「浮春の郷」 (Ukiharu no Sato)
“Floating Spring Village”
Natsume may have leveled up to a real boss aloha shirt, but in every other respect Natsume Yuujinchou continues about its business as if it had never left the airwaves for a couple of years.
For all that, this has always been a show that shifts subtly as it progresses – holding strong to the themes that make it the visual poetry it is, but allowing the characters to grow and change in subtle but meaningful ways. What’s fascinating about that is that while the actual manga chapters are adapted out of sequence, the character development is progressing in much the same path as the manga. We see development in Nyanko-sensei’s attitude towards Natsume, certainly, but it’s in Natsume himself that we’ve seen the biggest changes.
What started in the premiere continues this week, as a larger part of the series is concerned with Natsume’s connections in the human world than before. It manifests in simple things like the casual familiarities in gestures and conversations with his school friends, and in more meaningful ways like the way this episode will end. But it’s ironic that as Natsume grows closer to his late Grandmother by meeting the youkai she interacted with, it appears he’s becoming more and more different from Reiko as a person.
Our lonely youkai this week was Kanawa, who became trapped in our world after following the music of a shrine dance that opened the door to his beautiful village Ukihara (Floating Spring), hidden from human eyes. His young sister followed him through the portal, and died here, leaving Kanawa alone and ill with a sickness that causes miasma to seep from his body. No, he’s not seeking jewel fragments – Kanawa only desires to find the way back home so he can die in peace there. Along the way his name was taken from him by Reiko, who extracted a promise to show her his village if he was ever able to find it.
As so often happens in Natsume Yuujinchou, misunderstanding causes Kanawa to be viewed as evil, not just by humans but by his fellow youkai as well. His best hope for getting home is to return to the shrine where he first entered our world, but that shrine is on the grounds of the temple where Natsume’s friend Tanuma (Horie Kazuma) lives with his Priest father. With the Priest away for a month, Kanawa is finally able to return and search – but he unwittingly sickens Tanuma with his miasma. And another youkai Sagume, exiled from Ukihara, seeks to use Kanawa’s blood to force her way back in. It’s in the happenstance meeting of Kanawa and Natsume that the situation can be brought to a peaceful resolution – because Natumse has visited the Temple out of concern for Tanuma.
This was yet another very strong story, right in the sweet spot for this series. Kanawa was a great character design, with his rusted body ringed with iron looking like something torn from the pages of a Tezuka manga. But the telling moment of the episode came as he offered Natsume the chance to go with him to his beautiful village, as Reiko had hinted she might. Who can say what Reiko might have done – whether she really hated humans as much as she pretended – but Natsume Takashi is not Natsume Reiko. His roots are here, with his friends and with the Fujiwaras, and here he stays.
I wonder – did Reiko manage to win all those youkai names via Janken? And how did she get so good at it? Perhaps we’ll find out next week, when another of the most loved manga arcs, “False Friend”, is brought to life by Omori-sensei and the magicians at Brains Base. In the meantime, I’m having a great time watching this back-to-back with Ikoku Meiro – two incredibly heartwarming and emotionally transparent series that complement each other perfectly.