A quick glance through the manga solicitations for this month revealed a title I’ve been waiting quite a while for. I first learned about this series when I heard about the anime. The first series ran in 2008 in Japan, and went 13 episodes. The premise and the picture of a fat, rolly-polly cat on the series’ promotional art got me interested.
Natsume’s Book of Friends is about Natsume Takahashi. Orphaned at a young age, he drifted from relative to relative, none wanting to keep him very long because of the trouble he caused. Natsume can see spirits, an ability that separated him from other people from an early age. Finally, as a high school student, he comes to live with the Fujiwara’s, an older couple that lives in his grandmother’s home town. While moving into the his room, he finds a box of his grandmother’s things. In it he finds a homemade book called “The Book of Friends.” Soon after finding the book, he discovers that his grandmother Reiko had powers similar to his, and she took to bullying the spirits and yokai around her hometown, taking their names and writing them in her “Book of Friends.” Now, Natsume has become a target of the local yokai. Some want revenge for what Reiko (who he happens to look a lot like). Some just want their names back, and some want the “Book of Friends”, for with it, they could control the other yokai.
Madara is just one such yokai. Trapped in a maneki neko for a very long time, he is accidentally released by Natsume. Because he was trapped in the “lucky cat” shape for so long, he takes the form of a cat, and is called Nyako-sensei by Natsumi, but is still a very powerful spirit. He forms a sort of alliance with Natsume, protecting him from other yokai when necessary, in exchange for Natsume giving him the Book of Friends when he dies. Even though he doesn’t like being called a cat, he still likes to play with cat toys.
Many of the stories in this title are about Natsume learning about the yokai around him, and what his grandmother did. He is usually glad to return a yokai’s name when asked, much to Nyako’s dismay. Some of the stories are touching, and shows all the different kinds of creatures the occupy Japan’s folklore. But it’s also about Natsume learning to integrate with normal people as well. He works to make friends at his new school, keeping his abilities a secret, but finds more understanding in the small town than he ever did with this other relatives.
I am so glad Viz licensed this title and is giving me the chance to read it. I’ve really enjoyed the small parts of it that I’ve been able to see, and hope the manga turns out better than the anime (as they usually do for me). The characters are great, and Nyako-sensei is the best. But then, he’s just like a cat, so what else could he be? This title is a definite pre-order for me, and I hope it will be for you too, so this can be the hit it deserves to be.