many years. In exchange for being given a book made by Natsume's grandmother, Reiko, Madara will keep him safe from other Yokai, and possess the book after Natsume dies.

Reiko could also see Yokai, and since other humans rejected her, she took her ire out on Yokai, challenging them to games and receiving their names in her book after they lost. Using their names, she could call on them for favors or tasks, a position many of them bitterly resented. Now, Yokai meeting Natsume tend to think he is Reiko, but he returns their names to them if they ask him, even though the task takes all his spiritual power and leaves him exhausted. But it is also getting the Yokai whose names he doesn't hold to trust him.

In this book, Natsume and Madara find a field which used to hold two guardian statues in the woods after a snowstorm. Now, only one is left, and the spirit inside tries to snatch Natsume's body when it realizes he can see it. But instead of taking him over, it misses and takes over a snow bunny sculpture instead. This miss causes the spirit to confess why it wanted Natsume's body: many years ago, an evil spirit was imprisoned in a tree that the two statues guarded. Three days ago, someone cut down the tree, freeing the spirit to do evil. Natsume agrees to help, but is the statue-spirit being truthful about why it wanted his body, and the nature of the spirit freed by cutting down the tree? Moreover, is any of what it has said truthful, and why would it lie?

Next, Natori returns once again, and seeks Natsume's help, this time by using his paper magic to literally drag Natsume from his home to where Natori is. He claims to want to take Natsume to a hot springs resort he won tickets to, and to wants Natsume to come because he and Natsume have the same problem- both have seen Yokai since they were young, and both were rejected for it. But now Natori is a fairly famous actor- but he's also usually less than truthful- and it seems to be true in this case as well- He's actually been hired to take care of a Yokai who is haunting the Hot Springs. But can Natsume overcome the Yokai with Natori's help, or will he always be the one doing the heavy lifting?

Next, Natsume goes to the market to buy some noodle dishes for his family when he passes a woman selling old furniture, including a painting that catches his eye. But it seems the painting is haunted by a Yokai who casts down flowers upon him as he sleeps. She calls Natsume a thief, though, and tells him that the painting was once hers, and contains a human named Lord Yasaka, and he loved flowers and butterflies. Natsume tries to give her the painting, since it is so important to her, but it literally won't come off the wall. The Yokai, Miya, promises to come back every day until the painting can be removed. But when the painting starts growing roots into the wall, can Natsume determine the true reason for it's sprouting, or will he be forced to destroy it and all it means to Miya, especially when it starts draining his energy?

Then, when Natsume protects a fox spirit child from being picked on by other Yokai, the yokai follows him and tries to become his servant. But Natsume neither needs nor wants a servant. Could it be that he and the fox spirit can be friends instead? Next, Natsume is noticed by a Yokai when he is a child, and it picks on him. But will their interactions always be the same, and by following him, can it notice that he is alone and without friends? Finally, Nyanko has had enough of following Natsume's restrictions and runs away on his own. But when he falls into a deep hole in the ground and encounters a lost little girl who also fell down the hole, will he run away and leave her there, or will he take pity on her and keep her safe from harm?

Well, this set of stories haven't affected me in the same way that the others had, but I have to admit that I still loved reading them. It seems, especially from the last set of stories, that the reason why Yokai hate humans has to do with their misunderstanding them, and that if and when they do finally get to see that humans are often just as miserable as they are, that their hatred for humans as a whole evaporates and they end up seeing humans as individuals, not just a shapeless mass of malice, that, admittedly, many humans see Yokai as.

I also found it disturbing that some of the humans who see Yokai and who are exorcists, come off much worse than the Yokai themselves. Natori is a thoroughgoing user who usually ends up dragging Natsume along because of his great personal power- if he was a Yokai, his personalitty would fit right in with how the Yokai usually use humans. He uses Yokai (as his servants) as well as Natsume, so he comes off as a really repellent individual to me. Now, every time he turns up, I ask myself "Okay, what do you want now?" And its sad that humans come off as worse than Yokai in this respect. Everyone out to protect humans seems to be a not very likeable individual.

But the depictions of Yokai sell this book for me, and I love reading the stories where humans and Yokai get to interact and understand each other- that's why my favorite stories in this book were the three at the end, and I hope I get to see more of those character. Yes, Nyanko-sensei included. Highly recommended.

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