One of the central themes of Natsume’s Book of Friends is that friendship makes life better and more bearable, and the three stories in Volume 22 really focus on the different ways that idea can be expressed. I like all three, but the first story is my favorite partly because it manages to fit in so many different flavors of friendship.
Natsume and his best friends (the humans Tanuma and Taki and the yokai Nyanko Sensei) are visiting an exhibit of old documents and lacquerware being displayed at a traditional inn. A sudden autumn storm blows in, but they made a good impression on the inn keeper earlier, and are invited to stay overnight in the welcoming inn.
During the night Natsume and Tanuma have a harrowing yokai experience, and in the morning the welcoming vibe of the inn has been replaced by a menacing miasma. The inn keeper tells them the story of the family heirloom noren, a door curtain believed to welcome good spirits and repel bad ones. But in the chaos of the storm, the charm wasn’t invoked. The inn keeper think it’s just a tradition, but Natsume and his friends know that something evil has infiltrated the inn.
Determined to rid the inn of the malevolence, Natsume and his friends go on the hunt. But before they find the interloper, they meet the ancient yokai, Lord Inanagi, who has been visiting the inn as long as it has existed to enjoy the fall foliage.
Together, the group of humans and yokai determine to protect the inn that has given them all a measure of joy. Drawing on all their skills, they come up with a plan to evict the uninvited guest. Things quickly go awry as the evil yokai turns out to be stronger than they anticipated. In the heat of the moment, the only solution is one that will banish Lord Inanagi along with the malevolent yokai
I won’t spoil the ending here, but it is a beautiful culmination of layers of friendship that relies on all the connections the characters have made with each other. That sweet ending wouldn’t have been possible if Natsume and his friends hadn’t formed a new bond with the inn keeper, who in turn formed a bond with a yokai in his childhood, who himself had a long lasting bond with the inn and the family that keeps it. It’s a wonderful illustration of the way a community can be formed, even if only for a brief while, and how that community can come together to protect something precious.
Which reflection of friendship do you like the most?
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