Well – that wasn’t the returning character I was hoping for, but it was still a good episode…
“Roku” continues to be a worthy heir to the Natsume Yuujinchou label, offering up its third straight strong episode. And it also continues the season’s avoidance of areas of the plot that aren’t as appealing to my sensibilities (though the preview tells us that lucky streak is going to end next week). This franchise rarely surprises me and I’m certainly not surprised that it continues to be this excellent, but it does the heart good to see it continue to deliver time and again where so many franchises have ebbed and flowed in quality.
If there’s an area where Natsume Yuujinchou is underrated, it’s creepiness – this show can be downright scary when it wants to be. But it chooses its moments, giving them that much more impact when they happen. And this was one of them, giving us the story of the “Twin Dolls Mansion“. Haunted house stories are always fodder for a good yarn, but throw in living dolls and you’re in primo creeper territory. Why aren’t people smart enough to figure out that you just don’t mess with those damn things?
We haven’t seen Shibata-kun for a long time – not since way back early in Natsume Yuujinchou San, in fact. It’s interesting timing given that Shibata is played by Yoshimasa Hosoya, who’s just announced that he’s taking a leave of absence from voice acting while he recovers from an unspecified illness (he’s a hot property at the moment, too). Shibata, if you recall, was the boy who was a grade-school classmate of Natsume’s, and fell in love with the spirit of a dying tree. That was a pretty heartbreaking episode in the classic Natsume Yuuinchou tradition of loneliness transcending the gap between two worlds, but this one takes on an altogether different tone.
Shibata calls Natsume out of the blue, and is his usual overbearing self. But it’s clear that in their own tsundere way both he and Natsume are glad to see the other is doing OK – in Natsume’s case, because to Shibata’s relief he has an actual friend. Tanuma is playing a larger and larger role in the series as it progresses, which makes sense given that he’s the first real confidante his own age Natsume could rely on. But what starts out as a mundane bro-date between the three of them takes a turn when Shibata spills the beans about a girl who’s upset because of strange goings-on at the house next door, which was struck by lightning.
There’s a quietly important exchange late in the episode, where Shibata notes to Tanuma that the whole situation with the house and the dolls would have been easy to ignore if only he hadn’t looked in the right place at the right time. That’s the story of Natsume’s life to a certain extent – he can’t ignore because he sees, and he lacks the ability to stop himself from caring about what he sees. And because Natsume and the twin dolls (whose seal was broken by the lightning) have seen each other, they’re now his responsibility – they’ll follow him wherever he goes, drawn by his powerful spiritual aura.
The scenes back at Tanuma’s temple where the boys are spending the night are seriously creepy, some of the best scares we’ve seen in Natsume for a while. But they’re leavened with some terrific Nyanko-sensei comic moments. I especially loved the “negotiations” over the melon (which Nyanko proceeded to write his name on). And in the end, once the dolls have been dealt with, when Nyanko-sensei slips up and talks in front of Shibata – and then lamely tries to cover it up. It’s classic Natsume Yuujinchou – but then, “Roku” has been nothing but that right from the start.