By Yuki Midorikawa. Released in Japan as “Natsume Yuujinchou” by Hakusensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine LaLa. Released in North America by Viz.
This is one of those shoujo manga that keeps getting better as it goes along. Midorikawa is finding what her strengths and weaknesses are, and thus as Natsume grows so does the series. I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t wait for each new release.
The early volumes had Natsume almost entirely interacting with yokai and those humans who interact with yokai every day. Which is nice and all, but he is still trying to be a normal kid as well. That’s why I was pleased to see this volume focused so much on his relationships with both his classmates and his adapted family. Tanuma and Taki do interact with yokai, but at a level far lower than that of Natsume. As a result, their worry for him is far more oriented in the human world. Natsume’s this awkward teen who tries to take on too much, and they aren’t sure that he’d let them know if something was too difficult a burden.
The culture festival was excellent, and shows that Natsume can also open up to classmates who have no supernatural powers whatsoever. It’s also a good example of what I was just talking about, which is Natsume having to realize that he can’t do everything all by himself, and that it’s OK to rely on others sometimes. “Life is full of new challenges,” he notes at the end of the chapter. Indeed, the next two chapters seem to follow on directly from this, as he tries to deepen his friendship with Tanuma while attempting to deal with a broken Yokai mirror. There’s no explicit BL in this series, but those who like to be fans of it will find plenty of evidence in this volume for the two of them having unresolved sexual tension.
(On a related note, Taki looks totally hot cross-dressing as a guy, and I fully support an OT3 between the three of them.)
The last main chapter of the book talks about Natsume’s relationship with his adopted parents, and we see flashbacks to where they met. Given that Natsume is so desperate to keep his yokai powers hidden from them in order to avoid having them worry (or, it’s unstated, to avoid creeping them out), this is another welcome look into Natsume’s life. Seeing the younger boy that he was, we realize how far he’s come in just a few short volumes. And a lot of it seems to be due to the love he gets from the Fujiwaras, who really do care about him as they would their own child. Seeing Natsume break down at the end was quite touching.
As you would expect from a volume dealing Natsume’s relationships with his friends and family, the yokai content is not as high as prior volumes. Though the yokai in the chapters with the Fujiwaras makes up for this by being extra creepy with a side of horrific. You’re quite pleased when Nyanko-sensei “deals” with it (and it’s always nice to see Nyanko-sensei in full-blown huge mode). There’s also a cute mini-story featuring Chobi, the odd moustachioed yokai we’ve seen as comic relief in a few volumes. It’s cute to see, and also serves to show how much the yokai are learning from Matsume.
Between this and Nura, Viz has sort of been on a yokai kick lately. (Any hopes for Gegege no Kitaro?) But the joy of reading this title is not for the yokai, though they’re very well done as well. It’s seeing an awkward, reclusive young boy come out of his shell and begin to show the love and affection to his friends and family that he hasn’t been able to do before. It’s a terrific series.