Natsume’s Book of Friends s.4: Feelings vs. Duty in the Exorcists’ World

How different Nanase’s decisions are to those of Reiko, Takashi and Natori…

In last week’s episode (no. 8), we were teased with the promise of Reiko’s appearance, but, in the end, we were left wanting and shown how powerful even her off-screen presence can be. Rather, that episode focusses on another female figure, as does the remainder of this post, which also explores her connections with Reiko, Takashi and Natori up to and including this week’s episode (no. 9) and how all of these figures portray the conflict between personal feelings and duty.

So, episode 8 focussed on the backstory of that old woman with the sadistic grandson from the Matoba clan. Or rather, Nanase. Yes, clearly, the episode, despite not having much Takashi Natsume screentime, did especially well to make me remember her name as well as feel somewhat sympathetic to her, and it also helped to advance the other wider ‘exorcists plot’ that has been explored a fair amount so far in this series (in addition to the ‘development of Natsume’ and the ‘one-off stories about various youkai’ plots that have been on-going since the very beginning). Nanase is an interesting counterpart to Reiko. Both sought to suppress youkai when they were younger (Nanase still does, of course), but the main difference is that Reiko preferred the company of youkai over that of humans and ended up making them obey and sort of befriend her, whereas Nanase hated being able to see them in the first place and (begrudgingly at first, it seems) sought to either seal the troublesome ones or make the powerful ones into her/ the clan’s servants.

Clearly, there are similarities between Reiko, Nanase and Takashi, with the reminder of how all three suffered and were ostracised due to their ‘difference’ from their peers evident in episode 8 when the other girls whisper behind her back as the young, covered-in-bruises Nanase walks past. However, it is the main difference between them all that is the most telling. Namely, the key decision each made and continue to make regarding their treatment of youkai and how this impacts on their own lives. While Reiko pretty much rejected the human world in favour of spending most of her time with the youkai as a dominant figure among them, Nanase’s first awareness of Reiko and her subsequent interaction with Mikage erases her doubts about being an exorcist, and Takashi differs further in his more ‘equal’ view and treatment of youkai. Both of the women are strong figures, but Reiko in a sense acted as a ‘lone wolf’, while Nanase fell in with her family’s line regarding the youkai, deciding to channel (to use Mikage’s words) her ‘anger and sadness of being an exorcist’ into a strength, by becoming an even more powerful exorcist. Indeed, Mikage’s tragic tale is what allows Nanase to come to terms with her sympathies towards youkai, even if this is at the cost of her having to harden her heart in order to deal with such feelings, as is shown by the repeated stones/ turning into stone imagery used in the episode.

One of the many pretty shots in this episode.

The episode ends on a hopeful note, however, as is seen in the restored Mikage’s desire to thank both Nanase and Takashi for sealing him when Mikage risked descending into an evil being and upon the return of his name and thus allowing him to complete his ‘Karma’ or destiny. The episode also ends in a circular note, as Mikage thanks the ‘grandson of Reiko’ for returning his name, which once more reminds us of Takashi’s role in the grand scheme of youkai-ish things. Unaware of Nanase’s past (comically, Madara refuses to tell Takashi of it, though perhaps he will, ‘someday’), Takashi is more of a catalyst in this episode for the resurfacing of old feelings, while also poised to deal with the possibility of similar situations in the future, when he may be faced with having to decide whether or not to save or seal youkai when it’s not necessarily clear if they are harmless or evil…

Moving on, episode 9 focussed more on Natori. In contrast, he is more of a freelance exorcist, with no particular investment in either of the camps represented/ straddled by Reiko, Nanase or Takashi. This most recent cliffhanger episode sees Natori having to deal with the almost impossible job of finding an apparently mistakenly sealed youkai-god in the space of an impending deadline, otherwise Natori will have to seal another god, in order to prevent a local mountain haunt from drying up and afflicting the various humans and youkai who live there. Clearly, Natori is incredibly uncomfortable at the prospect of having to seal the god, and it’s probably the first time seeing him feeling this way.

And it’s going to get worse…

On top of his qualms about his task at hand, Natori is afraid of the possibility that something might happen to Takashi on his watch, due to the latter’s covert involvement in the proceedings, and thus Natori also feels responsible for the younger man. It’s hard to say at this stage (being in the middle of an arc) how Natori is likely to act exactly, though I doubt that Natsume will be in any serious danger. However, it’s certainly interesting seeing this other side to the usually carefree Natori, not least of all glimpsing the possibility that he might renege on his agreement to find or otherwise seal the god. Thus, I look forward to seeing more of his development as a character, and seeing how his relationships and interactions with Natsume, the Matoba clan and others develops in the remaining episodes.

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  1. Posted February 29, 2012 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    Why has nobody commented!? This is a really cool perspective in seeing how these individuals who have spiritual ability are leading their lives. Takashi tends to be in the most interesting position because he is still somewhat vague in direction, but I don’t think we’ll see him becoming an exorcist. Instead, I imagine he will maintain and build his social relationships with both humans and youkai while carrying on as a ‘lone wolf’ type like Reiko. He will not be in isolation or lonely, but I think there is strength and independence in his individualistic attributes.

    Also for Natori, I’m not sure it’s the exorcism that worries him so much; that’s his job. I think he takes issue with the sealing for two reasons: first, it seems as though he is being manipulated and second, the prospect of sealing a god appears more drastic than the typical youkai sealing. Recall Kai, the river god, from the end of season 2 was not exactly a meager existence, even as a young god. So I believe part of Natori’s worry is that Fudzuki presents a terrible challenge that further disrupts the balance.

    • Posted March 2, 2012 at 12:47 am | Permalink

      Well, I don’t know about ‘nobody’, but I believe the really cool ‘Ryan A’ did. ;) Takashi’s is the most interesting position, isn’t it; his distaste towards the idea of becoming an exorcist is certainly apparent in the opening episodes of this season, and, as you suggest, he is also unlikely to follow fully in his grandmother’s footsteps either given how much he values both his human and youkai friends. Independent without being lonely… He seems to be doing well now, but he’s still very much afraid of putting his family and friends in danger (e.g. while thinking about his foster parents during Matoba’s blackmail attempt, and his distress when Tanuma got hurt recently while trying to rescue him), which is very moving, so he still needs to work on his confidence and strength, whatever he ends up deciding to do with his spiritual abilities.

      Thanks, Ryan!

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