Natsume Yūjin-Chō Roku
Episode 12

by Lauren Orsini,

Bet you weren't expecting a brand new installment of Natsume Yujin-Cho Roku! Hot on the heels of the Natsume's Book of Friends movie announcement comes just a taste of what the feature film will inevitably have to offer: Natsume's compassion toward a fickle yokai in an emotional story that says something about the human experience. This episode is a bit of a slow burn, an atmospheric glimpse into a provincial summer while Natsume attempts to solve a low-stakes mystery with an understated emotional payoff.

Natsume is a really nice guy. So nice that when he sees an old man collapsed in the road, he offers to carry him home even though it's a sweltering summer day and the old man lives in the next town over. Although the man is wearing a goofy mask to hide his features, and Natsume has met hundreds of masked yokai at this point, he doesn't realize the old man is a spirit until he drops him off at the tree stump this yokai calls home. Really, Natsume? Anywho, a stump without a trunk or branches or leaves isn't long for this world, so the yokai asks Natsume for help tying up loose ends before he dies, including making good on a promise to a human he made once, even though he can't remember what the promise was. “I want to know what kind of promise a human and yokai can make,” Natsume insists. By season six, he's witnessed and even made many promises with yokai, so this statement, paired with his inability to recognize the masked yokai, makes me wonder if this is a very early story in the Natsume canon getting adapted quite late in the game.

The rest of the episode is about unraveling that mystery, but we're in no hurry to do so. It's a slow amble through Natsume's world, where sunlight filters through the forest over the Dog's Circle of Natsume's yokai protectors, Touko's home cooking graces the kitchen table, and Natsume and his friends walk home from school in their summer uniforms. The stakes for solving this mystery are low, and there's no dramatic tension to speak of. It's just the moments when Natsume visits the stump alternating with the moments in between, and there's no reason for it to take this long other than allowing viewers to bask in the aesthetic. There are times that Natsume Yujin-Cho can be tense or even terrifying, and this is not one of those times.

The payoff comes near the end, when the yokai of the Suzunaru tree finally remembers who he made a promise to and what it was. Now we get the twist, in the form of an emotional gut punch that reminds me just how fleeting our time is compared to what yokai enjoy. (In fact, this is one of the few times we've seen a yokai prepare for death.) With death heavy in the air, hope comes in the form of the next generation, a giggling toddler who can see and enjoy the yokai's antics. It's a sweet, simple story that conveys nostalgia, loss, and longing all without offering much in the way of plot. It's a tall glass of iced tea in anime form—relaxing and reminiscent of summer, but not exactly surprising or unique.

Rating: B

Natsume Yūjin-Chō Roku is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Lauren writes about geek careers at Otaku Journalist.

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