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Natsume Yuujin-chou San – 04

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「幼き日々に」 (Osanaki Hibi ni)
“During Childhood”

I’ve said it before, but one of the hardest things in any writing is to be simple and profound at the same time. One of the little miracles of Natsume Yuujinchou is that it manages to do that almost every week.

The template for this show is amazingly uncomplicated. The chapters almost always follow the same basic structure, a small story set at the intersection of of our world and the one hidden from us. In the process of the telling they illuminate the lives of the main character and the beings he meets while, at the same, time, they shed a little light on the human (and youkai) condition. But despite reusing the same basic formula in nearly every story, the impact seems to grow over time, not dull, and the stories almost always spark an emotional reaction in a way few series can.

What I loved about this week’s episode was the way it focused so heavily on the unnamed tree youkai (Oura Fuyuka, in a brilliant performance), really giving an idea as to the angst that goes along with being a nearly eternal being surrounded mostly by short-lived humans. Boredom is a common theme amongst youkai both generally and in this series specifically – while ageless and often wise beings, in a way they’re like children (or cats) in that so much of the trouble they get into comes from having nothing to do. I also loved the way the seemingly off-hand conversation between Natsume and Mrs. Fujiawara was artfully tied in to the story of Natsume and the youkai, just when you’d forgotten about it.

This third season of Natsume Yuujinchou seems to have taken the approach of illuminating the changes in Natsume’s life in the present by looking back into the past. This was the longest flashback to his childhood yet, though much of it was through the memory of Tree Youkai. By showing us how much he suffered in the past, director Omori-sensei is showing us just how far Natsume has come. It’s a real testament to just how uniquely kind he is that Natsume remembered his encounters with Tree Youkai not with anger, but with a sense of guilt over not having said his good-byes properly. Through the kindness he’s received from the Fujiwaras and others, he’s come to understand that Tree Youkai was being kind to him, in her awkward way, and when the memories came back to him he saw her as the young man he is now, not the lonely, frightened boy he was. Whether he knew the cat was her at the time, I don’t know (though there’s no question he did when she hugged him) but he certainly remembered the regrets Mrs. Fujiwara held in looking back at her own childhood in deciding to seek Tree Youkai out.

I could certainly see where some would consider this series too overtly sentimental, but that’s one of the reasons I love it (if you read my “Appreciation”, you’ll know that). It’s all about the nexus points where Natsume intersects with these youkai, meetings that are really never supposed to happen. They’re generally awkward and sometimes dangerous, but somehow in the end both parties really are trying to do the right thing by the other – they just don’t know how. There’s something especially poignant about that lonely youkai turning into a cat when she finally wants to touch someone in the human world, and how meaningful those small moments of contact are for both parties. I guess it’s Natsume’s gift that he’s not just able to see youkai, but able to see through their alien nature to their true selves – foreign, often angry, but usually good in the end.

A quick word really needs to be said about the music, and the way it contributes to the atmosphere in a series where atmosphere is everything. Each piece of BGM is a theme not of a character, but of a mood, and when it plays it transports you to that mood almost immediately. While most of them are familiar as old friends, I don’t seem to recall the guitar/piano piece that played in the beginning – I suspect it’s new, but it did a great job setting the tone of the start of a lazy summer. The ED always seems to kick in just a few beats before the end, a coda for the story and a bridge to the next one. And yes, a word about Nyanko-sensei too, who seems to be cuter than ever this season, if a bit less formidable. I know how you feel, Nyanko-sensei – I get that way when someone mentions ramen too…

 

Preview

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July 25, 2011 at 9:20 pm
30 comments »
  • July 25, 2011 at 9:32 pmcnsjunkie

    This was a wonderful, wonderful episode – so simple and profound as you aptly noted. Natsume Yuujin-chou is one of those gems that comes along once in a blue moon.

  • July 25, 2011 at 9:55 pmHarbin

    yay, i think taki comes back next week

  • July 25, 2011 at 10:00 pmgandalf8

    The theme of meeting your childhood friends in this episode really struck a chord with me. It reminded me of my own friends who’ve I’ve lost contact with through the years, and all the fun and pain we all went through together. Ahh, to be kid again with almost no worries except playing or going to school.

  • July 25, 2011 at 10:02 pmKarmafan

    Superb episode. Tells a great story consistantly each and every week with almost never a dud episode. The girl that plays the youkai also plays lots of male characters as well including Tomoya from Clannad, Hiro from Princess Resurection, Take from Goyou Saraiya, and Natori Suuichi from this series (the exorcist with the lizard mark on his face).

    Good anime series always have good actors and actresses as well.

    • July 25, 2011 at 10:09 pmGuardian Enzo

      She is great – though FTR, it’s the child versions of Shuichi and Tomoya, etc. that she’s playing!

  • July 26, 2011 at 12:10 amdrcnch

    Natsume is one of those shows that just does so much right for me. The atmosphere created by both the animation and the music is superb and really draws me into the world; on top of that, the underlying theme of overcoming that sense of alienation that we as human beings create for ourselves and those around us is presented in a fashion that does not push it down your throat nor is forgotten for the sake of the fantastic elements.
    This episode in particular got me feeling nostalgic about my old best friend and how our friendship ended on less than favorable terms; I doubt either of us really remember what our falling out was over, but, at least for me, it left me regretting not trying to patch things up. But, that’s life. Maybe someday I’ll be able to talk with him again and clear up any misunderstandings.
    Natsume Yuujin-chou: Making me feel feelings every time I watch.

