Walking home from school one day, Natsume stops in amusement to watch a group of very tiny youkai carrying a mikoshi struggle to think of a way to pass over a small puddle of water on the ground. Smiling (because they could have just walked around), Natsume helps out by laying a piece of wood over the puddle and enables the group to continue happily on their way. He wonders what kind of youkai is riding in the curtained mikoshi but screams in shock when the wind blows and reveals a frightening skull-like face.
When Natsume arrives home he finds a chain of paper dolls stuck in the front door. They begin to move of their own volition, wrapping around him tightly and dragging him away through a rocky forest path. He lands at the feet of his famous acquaintance, Natori Shuichi. While nearby fangirls stare in glee, Natori invites Natsume to talk at a coffee shop. Natsume reluctantly agrees to go on an overnight onsen trip with Natori after some light persuasion. Nyanko-sensei needs no convincing after he learns ‘pets’ are allowed.
The next day they travel by bus and a little light walking to arrive at the mountainside ryokan. While Natori excuses himself and pretends to make a phone call, Natsume and Nyanko immediately crash upon the tatami of the spacious hotel room. Natsume hears a small rattling sound in the closet, but before he can check it out Natori arrives and suggests they take a dip while the onsen is empty. After bickering with Nyanko and thinking about Natori’s less than positive outlook on youkai, Natsume enjoys a relaxing moment in the hot water before being shocked (and embarrassed) to death by Hiiragi’s sudden appearance above his head.
After Natori halfheartedly scolds Hiiragi while they all dry off, Natsume thoughtfully dries her hair and apologizes for splashing her with water out of surprise while Natori looks on with a sober expression. When they return to the hotel room and talk lightheartedly, Natsume sees a shocking vision of someone hanging from the neck down in a passing room, but the youkai disappears before anyone else could see. Natsume writes it off as a trick to the imagination, but Natori puts on his glasses and sends Natsume to the hotel room while he and Hiiragi look around.
In the room, Nyanko checks up on the Yuujin-chou, which reminds Natsume that he hasn’t talked to Natori about it yet. Nyanko advises him not to since it could lead to trouble later on. Natsume becomes distracted again by a noise in the closet, and opens it up to find a jar with a sealed lid on top. Nyanko remarks darkly that it looks like it is about the right size for a head to fit inside, and is sitting approximately right above the location downstairs where Natsume saw the hanging body. When Natori comes into the room to invite everyone to dinner, Natsume confesses there’s something that’s bothering him despite not having much proof, but Natori pats him on the head and tells him to put all things youkai out of his mind for the rest of this relaxing trip.
Before Natsume falls into a deep sleep, Natori confirms that Natsume is living peacefully with his father’s acquaintances. If Natsume ever gets tired of lying, he’s free to come to Natori anytime he wants – if it’s between them, perhaps they can live openly and never have to lie to each other. Sparked by those words, Natsume begins to dream about all the schoolmates and relatives who said he was lying throughout the years, culminating nightmarishly with both Natori and his ‘Aunt’ calling him a liar. At that moment, Natsume wakes up to see Natori and Nyanko sitting above him in concern. He realizes he was crying in his sleep, and wipes his tears in embarrassment.
Laying in the dark once again, Natsume wakes Nyanko and Natori up in alarm when he hears the lid fall off the jar in the closet. Natori smiles and remarks that it was ‘here all along,’ but seems to have escaped. While Natsume and Nyanko run downstairs to check it out, Nyanko warns about possible accomplices. The body hanging from the ceiling above falls to the floor just as Natsume enters the room below. Blood appears to be staining the back of her kimono. When Nyanko says Natsume’s name, the youkai leaps onto Natsume and begs for him to return her name. She promises to leave this area and hide away in the mountains if he gives her name back, and swears not to cause any trouble for the ryokan.
Natori walks in to witness part of Natsume returning the youkai’s name from the Yuujin-chou. The youkai smiles evilly and remarks that now she has nothing to fear – and that Natsume is much kinder than his grandmother. Natsume realizes his naïveté a moment too late, but Natori saves him from the youkai’s attack with a modified baseball bat, and Nyanko emits a bright light that allows them time to escape together. Natori leads a regret-filled Natsume to a room he secretly prepared to exorcise the evil youkai, and apologizes for not telling him about the real reason he came here. Natsume happily accepts, and admits there are still things he hasn’t had a chance to talk to Natori about, too. They send Hiiragi and Nyanko out of the room, and prepare to launch an attack on the hungry youkai as she enters the room planning to eat them.
