‘The most important place to me right now is here’: on photos, memories and home in Natsume Yuujinchou Shi

 Natsume, you really should say this stuff out loud…

In short: this week’s episode of Natsume Yuujinchou Shi (no. 11) was amazing. In not as short: it’s probably my favourite episode to date, as it focuses on Natsume’s backstory and development and finally gives us information about his parents, as well as some really great moments that highlight the importance of memory and (be)longing. In addition, other elements such as photographs, light and shade, flashbacks, dreams, camera angles, voice-overs, tension, bathos and pathos are used to full effect in the episode, which also echo previous episodes well and really makes me look forward to the next episode even more.

 Some of the interesting shots and objects in this episode.

Starting with a stunning image of pink cherry blossoms that gently fall as Natsume arrives home to find Shigure tinkering with an old camera and then suggesting that they all take a group photograph someday, we swiftly realise that there are deeper implications to such a suggestion for Natsume. Only until relatively recently, Natsume has been shifted from one relative to the next like an unwanted package, having lost both his parents when he was very young. And while he does have a photograph of his parents which we finally see later, it’s both a precious and painful reminder to Natsume; of the loving parents he once had, but lost, and of the fragile and fickle nature of most of his familial relationships since his loss. Natsume’s reluctance to ‘show’ us the photograph thus colours some of his other objects and behaviour in a different light. The plain looking box with ‘Takashi’s things’ tucked away in his deceptively neat and orderly room, as well the photos of him and his new friends hidden away in his little closet; he might say they’re ‘embarrassing’, but it seems more like he’s afraid to have them on display, as if it would be showing off something that could so easily be snatched away/ parted from him. Indeed, when he does lose that precious, sole photo of his parents, the suppressed anguish and readiness to leave it behind, rather than trouble his friends to help look for it, is almost heartbreaking. Thankfully, Tanuma (with a little help from Madara) comes to his rescue, with a passionate reminder that Natsume shouldn’t lie about his feelings and that it’s okay to ask his friends for help, which also paves the way for allowing him to ask Shigure and Touko if he can visit his old family home before it is lost to him forever.

Speaking of home, much of the episode is structured around Natsume’s discovery that his first home is to be sold, his memories of the house and of his father (his mother having died shortly after his birth), and his growing desire to see the old place again before it’s too late. Natsume reveals little in his tone and much of his face is hidden during the telephone call, but the use of shade, as well as Touko and Tanuma’s intuitive concern, convey the sudden inner turmoil that this shy young man must’ve been experiencing upon learning that the remaining bonds he has with the only place where he was genuinely happy and unconditionally loved are about to be broken. Despite affirming before Madara that he’s ‘okay’ with what is to happen and his insistence that ‘the most important place to [him] right now is here’, the news clearly depresses him and dogs him throughout the rest of the episode, as is evident from the melancholy blue-tinted dream sequence and the way that the shadows play across his face while he’s in the forest with the boys later, and when he realises he’s lost his parents’ photograph. Here, the fact that Natsume has only just had a beautiful, sun-dappled flashback of being in his father’s arms as a little boy while sitting on their old porch, makes the whole thing seem even crueller, with the juxtaposition of the happy memory highlighting how much he still misses them and how hurt he is by the feeling of displacement and rootlessness that dog him still.

 The darkness and light within Natsume.

Thankfully, with the help of the boys, Natsume is able to find the photograph and look upon it with a relieved and lighter heart. And this tactic of delaying the audience’s view of the image of the smiling parents who look so much like him is cathartic for us too, as Natsume’s hitherto suppressed, simmering feelings can find release and disperse as easily as the afternoon sunlight through the trees. Finally, with their brief reunion with Sasada and Taki on their way home, this physical grouping of Natsume with all of his friends is a nice touch, reminding him/ us that he’s not alone and is a little bit closer to them all now. Also later, when he’s back home with his foster parents, these ideas are further emphasised when he applies Tanuma’s advice when speaking with Shigure and Touko. We know what that simple request and their agreement mean to Natsume, and this is enough, for now.

