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Review

by Rebecca Silverman,

Natsume and Natsume

GN 1

Synopsis:
Natsume and Natsume GN 1

Natsume Shiranui looks scary, but he's got a heart of gold and a burning desire to be a hero for his childhood friend Natsume Minazuki. The problem? She ends up rescuing him most of the time! Not that she minds – will her feelings ever really get through to him that he's been her hero all along?

Natsume and Natsume is translated by M. Skeels and lettered by Chana Conley.

Review:

Natsume Shiranui has a problem, and it's different from the one you might expect. From a glance at the cover, you would expect that the biggest issue he faced came from people being terrified of his apparently horrible case of resting evil face. But instead, his problem is that he desperately wants to become the best hero he possibly can be for his childhood friend Natsume Minazuki. It's something he's dreamed of since they were little bitty kids in elementary school when she impressed him with her ability to stand up to bullies, and everything he does is in service of this goal. And lest you think she is unaware of it, she's fully on board with his plans and always willing to lend a hand when he needs it. If this doesn't exactly make for an attention-ridden plot, it makes for a sweet one.

Natsume and Natsume's first volume combines various genres: slice of life, situational comedy, and mild romance. It manages to pull all three off relatively well in large part because it almost immediately jettisons our assumptions about its male protagonist. We've all seen stories where one of the two romantic leads has a face that is constantly mistaken for them being angry at all times, and it's very easy to go into this story thinking that that's the case here. And Natsume-kun really has a terrifying face - it appears frozen in a wicked smile at all times. As it turns out, he doesn't have resting evil face; at some point in the past, girl Natsume told him that he ought to smile, presumably intending for him to convey his kindhearted sincerity through the expression. Unfortunately, he turned out to have the sort of smile that turns up in the school photos of first graders told to smile with teeth: less smile and more rictus grin. This is both a positive and a negative to the story: there's something really funny about watching him save cats from trees and help small children with a face like an angry demon, but at the same time, it's the single most off-putting thing about the story's art.

It's also the most recognizable element of the story's art. The rest of the images, while perfectly serviceable, are generally unremarkable. Natsume-san is pretty in a bland way, and none of the other characters stand out that much, even those who are recurring. There's a bobblehead look to the girls, too, big round heads on thin bodies with spindly legs, which isn't entirely displeasing, but noticeable. On the other hand, creator Shunsuke Sorato has a light touch with the adorable little animals that pepper the story, and at the end of the volume, there's a pretty funny note with an image of a real sparrow and an acknowledgment that in real life they aren't the little round puff balls that they are portrayed as in the manga.

Plot-wise there isn't a whole lot to say here. The story primarily occurs in the present day, when both Natsumes are 16 and in their second year of high school. We see such tried and true situations as Natsume-kun picking up an eraser dropped by the girl who sits next to him, bringing a bag to a classmate who forgot it in the classroom, and prepping for the upcoming sports festival. He also helps get a cat out of a tree and watches with awe as Natsume-san helps an old woman cross the street. What's important isn't the actual events of the plot but instead how earnestly Natsume-kun performs them; you may have seen characters who you thought were devoted to that role of the hero before, but you've never seen someone with the innocent gusto that Natsume-kun exhibits, at least not outside of a cute girls doing cute things show. And in large part, that is the charm here - with his terrifying smile and heart of gold, Natsume-kun is basically a CGCT protagonist in a high school boy's body.

Like all of Azuki's titles, Natsume and Natsume is currently only available through their proprietary site/app. Enough titles are present to make it worth a subscription, and although this may not be as universally appealing as some of their other titles, it is still a lot of fun. With its likable cast and comfortable story, this is an excellent series to wind down with, and if you're looking for light and fluffy reading, it absolutely fits the bill.

Grade:
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : B-

+ Cute story and characters, fun mini cross-over with The Yakuza's Guide to Babysitting.
Not a whole lot more than cute.

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Production Info:
Story & Art: Shunsuke Sorato
Licensed by: Azuki

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