Ah, Natsume Yuujinchou – what a strange and beautiful little story you are.
I suppose as much as any compliment I could give, this one packs some real weight with me – Natsume Yuujinchou can do things no other series can do, plain and simple. It means something to say a story is unique, and that its author has a unique vision, and that certainly applies to Midorikawa-sensei and this series. She has a gift for portraying simple and pure emotion the way few authors do, through the use of situations and characters that are quite, well- unique. I can’t think of another series that would even try to do what Natsume Yuujinchou did this week, and certainly not one that could have done so successfully.
Writing about this series, however, can be the proverbial dissecting gossamer, because the kind of elemental themes Midorikawa explores sometimes resist conveyance through the written word. This was certainly such an episode, as much as any, and I can safely say it’s one of my favorites in the entire series that focused mostly on humans rather than youkai (I can’t say entirely, based on the last few seconds of the episode).
I like the fact that Midorikawa chose to devote a chapter to the Fujiwaras, and that Omori-sensei chose to adapt it as part of the anime. Shigeru and Touko are the mostly-silent colossus of Natsume Yuujinchou – the twin pillars that Natsume was finally able to anchor himself to and begin the process of healing after a childhood of sadness and cruelty. But while they’re rarely a major presence it’s never been less than clear that the Fujiwaras are hugely important in Natsume’s life, and in fact there are strong suggestions that their connection to him is going to be a key component of this season’s denouement.
If there’s one central theme that repeats itself over and over in Natsume Yuujinchou, it’s the nobility of kindness for its own sake. We see it over and over – youkai towards humans and vice-versa, humans towards each other, youkai towards each other. When kindness is given freely, with no expectation of reward, miraculous things are possible. And this is the cornerstone of Touko and Shigeru’s life – they’re innately kind people. They could never be anything else, because it would never occur to them to be anything else. It can manifest itself through Touko’s befriending a crow (a much-maligned and reviled animal by many Japanese), or through Shigeru spotting a strange boy’s lonely unhappiness at a funeral and deciding that he simply couldn’t stand by and do nothing about it.
This is the essence of who the Fujiwaras are – kind and tolerant and quietly devoted to each other. These are certainly not conventional hero figures – Touko is a decidedly old-fashioned housewife, and Shigeru a soft-spoken man of few words. But they exemplify the quality of empathy in their every thought and deed, whether it be towards a nuisance bird or an orphan child. No one suggested to Shigeru that he should take Natsume (a very distant relative he’d never met) into his home. But while the other family members were scheming to pass the boy on to someone else, Shigeru quietly (not even telling his wife for weeks) explored the possibility of righting what he knew was a terrible wrong. Why? Because to see someone in pain and do nothing even though you had the means to help was as if he was causing the pain himself.
I don’t know what Natsume’s vision of the white crow at the end signifies, either symbolically or in terms of foreshadowing – it’s interesting that for once we couldn’t see something Natsume claimed he could, though that might simply have been a function of the episode being told from Touko’s perspective. But it seems clear that the notion of otherness has been very much on Natsume’s mind this season, as he questions whether he truly belongs with the Fujiwaras. If the third season explored Natsume’s connections to his grandmother and the fourth to his father, “Go” has been very much concerned with the fragile life he shares with Shigeru and Touko. Perhaps it will end with the moment so many of us have anticipated for so long – when he finally tells them the truth about who and what he is, and trusts them to accept him anyway (as they surely will). There’s no question of the Fujiwaras loyalty, but that moment will be more about Natsume finally having enough faith in someone to lower his defenses.