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small image Spotlight: Yuki Midorikawa

September 4, 2011 2:23 am by small image

One of my favorite manga creators out there is Yuki Midorikawa, best known for Natsume Yuujinchou (or Natsume’s Book of Friends, as it’s titled in English). The Natsume manga is an ongoing series, and so far eight volumes have been released in North America by Viz in their Shojo Beat lineup. The anime adaptation is currently airing its third season, and you can find the latest episodes as well as everything from the first two seasons on Crunchyroll. The anime has not yet been released on DVD in North America, but I’m really hoping it will be soon!

Natsume Yuujinchou is about a boy who can see yokai–spirits and creatures found in traditional Japanese tales. The manga and anime are episodic, but the stories do a very good job at slowly developing the characters–particularly the protagonist, Takashi Natsume (who is always referred to as Natsume). It is a thoroughly enjoyable series, and if you haven’t given it a try yet, you really should! It is a light, heartwarming series, though it has its share of bittersweet and introspective moments as well.

As it turns out, being able to see strange spirits and creatures that are invisible to everyone else can cause a lot of problems for a child. The series begins when Natsume finds a “Book of Friends” left behind by his late grandmother, Reiko Natsume. She was able to see yokai as well, but she took an aggressive approach in dealing with them: after beating them into submission, she would write their names in the book, effectively becoming their master. But now that Natsume has the book, he has to deal with all those yokai wanting their names back! His goal is to return the names of all the bound yokai, and the series focuses on the relationships Natsume forms with the spirits and creatures he meets. And at the same time, Natsume slowly builds friendships with classmates and the relatives he lives with as well.

There are a lot of things I really like about this series. I feel Yuki Midorikawa does a wonderful job with her characters, making their thoughts and feelings realistic yet conveying them in a powerful manner. There are comedic moments in the series, but I feel there is very little of the high school zaniness/hijinks found in many other manga and anime. Natsume Yuujinchou is generally a quiet, peaceful series, where Natsume tries to see the point of view of those he interacts with, whether they be human or yokai.

Another manga by Yuki Midorikawa is Hotarubi no Mori e, which is a one-shot that was bundled with three of her other one-shots in a volume in Japan. The first story has been adapted into an anime film, which will air in Japan in a couple weeks. You can watch the trailer here, and then start hoping you’ll get the chance to see it some day!

Doesn’t that look beautiful? And I believe the story of Hotarubi no Mori e will work perfectly for the length of a movie. The story is a simple one, focusing more on emotion rather than plot or conflict. It is about a young girl named Hotaru who goes to her grandparents’ home in the countryside each summer. One day she meets a masked spirit named Gin, who tells her that he will disappear if a human ever touches him. They become good friends, and they spend every summer together. Hotaru grows older over time, while Gin remains the same. It’s a sweet tale of friendship that goes along very well with the themes of Natsume Yuujinchou, and I look forward to seeing it adapted with beautiful movie-quality animation.

All the other manga Yuki Midorikawa has created are short series, many of them one-shots. From what I can tell, they generally focus on character relationships. Many of the stories have a realistic setting, and have a degree of shoujo romance to them–and many of the others share some of the supernatural qualities of Natsume Yuujinchou and Hotarubi no Mori e.

She also seems to have a thing for masks. I can see several reasons for this–it creates a sense of mystery, perhaps foreboding. And I believe there’s a strong traditional element to it. One of the reasons Natsume Yuujinchou has done as well as it has in Japan may be due to the incorporation of traditional Japanese creatures and themes in its stories. (I also feel that the fact the stories can be enjoyed by both younger and older audiences plays a big role as well. There is little that is objectionable in Natsume Yuujinchou, but at the same time there are plenty of serious issues dealt with to keep teens and adults interested.)

Flipping through the pages of some Natsume volumes, I feel that the traditional atmosphere of the series can be seen even in Yuki Midorikawa’s art style. At times it carries the sort of same look as old ink paintings found in Japan–a sort of natural look (perhaps) that has characters and scenery drawn in “rough yet soft” lines that don’t connect seamlessly, and never maintains a consistent thickness to the strokes. I think it turns out wonderfully, and gives Yuki Midorikawa a very unique look in the realm of shoujo manga.

Which is fitting, given the unique subject matter of her stories! So be sure to check out Natsume Yuujinchou when you can, and we can all look forward to seeing more of this manga creator’s great work in the future.