This week we’ve got one of this year’s newest Manga, and the second youkai (Japanese goblin/fay folk) series we’ve reviewed.
Title: Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 1
Story and Art by Yuki Midorikawa
Translated by Lillian Olsen
Lettered by Sabrina Heep
Originally serialized by Hakusensha’s LaLa DX Magazine
Takashi Natsumi is a young man who is able to see youkai, Japanese goblins and spirits. This has lead to him becoming an outcast from his peers and family. After coming to the town his grandmother, Reiko, grew up in, he discovers that she possessed his “gift” as well. Further, Reiko enslaved a bunch of youkai by writing their true names in her “Book of Friends”. Now the youkai want their names and freedom back. So, to help out the youkai (and to avoid being eaten), Takashi makes it his personal mission to give as many youkai as possible their names back.
While this is a very episodic series, we do get some well written story development, as Takashi builds a reputation among the youkai. I also like the suggestion as the story progresses that Reiko’s intentions might have been more benign than is suggested at the beginning of the volume.
Also, Takashi’s growing empathy with the youkai is handled very well.
A sum total of one of Takashi’s classmates gets any sort of development. This is even more disappointing considering that the classmate in question can also partially see youkai, and thus is the first kindred spirit (no pun intended) introduced in the series.
No blood, nudity or profanity.
Originality: While the concept (a boy can see spirits) isn’t necessarily new (xxxHolic, Bleach), it’s executed very well, and the approach is certainly different then the other two series (“Shop of Horrors” and “Shonen Action” respectively). 4 out of 6.
Artwork: The art is simpler than the smoky environments of xxxHolic or the heavy shading of the other iconic youkai manga series, GeGeGe no Kitarou. This complements the tone of the story incredibly well. 5 out of 6.
Story: The individual chapters are written very well, though they don’t appear to add up to anything yet. 4 out of 6.
Characterization: Both Takashi and the individual youkai are fleshed out and distinct from each other. 4 out of 6.
Emotional Response: Midorikawa does a very good job at getting across the isolation Takashi has from his peers, as well as giving the individual chapters a sense of melancholy. 5 out of 6.
Flow: 6 out of 6.
Overall: A really good start to the series, and I’ll be reading subsequent volumes with great interest. 5 out of 6.
In Total, Natsume’s Book of Friends V. 1 gets 33 out of 42.