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January 3, 2011

Bento Bako Weekly: Ouran High School 15, Natsume’s Book of Friends 5

It’s a double feature from Viz Media today! Both titles are from their Shojo Beat line and are $9.99 each. First up is the romantic comedy Ouran High School Host Club, and then we’ll look at the supernatural Natsume’s Book of Friends.

Title: Ouran High School Host Club
Author: Bisco Hatori
Volume: Volume 15 (of 17)
Vintage: 2009 by Hakusensha in Japan, December 2010 by Viz Media
Genre: Romantic comedy

Haruhi Fujioka was forced to join the male host club at her school to pay for an expensive vase she accidentally broke. Disguised as a boy, Haruhi spent her time after school engaged in club activities with an eclectic group of young men. Over time, she became good friends with all the members of the club, and began to develop feelings for the club’s president, Tamaki Suoh. Tamaki, an “idiot prince” who is generally very perceptive to other people’s feelings but clueless about his own, has been struggling with identifying his own feelings for Haruhi, and was recently pushed into a corner by Hikaru, another club member, who is in love with Haruhi. The resulting confusion over his feelings drives Tamaki into a depression, and it’s up to the host club to cheer him up.

Volume 15 opens with the club’s attempt to give Tamaki a boost of confidence. The gang has developed a sort of obstacle course that caters specifically to Tamaki’s strengths, giving him an edge over the other participants. As far as Haruhi is concerned, the goal of the event is to cheer Tamaki up and help one of their female customers learn to stand up for her own opinions, but the boys’ secret goal is to get Tamaki to realize his true feelings about Haruhi. After slapping some sense into Tamaki, the group’s goals are met, but Tamaki still manages to lose the contest. The winning girls get the entire host club to accompany them to a botanical garden. Unfortunately, now that Tamaki has realized his feelings, he’s completely lost it. His normal hyper tendencies rise to a whole other level, his idiocy skyrockets, he becomes a bumbling mess in front of Haruhi, and he engages in tense and ridiculous arguments with Hikaru. His sudden jolt of confidence and excessive hyperactivity irritates Hikaru immensely, and they both become a nuisance to Haruhi. Meanwhile, Kyoya is doing some digging regarding a certain lawyer who has been snooping around. A lawyer who doesn’t like how close Haruhi has been getting to Tamaki. The volume wraps up with the announcement, and subsequent outrageous reaction to, that Hunny and Mori will be graduating soon and going off to college…and into different departments. As Mori starts exhibiting strange behavior, Hunny finally confronts him, and Mori challenges him to a duel. A bonus chapter follows Reiko Kanazuki as she attempts to curse Hunny into going on a date with her, while Hunny patiently waits for her to gather the courage to confront him directly.

Another charming and hilarious volume from Hatori. We can tell things are finally wrapping up here at Ouran Academy, as Hunny and Mori are finally getting ready to graduate, and Tamaki has at last realized that he’s in love with Haruhi. The characters are growing up and coming to learn how deep their bonds of friendship truly run. With just a couple volumes left, things will finally truly get moving. Given how long things have been drawn out, I can only hope that the ending won’t feel rushed. Hatori is handling it well so far, using some self-aware comedic dialog to make the story jump forward (like the characters complaining about never celebrating birthdays in the story, or Haruhi commenting that she feels they’ve all been together for several years). It’s nice to see things wrapping up, but this is a group of characters I feel I could read about for a very long time, so it’s a little sad to see if ending. Although…maybe Hatori will go back to Millennium Snow and finally finish that series. She makes a brief mention of it in this volume, so one can hope she’s at least considering it.

Title: Natsume’s Book of Friends
Author: Yuki Midorikawa
Volume: Volume 5 (ongoing)
Vintage: 2008 by Hakusensha in Japan, January 2011 (out this week) by Viz Media
Genre: Supernatural, drama, comedy

Natsume is just an average high school boy…an average boy who can see yokai. Always seeing things that no one else could, Natsume became the target of teasing as a child, and the strange things that happened around him caused his relatives to pass him around from house to house, until he finally ended up with the very kind Fujiwaras. Not wanting to cause this gentle, caring couple any trouble, Natsume does his best to keep his power a secret from everyone around him. He just wants to live a normal life. Unfortunately, that just isn’t going to happen, as Natsume has inherited a strange book from his grandmother Reiko, called the Book of Friends. This book contains the names of yokai that Reiko met and bound to its pages, giving her control over every spirit within. Yokai from the surrounding area would love to hold that power, and often come after Natsume seeking the book itself or seeking to have their names released from its power, which Natsume is able to do. One of the more powerful yokai came to Natsume in the form of a cat, having fused himself with a ceramic “lucky cat.” Madara, normally called Nyanko-sensei, makes a deal with Natsume to be his body guard, under the condition that he gets the Book of Friends upon Natsume’s death.

