Natsume's Book of Friends Vol. #02 -

Manga Review

Mania Grade: A-

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  • Art Rating: B
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Text/Translation Rating: B+
  • Age Rating: 13 and Up
  • Released By: Viz Media
  • MSRP: 9.99
  • Pages: 208
  • ISBN: 978-1421532448
  • Size: B6
  • Orientation: Right to Left
  • Series: Natsume's Book of Friends

Natsume's Book of Friends Vol. #02

Natsume's Book of Friends Vol. #02 Manga Review

By Greg Hackmann     June 03, 2010
Release Date: April 06, 2010

Natsume's Book of Friends Vol. #02
© Viz Media

A few technical refinements the second time around make this a more consist read.

Creative Staff
Writer/Artist: Yuki Midorikawa
Translation: Lilian Olsen
Adaptation: Lilian Olsen

What They Say
Most books just describe the supernatural. This one brings it. Much to his surprise, Takashi is settling into his new home. He's even making friends at school. So when some of the other kids invite him to a test of courage at the old abandoned high school, he joins in despite his reservations. But the rumors about the old school being haunted are absolutely true, and the spirit that lives there has a special hatred for humans!

The Review!

The first volume of Natsume's Book of Friends struck me as ambitious but disappointingly uneven, finishing on a strong note only after some badly-plotted "pilot" episodes which nearly drove me to give up on the series.  Still, that a lot of issues I had with those earlier chapters -- indistinct artwork, unclear transitions between different times and places -- cleared up as the volume progressed made me cautiously optimistic for the second volume, where Midorikawa would hopefully be more settled into the series.  And now that the second volume's here, the benefits of that added experience are easy to see: rather than the first volume's gradual improvement from dull to good, the stories collected here start off good and finish great.
A lot of what made the first chapter "good" instead of "great" stem from its overly familiar storyline.  Here, Natsume tags along while his class tests their courage by visiting a supposedly haunted house; the obvious twist comes when Natsume's paired up with a classmate who leads him to an actual spirit in need of his services.  (The good news is that Midorikawa resists the temptation to keep the whole things from sinking into a transparent pairing of potential romantic partners -- the narrative stays focused on the more interesting supernatural bits of the story rather than drifting into clichéd high-school antics.)  Natsume's class plays an even more diminished role in the rest of the volume, with only a few transient scenes taking place on campus or among his friends.  In fact, the darker second story involves Natsume deliberately isolating himself from his classmates and his adoptive family; after being lured into a yokai's curse, he spends much of the chapter hiding from a shadowy figure that's scheduled to take his life in five days if the curse is left unbroken.
While neither of these two stories are bad, it's not until the closing two chapters that Midorikawa starts delving into more complex, truly engaging plots.  The third story introduces Shuichi Natori, an actor-turned-exorcist who asks for Natsume's assistance with getting rid of an especially persistent yokai.  Though his backstory comes off as a little contrived at first (seriously: a famous actor who does exorcisms on the side?), it also serves as a good temper for Midorikawa's ambitious scope; her dramatic shifts in narrative point-of-view are much more coherent when there are multiple distinct characters with varied motives to go along with them.  The closing story succeeds for many of the same reasons, although in this case she's reverted to her previous tack of having a single character span multiple narrative threads by way of flashbacks and spiritual possessions.  To her credit, the cross-cutting threads flow more naturally here than in some earlier chapters, probably because Natsume's possession is an integral part of the whole chapter -- a yokai named Asagi semi-forcefully inhabits Natsume's body so that he can help her give a final lute performance before him impending death.
In Summary:
Consider the second volume of Natsume's Book of Friends as a fulfillment of the potential which Midorikawa hinted at in the first volume but didn't completely capitalize on.  Midorikawa's slightly tighter artistic rein this time around (not to mention finally moving past that awkward setup phase) has given this volume a much higher level of consistency without sacrificing its ethereal style.  Readers with even a vague interest in supernatural tales should give this one a look.


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