Thursday, November 03, 2011

Natsume's Book of Friends, Volume 5 by Yuki Midorikawa

Natsume has long had a problem. Ever since he can remember, he has seen Yokai. And after his parents died and he was taken in by relatives, it caused him problems, because he was truthful about what he was seeing, and told his guardians as well. They considered him creepy and it caused them to pass him on to other members of his family as quickly as possible. Children at the schools he went to thought of him as a liar.

But now that he has been taken in by distant relatives, and he is older, he has begun to see what he hears and sees as something he wants to keep to himself. He is tired of causing problems and just wants to seem normal, no matter how abnormal he really is. And this set of relatives really likes him and treats him kindly, so he really doesn't want to cause problems for them. He has also acquired a guardian/Bodyguard, a Yokai named Madara who inhabits a statue of the Maneki-Neko "Beckoning/Lucky Cat" variety. Because he has been in the statue for so long, normal humans can see him as a normal cat, but cannot see his Yokai form at all. Natsume calls his cat form "Nyanko-sensei".

He has agreed to act as Natsume's bodyguard to get access to the "Book of Friends" a book assembled by Natsume's grandmother, Reiko. Reiko, like Natsume, could see Yokai and was rejected by normal people for it. So she took out her frustration on Yokai, challenging them to contests and taking their names when she won. The Yokai whose names she held were essentially her slaves, and they resented her for it. Thinking Natsume is Reiko, who he strongly resembles, they try to get revenge on him, but he has been giving back the names, which Nyanko hates, because he only gets the book when Natsume dies, and Nyanko wants the power of the book over others for his own.

In this book, Natsume and his study group take a trip to an inn to finish the last studying they will have to do this summer before the school year starts. But it seems the lake is haunted by a Yokai- a mermaid. Legends tell of the power of a mermaid's flesh and blood- they can confer immortality. The lady who runs the inn tells Natsume that she saw a mermaid when she was young, and it gave her some of its blood. But she gave it to someone else, and now she is looking for him. The mermaid is real, and wants the Book of Friends. Although she's weak as a Yokai, can Natsume discover what the truth is about the claims of Mermaid blood and find out what really happened to the man who the innkeeper gave the blood to?

Then, Natsume discovers a strange spell scratched into the ground, and an even stranger girl hovering nearby. She recognizes him by name, and then curses when she realizes she's said it aloud, and promises Natsume she'll win, then runs off. He's puzzled, but the next morning, he discovers his name and the word "one" written on his body in the mirror. The words quickly disappear, but he's puzzled by what happened. And then he sees the girl again, and she tells him that her family are diviners. Her grandfather wanted to see Yokai, and she found the spell diagram in his notes. She used to draw it everywhere, unthinkingly, until she realized that with it, she could see Yokai. But one of the Yokai saw her back, and it told her that if she could find him again within a year, he'd let her go. Otherwise, he would eat her, and the last thirteen people she'd called by name. Now that she's named Natsume, he has no choice but to help her find the Yokai. But time is running out. Can she find and see the spirit, and if they find him, will he live up to his word? And when Nyanko-sensei also falls victim to the curse, can he help the both of them find the spirit and end it?

Next, when Natsume goes to pick Persimmons on his uncle's property he is nearly killed by an axe flung from the trees. Shortly afterwards, he sees strange, six-toed tracks going down the street to the door of the house he shares with his aunt and uncle, and a strange shape drawn on the street. Strangely enough, his uncle sees it, too, and feels that the art is familliar somehow. Then, it seems that a strange Yokai has somehow come into the house, but it's too fast for Natsume to catch. And then his uncle tells him a story from when he was young, and he knew a very strange girl who lived nearby. He was friendly to her, even though everyone in the area said she was cursed. But when his house was haunted and strange footsteps were heard in the night, she was the only one who could help- and she did, and the curse of bad luck was broken. Was this strange girl Reiko? And can Natsume and Nyanko-sensei exorcise the Yokai a second time? Or will the strange curse of bad luck plague the house again?

The last story involves Tanazma, the boy in Natsume's class who can see the Shadows of Yokai sometimes. He knows Natsume's secret, and wonders how different Natsume's world is from his own, which for Natsume must be in living color, as opposed to his shadows. It gives him something he can share, just a little bit, with Natsume, and makes him wonder at the world that Natsume sees, which must be so large and colorful, which he can only see as shadows.

Another wonderful volume. This one involved threats to Natsume's life and health much more than usual, and the Yokai in this one are also less strongly drawn. We never know why the spirit wants Natsume's house, and Natsume connects much more strongly with the human girl than the Yokai who has cursed her, but the first story about the Mermaid is one where Natsumi finally connects with both the human side of the story and the Yokai side of the story. Each side has a point of view, and the scene where the old woman sees the Mermaid who helped her when she was a girl once more was absolutely beautiful. We get to see the girl inside the old woman, and it had a wonderful beauty to it.

We also finally get to see Reiko interacting with humans, and get a sense of why people found her so scary and troubling. I also felt more than a little sympathetic to her, despite the lengths she eventually went to to pester Yokai aren't that nice, you can understand why she used Yokai as her outlet. It's also aninsight into her character by a child, who accepted her as she was. I found it wonderful as well. But my favorite story is the last, and it's bittersweet and beautiful as well. It sort of reminded me of the way that artists see things in a way normal people can't (or won't), and yet, we can see through a glass darkly by looking at their art. It made me smile, but it made me a bit sad, too.

I love this series. Every new volume brings more stories to love and enjoy, stories that pluck at my heartstrings and make me feel things that very few manga stories, heck, very few stories at all, ever make me feel. That's my reason for loving this series, and I'd love to keep reading this series forever and for the stories to never end. Highly recommended.

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