As the end of the winter season draws near, I’m still no closer to finding any sort of closure in this fourth addition to the Natsume Yuujinchou story. Some seasons chose to go the route with which NY became well known–that of the healing, episodic slice-of-life. Then, there were moments where the usual bittersweet encounters made way for more drama-driven plots, such as Natsume’s struggles with separating the youkai from his family and friends, as well as his clashes with exorcists of a more sinister mind frame, like the Matoba family.
I had assumed that this 4th season would be our last, and that it would choose to follow a more overarching plot. As with the seasons before, NY has bounced back and forth in its pacing and focus. Unlike before, however, I find the transitions this time around much smoother. The last two episodes in particular, 9-10, meld the two together almost perfectly in a story reminiscent of Ghibli’s Mononoke Hime.
It isn’t long until I’m certain that this arc will be of the more sinister nature, as any episode that features Natori is sure to bring along with it some questions of the heart. He reminds me a bit of Mononoke Hime‘s Eboshi, a woman with all the right intentions who lacks the ability to see anything other than black and white. I always felt that Eboshi and Ashitaka had an understanding for one another’s motivations that was nonetheless separated by their ingrained views of the roles of man and nature. As an exorcist, Natori has been conditioned to place humans over youkai, though his own feelings on the matter, as well as his relationships with Natsume and various other youkai, have pushed him to question his former position. Over the course of these seasons, we have seen both Natori and Natsume come to more balanced views of the interactions between the human and spirit worlds, views that are pushed even further by the events of these two episodes.
The main focus that brings together Natsume and Natori once again is the Moon-splitting Festival, a celebration praying for good harvest that takes place every ten years between the two gods, Fuzuki of the absent moon and Houzuki of the harvest moon. Unfortunately, the changing times and improved technology have rendered this festival obsolete, and as such, no one but the spirits celebrate it anymore. The lack of human worship has significantly weakened both gods to the extent that Houzuki has been imprisoned by a weak exorcist charm for the last three years and is unable to make it to the festival. Without his participation and subsequent forfeit in the gods’ competition, Mt. Misumi is doomed to drought for the next ten years. However, the lateness of the request puts Natori in a difficult spot; if he cannot find Houzuki in time, he must instead seal Fuzuki. Much like Ashitaka, he is caught between his role as an exorcist and as man who has come to a better appreciation of the spirits. Should his obligation be to his fellow humans who will be greatly impacted by the ten-year drought, or to the spirits and gods who are only taking part in a traditional ritual?
To Natori’s surprise, upon his arrival to the mountain, he sees what appears to be Houzuki being carried in a procession by his loyal followers. Upon closer inspection, “Houzuki” turns out to be Natsume–upon request by the white hats, he has agreed to do what he can to protect Mt. Misumi. All physical comparisons to San aside, Natsume’s fervent desire to maintain the facade and win the competition shows how much he cares for these beings whose mentalities, though at times similar, are all too different from those of humans. He has become almost a champion of their ways of existence. There’s a particular scene where he throws himself in front of spirit Hiiragi to protect her from a trap set by Fuzuki’s servants. This act is consistent with his constant willingness to help spirits, and also desire to protect his family and friends from their influence. Though he often does well balancing the two, there are times, like here, where it’s nearly impossible.
In the true style of NY, the end is bittersweet. Even with Houzuki found and released before the festival’s end, the gods come to the mutual agreement that their time of reign on Mt. Misumi has come to an end. Through a flashback, we get to see the origin of the celebration, and the warmth that pervaded it. As the people’s memories of the gods have passed, so has their purpose. “The God, Enshrined” doesn’t end in quite the same climatic finish as Mononoke Hime, but in place of the Nightwalker’s passing and gift of life back to the land, Houzuki and Fuzuki leave together on a journey and allow their rule on the mountain to fade away with the people’s memories.
“It’s strange, isn’t it?
The two groups, which looked like they hated each other, are now shining the same color as they vanish into the distant sky.”
It will be interesting to see which direction NY will take in the last three episodes. If it goes the route of these past two and ropes in the friends and family, I’ll have nothing to complain about.