The moment she touches the door, Natori’s paper dolls wrap around the youkai tightly, but she morphs her body to escape. Shocked at his failure, Natori leaps in front of Natsume to protect him, but moments before she can devour them both, a large hand erupts out of a mid-air burst of flame and grabs her by the head. A huge and powerful ayakashi appears, and pledges to destroy her as repayment for Natsume’s kindness a few days ago, and Natsume realizes he was the skull inside the mikoshi that he assisted before meeting Natori. As the giant ayakashi disappears into flames with the youkai in tow, Natori and Natsume are left speechless while paper settles around the room in the aftermath.
The next morning while Natori checks out of the hotel, Natsume thinks about the consequences of his actions, both good and bad. Hiiragi tells him the real reason Natori came was just to confirm that the youkai was properly sealed, and he only brought Natsume along so they could talk as friends. Natsume tells her there are lots of things he wants to talk about with Natori, too, and thinks to himself that he’s a little scared to do it. But in his heart, he looks forward to it, and wonders where he should begin.
Hotsprings episode: Natsume Yuujin-Chou Style (basically that means no girls, harems, or towel incidents… Although I guess we did have that awkward moment with Hiiragi, since she looks about the same age as Natsume.)
This episode once again hits on the recurring point of Natsume’s increasing nightmares about his past. What I find interesting about this is that it seems the source of negativity is not the youkai, but the people around him who called him a liar throughout his childhood. Whatever ill feelings he may have toward youkai, his true source of anxiety is his current friends and family who might come to hate him or call him a liar if they found out the truth of his ability. This situation contrasts directly with Natori, since he seems to blame the youkai for his difficult childhood, and still harbors a lot of negativity.
The majority of Natsume-episodes are filled with positive youkai experiences, so it’s no surprise that Natsume was a bit too naïve this week when the youkai only pretended to be nice long enough to have her name returned. Reiko should have written a few warning post-its for Natsume’s future reference. Unfortunately this just reinforced Natori’s negative opinion about youkai, or at least supported it. Ironically the thing that saved them in the end was not Natori’s skills as an exorcist (and badass paper-doll maker), but Natsume’s kindness towards youkai. The frightening skull in the mikoshi turned out to be an incredibly powerful youkai, who prevented any harm from coming to Natsume in return for his act of kindness just a few days before. This proves that Natsume’s way of thinking might sometimes be naïve, but acting compassionately towards youkai has the same potential result as acting kindly towards humans. That is to say, what goes around comes around, and Natori’s way of thinking might be jumping to conclusions a little too soon.
Thoughts on Life, the Universe, and One or Two Other Things
Alright, my confession is that I really like Natori as a character, despite his less than positive outlook towards youkai. He’s got that constant façade of a happy, suave guy that he uses in his acting career, but hidden barely underneath is a whole lot of mystery. He’s supposedly only 23 years old, but it seems like he’s been through a lot of rough experiences with youkai that hardened his heart somewhat, especially compared to Natsume. I recently realized a potential plot line concerning Natori which would be interesting if proven true… what if his ‘tattoo’ is the reason he can see youkai in the first place? He tried so hard to get rid of it as a child, which is why he came to be such an expert in his.. ‘night job.’ It would leave a large emotional impact if the tattoo finally left him and he were unable to continue this lifestyle anymore. Well, as nothing like that has even been written yet, there’s nothing to worry about. Those are just some stray thoughts of mine. Constant vigilance!
Oh. And something else I’ve been wondering/meaning to comment about: The writer is doing a good job making Nyanko’s motives and history as mysterious as possible, too. I have no idea why he’d be so interested in the Yuujin-chou and yet have no desire to control the youkai within it. At least, I don’t think he does – why else would he tolerate Natsume returning practically every single name as time goes on? Additionally, if he was in fact locked away into the cat form in the same way as the powerful god from episode 1 this season, how much more powerful is he? Despite his great status, Rio couldn’t even speak in the cat form, but Nyanko is able to speak, transform, and get wasted on sake at the same time. If he did in fact ‘battle’ Reiko, he didn’t lose – which means he was free to devour her. And yet, he didn’t. Just like he’s protecting Natsume. Food for thought.