In a sense this has been an odd season for this great series – it started out with arguably the best month ever, followed it with possibly the weakest (though that’s relative) and now seems well on its way to finishing in stellar form. I might go as far as to say this was my favorite episode in all four seasons that dealt almost exclusively with the human world . I generally prefer the shows that explore the deep emotional ramifications of Natsume’s unique ability to enter the magical world, but while the youkai presence here was minimal the ep did follow the model I think suits Natsume Yuujinchou best – it was simple, and straight from the heart.
It’s been a long wait, but we finally have our first glimpse – and practically our first real mention – of Natsume’s parents. An old photo found in the back of the closet sends Natsume off down memory lane, but it’s a phone call from the relative looking after his parents house that really starts to emotional train barreling down the tracks. The house finally has a buyer, and the relative, Tachibana-san, reasons that it isn’t doing Natsume any good sitting there empty – so Natsume agrees. The Fujiwaras can plainly see that Natsume is impacted by this, but as always they respect his emotional space (perhaps a bit too much). Perhaps more compellingly for me, it’s clear that Nyanko-sensei is aware of the issues this raises in Natsume.
The theme of friendship is obviously a huge recurring theme in this story – it’s got “Friends” in the title after all – and most of the focus has been on Natsume’s core group of human friends, and on the youkai who’ve become his “support team”. Tanuma is the closest to Natsume among the humans for obvious reasons (he even seems to be close with Ponta now) and he sees Natsume’s pain too, but what stands out for me is how much the relationship with Nyanko-sensei has transformed into a true friendship. He’s not even bothering to hide his affection for Natsume any longer, and he’s learned to read the boy’s moods better than any human can. This is the central relationship in the series, after all, but I sometimes think it doesn’t get the discussion it deserves. In some ways it’s the one that’s changed and grown more than any other in the series.
I noticed a very interesting visual theme running through this stunningly drawn episode, and that was the hiding of the eye – especially Natsume’s eye. It was perpetually covered by a lock of hair, or a doorframe, and what this calls to mind for me is that Natsume is intentionally blinding himself to part of who he is. Because he finally has a present and future he wants to protect, he closes off the past – refusing to ask the Fujiwaras about Reiko, refusing for many years to even look at the one picture he has of his parents, refusing to admit that the sale of their house makes him sad. This is a very human thing, to avoid pain by closing ourselves off from caring enough to be hurt – and in Natsume’s case certainly understandable. I mentioned in my post on Hotaruba no Mori e that Midorikawa-sensei’s writing is always about choices – do we open ourselves up to being in relationships with others, even knowing we might be hurt? This has always resonated with me, and I see it play out in the real world all the time – even in decisions such as whether or not to take in a cat once again, knowing the eventual pain that will come from the likely end of that relationship. Is it worth it, the years of joy such a thing can give you, knowing that it will also bring sorrow?
I think Midorikawa’s answer to that question is always yes, though the struggle for Natsume to navigate it is never-ending and drives the entire story. And it’s only through the help of his friends that this boy who keeps photos of those he loves hidden in his closet (well, the symbolism could hardly be called subtle there) comes to admit that he does care about that old house, and he does want to see it again. And it appears that journey will drive the final two episodes of the season, which promises to be very interesting. We still know so little – that his mother died shortly after he was born, and that his father (Konishi Katsuyuki) was a kind man who sat on the porch for hours, with Natsume on his knee. As Natsume remembers, surely we’ll learn more too – and perhaps about Reiko as well.
One small anime-original moment I loved was when Natsume and his posse saw Sasada and Taki leaving the CD store, and I thought “That’s rare,seeing those two together” – only to have Kitamoto say just that. My only disappointment is that there’s one major character from the OP who it now seems won’t be appearing this season, and that’s my favorite of all the recurring cast – Kogitsune. As wonderful as these last couple of eps have been and as much as I look forward to Natsume’s journey home, life always needs more Kogitsune.