「秋風切って」 (Akikaze Kitte)
“The Fading Autumn Wind”
This week represented an extremely mellow and low-key – even by Natsume Yuujinchou standards – followup to the emotional intensity of lasy week’s Kogitsune appearance. This one was pretty much all Natsume, start to finish – I can’t think of another episode where the spotlight was so unerringly shining on him.
The dynamic of the last few episodes has been quite unusual due to Nyanko-Madara’s incapacitation. His absence of his big stage presence leaves a gap that’s hard to fill, and the threat level to Natsume goes up exponentially when he’s not at full strength. It’s no accident that Hinoe showed up when she did last week – being a natural target with great power who still doesn’t really know how to use it, she knows full well he’s at risk until Nyanko-sensei recovers.
That’s really been a strong theme of the last two eps, especially this one – the support system that’s grown up around Natsume, both youkai and human. The focus this time is on his human friends, who played a larger role in this story than any before. Kitamoto (Suganuma Hisayoshi) and Nishimura (Kimura Ryohei) have mostly been comic relief, but we got a good sense of this week just how much they care for Natsume in that particular way that boys often do in shoujo. Seriously, they’re good kids and they clearly see Natsume as a bit nuts (always traveling with the pig-cat, for starters) – but also a nice guy who always seems to land himself in weird trouble. I think they’ve taken it upon themselves to help Natsume be “normal” and fit in, though it’s clear they’re not exactly at the top of the social ladder themselves.
The setting of the culture festival is always a gold mine for mining the old chestnut themes of adolescent life in anime – crushes, team spirit, treasuring the halcyon days of youth in a wholesome yet spirited manner – and with this week’s “threat” not really being much of a threat the focus is squarely on those themes. There is a problem youkai – a little rock with a face. Apparently having hitched a ride with Natsume after the latter fell into the river and being free of thousands of years on a streambed, the spirit inside it is anxious to learn about the world of living things like humans. It senses that Natsume is powerful and he has a secret, though Natsume isn’t quite sure what that is.
The moral of all this is that while Natsume thought he was protecting everyone from the youkai, they were all protecting him from himself (as they saw it, anyway). Sasada, Toki, Tanuma – they’ve all taken the awkward Natsume under their wing without him realizing it. Heck, he’s even become a hit with the ladies, as witness the adoring reception he got while working at the bazaar his class set up for the festival. In the end Nyanko-sensei did rouse himself from his sickbed in time to save Natsume from the relatively harmless rock spirit – though his real intent was to not deny himself the pleasures of squid – but it was the gestures of the humans that really meant the most. Kitamoto and Nishimura came to his house just to offer to get Natsume out of working at the shop, as he seemed worried about it Then, they ended up teaching him how to ride a bike – a skill he never learned because there’d never been anyone to run along behind him, pushing. As only this series can be, that’s sad and uplifting at the same time.
There’s no question that this episode was at the outer limits of what makes Natsume Yuujinchou work – it was overtly sentimental, and extremely narrow-focused in terms of plot. I think if you can see the significance of the bicycle scene and not be bored by it or find it maudlin, you get this series. If not, well, I’ll concede this sort of thing isn’t for everybody. This was an episode for the hard-core fans, but I think it’s nice to see Natsume’s progress in building a normal life take the spotlight. In truth his life will never be truly normal because of the secret he harbors, that the rock spirit saw – but if, someday, he can bring himself to tell the Fujiwaras and the rest of his friends at least it won’t be so much a secret anymore. He’s not strong enough to do that yet, but Natsume took a big step this week.