It’s truly remarkable how Natsume Yuujinchou gets me every time, even after all these years. Every episode is like a trip in a time machine, because I always feel the same way – the emotions never change, no matter how much older (way too much) I get and where I journey in my life. Natsume Yuujinchou is a constant – always true to its own sensibility, and always impacting me in the same way. It’s a series that seems immune from changes in perspective, which is something of a little miracle if you ask me.
One of the other things that remain the same, of course, is that Natsume isn’t always the easiest series to blog about. Maybe it’s because its impact is so elemental, like narrative gossamer. Every episode (the ones like the first two this season anyway, which are my favorite class) is like a little poem all to itself. And honestly – does anyone really like analyzing poems (or reading analyses of them)? There’s also the fact – and this is not meant as a criticism – that episodes like this one are basically variations on a theme. Once you understand the basic pattern, you understand Natsume Yuujinchou.
This time around, the subject at hand is – rather un-romantically – a towel. But in Natsume the mundane aspects of human life (like hats or watches) can have a profound impact on a youkai. The recurring theme to eps like this one is that kindness is one of nature’s most powerful weapons. It can reach across time, across the great divide between humans and beasts. Kindness unbidden and offered freely with no hope of personal gain profoundly impacts those it touches (like Natsume with the Fujiwaras, as a broad example) and so it is with Sougo-san, the human who gave a towel to a little girl youkai during a rainstorm. For fifty years (a blink of an eye to her) she watched him at the bus stop every day, hoping the forces would align to allow him to see her again. But they never did.
Natsume, of course, is pretty much incapable of saying no to anyone in need or suffering (to Nyanko-sensei’s perpetual irritation). He crosses paths with the girl by pure chance (did she drop that towel by accident?) , but can’t say no to her request to try and find the man who’s suddenly stopped coming to the bus stop every day. Our first thought is naturally the same as Natsume’s – this, more than anything, dooms human-youkai relationships to eternal heartache – but the man is in fact alive, in hospital. Natsume’s awkward attempts to approach his granddaughter (she smells of him) are initially unsuccessful – who can blame her, really – but Natsume’s sincerity eventually convinces her of his good intentions.
This is not a standout Natsume Yuujinchou episode, either in terms of breaking new ground or raising the bar. But it is a classic one, and that bar was pretty damn high to begin with. The emotional payoff totally works for the same reason they almost always do with this series, because it’s so totally rooted in the most basic emotional bedrock. All the youkai wants to do, in the end, is make sure Sougo-san knows how much his kindness – and indeed his life – means to her. And honestly, what could be more pure and beautiful than that? Natsume Yuujinchou, if it’s about anything, is about souls connecting despite great barriers that seek to divide them, and this little story is a prime example of that.