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.
18 thoughts on “Princess Natsume and the Moon-Splitting Festival”
You make it sound so intriguing; which is pretty impressive considering how drab the third season was. Must pick this up where I left off, 6 episodes in or so.
Plus, I finished Thermae Romae and found it refreshingly funny.
I guess I’m doing something right if I can convince someone to try a new anime 🙂 I hope you like this 4th more than the 3rd.
Thermae Romae was probably one of the best anime of this season. BRS picking up after it just doesn’t do the slot justice.
I haven’t seen any season of Natsume Yuuinchou, but I really enjoyed your essay, nonetheless. The questions of one’s responsibility and heart toward nature when it comes in conflict with man is a complex question to ponder, and I think anime does it well – particularly in Princess Mononoke.
Whahahhahat? I’m extremely surprised that you haven’t seen any of the previous seasons. It just struck me as an anime and atmosphere that would be of interest to you. Is there a particular reason why you never chose to watch it?
Those questions of man verus nature are why I enjoy both Mononoke Hime and Nausicaa so much. They really make you think about the impact the two have on one another without being overtly environmental.
Nope, no reason at all, besides a backlog of other series! But yes, you’re right, it does seem like a show I should watch. One day…
And add Spirited Away to that list of man versus nature films by Miyazaki (well, I guess add any of his films). Coincidentally, today I listed links regarding Spirited Away – though they’re about the film’s spirituality, almost all the linked articles also mentions the environment, which is so inextricably connected to his movies and to the religious aspects he explores in this particular movie.
I’ve only watched the first two season of Natsume so far and, whilst enjoyable, I wasn’t sure it was necessary to watch any more of the show- Natsume had come to the realisation he placed too much trust in the yokai and that not all were good, in fact, many had become twisted through their treatment by humans, and that was enough for me. This post, however. jas rekindled my interest in the franchise, it’s nice to see that other characters have begun to question their beliefs and change their behaviour, not just Natsume, thank-you!
PS: Adding you to my blogroll!
Well, if you do ever get around to watching the 3rd and 4th seasons, I’d be interested to hear what you think about them 🙂 Every time the next season aired, I felt very similar to you in that I was skeptical about what else they could add to the characters. And yet they were able to continually surprise me with the depth of some of the questions that were raised.
And thanks for adding me 🙂 You’ve been added as well!
This is the third article I’ve read about NY and they all seem positive. Adding to, to watch list.
NY is a bit of a slow-paced show, so if you prefer constant action and tension, then it might not be what you’re looking for. I, however, find its atmosphere and messages extremely calming and universal in meaning.
Yeah, that sounds like my cup of tea. Definitely on my list now. 😀
[…] Marina reflects on an episode of Natsume Yuujinchou that revolves around a Moon Splitting Festival. [Anime B&B] […]
Nice 🙂 I must watch Mononoke Hime some time soon… the similarities are intriguing – especially the costume part
Excuse my incredulity, but
YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED MONONOKE HIME?!
You must watch it as soon as possible–I really look forward to reading your thoughts on it when you do.
So here I am again, after having watched Mononoke Hime… it was, uhm, nothing special. The romance was kinda forced and conveyed no feelings whatsoever. The action and the terrifying spirits were well-excecuted, but you know me, I don’t die if there’s no action. As for the environmental part, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind was a way way waaaaaaay better film. It had moved me to tears in contrast to Mononoke. The only thing I appreciated particularly from MononokeHime was the matriachy of Lady Eboshi.
I actually hated Mononoke the first time I watched it, whereas I loved Nausicaa immediately. After a second viewing, I appreciated the darkness of Princess Mononoke a lot more. I thought the romance fairly subtle, and could believe Ashitaka’s allure to San’s wild beauty.
Even though the two Ghibli films are fairly similar theme-wise in terms of environment, I think they do differ in their final messages. Nausicaa felt far more idealistic to me with the cleansing by the spore-laden jungle indicating an inevitable return to the natural world. Princess Mononoke, in turn, seemed to be a testament to the unavoidable influence of mankind on the environment, and the turn from gods to machinery. Both movies are dear to me for these different reasons, though I admit being more attached to the character of Nausicaa than to those of Princess Mononoke.
It’s an interesting question: Whether Natsume should stick to its episodic usual therapeutic style of telling a story or moving in for arcs, which span 3-4 episodes. I believe the former is what makes Natsume, well, Natsume! But at the same time, as much as I love the franchise, 4 seasons of the same thing is rather monotonous. I understand that that’s how episodics work, but it could incorporate something like what Bebop did, fusing in backtories relevant to the character’s current state in a big way, also hyping up future interactions with past yokai and shit like that.
This is a weird psychology, but I don’t like how each episode treats me like I’m a new viewer. It’s very rare that earlier episodes are referred to and even rarer that we see earlier incidents brought forth as a major angle. It’d feel more rewarding if we had an extensive arc that didn’t constantly have to remind us how much of a sad little munchkin Natsume was back in the day. This would also give us some concrete character development instead of the usual “Oh hey, he has more friends now and he likes his youkai more”. That’s good fanservice right there, as what Stein;sGate has taught me with its OVA.
And uhh, I haven’t watched Princess Mononoke either…
That’s a very interesting point you raise about how the show treats almost every episode as if the viewer is new to the series. I never really felt that myself while watching the anime, but now that you mention it, I can definitely see where you’re coming from. That separation between stories might be why I enjoyed seeing the little fox box so much at the beginning of this fourth season. The same could also be said for bringing Natori in for the Moon-splitting festival. He’s a key character for comparison to Natsume, and is still a type of exorcist that Natsume could eventually become.
And yet another who hasn’t seen Princess Mononoke! I am stunned! I encourage you to watch it if you don’t have any specific reasons for not seeing it. It’s story, characters, art, and music are combine to turn it into a masterpiece that I find myself experiencing repeatedly every year.
[…] around to be much smoother, even finding the two beautifully melded at times (case in point: the Moon-splitting festival episodes). Through it all, Natsume continued to grow as both a “normal” human being and as one […]