Natsume continues to be plagued by yokai searching for his mother’s infamous book of demon names. The owner of the book controls the demons whose names are written inside, so naturally they want to either be released, or want the book’s power for themselves. It’s one of the latter who approaches Natsume at the beginning of his volume, though fortunately his intentions are malicious. He wants the book to track down another demon whose name resides in the pages, because he seeks that demon’s help with a personal matter. Believing Natsume, a human after all, won’t help him, he goes for the book himself, and when that fails, kidnaps Natsume out right. Natsume manages to calm the yokai down and explain his problem. For a long while, he watched over a pair of lovers at a nearby shrine, but eventually the man stopped coming. To ease her pain, the yokai pretended to be her lover, but of course it couldn’t last. All the yokai has left is a letter left behind by the woman, old and crumbling, that he hopes the yokai he seeks will restore for him. Exactly the sort of thing Natsume is more than happy to help out with. His next encounter isn’t as friendly. A rather large yokai has been chasing Natsume around, desiring the Book of Friends and Natsume’s power. He eludes the creature, only to find himself dogged by another yokai in the form of an old woman who insists he help her return an old mirror to a powerful yokai. However, the more the old woman talks about the dangerous yokai, the more the elusive entity sounds familiar. Very familiar. Another of Reiko’s warm, but lonely memories floods through Natsume as he releases the old woman’s name from the book. The rest (and bulk) of the volume deals with something less warm and fuzzy. Natsume is trapped in a jar by a strange, masked yokai hoping to take him back home to his master, Omibashira, as an offering. Fortunately he’s found by Nyanko-sensei, but even the powerful cat can’t free Natsume from the jar. He does protect him from abduction, however, and even transforms himself into Natsume for some quick investigating. Unfortunately he’s discovered in this form by Tanuma, who immediately senses that something is off about his friend. Tanuma insists on helping, but ends up accosted by a masked yokai who runs off with Natsume. He chases after them, only to end up in the yokai world. Though there really isn’t much he can do, Tanuma tries his utmost best to help his friend, even risking his life to set Natsume free. Of course, this fills Natsume with guilt. He’s brought a friend into a dangerous world, and friend who is almost seriously injured trying to help him. Since they met, Natsume has kept a barrier between them, unwilling to drag Tanuma into his problems. Tanuma has noticed this, however, and that upsets him far more; that Natsume won’t trust and open up to him. With a strong friend like Tanuma, and a caring family supporting him, maybe Natsume can finally call somewhere home. Maybe he’ll be strong enough to walk the path that Reiko couldn’t.
Another lovely volume from Midorikawa. I’m ashamed to admit that I’m not keeping up with this series, in either of its forms, though I really should be. However, that does allow me to note that this volume, at least, is easy to jump into. A little background knowledge would probably help (the first volume, or a quick glance at the wiki), but the volume briefly explains the series’ premise early on, and the rest easily falls into place. It’s not necessary to have followed along from the beginning to understand what’s going on, though I would certainly encourage it, because it’s a truly wonderful series. The major themes still center on Natsume’s inability to share who he is with those closest to him, either in fear of chasing them off, or in fear of drawing them into danger. Both fears come about when Tanuma chases him into the yokai world. Natsume doesn’t want to get Tanuma involved. He doesn’t want Tanuma to go through the things he does, and he certainly doesn’t want to endanger his friend’s life. Tanuma surprises Natsume, however, by accepting him fully for who and what he is. Or at least as much at Natsume is willing to share. He’s perfectly willing to go at Natsume’s pace, to wait patiently until Natsume decides to reveal more about himself. It’s not a type of person Natsume has found before. Someone who is unafraid of his power, who wants to protect him, who doesn’t shun him. Maybe what Natsume needs, what Reiko and Natori (Natsume’s exorcist friend) lacked, is a friend like Tanuma. As always, Midorikawa’s pencils are perfectly suited for the supernatural setting and creatures of Natsume’s Book of Friends. Thin lines, never an excess use of heavy inks or tones, and an overall ethereal quality. Beautiful art for a beautiful story.
Review copy provided by Viz Media.