Seems we’ve been here before, gentle readers.
I won’t say it’s standard operating procedure to end a season of Natsume Yuujinchou with this sort of story, though I predicted it weeks ago as the potential slots for a Kogitsune episode were crossed off the calendar, one by one. There have been exceptions (“Shi” especially stands out) but generally speaking, this is how a Natsume season ends – with a plot-driven exorcist story, usually a two-parter. It’s not my favorite side of this series, but at least it has the virtue of being familiar by now.
My hope at this stage is that this particular two-part season capper will move the story forward meaningfully, given that we must surely be creeping into the stage where the end of the series itself is at least on the distant horizon. More specifically, one that advances the story around Reiko, as that seems the most likely – and indeed, it has been hinted at a few times this season. Based on the content in this first part, that at least seems possible (though I’m not counting my chickens).
If it’s a finale, you know Nitori is going to be involved, and probably the Matoba clan too. The premise that gets them there is that an old researcher named Hakozaki has died, leaving behind a purported treasure trove of exorcist-related spells and tomes. Nitori’s friend Aimiya is keen to get his hands on it, and goes to recruit Natori – who coincidentally is welcoming Natsume, who’s brought a tub of jam from Touko (who was concerned when Natsume told her he was living in an empty condo, with an empty fridge). Hakozaki’s concerned daughter has invited a passel of famous exorcists to try to find the secret study in which the materials are supposedly kept, anxious to be rid of them so that they can sell the house and wash their hands of his existence.
Again, to the extent that this shows promise to deliver something really impactful next week, I think it’s likeliest to involve Reiko. It’s interesting to hear Hakozaki-san’s granddaughter talking about how he was “the only one having fun” because he could see youkai – clearly envious that she can’t. This has been a theme this season – Natsume coming to appreciate that he may just be very lucky to have this ability. But the other side of the story is that Hakozaki-san, just as Reiko was and Natsume too until recently, was isolated from people because of that ability. He seemed happy enough with a huge mansion to putter around in and lots of youkai to talk to, and both Nyanko-sensei and Hiiragi describe the house as pleasant and relaxing – as if the old man had been inviting spirits in rather than keeping them out. That’s a lovely thought, but it’s still a large price for a human to pay.
The other imperative here, of course, is Natori and the Yuujinchou. He’s snooping around trying to find out more about it, and when he overhears Natsume talking about it to a youkai who’s attacked him the secret is officially out. There’s only one question that really matters on this front, I think – is Natori telling the truth when he tells Natsume he’ll “keep it to himself”? In other words, is he going to to choose being Natsume’s friend over being an exorcist? I’m not fully convinced of that myself – I still don’t feel that Natori can be trusted, given his position. But Natsume is obviously so desperate to do so that it seems inevitable that we’re going to find out one way or the other next week…