Today I review the latest volumes of two of my favorite on-going shojo series -- Kimi Ni Todoke: From Me to You volume 4 and Natsume's Book of Friends volume 2.
Kimi Ni Todoke: From Me to You, volume 4, published by Viz.
It is the rare manga that inspires me to review each and every volume, but Kimi Ni Todoke just happens to be one of those titles. I love how the book continues to completely undermine emotional manipulation as a traditional shojo "plot" device. The "frenemy" conflict, in which Sawako's new cute and popular "friend" Kurumi zeroes in on Sawako as a threat to gaining Kazehaya's affections, is smartly and thoroughly resolved. The handling of this particular storyline has gone a long way to set this work apart from other romance-oriented titles where certain characters exist merely to manipulate and scheme in order unravel the confidence of those around them. Of course, our heroine Sawako and her much beloved Kazehaya are having none of that. In fact, it is almost revolutionary how instead of letting others' rumors, innuendos and nasty asides derail their affection for each other, they instead actually talk to each other to distinguish between truth and mean-spirited fiction.
While Sawako can appear dense to those around her, it is important to note that both she and Kazehaya have their own unique type of emotional intelligence that becomes a surprisingly compelling character trait to read about. While an official romance seems like it is a ways down the road for these two, I appreciate the fact Kazehaya himself recognizes the distance between friendship and couplehood exists because Sawako still doesn't see herself on the level of someone who dates yet. (In other words, it isn't because she is rejecting him). I can only hope that she doesn't keep the more emotionally articulate Kazehaya waiting too long before her vision can accommodate a view of herself as someone who is romantically loved.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Natsume's Book of Friends, volume 2, published by Viz.
The second volume of this thoughtful supernatural title didn't seem quite as strong as the first. Although the four stand alone tales in this volume were generally enjoyable (particularly when Natsume is peer-pressured to go with his classmates to visit a "haunted" school, or when he encounters with a young man with similar yokai-vision abilities), there was a certain degree of repetition in how Natsume himself responded to dangerous encounters with the spirits. While alienated from those around him to a large degree, Natsume wants to believe in both humans and yokai, but he often puts himself in physical danger to get his feelings across to others. Natsume risking his own physical body in order to show that yokai are worth saving usually becomes the crisis moment of each chapter and the consequences of him doing this are often brushed too easily aside by both the narrative and the art (Natsume tends to lose consciousness at the crisis moment and he will then resurface to discover he was saved, usually by a combination of his own power and another's intervention).
In spite of my criticism of the repetitious structure of the individual stories, there remains a lot to enjoy on a character level. I'm very fond of Natsume and the strange beings who inhabit his world. Nyanko-sensei is back and in hilariously pissy form as per usual, while Natsume continues to charm yokai into forgiving him for his grandmother's sin of taking their names and putting them in her book in order to control them. Natsume's charm and goodness continue to win the day each and every time but I wonder if there will come a day when he finally faces a situation he can't improve through his intervention and how he will choose to respond when his usual methods fail him.