What an unexpected yet utterly in-character way to finish the season.
The last two words on the title line are always some of my all-time favorite ones to write. It’s always nice when we come to the end of a series we like without having to worry about whether there will be a sequel. That never seems much in doubt with Natsume Yuujinchou, but disc sales have (inevitably) slowed a bit and a bird in the hand is certainly worth two in the bush – and the announcement of a sequel came substantially quicker than has normally been the case with this series. In point of fact there will also be 2 disc-only eps of “Go” (at least one of which was supposed to air during the season, but fell victim to production delays), so there’s a lot of Natsume (and hopefully a little fox) to look forward to in 2017.
Even if that delay hadn’t happened I might venture to guess that this episode wasn’t initially intended to close the season, because it certainly doesn’t contain any major revelations or conflicts. On the other hand, this is the second time Natsume Yuujinchou has chosen to end a season with a cheerful, low-key episode that showcases the regard those around him have for Natsume (especially youkai). This is the happy irony of Natsume’s life – the boy who was always alone and rejected now has more friends and family than he knows what to do with.
What sets this episode apart is that it’s built around, of all people, the “Chuukyuu” (mid-rank) pair of Hitotsume and Ushikao. Historically this duo has been used almost exclusively for comic relief, a kind of youkai manzai team, and while they have their silly moments here they also drive the plot of the episode. Not only that, but they summon a supremely moving moment at the close of the episode totally out of nowhere – at once unexpected and consummately Natsume Yuujinchou-rashii.
Plot-wise, well- there’s not much plot, really. We’ve certainly seen the anime cold ad nauseum – in fact we’ve seen it with Natsume ad nauseum. This time around Natsume gets sick because the Chuukyuu (who’ve missed annoying him because he’s been studying for exams) decide to drag Natsume to the top of a mountain to view an extremely rare-blooming flower. It’s rather sweet, really, and Natsume is genuinely impressed – but because he’s such a wimp he promptly gets a cold from a little cool breeze on the mountaintop. This sets the Chuukyuu of on a quest to find Natsume fever medicine from a powerful Ayakashi (who forces them to do some actual work to get it) and Natsume’s human friends into their usual fit of worry.
There’s some good stuff here as the Chuukyuu struggle to rebuild a long row of fallen stone lanterns and Natsume’s chums plot a home visit, and Natsume has a couple of very interesting fever dreams. One of those includes Nyanko-sensei literally turning into Nyanko-sensei (which feels like a wonderful bit of fanservice) and ends with an encounter with Reiko. It’s fleeting as always, but provides another hint that her presence in the story is going to prove a crucial factor sooner or later.
But the real meat of the ep comes at the end, and hits pretty hard. First, Natsume realizes that the nightmare he had as a sick child was actually one of his earliest memories of kindness from a “monster”. And then when Natsume recovers and goes off to thank the Chuukyuu (it’s the thought that counts) they shower him with flower petals and Hitotsume darn near sums up the entire series in one sentence: “We know the flowers will fall someday, yet we’re still entranced by them”. This is the essence of Mono no Aware, and of course Mono no Aware is the essence of Natsume Yuujinchou. Human’s lives flash past in the blink of a youkai’s eye, yet still connections are made – souls reach across the divide and become entwined. It’s no coincidence at all that Reiko’s book is the “Book of Friends”, and it’s those bonds of friendship and love that underpin Natsume Yuujinchou.
I don’t spend a lot of time comparing the various seasons of Natsume, really – maybe because they don’t tend to be radically different from each other. But if I were to sum up “Go” in the canon’s context, I think it’s been a quite low-key and overall very positive cour. There was the exorcist interlude in the middle, yes, which was the darkest (and least effective) part of the season. But mostly the focus here was on those connections – youkai with humans and each other, and Natsume with the humans and youaki who share his life. There was no rehashing the agony of Natsume being torn away from the father he loved; instead, a sweet and quiet exploration of the relationship between he and the Fujiwaras.
If there’s any disappointment for me, it’s that Kogitsune never got an episode. That’s altogether surprising, considering he’s not only in the OP but received a collectible figure this year – makes me wonder if his was one of those two episodes that ended up being delayed till the disc release. If the season came up short in any way it’s that there weren’t a lot of those emotionally supercharged eps that Natsume Yuujinchou can deliver (as Kogitsune’s have all been), but by the same token we did get a pretty strong focus on the youkai world that represents this series’ best side. In all “Go” feels very much like a phase of the journey rather than a destination in its own right, but that’s a journey I’m always happy to take part in.