I know anime doesn’t really matter, but that episode of Natsume Yuujinchou was chou-wonderful.
As I’m sure you can imagine, it’s been a tough week. Last week’s dream has turned into this week’s nightmare (the Cub fan in me believes it’s a punishment for the Cubs being allowed to win the World Series), and somehow, nothing seems to matter much. I’m traveling to boot, so blogging just hasn’t been a priority. But life does go on, after all, and somehow all of us need to find a way to go on with it. Or do we?
It’s an interesting question, what we should do in the face of an event which brings on existential despair. I think it’s OK to be devastated – in a certain way almost better, because no one of decency should brush off this week’s events and pretend they never happened. It’s a catastrophe that everyone – not just Americans, but everyone – will have to live with for a very long time. But there is a role for things like anime in helping distract us for at least a little while, and a series like Natsume Yuujinchou is ideally suited to the purpose.
I’ve spoken before about the transportive nature of this series – how it always returns me to the same place in my mind, no matter how many years have passed. Yes, a beautiful episode like this one can make me forget, at least for a little while. And while I don’t think any of us should forget, it’s probably OK to give ourselves the occasional break. There will be plenty of time to feel despair and rage, after all, and anything that can give us 22 minutes of inner peace should be viewed as a gift.
This is another classic Natsume Yuujinchou, the sort of material this show does best. This time around Natsume is ambushed by a gang of hairballs who recognize him as the prize he is, and they steal his voice so he can’t call for help. But he’s rescued by a giant birdlike youkai, who takes him back to the desolate valley she calls home, thinking he’s Reiko. This youkai is named Hidaka, as it turns out, and she’s played by none other than my buddy from Anime Expo Shintani Mayumi. Shintani-san is a legend despite playing so few roles for a reason – she’s utterly fantastic here, bringing great childlike innocence and humor to Hidaka.
You’ve seen this sort of story on Natsume before, of course, but it’s the best sort of formula there is. A lonely youkai whose life was touched by Reiko, Hidaka waited decades in her lonely valley for her to return – but she never did. Why did Reiko never return to visit all these youkai she met (and stole names from)? We don’t really know, but it’s quite touching to think of Hidaka – who likes nothing more than things being super-lively – waiting all alone for Reiko. It’s a blessing for her to know the truth, not just because Natsume will of course return her name (as soon as he gets his voice back) but because now Hidaka can leave her isolation and go see the world, and have super-fun in the process.
This is Natsume Yuujinchou at its best – Natsume surrounded by youkai (it just clicks more than when it’s humans), Nyanko-sensei stealing scene after scene, glimpses into Reiko’s mysterious past. I guess it could be argued that this series isn’t the most emotionally subtle in the world (at least not in this mode) but the authenticity it’s able to bring to these moments is a marvel. In a world where simple decency and goodness are under dire threat like rarely before, such a thing should be treasure that much more. I, for one, am grateful to Natsume Yuujinchou for having the grace to be exactly what it is.