「映すもの」 (Utsusu mono)
Natsume Yuujinchou has been consistent in its third season. With few exceptions the episodes have focused on Natsume and his relations with the human world, and the conclusion of this two-parter is no exception. It was probably a necessary evolution for the series, though in general I think it’s produced a season somewhat less compelling than the first two. In simple terms, I find Natsume interacting with humans and dealing with human problems less interesting that Natsume interacting with youkai.
This week was a step-up from last week I thought, and although the demon searching for the mirror wasn’t one of the more arresting guest characters, she added an interesting element in possessing Tanuma. We saw the beginnings of that angle last week and the second part really explored this in depth. Natsume was more concerned with Tanuma than himself, of course, even trying to get her to possess him instead – but given the soft-hearted boy he is that’s no surprise. It’s when the youkai gave Tanuma the use of her eyes that things really got complicated.
One of the core elements of Natsume Yuujinchou has always been that Natsume is fundamentally alone. Though he has Nyanko-sensei and his encounters with youkai, not to mention the occasional visits by Natori, among his friends and family he (like Reiko) has always borne the burden of his gift alone. Empathy is at the heart of what makes Natsume do the things he does, and it was empathy that caused Tanuma to ask the youkai possessing him to allow him to see what Natsume sees. For the first time one of Natsume’s friends could truly understand his world, and that’s a pretty important moment for the series. In her own gentle way that youkai was trying to push Natsume to allow others to share his burden more, and their “private” conversations while she was in control of Tanuma’s body were the most interesting part of the episode for me. This whole season seems to be building towards the crucial moment when Natsume tells his foster parents the Fujiwaras – the most interesting of Natsume’s human companions – about his gift, but whether that long-awaited event occurs in the last two episodes remains to be seen.
The story of the youkai herself, while well-crafted, never achieved the heartbreaking pathos of some of the better youkai tragedies that this show has offered. There just wasn’t enough done to flesh out her character and her relationship with her sick friend last week. As a result, while I sympathized with her desire to help him, it never totally grabbed me on an emotional level. As for the hammer youkai, there was pretty much nothing to elevate him above the level of a plot device. It was interesting to see Nyanko-sensei take charge of the situation and flex his ayakashi chops, gathering almost all the mirror fragments in less than a day using an army of lesser youkai to do the searching. when he spends all his time demanding chestnuts and squid, it’s easy to forget what a powerful and feared being he is.
Next week – only two eps to go – Natsume gets an anime cold and it looks like we have an episode full of youkai and focusing on loneliness. That sounds pretty damn promising to me.