In an oversimplified way, it almost feels as if this show spent most of the first two seasons concerned with the Yuujinchou, and and most of the last one+ concerned with the Natsume. The past has become less crucial, with more focus on the future, to the point where I felt the balance had perhaps over-shifted in “San”. With the conclusion to this season’s two-part opening arc, it feels as if the connection has been drawn between Natsume’s past and his future more directly than ever before. Of course they were always inseparable, but it felt at times as if the show had developed a mildly split personality.
A couple of lines of dialogue stood out for me this week, starting with Misuzu’s observation that it would be a kindness for Hinoe, or Nyanko-sensei, to take the Book of Friends away from Natsume once and for all. It his mind, it’s not logical that Natsume would rather retain his connection to the youkai world rather than be able to appear normal to his friends. Indeed, it seemed for a while that this might be the direction the series was headed. The second crucial moment was when Matoba questioned why Natsume might have chosen to “side” with the youkai – he can’t understand the logic of why Natsume would be so accepting of such an alien way of being, and professes that Nyanko-sensei has no affection for Natsume but rather says with him merely because he has something to gain from the relationship.
What was really telling about this moment wasn’t so much that Natsume protected Nyanko-sensei from Matoba, but that he protected the Eastern youkai (Kawamoto Kunihiro) sealed away in the pot. In Natsume’s eyes there was no other choice – his “body just reacted”. That he’s fundamentally different from Reiko is obvious, and it’s this odd nature that makes him a bridge between the human and youkai worlds, yet not really a part of either. The third critical sequence was Natsume’s inner monologue at the end: “It may be time for me to stop looking away and know for real. Since I decided to protect the Book of Friends… To live accepting of what I hear and see.” It’s hard not to view this as a major step closer to a major life decision by Natsume – perhaps to tell the Fujiwaras the truth – perhaps not quite yet – but certainly to stop considering the possibility that he might cut away the youkai world from his existence. At the very least, this seems to indicate a level of self-acceptance we haven’t see from Natsume previously.
In terms of the conflict that was set up in the episode, that seems to have been kicked to the curb for a while but certainly not settled. Natsume is clearly a thorn in Matoba’s side, and the latter is becoming more and more aware of how powerful Natsume is – thanks to the help of his friends – and of how unlikely it is that he’ll ever agree to join in. Matoba simply can’t acknowledge the fact that Natsume has youkai help him merely because they want to, not because they’re commanded – there’s simply no room for it in his worldview. Even powerful youkai like Misuzu and Hinoe have willingly become part of “Team Natsume”. All this makes Matoba an extremely dangerous figure, though he appears ready to abandon the Eastern Forest for now. With their leader Rokka (Ichijou Kazuya) freed due to Natsume’s ambient breaking of some of Matoba’s seals and the monkey-faced youkai aware of the truth, peace seems set to return – for now. But Matoba is a problem that isn’t going away.
Next week, it seems we’ll be returning to a more heartwarming style reminiscent of the first two seasons, as it looks to focus on Natsume helping out some kawaii youkai in need. I’m fascinated by Brain’s Base and Omori-sensei’s decision to leap right into the season with this intense and heavy two-parter, which seems like an odd choice. But I feel better about it than I did last week, as it seems more likely that there’s a path being followed here. Rather than moving in a straight line, Natsume Yuujinchou may in find be closing a circle.