While napping in class, Natsume recalls a nightmare about his young classmates calling him a liar and bullying him because they couldn’t see the frightening youkai Natsume could see. After waking, he returns to a world of pleasant school friends and family who don’t know a thing about the fact that he can see youkai, and he’s grateful for it. When his two friends ask him if he’s alright or if he’s not sleeping well, Natsume just tells them everything’s fine and he’s living everyday in happiness… and ironically they joke that his answer reeks of a lie.
On the way home he finds Nyanko-sensei teasing a dog, and laughs as the fat cat slips gracelessly off the icy rooftop into a pile of snow. The two of them take a walk through the snow to a part of the countryside Natsume has never seen, and find a solitary guardian statue standing where there used to be two. Natsume takes a rest to create a snow bunny after a snowball fight with Nyanko-sensei, and as he sits beneath the stone guardian, a spirit emerges and tries to possess him. Fortunately for Natsume, it boldly misses and lands directly into the snow bunny instead. Even though the spirit is surprised by his mistake, he’s happy with the result because at least he’s able to move freely.
Natsume takes the spirit home in the form of the snow bunny to listen to his favor. His name is Gen, and he’s looking for the spirit of his lost friend, Sui. Natsume empathizes with Gen’s lonely feelings, and wakes up the next day after Gen’s tearful dreams of Sui flowed into Natsume during their sleep. Natsume calms Gen and says some very kind words before heading off to eat breakfast and go to school. That day he asks around school and finds information on the possible whereabouts of Sui. When he arrives home and finds a pale young man sweeping leaves in the front yard of his home, Natsume realizes in surprise that it’s Gen only after he notices the (quite obvious) bunny ears sticking out of his head. Gen comments on how well Nyanko and Natsume get along, embarrassing them but proving his point. Their friendliness reminds him of Sui and he becomes gloomy, but agrees immediately when Natsume offers to take him to the place where Sui might be.
On the way, Gen tells Natsume the story of how village-people used to visit them and pray for protection. When they arrive at the location, they become alarmed at the sight of many bloody, half-destroyed fish laying scattered upon the leaves of a dead forest, and find a house nearby with a horrible aura. When they rush inside, a poisonous stench fills the air, and Sui bursts out of a wall to attack Natsume. Gen stops her, but when he tries to calm her down and convince her to return with him she escapes and releases a large burst of power that reduces Gen back to his helpless snow bunny form.
Back in Natsume’s room, Gen finishes the story of how angry villagers destroyed her stone completely after their crops failed one year, splitting the two friends apart and causing Sui to turn evil. Gen cries over his inability to protect Sui, or even the forest he was meant to protect. The next day Natsume returns to find Gen missing from his icy plate in Natsume’s room, but it turns out his ‘Aunt’ just put Gen in the freezer to keep him cold. She made another snow bunny to sit next to him since he looked lonely sitting there alone on the plate.
The next day in the pouring rain, Natsume and Nyanko scour the town and ask all the friendly youkai if they’ve seen any signs of Sui, but with no luck. That night, Natsume wakes up to find Gen choking him, surrounded in a glowing blue aura. His severe loneliness and sorrow is causing him to turn evil – as Nyanko-sensei explains after walking in too late because he was out all night drinking. Gen has heard of Natsume’s Yuujin-chou, and begs him to take his name so that maybe he can be rid of this unbearable solitude. Natsume comforts Gen and tells him firmly that he’s not useless, and that he’s already promised to help him find his dearest friend, Sui. Gen is certainly not alone, because even Natsume likes him – and surely Sui still does too.
The next morning, two of Natsume’s most annoying youkai friends prove themselves useful by reporting that they found Sui – and demand cookies as payment. Natsume, Nyanko, and Gen rush to the forest to find her saturated in anger, and she blasts Gen away with a powerful aura. Before she can escape, Natsume grabs her tightly despite Nyanko’s warning, and her happy memories of Gen flow into him. Nyanko commands that Natsume release her, because if he doesn’t Natsume will soon lose his life to her evil force. Despite this, Natsume refuses to let her go, so Nyanko finally charges in to remove him by force at the same moment Gen rushes in to hold Sui instead. Pinning her to the ground, Gen confesses he too was cold and lonely without her, and begs her to return with him so they can be together again. Her evil aura fades as Sui returns to her senses, and hugs Gen when she realizes who he is. Gen thanks Natsume kindly before he reunites with Sui and disappears.
Natsume walks with Nyanko and reflects on how he wants to protect what’s precious to him. He comments that even youkai must love flowers, because they are a harbinger of spring.
I like the beginning of the episode where they contrast Natsume’s nightmare of his past with his current situation. The children at his elementary school bullied him for lying about the youkai when he was desperately trying to tell the truth, and his current friends teased him for lying about being totally happy and living a peaceful life. While the bulk of this episode focused on Gen and Sui, I think the most significant points were made in the beginning. Despite Natsume’s happiness (and I do think the happiness is not a lie – It seems he is genuinely happy with his friends, family, and enjoys his interactions with most youkai), he still has nightmares about his past and being estranged from everyone because of his unique ability, and this will undoubtedly come back to haunt him. It may very well be the theme for the entire season. I’ll talk about this more following Episode 3, because I think it will eventually have some bearing on his relationship with Natori.
I suppose the theme for Gen’s story is ‘overwhelming loneliness,’ contrasting Natsume’s current situation with his past, as well as Gen’s reunion with Sui. I have a feeling this emotional episode was just a setup for things to come, but I was really pleased that for once instead of constantly returning names they chose to feature an episode where a youkai actually asked to be added to the Yuujin-chou instead. They also did a good job pointing out how well Nyanko and Natsume get along. Their constant bickering does a shallow job of masking their mutual friendly affection, and the cute snowball fight didn’t help their cause either.
The only odd moment for me was Gen’s emotional outburst, followed by an even bigger emotional outburst from Natsume. If you’re not in the right mood, that scene kinda takes you aback. But it’s forgivable because it’s so innocent and heartfelt. I think that was just a case of an imbalance between the viewer’s emotional connection to the characters and Natsume’s… It’s important to realize exactly how much he was empathizing with Gen’s loneliness. Viewed through those lenses, that scene was easier to digest.
I like the peaceful winter feeling that this series expresses during this chilly season, so I hope they’re not planning on switching to spring too early because it’s still ridiculously cold here. I’m looking forward to tonight’s episode with Natori, since he’s quickly becoming my favorite side character. (I’ve also had no luck guessing which body part the ‘tattoo’ is hanging out on in the preview…) Guess I’ll have to wait. Apologies once again for the late release. I had to watch this episode many times before being able to put my thoughts into words. I’m glad I did. Until I can consistently post Natsume and Minami-ke quickly each week, I’d like to stick to these two series (and hopefully finish up on any remaining threads from last season I have floating around).
Also, remember what I said about the OP being so-so? I take that back. It’s really addicting, and I have been trying to get my hands on more material from ‘Long Shot Party’ but it’s been pretty difficult due to their “indie” status (except through youtube of course). By a happy coincidence, a friend of mine is a big fan of theirs and lent me her CD. It would appear they are much more heavily into ska than the Natsume OP led me to believe, but it’s still interesting. I’m looking forward to the release of the OP’s single later this month.