A photo, a phone call, a walk in the woods. On the surface, not a great deal happens in this episode. And yet the structure, and its placement in the series, is perfect for allowing Natsume to take another step forward in opening up, developing and finding his place in the world. A world that needn’t be as dull or blue as he still fears it could revert back to being, but rather one where, with the help of others who love him, can be just as bright as his precious memories of his parents and their love and wishes for him.

 Precious memories, old and new.

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  1. Posted March 15, 2012 at 5:07 am | Permalink

    Ok, if I teared up for your post, I can imagine what will happen, when I actually watch the ep (I delayed it a bit, shame on me).

    Very good writing and very good visual analysis.

    I hope we see more ‘personal’ episodes like these. I die to know more about Reiko…

    • Posted March 15, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

      Eek, sorry! ;; All good things are worth waiting for, though – so (when you do see it) enjoy!

      And yes, what is with all this Reiko trolling of late – more (actual) Reiko please! MOAR!

      (And thanks!)

  2. Posted March 15, 2012 at 6:34 am | Permalink

    Ah, I love episodes like this! The nostalgia factor is just too much for me. In fact, this episode makes me want to dig in and marathon the series!

    • Posted March 15, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

      DO IT. Would it be a re-watch, then? If not and if it’s the first time you’ll be watching the show from the start, then I think it’s right up your street – enjoy dem feelings!

  3. Briar
    Posted March 20, 2012 at 6:06 am | Permalink

    Honestly, Natsume Yuujinchou is the only anime that I am following right now, and about the only one in recent times that I can’t wait to watch. I’ve just finished episode 12 today, and I’m thinking next week is the last episode for the season (they usually end after 13 episodes, right?), and while I can’t wait to watch it, I also don’t want to because it’d be the last for a while. Oh well. Hopefully there’ll be a fifth season.

    Anyway, thank you for your review, Hana. When watching the episode I was very much moved, but it wasn’t until I read your post that I get why I was moved. You’ve put the feelings I felt into words. :) I love the scene when they meet up with Taki and Sasada, and all the loneliness and isolation were washed away by the camaraderie of his friends.

    • Posted March 23, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

      Yes, it is rather special, isn’t it (I’m also currently re-watching series one with EO, so cool seeing how it all began…). I know what you mean about watching/ wanting to delay the last epi of a great series. And ‘hopefully’ indeed.

      I love the scene when they meet up with Taki and Sasada, and all the loneliness and isolation were washed away by the camaraderie of his friends.

      Ah, I really enjoyed that scene too… not least of all seeing Taki in ‘KYAA – NYANKICHIII!’-mode, hehe.

      And thank you – senpai! ;)

  4. Posted March 26, 2012 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    it seems more like he’s afraid to have them on display, as if it would be showing off something that could so easily be snatched away/ parted from him.

    Definitely. I think Takashi has deeply realized what he has lost in life and is only now, in the course of 50-something episodes, is realizing what he has recently gained in family and friendship. But because he knows loss and emotional hardship, he lacks the security to really have these cherished souls in confidence. Takashi has always been afraid of this and managed to remain in the grey, but seeing him dig for his memories makes me believe he is growing stronger and more able to accept life in all it’s pain and beauty.

    Also I love the way the story can fit this mold, with each season featuring important life elements in the final arcs.

    • Posted March 29, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

      50-something episodes, eh… In so many other shows, such a gradual development might sound, and might very well seem, pretty insignificant, but I love the subtle and yet powerful way that Yuujinchou achieves this. And while Takashi has been steadily growing closer to his new friends, what you say about really having and accepting things is important, especially after we’ve seen how much he has lost. I guess remaining in the grey has been like a safety net for him, so it’s been really good seeing him not just open up more amongst his friends, but also within himself, by facing his old fears.

      And yes, the story’s structure is certainly flexible enough to allow such exploration in a way that feels ‘natural’, with such episodes feeling like an extension of the ‘final thought’-type, epiphanic moments that I loved from the first seasons.

      Thanks, Ryan!

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