Friday, November 04, 2011

Natsume's Book of Friends, Volume 6 by Yuki Midorikawa

Takashi Natsume has long been able to see things that others can't, specifically Yokai. And because of this, his relatives rejected him after his parents died, and his classmates in school called him a liar. Now that he has been taken in by distant relatives, he doesn't want his aberrations to cause them problems, so he keeps quiet about everything he can see, both to his relatives and classmates. There are a very few who know his secret, and even fewer know about the reason why so many Yokai are hostile to him: The Book of Friends.

Natsume's grandmother, Reiko, had the same talent for seeing Yokai that Natsume has. Rejected by humans for her strangeness, she turned to Yokai to interact with, but went about it in the wrong way- challenging them to contests of power and taking their names when they lost, making them her virtual slaves who had to come when she called. Natsume inherited the book, and his resemblance to Reiko made them hate him as well. But a chance encounter had him freeing a powerful Yokai named Madara, who agreed to be his bodyguard in exchange for the book when he passed on. Madara can be seen by normal humans because he's been trapped in a Maneki-Neko or "Beckoning/Lucky Cat" statue for years. So he can only be seen as the cat. In his normal Yokai form, he's invisible to normal humans. But he wants the Book of Friends to boost his own power, and he gets upset when Natsume frees names from the book.

In this book, Natsumi discovers a child locked in a coffin in an abandoned house on his way home from school. He manages to find the boy's nametag, which got left behind in the box and tries to track him down to give it back. He learns from the boy's schoolmates that he feels he's being stalked, and can see ghosts, but the boy thinks that Natsume is the one stalking him, and gangs up on him with his friends, driving him off with stones. But there is a Yokai who is after the boy to eat him. And when Natsume and Madara take care of it, they find out from Natori that the child they have been helping is really a Yokai- a Yokai powerful enough to disguise itself as a human child. But even though Natsume has befriended him, can he keep the child, who loves its life as a human, from killing any human, like Natori, who threaten it? And when the Yokai gets the wrong idea about Natsume, can he repair their friendship before it comes to a real impasse?

And then the child fox spirit, rescued once by Natsume, decides to run away and visit himin the city. Another Yokai promises that if the child fox brings him three baskets of fish, he will give the child a pill that will turn him human for a day. But it's a trick and will merely allow him to be seen by humans for a day. But can he find Natsume among the noise, stench and crowds of the city?

Then, we learn how Hinoe met Reiko and how they became "friends". Reiko met Hinoe in the woods, and while Hinoe hates men, she likes women. She only likes Natsume because of how much he resembles Reiko. Is there anything that means more to Hinoe than her hairpin?

And the final story is a romance between a schoolgirl and her teacher. "The Corner of the Schoolhouse" tells of Kanako Noda, a schoolgirl who finds her teacher, Mr. Suga, catching her attention. But even though he's young, he's quiet and standoffish. How can she make him interested in her, with all the problems that come from a student/teacher romance? And is he even interested in having a romance, let alone with his student?

Another interesting volume of this series. Most of it is taken up with one story, that of Kai, and how, even though he was set to free two horrible ogres just to try and make friends, his friendship with Natsume was such that even after he believed that Natsume betrayed him, he still couldn't bring himself to try and hurt Natsume, not even by trying to steal the Book of Friends that the Yokai believe is so important.

All the stories bring attention to how strong the bonds between human and Yokai can become. Humans bring something to Yokai lives that Yokai cannot get from their fellow Yokai. It seems that because human lives are so short, that they burn brighter and more brilliantly than Yokai can- and their memories linger far longer than human memories can. It's sort of like how elves are traditionally portrayed in fantasy fiction- much longer-lived than humans, but humans fascinate elves because of their vitality and how they burn so bright and so brilliantly.

I liked this volume's story a lot, and the smaller, side stories were excellent as well. I thought the extra romance story was only okay, as it kind of hit an area which wasn't quite pedophilia, but is close enough to ephebeophilia to make me a little uncomfortable. But it was only an extra story, so it didn't really affect my perception of the series as a whole. I still enjoy this series, and find myself wanting to read more- a lot more, I hope. Highly recommended.

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