“I called his name again and again. And I learned that each time, nothing called back. I learned that no matter how much you want something, how many times you scream for it, sometimes it’s out of your reach.” – Natsume Yuujinchou, Season 4 Episode 13.
Last weekend, I attended my first music festival in Austin, Texas. I was going solo and with little information as to how one really prepares for a music festival (protip: download the festival app) . As I entered the full heat of summer, all I carried with me was a backpack full of towels, phone chargers, water, and a heart full of love for two bands I had been dying to see for many years.
Strange things about music festivals: You make friends quicker than you think under the glaring sun and clear skies. I started off knowing no one, but along the way I met some great fans who shared a similar passion for music. Two people I remember fondly were a couple that married ten years ago; the man had proposed to his wife after a Radiohead concert, and they were celebrating their anniversary by going to this one. Another fan was new and a little sheepish, but slowly warmed up to our company to share some exciting tales about how he got into LCD Soundsystem. We kept up our storytelling until the sun fell, and then the performance began. Nothing was more exciting than relishing those moments with other human beings who had the same fierce love for music. And nothing was more sad than having it end, and watching them walk away, back to their respective towns, or even states across the country. I grabbed some numbers, or social media accounts, but reality settles down nonetheless. “It’s the memory of our betters,” James Murphy sings, ending his performance for the night. “That are keeping us on our feet.”
Brief meetings are inevitable. You share something rich with another human being, and then it fades; a footprint in the sand. Mushishi chooses to acknowledge the melancholy of this, just like LCD Soundsystem’s ‘All My Friends’, and it is painful as it is beautiful. Natsume Yuujinchou however, relishes the glowing warmth a small interaction can give in our lives. It is equal parts bittersweet but also romantic, imbuing a hopeful glow in its story of a boy caught between interacting with the spirit world and the human one.
There are many core themes explored throughout Natsume Yuujinchou: found families, living with abuse and emotional trauma, and the power of friendship – things you could potentially find in any anime, sure. But the heart of Natsume Yuujinchou – the blood that pumps through its veins and makes every episode special – is loneliness. Nearly every character in Natsume Yuujinchou has some kind of tragic story to share about how they’ve been left alone by someone they loved or needed most. Those character range from the normal human beings Natsume ends up befriending, to the scary and awkward youkai that Natsume interacts with due to his grandmother’s book. It is only fitting then, as a boy caught between the webs of two very complicated worlds, that Natsume is the one that bridges them for short moments, to acknowledge this loneliness and help them find solace in their pain.
But these meetings always have an end. Bridges are broken, and two worlds that briefly overlap end up diverging to their respective ways. Natsume is the consequence of this action as much as he is in resolution; humans can’t understand his ability, and youkai find his nature bewildering or appetizing. Shunned by both sides, he’s forced to walk the fine line and as a result, we explore more of his loneliness than anyone else’s. Over time, he gains friends and the friendship of his cynical cat, Madara, but that bittersweet feeling remains. It’s not lost.
Which I think, speaks to as to why Natsume Yuujinchou handles the brevity (and importance) of relationships so well. It isn’t just natural – it is healthy. The anguish that these characters feel is real, human, but also powerful. It isn’t complex or necessarily nuanced; on the contrary, it’s quite simple, which allows it to resonate with the audience so well. Loneliness is an inevitable part of our life, but it doesn’t have consume us.
Natsume Yuujinchou is by no means a show that comes without faults – the main character is saint-like to the point where it can become tedious, repetitive, or even annoying at times. But it, like its main character, chooses to always show the positive, even rose-tinted shades of small friendships and meetings. We can choose to let these moments fade, yes, but we can also choose to let them sit quietly in our heart, becoming more memorable with age as we reminisce the good and the bad. We can let them be a part of who we are and who we strive to be, if we want to.
I’m heading to the festival again this weekend to make some last good memories before the end of 2016. I may never end up seeing my favorite bands again, and likewise, I may not be able to meet the people I’ve befriended ever again. Life is like a vine, that grows unpredictably and wanders in strange directions. I can’t predict where it will go. But I choose to accept the bittersweet taste of loneliness – of being found, and leaving again – as a part of this vine, and I choose to cherish it, just as Natsume Yuujinchou does.
“Something does remain though. Right here, in your heart. The things you see, the things you feel. Those will never disappear. You’ll never forget them….along with many other meetings.” – Natsume Yuujinchou, Season 3, Episode 4.