I'm a librarian who loves anime, manga, and reading a wide variety of genres.
This volume contains three stories. In the first, Natsume saves a fuzzy little yokai called Karu, which is rumored to be vicious when in groups.(show spoiler)
In the second story, Natsume is attacked by yokai in simian masks and ends up imprisoned at one of the Matoba estates. Matoba tries to convince Natsume to join the Matoba clan and leave behind humans who don't understand him and yokai who he says will eventually betray him.(show spoiler)
The third story is a brief look back at an earlier time in Natsume's life, before he went to live with the Fujiwaras, from the POV of a female classmate of his who didn't really know him all that well but who still managed to look past his seemingly strange behavior.
I don't remember seeing the fuzzball yokai story in the anime, but maybe it was there and I just forgot about it. At any rate, the little guy was pretty cute, except for the sharp teeth.
I particularly liked this quote, said by Tanuma to Taki: “I once asked [Natsume] why he hasn't told Mr. and Mrs. Fujiwara what he can see. I thought he was stubborn. He said...it's because he wants them to keep on smiling. At first I didn't get it, but there are days I've had some dreams where he gets eaten by yokai. And I realized that's what he meant. He's late to school, and his classmates laugh, thinking he's overslept again. But a chill goes up my spine.” Oh, my heart. I loved this glimpse into what it's like to be Natsume's friend and to know a little about what he can see and what he goes through. Even if it's hard on Tanuma and Taki, I'm glad that Natsume has human friends who know his secret.
I don't recall liking the second story as much in the anime, but I enjoyed it in the manga because it really emphasized a couple things: one, that Natsume has come a long way and now has a great group of yokai friends, and two, that Natsume's yokai friends may actually make him more powerful than Matoba. That second bit really stuck with me. Matoba is someone who sees yokai as (at best) tools and (at worst) enemies of humans. He seems powerful, but there are likely limits to how much he can accomplish by trapping, tricking, and/or enslaving yokai, and at least a part of him has to be worried that he'll slip up and one of them will kill him. Natsume has encountered some dangerous yokai too, but he doesn't have to constantly force Nyanko-sensei and the other yokai to help him – they just do.
My favorite quote from the end of the second story (Natsume's thoughts): “I vowed to understand and to not look away from the plight of those I can see and hear.”
As far as the third story went, it was nice to see that there were a few people here and there who saw Natsume at least a little for the person he really was, and not the liar and attention-seeker that everyone kept saying he was. Midorikawa has shown readers stuff like this before, so it wasn't exactly new, but I still liked it because it expanded the world of this series a little more. It'd be nice if this girl and Natsume could cross paths again at some point, but, even if they don't, I feel like she'd think about him occasionally and hope he's doing okay.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)