Saturday, December 10, 2011

Natsume's Book of Friends, Volume 8 by Yuki Midorikawa

Takeshi Natsume is a young man with a secret: all his life, he's been able to see Yokai, or supernatural creatures. Because of his reactions to seeing them, he made people uneasy, so after his parents died, he was passed from relative to relative until they couldn't take his strangeness any more. Not only did his relatives find him unsettling to be around, but the other kids at school teased him and called him a liar.

But now Natsume is living with two distant relatives who treat him as they would their own son, and he's made a vow that he will conceal what he sees from them to keep them from scorn over him. But at the same time, he finds he has inherited a book from his grandmother, Reiko, that contains the true names of various Yokai. She had the same ability to see Yokai, but blamed the Yokai for making people uneasy around her- and challenged them to contests and made them give her their true names when they lost. Natsume inherited the book, and the Yokai who see him think he is his grandmother, which leads many of them to attack him. During one attack, he met a Yokai named Madara, who agreed to become Natsume's bodyguard and teacher about the world of Yokai in exchange for the book when Natsume dies. He's angry that Natsume agrees to give back the names of the Yokai who ask for them, because the book can compel the Yokai whose names are within to serve its owner, and he wants the power for himself. Madara has been imprisoned in a Maneki Neko Statue or Lucky/Beckoning Cat for so long that even normal people can see him when he is in cat form, which allows him to be almost constantly near Natsume.

Natsume's classmates are walking home when they see him standing backwards on a bridge rail. He backs up and falls into the river, and they help him out, although he remains suspiciously silent about why it happened. When he changes into dry clothes afterwards, he finds a strange rock in the shape of a skull in one of his coat pockets, and he has no idea how it got there. He quickly throws it away, but gets a bad feeling from doing so.

Meanwhile, the school festival is coming up and Natsume's friends at schoul, Taki and Tanuma, finally get to meet when they meet with Natsume to discuss what their various classes are doing for the festival, and all three quickly become friends with each other. But the rock that Natsume found isn't just a rock, it seems to have had a Yokai hiding in it which is trying to steal power from Natsume. But what does it want, and why is it possessing his classmates? And can Natsume keep all his new friends safe without revealing his strange powers and freaking out his classmates? Or will his schooltime troubles start all over again?

Then, Natsume and Nyanko are in the forest after a storm, and Nyanko hopes to find some good Yokai booze hidden in the hollows of a blown-over tree. But something falls into Natsume's eye, and after he meets with Tanuma, they talk a little and go their separate ways. The next day, Taki gives Natsume some pictures that she took at the festival, including one of Tanuma, but when Natsume goes to his classroom to give it to him, he finds that Tanuma is home with a fever. Natsume goes to see him, but Tanuma tells him it might be catching and warns him off. But the "Cold" seems to persist, and Natsume finds himself catching glimpses of a hand holding a hammer out of the corner of his eye... and mirrors seem to be shattering for no reason.

Later, he finds Tanuma digging frantically in the dirt for... something, and when Natsume tries to go talk with him, Tanuma is gone, but Natsume feels a dreadful pain in his eye. Then Tanuma decides to talk and tells him that he's had a feeling that he was possessed but he didn't have proof until he suddenly found himself scrabbling in the dirt. And when Natsume leans over the dirt, he feels a pain in his eye. Soon, they find out the truth- Tanuma is possessed, and the Yokai possessing him wants to find the pieces of the mirror she broke accidentally- but to make Natsume help her, she will keep possessing his friend, as the shard of mirror in his eye will resonate when he gets near a piece. But can Natsume get her to keep her promise after he finds all the pieces of her mirror? And will the search give Tanuma a chance to experience what life is really like for Natsume?

And then an encounter with a Yokai he encountered at the last relative he lived with gives him a terrible fever, and the Yokai tells him that he will kill everyone for Natsume and then Natsume can come to live with him and be happy. Meanwhile Natsume shares with Nyanko-sensei the story of how he met the Yokai and how he came to be living with his current family, a distantly related aunt and uncle. But can Natsume convince the Yokai that he is happy now in his new home and persuade him to leave his new parents alone? Or will the Yokai persist in believing Natsume unhappy and wanting to kill everyone around him? Or will Natsume and Nyanko sensei be forced to banish the Yokai forever?

And the last story in the volume follows Chobi, a minor Yokai who Natsume knows. We get to see how he passes his days, and how he informs Yokai looking for Natsume what he is really like. But is Natsume the horrible monster that he believea him to be, or is he actually worse in their eyes when the Yokai finds out the truth? And why does the Yokai want to find Natsume, anyway?

In this volume, it's back to several short stories involving Natsume and his friends, and while Taki and Tanuma have never met before, both have some experience with Yokai, although Tanuma gets more of a feeling that they are there and Taki can only see them when they pass through the magic circles they have drawn on the ground. But both like Natsume because he helped them and he can understand what they are going through and how cut off from normal people they can feel, with their abilities. But each can only dimly understand what life is really like for Natsume, and when Tanuma finds out, as in this volume, he wonders how strong Natsume had to be to grow up being able to be normal after seeing what he is able to see.

I liked that it's not just Natsume and Nyanko-sensei facing the world alone any more. Now Tanuma and Taki want to help, but it's uncertain how much Natsume would allow them to help out, because he wants to keep them safe from harm, as they are his friends, just as he tries to keep his aunt and uncle safe by not telling them about his abilities. I also have begun to wonder what Natsume will do with his life when he is finally an adult. He's too caught up in the Yokai world to be able to have a very normal life, and I doubt he has the kind of religious sense needed to become a priest or monk. And his fellow dealers with Yokai are, lets face it, pretty horrible people to a man (or woman). So what will he end up doing? He'll always see Yokai- and I can't see him putting up with the other horrible people who deal with Yokai for long.

Well, I guess that is speculation that will be answered in the last volume of the series, whenever that is. But this series continues to delight and thrill me with each new volume. I haven't gotten tired of reading them yet, and the sentimental feel of this series combined with sometimes horror makes a combination I haven't yet found anywhere else. Highly recommended, both as a volume, and the series as a whole.

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