If there's one thing "Natsume's Book of Friends" has to tell us, it's that mortals and ayakashi aren't so different -- they love, feel gratitude, hate and can repay a debt. The fourth volume of Yuki Midorikawa's delicately-illustrated manga is all about the feelings ayakashi can have, whether it's a last-minute save or a long-held love.
Natsume and Nyanko are goofing around in a field when an ayakashi appears out of a statue, and tries to possess him... but ends up in a snow bunny instead. The ayakashi, whose name is Gen, asks Natsume to help him while he tries to seal an evil spirit who is roaming the countryside. But when it turns out the evil spirit is someone Gen loved, Natsume is determined to help.
Then Natorio invites Natsume and Nyanko to a hot springs weekend, but of course there's something evil lurking at their hotel. And when Natsume buys an odd painting at a flea market, odd things begin happening -- flowers appear on his bed, roots grow into the walls, and a strange masked ayakashi reveals that a once-human friend of hers is hiding in the painting. But if Natsume doesn't do something soon, his very life will be drained by the painting.
And in a little side-story, Nyanko gets to know a little girl who mistakes him for a real kitty. Despite his claimed dislike for humans, he becomes fond of her.
If there's a running theme in "Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 4," it's that ayakashi can feel everything humans can feel. Two of the stories are bittersweet love stories (of a sort), one is about Nyanko's softening feelings towards humans, and one is about how acts of kindness towards some ayakashi will be repaid in kind. Well, SOMETIMES.
Midorikawa sketches out both the stories and drawings with a delicate hand. Her artwork is all light thin lines, soft outlines and cloudy shading, and she draws some stunningly lovely scenes (Natsume and Miya illustrating his wall with cherry blossoms). And her writing has some equally fragile, haunting moments, such as Gen asking Sui to come home with him again -- but there are also some funny moments, like Gen's horror at discovering himself inside a snow-bunny.
Natsume seems to be slowly opening up like a spring flower, even wanting to buy a gift for his new foster mother. But his caution still shows in his reluctance to tell his foster parents what he is capable of, leading to some reflections on how he and Natori are forced to lie constantly to those around them. And Nyanko is even more obviously fond of his new charge, even sulking when he's prevented from destroying a danger to Natsume's life.
"Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 4" is another bittersweet, delicately-wrought collection, which should leave you satisfied but hoping for more.