It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are still alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger for them. – George Eliot
One of the deepest longings of the human soul is to be seen. – John O’Donohue
After that taut story-arc for the last couple of weeks, Natsume is back with its episodic, contemplative, often romantic ventures once again. But before we start things off, there’s a new Ending Theme sequence, and it’s one of the most beautiful ones yet in the franchise; the colour palette and the whimsical figures around Natsume reminds me so much of “Aishiteru” from the second season; the subdued art perfectly fits the song.
Back to the story, today’s episode deals with a youkai who lived on a tree, but after being vacated of its home due to deforestation, and in the process of heading south to find a new one ends up trapped in Taki’s house. She assists in finding its way out of the maze but not without help from her grandfather’s forbidden circle.
The youkai, however, gets attached to her and hangs around the house, which prompts Natsume and Nyanko-sensei to investigate and sort things out.
To highlight the plot points and themes,
- The circle Taki inherited from her grandfather, that lets her see and hear youkai, has been referred to as a forbidden technique in earlier episodes, and is elaborated upon in this one. But ultimately it is a tool, just like the ‘Book of Friends’. Those who stamped such methods as ‘forbidden’ probably thought of the well-being of both humans and youkai, but aren’t the individuals who use them decide whether to use it for good or evil? Taki used it without prior knowledge of its status, but even if she did know, would her selfless intention of helping a youkai find its way out not validate the use of such a forbidden circle? The youkai itself thinks it should be forbidden, but he had other reasons for saying so, which we’ll get to in a moment.
- We already know from our knowledge of the show that Taki is a genuinely good person, yet this episode emphasises it by painting so many shades of her kind heart. She isn’t familiar with youkai like Natsume is and yet she opted to help despite her fears of the unknown.
Not only that, she carries the same virtue for the lost rabbit youkai even after knowing she won’t be having the circle at her aid. At this point, we as viewers are quite used to the strange happenings in this show, but to sincerely help someone without ever having seen them takes a special kind of heart. The fact that she feels guilty of using the magic circle before only fuels her resolve.
On a lighter note, I think it’s safe to say that-
- What was the thing that the tree youkai felt when it said it wanted to see the beautiful mountains and the valleys together with her? To call it ‘love’ would be oversimplifying it. With her helping hands, it saw a human’s eyes for the first time, it probably also received a human’s aid for the first time, the same human lot who destroyed its home. Her happy gesture after she receives the flowers it left for her made it realise that the home it was searching for may as well be in her company, which may be the reason why it wanted her to see the beauty of the outside world, to show her what it felt from her kindness.
The literary and musical tradition of Portuguese-speaking countries has this concept they call “saudade”; it doesn’t have a translation in English but vaguely refers to a longing or a melancholic nostalgia. Manuel de Melo calls it “a pleasure you suffer”.
The famous saudade of the Portuguese is a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness. – Aubrey Bell, In Portugal (1912)
The tree youkai knew its affection for Taki wasn’t to be shared, not only because their worlds are different but because it would lose all meaning the moment they are put into words. And because such momentary encounters always end in sadness and parting. And so it left without ever conveying a farewell.
We may recall episode 2 where Natsume ponders over the sadness both youkai and humans have to bear because they meet each other. Yes, the brief meetings bring sadness and melancholy, but is that all there is to it? Should we then, not let ourselves be vulnerable to the beauties life has to offer? Is there no intrinsic value in such small acts of kindness that make us, sometimes without us noticing, better individuals? Of course there is. And I wonder as we keep getting more episodes alluring to these facets of human-youkai interaction and less of the Book of Friends, and as Natsume adapts more and more into a normal life, would he, someday, also think the same? In all probabilities he won’t ever abandon the memories and bonds he’s made, even if nothing else remains.