「子狐のとけい」 (Kogitsune no Tokei)
“The Little Fox’s Watch”
Given that I’ve been counting the days until another episode of Natsume Yuujinchou with Kogitsune for the better part of three years, it was always going to be hard for it to live up to expectations. Amazingly, it did – this episode was everything I love about this series.
While the amount of time Natsume and the little fox spend together is quite brief – I worried for an agonizing moment that they might never meet face to face at all – that only serves to heighten the emotion of their reunion. As well, the episode weaves in several other elements which both contribute to the Kogitsune story and work splendidly on their own. It’s always welcome to see a chapter where Natsume spends time with Shigeru, a rare thing indeed for the series. His role in the Fujiwara family if often to be the silent and supportive figure, as his wife makes the more overt emotional connections to Natsume. But Shigeru cares deeply about his adopted son and always strives to show it without pushing Natsume too hard. He’s an extraordinarily kind man, it always seemed to me, who doesn’t call attention to himself.
The other terrific elements this week surround Kogitsune (Yajima Akiko) himself. I love the fact that both he and Natsume have grown in the last year, and this episode gently reminds us of that. He’s still being bullied by the two baka youkai who were tormenting him before, but the little fox is fighting back now – using his claws and throwing rocks – and as with most bullies, these aren’t interested in a prey that fights back. He’s found a watch, lost by some human on a nature walk – cracked, but still working. It’s a kinetic watch, which winds itself through the movement of the owner. Fox-boy also befriends the Kami (84 year-old legend Katou Seizo) who inhabits the boulder he climbs upon every day, watching the trains in the hope that Natsume might be coming to visit. The old God plays a counterpoint to Kogitsune’s breathless impatience and emotional intensity, calmly advising the boy that – as witness the watch he now wears –a human’s time is different than a youkai’s time, just as his own millions of years of patient observation are their own unique perspective.
The actual driver for the events of the episode is a pottery class being led by Yasui (Atari Kousuke, very authentic in a minor role), which Shigeru wants to attend. Yasui is the potter who created the teacup Natsume picked up for Shigeru during the first season, when he initially met Kogitsune. This brings in another wonderful new element, seeing Madara/Nyanko-sensei in a vulnerable state due to the injuries he suffered in last week’s episode. Nyanko-sensei has always been the strong one and it’s interesting to see him unable to even lick his wounds. Natsume seems to take to the protector/parent role, worrying constantly about his white pig-cat, and armed with some advice from old pal Hinoe (Okamura Akemi – damn, this ep is a real seiyuu-fest) about a medicinal herb for youkai, Natsume packs Nyanko-sensei gently into his duffel and he and Shigeru board the train for the mountains.
Maybe this episode is something of a litmus test for whether Natsume Yuujinchou is a good fit for you. This is the most unabashedly sentimental face this series has to offer, but but I think it’s the one that fits it best. This is why I love this series better in its heartwarming, episodic form than in the plot-driven style we saw in the last two weeks. Others may very legitimately feel differently, but that’s me – episodes like “The Little Fox’s Hat” and “The Little Fox’s Watch” never fail to move me. It’s not science and subtlety – Kogitsune is preposterously cute and loveable, and prone to tears where Natsume is concerned. Nastume’s worry over Nyanko-sensei, his relationship with Shigeru, the noble sacrifice of the old Kami, the art Natsume paints on his pottery – it’s pure, unadulterated emotion.
But I think Natsume Yuujinchou is best when it revels in its essential nature – it’s not a story that’s guarded or detached, that makes you work hard to figure out what to feel. It just makes you feel – very deeply and profoundly, in my case. For the millionth time I’ve said it, creating something that’s simple and profound at the same time is extremely difficult and truly remarkable, and this story does that. I can’t look at that brave little fox, so lonely and so pure and unvarnished in his love for Natsume, and not be affected. Maybe you can – I won’t think any less of you, if so. But filler or original, episodic that it might be, I’d take season after season of stories like this from this series and be ecstatic to have them. No other show can do this kind of story this well, period.