As much as I’m enjoying Natsume Yuujinchou Roku, with each passing episode (and even more, each passing preview) there’s an increasing sense of desperation. As you may may know this season (like “Go”) is only 11 episodes. That means we’re already more than halfway through, and no sign of another Kogitsune episode – and there won’t be one next week, either. The season finale will be a “canon” episode of some sort, and more than half of those have been multi-part episodes – which means we have at most three and probably only two chances left. Ugh. I believe there’s at least one more manga special chapter unadapted, and I know for sure the spinoff LN has a “Kogitsune no Tabi” story – and for that, matter, the Kogitsune ep in “San” was anime-original and the best of the season. We know the character is popular (he got his own high-class $100 figure this year) so why is Omori-sensei torturing us??
But there’s nothing to be done about that, I suppose. As far as what we’re getting, it’s good, solid Natsume Yuujinchou right in the series’ comfort zone. This ep was a bit of a departure, though, in that not only did it focus on Natsume’s two muggle friends Nishmura and Kitamoto, but did so with them as the POV characters. And quite successfully, too – these two are deceptively important to the psychological underpinnings of the story, and there’s some good seiyuu work there (especially the superb Kimura Ryouhei as Nishimura).
Nishimura as often as not plays the comic relief role in Natsume’s posse, but he’s a key figure in that he’s the totally feckless one – accepting and open to anything. While Kitamoto clearly senses that something weird is going on with Natsume, Nishimura betrays no suspicion – whether he’s simply good at hiding it and turns a blind eye for Natsume’s sake or genuinely doesn’t have a clue, Nishimura goes out of his way to include Natsume and never make him feel like an outsider. He was also the first to welcome Natsume when he arrived as a transfer student. We haven’t seen much (any?) of Nishimura’s family life, so this little glimpse into his normal but tense family dynamic was a welcome one.
Kitamoto is the quieter, more thoughtful one. We have seen a bit of his family, but never so much from his perspective. Kitamoto has seen odd things happening around Natsume from the beginning, and while he doesn’t have any way to process what’s really happening he seems to grasp that it’s something real rather than Natsume’s imagination. Ever the nurturer, Kitamoto is forced to grow up too fast due to his father’s illness. In many ways Nishimura is a classic youngest child – uninhibited, hungry for attention – while Kitamoto is an oldest sibling to the core.
What this ep brings home really well is just how much having “normal” friends – friends who don’t judge him – is to Natsume. And how precious this life is to Natsume, who lets slip that he’d like to stay forever – not just in this “hick town”, but in this idyllic school life with a loving home to return to. But nothing is forever – Nishimura dreams of going off to college and seeing the bright lights. Kitamoto, for his part, is already starting to let go of his dreams out of concern for what his family would do without him. As for Natsume, he’ll eventually be facing choices of his own – perhaps a choice about whether he would give up his ability to see youkai if given the chance. But for now Nishimura and Kitamoto are an important part of his healing process that will never truly be over, and it’s nice to see them get their moment to shine.