Now that‘s the Natsume Yuujinchou I love best.
Forgive the brevity of this post, but the Cubs are just taking it out of me. The games run late and the tension is unbearable, even with a big lead (Will Chapman pitch? Why is Chapman pitching!??). The next 19 hours may be the longest of my life – though the four that follow could be even longer.
I’m pretty certain, as it happens, that most of what I have to say in this post will be familiar to long-time readers of my coverage of Natsume Yuujinchou. Natsume is basically two series, not one – the last two episodes were textbook examples of one of them, and this ep a textbook example of the other. That’s the equation, really – it could hardly be more simple. There’s no good or bad with this series, just degrees of excellence – but this episode is the Natsume that touches me. It’s stories like this one that for me are and always will be the heart of Natsume Yuujinchou.
It strikes me that behind the stylistic dichotomy of Natsume Yuujinchou is a larger theme, and it’s this: we see, alternately, Natsume’s gift as a blessing and as a curse. And it’s undeniable that there are times it is both of those things for him. One reason why I prefer stories like this one to the Matoba type may be because they express the optimistic, even romantic side of the series – the side that sees these fleeting encounters between humans and youkai as beautiful, that embraces even the pain their inevitable endings bring as part of their beauty.
Ultimately, I think, it’s this facet of the jewel that will ultimately win the day. We haven’t talked about mono no aware for a while around here, but this painful beauty is a perfect example of it. Even if these encounters between humans and youkai don’t last, they allow us to experience something powerful, a connection most of either race will never have. It’s their very transiency that makes them so powerful, and that’s the essence of mono no aware – a concept which, I believe, is fundamental to the way the Japanese view the world. It’s why cherry blossoms and autumn leaves are viewed with such profound reverence, and ultimately it’s this vision of the world that I believe Natsume Yuujinchou will embrace.
The crux of this week’s encounter, not so different than many we’ve seen before, was Taki’s magic circle (it was a given we’d see it, given how it was foreshadowed in the last two episodes). This “forbidden technique” causes great pain to the ancient tree youkai who’s trapped in Taki’s house, because he sees into a human’s eyes for the first time and yearns to extend that connection although it’s impossible. But that cruel happenstance also allows the youkai – and the two “traveling rabbits” who follow him into the house and get lost – to gain an understanding of humans they never had before. I’ve made this allusion before, but I really think Natsume’s gift – which Taki’s circle allows her to share all too briefly – is like allowing ourselves to love, or even to share our lives with a pet. These actions will almost always end in pain and separation, but aren’t they worth it for the joy they give us while they last? And aren’t out lives less fulfilling without them?