It’s hard to talk about Natsume Yuujinchou. The show broadly focuses on the themes of loneliness, abuse, friendship, and family. In fact, every episode focuses on these themes. Since the show is episodic, this leads to every episode being basically about the same narrative beats just with different names and faces.
This isn’t to say that Natsume Yuujinchou is boring — each take on the show’s overarching theme still feels fresh and sincere — but simply that it’s not a good show to regularly blog about. With slow episodic character development, largely inconsequential plot points, and the same core ideas explored over and over, I just can’t find something to say about Natsume that I haven’t already expressed in some way, shape, or form before.
This is why, despite Natsume Yuujinchou Shi airing at a time when I was arguably more active on this blog, I didn’t actually write about it. I can honestly say that while I love Shi to bits, it doesn’t do anything that the original Natsume Yuujinchou, Zoku, or San hadn’t previously done (or done better really ^ ^;).
However, true to how we grow and change as people, Natsume Takashi and Natsume Yuujinchou have changed over the years, and in Natsume Yuujinchou Go I saw a new theme emerge that really resonated with me on a personal level.
Every episode of Natsume Yuujinchou focuses on Natsume’s interactions with a youkai, and it’s revealed that they had an encounter with Natsume’s grandmother, Natsume Reiko, that had a lasting effect on that particular youkai. Typically they are infuriated and/or hurt by Reiko’s actions towards them and want the names that they gave her back.
Go opens up the season with teasing out the softer side of Reiko, showing instead the lasting positive and emotionally complex impact that she’s had on many youkai. The show then segues into episodes about youkai that are completely unrelated to Reiko or the Book of Friends, and the impact that their fleeting interactions with humans who do not possess the ability to see them have had on them.
This impact is profound. The fleeting, ephemeral relationship between youkai and human often fundamentally change the way youkai look at themselves, their lives, and the human race. Small interactions the humans often forget and write off as things that they just did to be polite, leave youkai with a longing for more of that warm caring feeling that they experienced. Go finds a new heart for the show in missed connections and small acts of kindness.
I graduated high school in 2013 with a small group of friends that almost immediately disintegrated. I went directly into a mid-sized community college that fall with no clue what I was doing. I went there taking random classes that I fancied and not finding my passion for a year until I was forced to take a semester off due to being denied financial aid for failure to maintain a satisfactory completion rate on my classes. After languishing in my own depression for the better part of six months I got myself a shitty part time job and started paying my way through school.
All this time I mostly spend by myself. After losing basically all my high school friends because our relationships were more ones of more of convenience than of genuine connection, I swore off getting to know anyone new in college because I figured that they would be inconsequential. Combined with the fact that I was taking a random assortment of classes with no overlap in other students, I was alone.
I imagine how I was going about my business was very much how Reiko went about her life, never bothering to get to know anyone for fear that one day either I would hurt them orf they would hurt me, and I’d be left alone again. I guess that I and Reiko were thinking that being emotionally cut off from the world around me would be better than experiencing some sort of hypothetical turmoil and rejection.
No one can go in alone. By cutting yourself off to the world you cease to experience the social interactions that make life worth living. When you walk into a room while writing everyone in it off as not worth the time, you don’t even experience the little things that can truly make or break your day! I now frequent a location of a large chain coffee house that shall not be named, and I can honestly say that I look forward to every time that I order a drink from them because the friendliness and kindness that I experience from the staff is wonderful. It sounds really pathetic because they’re paid to be there, and they’re paid to smile and make small talk with me, but being able to walk into a place and have someone know your name and ask how your day was is a really powerful thing.
It’s easy to not give a shit. But when you decide to not care about other people, you lose a part of yourself. There’s something utterly inhuman and despairing about living without genuine connection, and Natsume’s life up until he met the Fujiwaras was just like that. Being deprived of love and compassion from the very people who were supposed to provide a wellspring of those emotions drove Natsume to be a dark and anxious person, and it was only through finally being showed some basic human decency and connection that allowed Natsume to be emotionally vulnerable enough to connect with Madara, Tanuma, and all the other people Natsume can now call friends.
Which, in a roundabout way, brings me back to talking about the theme of missed connections in Go. Seeing all of the one-way conversations, relationships never brought to fruition between youkai and humans has only driven Natsume more and more to cherish the people he holds dear, and the people/youkai that he randomly encounters. And strangely enough that’s what got me to stop being so stuck in my own isolation.
All those missed connections.
I’ve encountered so many wonderful people in my time since graduating high school, and in my own emotional isolation I let them all slip away. Thinking back on classes I’ve taken, there were so many truly wonderful people who tried to get to know me, but I was too stuck up my own ass to put any of that effort back towards them. Especially when it comes to boys.
Obviously there’s a certain amount of anxiety about talking to other guys in a flirtatious manner, being as we live in a heteronormative society and I in a state with many people balking at equal protections for people of differing sexual orientations and gender identities. But putting aside that and the internalized fear of being a ‘predatory gay’, there were plenty of guys that I even tweeted about that I could have gone after. Yet the fear of being rejected, hurt, or abandoned rears it’s ugly head again. If I had put any effort into building anything more than a passion acquaintance imagine the kind of friends I would have! The life I would live!
All those missed connections.
So I guess about four months ago when this semester started I was tired of being cut off from everything, from being emotionally isolated, from all those missed connections. So I said fuck it and started to care again. And what a wonderful feeling it is. The wealth of amity and sympathy and connection that I’ve gotten from the people I now know is worth more than any sort of pain from some hypothetical, paranoid scenario where I’m left alone.
Even if I am, it was worth it in the end, because we are all better for the connections we make the the lives that we touch. There’s even a boy, a cute boy from my printmaking class, that I’m talking to now. I’m not gonna SAY that he’s gay and that he’s been flirting back to me as much as I flirt to him, but I am going to say that I think there’s something there, something worth exploring. The butterflies in my stomach and the warm smile he gives me are by far better than me lying awake at night thinking about all of the things I should have said to him when I had the chance.
I think I finally understand Natsume Takashi now, on a level I didn’t think was possible.