Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Manga Monday: Natsume

Natsume's Book of Friends (Volume 1)
Yuki Midorikawa

The first book that I read published in 2010 is this cute manga from Viz that follows an orphaned boy named Takashi Natsume.  But Takashi isn't your typical kid.  He has the ability to see spirits, so a lot of his peers think he's strange, especially since he often talks to himself (actually the spirits) and reacts to things that nobody else can see.  Many of the adults he grew up around weren't too fond of him either because of his strange habits, so he was shuffled around a lot, making for a lonely upbringing.  In fact, one friend that he did make when he was young who didn't make him feel quite so alone turned out to be a spirit herself, disguising herself as a human to keep him company.  Well, it turns out that this gift/curse is hereditary, because his grandmother, a powerful woman named Reiko, had the same gift, although she used the gift to bully spirits, playing games with them and demanding their servitude when she beat them.  She collected the names of spirits in a book, so that whenever she called for them, they had to obey her instructions.  After she died, the book was passed down and eventually found its way into Takashi's hands, who wanted to atone for his grandmother's behavior by releasing the spirits' names from the book, thus offering them their freedom.  There are several problems with this selfless act, the first being that after freeing a spirit, it takes a lot of energy out of Takashi, so he's constantly weak or falling asleep.  There are also spirits angry with Takashi, many of whom mistake him for Reiko, and wonder why she never called them.  The big problem with having such a book, though, is that it is so powerful.  With the names contained inside, whoever owns such a book wields great power over many spirits, which is why many spirits want the book for themselves, including Takashi's self-proclaimed body guard, a spirit he inadvertently frees from a shrine named Madara.  Madara promises to help Takashi in his quest, teaching him the ropes of the spirit world along the way, but when Takashi dies, he wants the book for himself, which Takashi agrees to.  The two make a good pair and Madara is more taken with Takashi than he cares to admit, despite his joking of eating him in his sleep and whatnot.  Madara is also a fun visual.  He remains in the shape of a cat, like he was in when emprisoned in the shrine, but turns into a big, powerful feline-like beast when he moves to attack or protect Takashi.  Above all, this book is about friendship, as the title suggests. The main character learns that friends are friends, whether they are human like himself or the spirits that have been the source of his loneliness for so long. The bonds he creates with the spirits he comes across are ultimately stronger and more satisfying than what his grandmother had by bonding the spirits to her through her book. I think this is a great title for all ages to touch on the value of friendship, and it's told through fun little adventures and stories of Takashi's brushes with the supernatural in what is a fairly gentle book.

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