After two and a half years of waiting since the last OVA adaptation of Midorikawa’s beloved manga, Natsume Yuujin-chou (also called Natsume’s Book of Friends) gets its fifth season rolling. Being a fan of the anime for years, it is a delightful realization that the show has picked up exactly where it left off. And the first episode spends little time before going in-depth into Natsume’s grandmother Reiko’s character story, which is probably an indication that we have an eventful season on our way.
First of all, for newcomers to this show/franchise, this is not where you should start. In spite of it being a show which is mostly episodic with standalone stories, one needs to have a firm grasp of the past lives, back-stories, and motivations of the characters as well as subtle character changes over the previous four seasons to fully appreciate it.
Coming to the highlights of this episode:
Natsume tries to act on his suppressed desire to know more about Reiko after he has a strange revelation. Until now, his only source of direct information about his late grandmother has been the stories he has heard from the youkai in the book of friends. But those memories and the memories of how he and his family from his mother’s side were treated by his relatives when he was a child somehow contradict. They were seen not only as misfits, but crazy individuals who were best avoided because they claimed they could see what others couldn’t. Incidentally, he runs into one such relative after school. But seeing Natsume lie his way out of that conversation is painful to watch. He has come a long way since he had isolated himself completely from society. Now he has close friends who share his secrets, and a family he deeply cares for. And yet, for him to keep up that façade that at one point in his life he wasn’t treated like a worthless human being, it’s sad and frustrating.
Fortunately, Tanuma shows up not long after, and Natsume confides in him that Reiko had an illegitimate child and hence his mother never knew her father. This is certainly an important plot point since nothing of this sort has previously been revealed about Reiko’s personal life.
Kayatsubo is the youkai of this week, in search of vengeance because Reiko stole her doll. She intends to do the same and take something important away from Natsume if he doesn’t find her treasure in time. This prompts Natsume to search for the doll, which in turn takes us back to what transpired between Reiko and Kayatsubo.
There are two sides to this development. Firstly, Reiko who tries to return the doll to a little girl after it got stolen by Kayatsubo, gets treated by the girl’s family as if she stole it herself. Honestly, one can’t blame her for being alone all the time, if people were to treat her like a thief or a lunatic.
So she tries to return it to Kayatsubo but fails to do so. In turn of events she also makes friends with another youkai and tells him that a human has been treating her with kindness lately. In all probabilities, this is a reference to Natsume’s grandfather. This sheds some much awaited development onto Reiko’s character, and I hope this will be expanded upon in episodes to come.
Coming to Natsume’s side of the story, he manages to find the doll albeit in a torn and sorry state but Kayatsubo refuses to take it back saying it’s not hers. So he takes it home to repair it. Part of his incentive, however, comes from fear that he might have his family taken away if he fails. Even though Kayatsubo only said she’d take away something important to him, never precisely mentioning what, yet Natsume fears for his foster parents.
This is in accordance with the previous development we saw late into the fourth season and is a heartfelt one. And the best part of this sequence is a scene where he, alongside Nyanko-sensei stays up awake the whole night, sitting at the front door with a broom, as if protecting his family. Kayatsubo arrives with the arrival of dawn, accepts the repaired doll with delight and leaves just as soon.
Because he deserves his own space, I’ll be dedicating a section of every post I make on the show entirely on his antics.
I can’t help but ponder over every silent and meaningful gesture he makes. (Like the one above) What is he thinking? Does he see Reiko’s reflections in her grandson, since he’s the only direct living entity connecting the two? Does he get amused at these weird bonds of “family” or “friendship” Natsume treasures so much? Or perhaps he doesn’t care. Maybe he’s only a silent onlooker. After all, what is one human life compared to the lifespan of a great youkai of his caliber? Probably but a passing moment! So he just stares, distracting himself with the trifling day-to-day activities of humans.