Volume 5 finds Natsume trying to carry on a normal life as he goes with two school friends to a remote inn for a study session. But even here the yokai find him, and he comes across a beautiful mermaid intent on eating him and stealing the Book. When Natsume discovers that the owner of the inn, an old woman named Chizu, has a connection with the mermaid, he attempts to aid the old woman who believes she gave some of the mermaid’s blood to a friend of hers in the past. A lonely mermaid and an old woman wracked with guilt have their wishes come true with a little help from Natsume. Natsume then comes across a girl from his school drawing strange symbols in the ground. A malevolent yokai has cursed her for seeing his form, and given her a year to capture him or he will devour her…along with the last thirteen people whose names she called out. Which unfortunately includes Natsume. Saddened by how lonely the girl must have been over the past year as she struggled not to talk to anyone around her, Natsume does his best to aid her, but is hampered when the yokai temporarily blinds his eyes so he cannot see yokai. As they work together, Natsume makes a new friend. The yokai literally his too close to home in the next story, when a troublesome spirit begins to haunt the Fujiwaras house. As strange things start occurring around the house, Mr. Fujiwara recalls a similar occurrence at the house years ago, when bad things started happening to his family, and an eccentric girl came to play with him. When the girl asked to visit his house, he heard strange noises, and an upstairs room was destroyed…but the strange happenings stopped, and the girl didn’t come by again. Natsume performs a similar destructive ceremony and saves the house from the spirit, but is nearly caught by Mr. Fujiwara. Faced with kind acceptance from the man, Natsume questions whether or not he should continue to lie to them about his abilities. A bonus story features Kaname Tanume’s observations of Natsume, as he wonders silently about the interesting world Natsume must see every day.

This gentle, beautifully drawn series is worth a read. There are many themes of loneliness, friendship, and loyalty. Reiko was kind of a jerk to yokai, but she really just wanted to ease her own loneliness. Now Natsume is discovering a new world thanks to the Book and has been making many friends, though most of them are yokai. Nyanko’s relationship with him is complex and humorous. Nyanko often retorts that he won’t always rescue Natsume, and after all, he gets a powerful item when Natsume dies, but the reality is that Nyanko is also lonely, and he enjoys Natsume’s company (though he’d never admit it). It’s nice to see Natsume make another human friend this volume, and one that understands his secret. It was also a delight to see that Natsume’s uncle that he now lives with once was friends with Reiko, and is very understanding of the mishaps that often occur around the house. Natsume is completely terrified of scaring them away, but the Fujiwaras give him so much love and support that he is often astounded by; it’s nice to see him realize how accepting the people close to him can be. I get the inkling that Mr. Fujiwara may have some suspicions about Natsume’s behavior, particularly after the familiar episode in this volume, and it’s great to see that for once, someone normal isn’t afraid of him. It will be nice to watch Natsume finally find a real home and build a stable life for himself.

Come back Wednesday for a look at Diamond’s January 2011 Previews catalog and my top manga picks!

Kris
kristin@comicattack.net
@girlg33k_Kris

A copy of Natsume’s Book of Friends volume 5 was provided by the publisher for review.

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4 Comments



  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by The Manga Critic. The Manga Critic said: RT @girlg33k_Kris: New #manga reviews Ouran High School 15 & Natsume's Book of Friends 5 http://comicattack.net/2011/01/bbwouran15natsume5/ […]



  2. […] vol. 1 of Kamisama Kiss (Seattle PI) Zack Davisson on vol. 2 of Neko Ramen (Manga Life) Kristin on vol. 15 of Ouran High School Host Club and vol. 5 of Natsume’s Book of Friends (Comic Attack) Connie on vol. 9 of Real (Slightly Biased Manga) Connie on vol. 1 of Real Lies […]



  3. The Natsume book looks like something a few of my students would like. So if I’m correct the yokai are spirits/ghosts?


  4. Kristin

    They’re not ghosts in the traditional sense (the haunting dead). They’re spirits and demons. Fox spirits are pretty common (kitsune), as are raccoons (tanuki), in Japanese folklore.
    The manga/anime/novel Spice and Wolf is about a harvest wolf spirit who takes on the form of a young girl, but transforms into a massive wolf. The video game Okami is also about a wolf spirit (specifically, the sun goddess, Amaterasu). In Japan, “demon” doesn’t necessarily mean “evil” like it does here. “Yokai” describes all sorts of supernatural creatures, which I think also includes the average haunting ghost, but Natsume’s Book of Friends is mostly about spirits, gods and demons.



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