Natsume’s Book of Friends – Episode 13

Natsume’s thirteenth episode, the final episode of its first season, offers a beautiful culmination of all this season has accomplished. First off, it’s simply lovely in a visual sense. Natsume’s vision of rural Japan has always been one of its strongest features, and this episode is rife with beautiful shots of Natsume’s adopted home. Whether he’s trudging through the woods or gazing out across the open fields, shots here are framed to emphasize the rich colors and layered architecture of the world around him. With the trees alive in fall colors, Natsume’s world has never looked lovelier than this.

This episode’s narrative is just as rewarding as its visuals. There’s not much to “solve” in this episode – instead of presenting one of the show’s traditional youkai dilemmas, episode thirteen focuses on the discordant events surrounding an autumn festival. Natsume and nearly everyone he’s met all end up congregating to toast the season, meeting and parting and generally enjoying the festivities. This episode’s celebration feels like a celebration of the show itself, of the charming world it’s created and the themes that run through its veins.

That’s not to say this is an unfocused episode, either. At the beginning of this episode, Nyanko runs into Tanuma, the son of the monk who has a lesser gift for sensing youkai. Though Tanuma can’t see most youkai, he can actually hear Nyanko speak, and interrogates Nyanko about his relationship with Natsume before Natsume himself arrives. Tanuma seems a little hurt by the fact that Natsume never told him the truth about Nyanko, but his conversation with Natsume’s familiar still demonstrates his concern for his friend. Sometimes we lie to each other, and sometimes we hurt each other. As long as we keep trying to get close to each other, there will always be friction – that’s just the cost of caring.

Tanuma learning the truth about Nyanko ends up being a key moment for Natsume. Though he’s already established a circle of human friends who care about him, he’s never entrusted them with the truth about himself. His conversation with Tanuma here is the first time he’s positively discussed not just normal human stuff, but specifically the thing that makes him different, and that has traditionally isolated him. But as Tanuma’s brief hurt and enduring concern demonstrate, Natsume should be able to talk about these things. Natsume has gained friends by trying to act as “normal” as possible, but if someone cares about you, they should be able to accept your weirdness, your weakness, the things that make you strange.

As it so often turns out, Natsume’s fear of being rejected was in this case misguided. Tanuma is actually happy to have someone to talk about youkai with, and clearly appreciates being brought into Natsume’s confidence. There’s a great exchange that exemplifies Natsume recognizing his own misplaced fears. Natsume first admits that he was worried Tanuma would be uneasy about Natsume’s nature, to which Tanuma responds “do you feel uneasy?”, and Natsume realizes “no, not at all.” Natsume has gained a variety of friends in both of his “worlds” over this series, but the final step for him will likely be realizing his two lives don’t have to be separate after all.

The messiness and inherent friction of our closest connections is illustrated elsewhere through Natsume’s caretakers. Though Touko frets about how Natsume should have contacted them before attending the festival, Shigeru is actually happy that Natsume forgot to tell them. Shigeru sees Natsume’s unfailing politeness as the shield that it is – being courteous is well and good, but when it comes to family, our occasional selfishness actually demonstrates our closeness. While Tanuma’s material demonstrates the blunt fact that we will sometimes hurt those we care about, Shigeru sees that hurt itself as a sign of our bond. We are never going to be perfectly considerate people, and it’s those we can afford to be our less-perfect selves with who ultimately share our closest confidence.

The rest of Natsume’s thirteenth episode plays out as a cheerful reunion, as all of Natsume’s human and youkai associates gather to enjoy the festival. Wires are crossed and cats are bullied and friendships are reaffirmed, as Natsume and all of those he’s come to know enjoy the autumn season and each other’s company. The bonds that Natsume has formed ultimately inspire more bonds, as Natsume forms a common point of connection between people like Kogitsune the fox and Shuuichi the exorcist. These discordant characters all gather to enjoy the festival in their own ways, marveling at the same sky despite all their differences.

This episode felt like the ideal capstone to Natsume’s stirring mix of themes and feelings. Instead of offering one clear moral, it simply reaffirmed the difficulty, complexity, and vitality of our personal bonds, and the many ways that connecting with others can enrich our lives. Natsume’s Book of Friends understands the danger of baring your soul, and the scars that can follow when those we trust betray our sympathies. But even if honesty can be dangerous and painful, Natsume urges us to find those who will accept our strangeness, and love us for the people we are. Fireworks are always more beautiful with friends.

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