Foreign Friday: Natsume’s Book of Friends

“Since I was little, I’ve seen weird things. They’re creatures called yokai.” – Natsume’s Book of Friends

This week’s Foreign Friday title is Natsume’s Book of Friends by Yuki Midorikawa.

The Story

Takashi Natsume can see the spirits and demons that hide from the rest of humanity. He has always been set apart from other people because of his gift, drifting from relative to relative, never fitting in. Now he’s a troubled high school student who has come to live in the small town where his grandmother grew up. And there he discovers that he as inherited more than just the Sight from the mysterious Reiko.

When Reiko was Takashi’s age, she bound the names of demons and spirits in her Book of Friends, enslaving them to her capricious whim. Now Takashi is the owner of the book, and the creatures will do anything to get their names back.

The Characters

Takashi Natsume (usually just called Natsume), is a quiet, introspective boy who cannot distinguish the natural from the supernatural. He’s socially awkward with bad people skills, but a deep desire to be kind. His yokai mentor/bodyguard, Nyanko Sensei (also known as Madara), is knowledgeable, powerful, humorous, and often apathetic.

What I Thought

Natsume’s Book of Friends focuses mostly on the interaction between people, whether between humans or between humans and yokai (a Japanese word for demon or spirit). It is a surprisingly rich read, with Natsume’s deep, thoughtful perspective of what he sees and encounters. As the story progresses he discovers that there are traits that both humans and yokai share, encouraging him to slowly emerge from his distrustful stance that he has learned to take with others. Midorikawa states that Natsume “is a boy who is trying to be a kind person.” Acting as the source of yokai knowledge, as well as Natsume’s bodyguard and probably his first true friend, is Nyanko Sensei, a powerful yokai who had been trapped inside a Lucky Cat statue and who is released accidentally by Natsume in the first chapter. Together they deal with the myraid issues that the yokai bring to Natsume because of the Book of Friends, as well as the problems that Natsume steps into (both wittingly and unwittingly). The series is written episodically, with most of the chapters separate from each other. This changes a little around the 5th volume, where some arcs begin to spread to multiple chapters. There are 8 volumes currently available in English in the US.

The art style that Midorikawa employs gives the series a folktale-ish feel, which I found to be fitting for the story. Natsume’s Book of Friends tends to have a good deal of internal dialogue, but it doesn’t drag. Overall I find it to be an enjoyable read, with a decent balance of drama, philosophy, a little humor, and a little action.

The series has been made into an anime (available with subtitles on Hulu/Crunchyroll). The anime generally follows the manga, and is currently airing it’s third season.

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