“To tell you the truth, I want to stay here forever. I’m sure that’s impossible, but I don’t want to go anywhere. I love this place. I want to stay here forever” (Natsume, “Nishimura and Kitamoto”).
“I found myself smiling at others, and seeing them smile in return….Reiko-san…did you ever really get to exchange smiles with someone? With the people you cared about?” (“What Matters”).
It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that true friends are difficult to find–you can spend your whole life never making more than a handful even if you’re lucky. Natsume Yuujinchou frequently circles on the topic of friendship, touching on humans and youkai alike. While the previous series in the franchise loosely hold their own themes, season six digs deeper into the nature of Natsume Takashi’s relationships with his human friends and family, as well as the spirits who surround him. Natsume has always walked a shaky line between the two worlds, learning stories of Reiko’s past and creating new ones of his own every day, though this may be the first time where we see through the eyes of his school friends. Their version of events provides further substance to an already fleshed-out world. Surrounded by friends and family like he is, Natsume finally has a home he can call his own and, perhaps, a purpose to pursue.
“It was like we’d been tricked by a fox. Natsume looked so calm then. He felt like someone far away, like he lived in a different world” (Kitamoto).
In episode six, we see through the eyes of Natsume’s school friends, Nishimura and Kitamoto. We’ve seen Natsume protect them from harm numerous times, as well as maintain secrecy on his ability to see spirits. As perceptive as he is of the world around him, what he doesn’t see is Nishimura and Kitamoto’s understanding and acceptance. They may not know the full details of his situation like Tanuma, Taki, and Natori, but they do know enough to worry about him and support him whenever possible. Their friendship is a large part of what grounds Natsume to his human life.
In a way, their circle reminds me of the Hill of Four Masks showcased in episode nine, “What Flows.” Of the four enshrined masks, only three are visible to the human eye. They represent the three protectors of the mountain god who have retired. Natsume is the only one of his group who can see the fourth mask, the sole remaining guardian. Like the fourth, Natsume protects as best he can those he cares about. It doesn’t matter if hardly anyone notices his efforts.
Natsume Reiko seemingly stands on the opposite side of the coin from her grandson. She has haunted every one of these seasons through her Book of Friends and the visions Takashi witnesses every time he releases a name back to its owner. She’s shrouded in mystery, but we glean a little more about her character each time. Like young Natsume, Reiko didn’t fit in among humans. She seemed to spend much of her time purposefully wandering through the woods fighting youkai and befriending them. Despite all of this, we almost always see her with a playful smile and springy step. It’s not hard to see how a youkai might become enchanted, even enamored, by the young girl. Her legacy that is the Book of Friends causes her grandson no end of time spent with youkai who arrive with a myriad of emotions and expectations. Unlike Reiko, who seeks out the supernatural, Takashi almost always gets yanked into it without much choice.
In “Gomochi’s Benefactor,” Natsume encounters another first: an invitation to a youkai wedding that would not have been possible without the actions taken by Reiko. This is the first time I can recall among all of these seasons a youkai reaching out to Reiko instead of demanding something in return. In the flashback, we see her help the forest folk and gain their trust and respect. This is an exchange we’ve seen time and time again with her grandson. Unlike him, Reiko does not maintain connections with the youkai she meets; she drifts away just as quickly as she entered, explaining, “That’s how this works, right? It’s natural for connections you make to break quickly” (“Gomochi’s Benefactor”). Takashi, in turn, seeks to hold on to his ties with others, both human and youkai.
Despite her fickle nature, there was a point where Reiko found a lasting connection, one that resulted in Takashi’s life. After six seasons, we can finally grasp a line connecting us to Natsume’s grandfather. The Reiko we have always seen is young, lonely–her moments of joy and connection short. Perhaps with her full story, Natsume, too, will find the answer he seeks to remain in the place he already knows he loves.
“Gomochi’s Benefactor.” Natsume Yuujinchou Roku. Crunchyroll. 23 May 2017.
“Nishimura and Kitamoto.” Natsume Yuujinchou Roku. Crunchyroll. 16 May 2017.
“What Flows.” Natsume Yuujinchou Roku. Crunchyroll. 6 Jun 2017.
“What Matters.” Natsume Yuujinchou Roku. Crunchyroll. 20 Jun 2017.