Between the human world and the spirit world: Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou

My anime/manga consumption always seem to stay within certain thematic constraints. Not content with xxxHolic, I decided to take advantage of the Crunchyroll’s new PS3 app and finally complete watching Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou.

Natsume and Watanuki share more than the ability to see ghosts and spirits. Both boys also have to deal with a lifetime of loneliness and the burden of straddling relations between the real and supernatural realms.  Where Watanuki takes on the tasks as part of his work with Yuuko, Natsume’s burdens are self-imposed.  He decided that he would return the names of the spirits that his grandmother, Reiko, took and compiled in the Book of Friends.  Natsume could have kept these spirits and monsters bound under their respective contracts, but being a kind-hearted soul, he made the choice to return the names to any spirit who seeks him out or whom he encounters.

It is this kindness that makes Natsume a target for harm. Even his bodyguard, Nyanko-sensei, criticizes him each time he returns another spirit name to its original owner. Some spirits approach him kindly, but there are much more who would rather take back their names by force, and if possible, would even try taking the rest of the names in the Book of Friends. Through all this, Natsume remains kind, always ready to help.  It’s almost a bad joke; Natsume tries to rescue all the humans and spirits who are in need, but since he’s not very strong (physically and psychically), he often needs to be saved by Nyanko-sensei. That doesn’t stop him from wanting to help the next being who calls on him.

Where does this empathy come from? In essence, Natsume has been through more traumatic events that Watanuki: he’s lost his parents at a young age, and then he’s been moved around among various relatives who would take him in, plus there’s the bullying that came from his ability to see spirits. Anybody else in his situation would understandably be a difficult, if not impossible, teenager.

Natsume, though, craves love. He’s aware that if he’s kind and polite, he won’t be sent away to the next relative. If he’s good, he’ll be loved, and it’s irrelevant whether the love comes from his human or spirit friends.

I’m glad that I decided to pick up this series. I think most shoujo anime & manga series don’t always earn praise for raising the “important” philosophical and intellectual questions, but I think Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou (as well as the preceding and subsequent series)  brings up issues about our humanity and how we relate to other people in our lives. That’s pretty important too.

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4 thoughts on “Between the human world and the spirit world: Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou

  1. If a single word should be used to represent the Natsume series, that’s yasashii. The stories are really touching exactly because of the kindness exchanged, accepted and returned.

    xxxholic is more of a psychological and social commentary. They are totally different genres and belong to different demographics. But I love it, too. If you’ve only tried the series in its anime format, do try it in its manga one. It’s way way better.

    • You’re right — xxxHolic and Natsume don’t invoke the same feeling, but I wanted to use them as comparisons on how approached the “other world.” I think Natsume and Watanuki are similar in that they’re both compassionate to the spirits. They know some yokai are malevolent, but that the majority won’t harm them if the humans don’t harm them first.

      And to be honest, while I don’t think I’ll stop reading CLAMP, I don’t buy in to their ‘social commentary.’ Some of it is so preachy, yet convoluted, that I don’t fully understand what their stance is. I appreciate Midorikawa’s overall message of “do good to all creatures and they will do good to you” a lot more.

      • If you are referring to the abortion discussion on the final chapters of xxxholic, it annoyed me, too. But I didn’t get the impression that their stances were unclear. I find the social commentary in Tokyo Babylon much more endearing.

        As for Natsume, there are cases where he gets hurt. I’d rather say that Midorikawa wants to show how healing for one’s soul is to be loved and then offer this love to others, but still be aware that good and evil coexist and you won’t get always gratitude for what you offer. It’s only about the peace you yourself feel when you give a helping hand. That’s always my interpretation 🙂

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