    • July 27, 2011 at 5:22 pmMrBrownSound

      There aren’t any anime’s that I can name that can resonate such complex feeling with such a simple plot. Natsume Yuujinchou really is something else.

  • July 26, 2011 at 12:21 amelianthos

    I really adored this episode, it really resonated with me… and I shed a tear along with the youkai in cat form. Excellent, excellent series, and your posts do it justice :).

  • July 26, 2011 at 1:51 amhmong007

    I too also love ramen. I want to eat some right now but I don’t have any :(

  • July 26, 2011 at 2:15 amBlue

    Wow. I admit that made me shed a good few tears. I think that struck a chord with lots of people and yet it feels very personal.

    Nyanko shouting Ramen, ramen, ramen, was unbelievably cute. I think I love him more than one should love an overweight pig-cat-youkai. :)

  • July 26, 2011 at 3:17 amShadiic

    Nyank-sensei has been domesticated. Though adorable when he perked up to hearing ramen. He’s really come a far distance from the beginning where he would go out to find his own food (steal it from other youkai). Now he stays at home and waits for his owner to feed him or give us the puppy dog treatment XD

  • July 26, 2011 at 6:29 amKarmafan

    One thing I don’t understand….

    Why do many youkai (like the girl in this episode and my favorite character Hiiragi) wear masks or cloths on their faces when clearly they may have a kind and pretty face?

    • July 26, 2011 at 7:14 amHrmmm

      Well you can’t use human standards of beauty with ayakashi, they experience things differently. More relevantly, it’s probably got something to do with what kind of ayakashi they are since they ‘technically’ aren’t meant to look completely human.

      IMO it’s better to leave those masks since you love the characters for their personality and less so for their design.

    • July 26, 2011 at 9:03 amGuardian Enzo

      Actually, the mangaka Midorikawa Yuki has said that she just liked drawing the masks with nonsense kanji because she thought they looked cool, and they don’t have any special meaning.

      • July 26, 2011 at 12:04 pmKarmafan

        Quite a few of them (like the 2 I mentioned in OP) wear masks with an eye drawn on them. There must be some meaning to that I would think?

  • July 26, 2011 at 7:26 amZaku Fan

    Never saw seasons 1 and 2 but this anime is very well done story wise. Nothing supremely strong emotionally but the feeling is there is a soft manner, the difference between a slap and a caress i would say. It sounds wierd but it reminds me of K-ON but with a backdrop of gentle sadness/regret rather than K-On’s happy positivity.

    The part where the tree spirit scaring kid Natsume was amusing with her purposfully drawn big tongue

    • July 27, 2011 at 5:18 pmMrBrownSound

      I’d recommend you to go see the past seasons first. You won’t regret it. There were some really memorable episodes in the first 2 seasons. GO WATCH THEM!

  • July 26, 2011 at 8:31 amPhosphatide

    Yet another episode where I could just start weeping at the end.

    This series is just amazing.

  • July 26, 2011 at 9:15 amreminbee

    I demand more tree Yokai–! She can’t just never appear again after this! I was really hoping she’d go home with Natsume, or something.

    • July 26, 2011 at 12:05 pmKarmafan

      In one of the earlier seasons thats what Hiiragi did with the Exorcist. Now she is his protector/assistant.

      • July 26, 2011 at 1:01 pmGuardian Enzo

        There’s no show better at memorable supporting characters. Remember the little fox from S1? Kai? That little tiny Kami down to one last old lady worshiper? Just add Tree Youkai to the list!

      • July 29, 2011 at 5:30 pmmomogoldfish

        And don’t forget Tama-chan! That was so sweet yet sad…*Oh I have sand in my eyes again…*

    • July 27, 2011 at 5:16 pmMrBrownSound

      lol yeah sometimes the spirits are so likable, It almost makes me wish they would all become his followers. That moment when the little fox spirit gave her name to Natsume on a piece of leaf was crazy cute.

      • July 27, 2011 at 7:14 pmGuardian Enzo

        His name!

  • July 27, 2011 at 5:13 pmMrBrownSound

    It’s just like Natsume Yuujinchou to almost make me cry every other episode. This anime + manga is very artistic. I just wish there was some kind overlaying plot that was progressing towards something big, but with a great series like this I’m ok with it having an unmoving plot.

  • July 28, 2011 at 10:36 amluis

    Yet another episode where I could just start weeping at the end.

  • July 28, 2011 at 12:21 pmZetribe

    Anpther great episode. I would like to see the fox spirit again that was another great character.

    This series reminds me a lot of early xXx-Holic. Natsume and Watanuki are both able to see into the hearts of creatures from entirely different worlds.

  • July 28, 2011 at 10:23 pmAkari

    great episode ^0^ really touch my heart~

  • July 31, 2011 at 1:19 amAmethyst

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts about this series episode, I was so thrilled that I stumble upon this anime/manga and was truly delighted upon knowing a 3rd season was made.

    I’m looking forward to the episode of Matoba.

  • August 7, 2011 at 10:19 pmKelVarnsen

    This was such a beautiful episode of Natsume Yuujinchou, a great testament to what this show is all about. I was left speechless at the end of this episode, watching this is the equivalent to see a beautiful sunset on a cliff. This is my first post ever on this blog, just so I can comment on how great this is.