Natsume and Friends
A look at Natsume Takashi and the people in his life
Natsume Yuujinchou is an anime that blew me away in the best ways possible. I went in expecting a nice, quaint show about youkai and instead found myself holding on for dear life on the most gentle emotional rollercoaster I’ve ever encountered. Along the way, I couldn’t help but be taken by Natsume Takashi, the heart and soul of the show. As the title and subtitle suggests, this post is meant to briefly explore Natsume as well as his relationships with many of the important figures in his life.
To start with, let’s take a look at our dear hero, Natsume. A young man born with the rare ability to see youkai, Natsume led a lonely life until he comes to the town where his grandmother, Reiko, used to live. It’s there that he finally manages to find people to love and be loved by, not just humans but also the ayakashi he used to despise. The thing about Natsume is that he’s strong. I’m not taking hulk-muscles or spiritual mojo here but the far simpler but very impressive mental resilience. Natsume’s been bullied and mocked and ostracized since he was a recently orphaned child with no one to turn no and no way to deal with the monsters that plagued him. He’s had a shitty life, being shifted from house to house filled with people that had little patience for his oddities. A healthy dose of misanthropy would be wholly justified here.
But that’s not the path Natsume chooses. In fact, even in the flashbacks, we see that Natsume was never too inclined to blame others for his miserable situations. He blamed himself and his possibly unique ability. He also, to an extent, held the youkai responsible but it’s clear that he placed the vast majority of the guilt on himself. This does do quite a number on his psyche but miraculously, it doesn’t turn him into bitter emo angst vessel or worse. That alone is impressive. But what’s truly remarkable is that despite everything, Natsume retains his kindness. He actively wants to be kind and even his initial distaste for the youkai pestering him is overtaken by compassion the moment of them appears to be sad or in trouble.
It’s so sweet it’s sickening and while characters like this usually get on my nerves, Natsume just makes it work in a way that will only be fully clear once you watch the show. He’s just the kind of guy that can pull of endless compassion while retaining a solid personality. For now, we’ll move on to the myriad of bonds Natsume develops in the course of his revitalized life with the Fujiwara couple.
Watching the tentative relationships Natsume forms with the new people in his life is an extremely rewarding part of this show. See, due to his past, Natsume is emphatically not good with people. He lies habitually out of sheer self-preservation and is not that willing to trust others, not when there’s a real chance that they might turn on him. As such, there’s a layer of sorrow to each of Natsume’s early interactions with her peers and found family. But that’s why, as time passes and new experiences are had and Natsume finally starts to open up, it’s worth all of the earlier heart-ache. Because it’s so good to see such a nice guy who’s been through so much receive the love and trust he deserves.
Natsume’s important bonds are all special and each of them is multi-faceted in a way that effortlessly feels real. First of all, there’s the Fujiwara couple – Touko and Shigeru. They’re a childless couple who takes in Natsume at a very dark point in his life and I swear to all that’s holy that they are two of the nicest people and parents I’ve seen. Ever. They don’t seem to be very complicated people. All the indicators in the anime seem to point to how they had a normal, peaceful marriage marred only by the lack of children they wanted. But it’s not merely that want that prompts them to adopting Natsume. As much they want a child, it’s clear that both Touko and Shigeru are moved by Natsume’s situation and wants to do the best for him. They then proceed to do exactly that, displaying a level of understanding towards him that’s nothing short of heartwarming. Natsume’s newfound comfort in life owes a lot to these two and their interactions as a family make for some of the sweetest moments in the anime. The Fujiwaras and Natsume are an excellent example of how family is not always about blood.
As precious as the aforementioned relationship is the one between Natsume and Madara/Nyanko-sensei, his youkai bodyguard and snarky companion. They bicker most of the time and rarely exchange a nice word but the love and protectiveness they hold for each other becomes blindingly obvious after a while. It can be said that Madara is the first to get a good peek into who Natsume is under the fake smiles and happy lies. It’s no wonder the fluffball got attached so fast. Natsume finds someone trustworthy and belligerently loyal in Madara, and it’s quite amusing to see them both try to pass of their closeness as something contractual even as they both know in their hearts that there’s a genuine bond there. Despite its prominence in the story, these two’s relationship is all show and no tell so it would require a thorough watching to fully appreciate.
There are others in Natsume’s life; friends, followers, mentors, reluctant enemies. There are certain similarities between his friendship with humans and that with youkai but there are also a slew of differences to be found. The former is initially a delicate thing, hindered by Natsume’s secret and tendency to keep his distance. Even as they inevitably grow closer after sustained effort on both their parts, not all of them become privy to the youkai issue. Thus we get to see two sides of Natsume’s connections to his peers. There’s the ‘normal’ friendship he has with Sasada, Kitamoto and Nishimura and then there’s the slightly more open ones he has with Taki and Tanuma, both of whom are aware of youkai and have even experienced the danger that sometimes comes with them. None of them are fully aware of the complications in Natsume’s life, but despite the layers of secrets, each of these friendships is undoubtedly important in their own right.
There’s also Natori and Matoba, both spiritually gifted individuals like Natsume but both possessing drastically different attitude towards youkai than him. Natori, who’s had his fair share of troubles due to his ability, has embraced being an exorcist and all that it entails while still maintaining a certain level of compassion. Matoba, on the other hand, clearly views youkai – and even some people – as convenient tools and has little sympathy for them. Natsume is in conflict with both of these individuals at some points before settling into happy camaraderie with Natori and uneasy truce with Matoba. Along with showing that Natusme is not one-of-a-kind as he feared, these two also serve to show how merely being able to see youkai is not enough the same as accepting or understanding them like Natusme has demonstrated time and time again.
That brings me to the final part of this post – Natsume and his relations with the youkai population. The show highlights Natsume’s encounters with various youkai in each episode, often comparing and contrasting them with the way his grandmother Reiko handled them. There are many facets to Natsume’s interaction with his once-tormentors as people who have their own joys and sorrows but one aspect that stands out is this – transience. Youkai have long lifespans. Humans don’t. The youkai that Natsume has befriended, from Madara to the unnamed middle-classes to the random encounters that are over too soon, will all likely outlive him. This is all the more obvious once you consider Reiko, who knew many of the youkai Natsume now knows and is now but a memory – treasured but lost all the same – in their minds.
Many times, the anime shows human-youkai relationships to be a bad idea as their discordant natures all but guarantees pain to the involved parties. This is even highlighted in the season 5 finale where the middle-class youkai compare Natusme to petals that will inevitable fall but are entrancing while they last. This adds a whole new dimension to the willingness of Natsume’s youkai friends who know what they’re in for but choose to be fools anyway because the joy of the present is possibly worth the future pain.
To sum it up, Nastume Yuujinchou is rich in many ways and its exquisite interpersonal relationships are surely one of the greatest factors that make it such a joy to indulge in.
Well, this is it.
This is an extremely self-indulgent, rambling kind of post that’s meant to help me force some order to my thoughts after watching all five seasons. All the same, I hope you enjoyed the read.