I suppose all that is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of this episode itself. The season finales that have really been emotional haymakers (I pretty much shorted out a keyboard with “Shi”) were the ones that did feel like finales – and maybe because of that, planted the seed of doubt that there would be more to follow. This wasn’t one of those – it was really more like a “regular” episode, though the exorcist-themed finale is the other common way for Natsume Yuujinchou to end a season.
This was a solid story in itself, but the tale of Hakozaki-sensei serves mainly as a way to nudge the series’ main storylines forward. I wasn’t too surprised by anything that happened as this episode was resolved, because the broad template was one we’ve seen play out many times with this series. Natsume saw the best in Hakozaki-san, Natori was an agnostic, and many of the others just assumed he was a reclusive mad scientist. If you’ve been watching Natsume Yuujinchou this long you probably figured out that “Natsumeg” was mostly right (he’s rarely wrong in these situations).
Hakozaki-san’s story was something of a tragedy, since he was clearly lonely and certainly wished to have a relationship with his granddaughter (the maple tree indeed proved to be a crucial clue). But he was also a man who enjoyed the company of youkai, as his dragon familiar (it was Natsume who figured that out, too) told us. In fact, the tales of the master’s summoning youkai for games (rigged) and parties reminded me very much of Reiko. The thought might have crossed one’s mind for a moment that Hakozaki-san could have been Natsume’s grandfather, in fact, but further developments seem to more or less rule that out.
Did I prick up my ears when the familiar mentioned someone he met long ago who looked just like Natsume – a man? Oh, you betcha – that’s a tidbit of information that we’ve literally been waiting six seasons to hear. The man who seemingly coaxed Reiko into loving another human being is one of the paramount mystery figures of Natsume Yuujinchou. But we’ll have to wait for another time (another season) to find out more, because Matoba Nanase brings the study hunt to a halt by trying to force her way through the second familiar, who follows his master’s wishes and burns the study rather than let it fall into unworthy hands. Natsume does get worthy hands on a few surviving scraps, which he promptly surrenders to Natori – the photograph of Hakozaki-sensei and his family he gives to the granddaughter (who shows no indication that she feels anything as a result).
As for the Book of Friends, Natsume is true to his word and tells Natori-san all about it (mostly) once the crowd has thinned. Here the fundamental difference between these two is revealed – Natori not unkindly suggests that the Yuujinchou must have been a terrible “burden” for Natsume. But Natsume has come to realize that the Book of Friends – and all that has come with it, most especially Nyanko-sensei – aren’t a burden at all, but a gift. I’m 100% with Nyanko-sensei about this – Natsume would do well not to trust the “shady smile” on Natori’s face when he promises to leave the matter to Natsume to decide. Natori cares for Natsume, of that I have no doubt – but he’s an exorcist, and in the context of Natsume Yuujinchou, that makes him a threat. The fact that he’s the kindest face of the lot makes him more dangerous to Natsume, if anything…
So there you go – that leaves us with two very significant threads to follow in a seventh season, assuming it happens. In terms of actually moving the story forward, that places “Roku” in the upper echelon of Natsume Yuujinchou series so far. What about more broadly? I think it was yet another rock-solid season, squarely in the mainstream of Natsume Yuujinchou both in terms of quality and theme. I very much enjoyed the fact that this season focused mostly on stories that highlighted the bittersweet and ephemeral crossovers between the human world and the youkai, with a relatively minimal focus on conflict-driven traditional plots (which generally center on the human side). “Roku” wasn’t a season that often took Natsume Yuujinchou out of its comfort zone – and more so than with almost any other anime, I consider that a good thing.
I’ve said it before, but Natsume Yuujinchou is very much a franchise that’s close to the heart of who I am as an anime fan. It’s seen me through many changes in my broader life and my anime one, and always provided a safe haven for me to return to and take solace in when I’m troubled. It doesn’t surprise me at all that this series is as consistent as it is in terms of popularity, because it always stays true to itself and it always delivers, and it seems to have the ability to transport you back to a different time in your own life every time you watch it. Whenever Natsume Yuujinchou calls me, I’ll be there. I hope we have the chance to journey together all the way to the series’ conclusion – but I hope that isn’t for a long time yet.