When you’ve been watching a series as long as I’ve been watching Natsume Yuujinchou, the patterns become very obvious – both in the series, and in yourself. Especially when it’s a show as consistent as this one, which has changed shockingly little over the course of five seasons and change. Most of the key staff has been here from the beginning, and Midorikawa Yuki’s writing doesn’t change a whole lot over the course of the series. It evolves, certainly, but within the basic framework she established with the first couple of volumes.
I don’t like repeating myself, but these exorcist arcs just don’t do it for me as much as all of Natsume Yuujinchou’s other faces. You know they’re coming, it’s just a question of when and how often. And they tend to be multi-episode, too, which can be a little frustrating. I still enjoy them and Natori is certainly a more pleasant character to watch than Matoba and his ilk, but the emotional traction is rarely there for me with these stories. That said, they do play an important role in Natsume’s character development, and this one is certainly no exception.
This time we start out with Natsume on a rare excursion to the city (which one, I wonder?) to check out a movie – one starring Natori-san, in fact. It’s predictably asinine (I’m with Nyanko-sensei in calling it a comedy), but be that as it may, on the way out Natsume finds one of Natori’s Shikigami on the street, bearing what seems very much like an invitation to meet him. Natsume goes (no umbrella, despite the rain) to the location – a wealthy residential area, where a young woman takes pity on the boy and his “Scottish Fold” cat and invites him in to dry off the kitty and borrow an umbrella.
There are several elements at play here, and it doesn’t seem to be a full-on good vs. evil exorcist drama. The girl’s father is Takuma, a formerly powerful exorcist who’s lost the ability to see youkai. And the most prominent youkai is one who Natsume initially mistakes for a maid, but is in fact one of Takuma’s familiars who’s still bound to him because he’s now unable to release her from her contract. There’s something else going on here, too – a spell with the seeming intent to bring disaster on the house, and Natori and Nyanko-sensei seem only too happy to believe it’s the familiar (and her two unseen colleagues) that are behind it, since the death of the contract holder is the surest way to release a familiar.
It’ll be interesting to see if Natsume is right that the familiars are not, in fact, trying to bring doom on Takuma but trying to save him – that belief is very much in character for Natsume (and probably correct). But the more interesting element of this for me is the way Natsume reflects on the secret he’s keeping from Natori, that he holds the Book of Friends (though I’m sure Natori knows). Natsume’s comment that it would be a betrayal of the youkai whose names are in the book to tell an exorcist about it is a fascinating one – it’s why I love him as a character, and reflects the perspective that I really hope wins out in the end with Natsume Yuujinchou. The exorcist arcs sometimes make me question that, but I choose to believe they’re the outliers, not the norm.