Sobby and Sniffly Salutations my Island Guests! Natsume let me feel stuff again! I kind of cried for a character I saw in a single episode again! Well not really cried but I was misty eyed nonetheless. This might be the first thing I am not giving a perfect score despite making me cry! It came very close.. but it just missed out! In this blog I will discuss the 6th episode of Natsume Book of Friends.
Natsume and his friends, I think, are taking a bike tour when they come across a “drowned” village. A village that got flooded and abandoned by building a dam. Of course Natsume sees a present but his friends, I think, do not. The addition to the “i think” comes from the fact that I don’t really know anything about them. They are always around him and interact with Natsume regularly but he doesn’t really seem to hang out with them.. except for this time. I assume they are friends but they also could be a study group or something! Regardless, Natsume sees something.. it fades.. then with a whoosh of wind he is knocked out. He wakes up at home, the doctor tells he has a heat stroke but we soon find out he is possessed. He finds this out by returning the names of a few Yokai who dwell in the drowned city. In return for helping him they give him a magic mirror that allows him to discover the possession. Nyanko pushes off the spirit and as it leaps for Natsume.. Donned in a Swallow mask, Natsume punches it. The mask breaks and it is revealed a girl wearing an eye veil is underneath..with pure intentions.
She wants to see someone again, for one final time before her spiritual energy grows too weak and she fades away. This is her dream and Natsume takes a liking to her and decides to help Madara/Nyanko’s Chagrin. His “friends” help him get an address for this man and while Natsume and the girl yokai go look for the man they begin to bond a bit. Natsume learns this girl named Tsubame (meaning Swallow) was once a Baby Swallow who fell out of the nest. A kind human put her back in the nest…but since it now was tainted with human scent the parents abandon the nest and Tsubame cries for food..while seeing her brothers and sister starve. Blaming herself the resentment caused her to transform into what she calls a demon. This demon hid from the world.. but a kind man kept feeding her every day.. this is the man she wants to meet again. She does.. and while waving at him happily and talking to him he ignores her.. unable to see her. Tsubame says she is super glad she got to do this but it is not enough for Natsume.. he wants her to actually talk to the man. To help her he attends a festival of Yokai .. led by the guy who gave him the magic mirror earlier. The Yokai can win a Yukata that allows them to appear as humans for a day. Even though the spirit plans to eat Natsume he is determined to compete and win for Tsubame’s sake. With the help of Madara he does so. He gives Tsubame the yukata and says his goodbye.. never seeing her again. A few days later he asks the man if he ever saw Tsubame and the man shows him a picture of them attending a festival together. Natsume sobs a bit.. glad his new friend got what she wished for and looked happy..but also clearly sad he will never see her again.
I loved Tsubame myself.. and the last line.. to think that she is gone already made me super sad. She is voice acted great and drawn great and written great. You just start to care for her. When Natsume tells she is slowly losing strength I genuinely was genuinely worried for her. The way she waves to that person that is so important to her.. telling him all sorts of things with a smile on her face while clearly she must know he can not hear her really pulled my heartstrings! It is also good to see Natsume form an actual bond for once. This is not an act of convenience, or because it is right or because he wants to figure out more about his grandma.. no Natsume has taken a shine to this “person” and enjoyed her company and spirit and wishes to see things end well for. Much like with the tiny guardian. I found myself quite infatuated with this swallow girl and her story.. despite being quite generic and birdlike made me look at it from the fletchling perspective. Poor little birds slowly starving. The idea of seeing your brothers and sisters get abandoned because you messed up.. and got greeted with an act of kindness.. it really worked for me and became something bigger.
I also like the idea of Natsume acting with the spirit world a lot. He punches the spirit, he races against them, he gets a magical item from their world and uses it to further his agenda.. (though selfless). It makes the world of Yokai a lot bigger than just the names in the book. Where I compared it with an inverse Pokemon after the first episode I now realise that analysis is incorrect because these Yokai are much more people with their own little world for us to understand. Their own bonds, their own emotions and now even their own items and culture! Do take note though that I like the idea.. not the way it is executed, more on that in a little bit. The series is working towards expanding its possibilities and does so early on so it can not fall into a hole and I really like that. The hug Natsume got also feels like the first reward he really got.. it might seem tiny.. but it is something and I really needed to see that.
Had this episode only featured Tsubame I would have easily given this my highest rating yet! I really love that character A LOT more than I should do for a one episode character. The other Yokai in this episode though.. are a problem. They aren’t bad persé.. but it is like putting Merryl Streep in a movie with Tyler Perry or with Will Arnett. You know the latter two will be completely blown away by the former. The tournament host and magic mirror guy feels a bit forced.. he transforms into the same type of demon Madara is and they scuffle for a bit but it isn’t that interesting. It feels a bit soap-opera-like .. exposition needed to tell the real tale. I like the Kimono as a magic item, the race kind of feels forced however. There is a Kimono stuck in a tree and all Yokai must race there without using their Yokai powers. Natsume goes undercover but has too short legs to win.. it all feels a bit nothingy.. while I do get we see Madara start to care for Natsume here.. I feel this could have been done in a much more interesting way.
The race also offers another problem, the plot feels a tad messy. This is in part due to the fact that Natsume has to attend a Festival one day, so Tsubame can attend another. Kind of like forcing Cinderella to win a dance-off to win tickets for the ball. I didn’t really like that structure. Also how did Natsume know where the other guy is while he was out racing Yokai, I doubt he could track the guy during all that. It just felt really weird and awkward to me. The other spirit is just so weakly written. I give you a peek in this magic mirror. .. which turns out just the thing to start the plot. He is an engine and not a very well written one and it takes some serious shine out of an otherwise amazing episode.
I loved half of this episode and I truly mean loved! Man if I ever become a mother I am gonna starve all my kids hopefully the last survivor will be as great as Tsubame. It is great to see a more alive and emotional Natsume, even though seeing him cry made me get some tissues. I love how this show can invoke those feelings and this is the third time it did. It did it in a much more raw way then episode 2 and 4 as well … jeez even numbered episodes rule in this series so far. Had this episode been pure between Natsume and the little Swallow I would have had my new favourite episode of the show. The good in this episode isn’t just good! It really is amazing.
Unfortunately the rest of this episode kind of feels half baked. The rest of what we see is not that much more than exposition or plot convenience. I am super happy they chose to keep these events separate from Tsubame but in a way that also makes it worse.. you know.. as if they are aware of the fact that this part of content isn’t as good. The pacing in the Tsubame bits is great and I LOVE the idea of Natsume never seeing her again.. and being insecure ..but so curious he talks to a stranger, which seems very against character.. it shows how much he cares. Yet the pacing with the other spirit is quite poor. The race had no Oomph what so ever and even Nyanko/Madara’s decision to help Natsume was overshadowed by its “let’s get this over with.. we have a better story to tell” pacing. It’s like having a delicious meatball and some vegetables but not really a way to call it a dish so you pour on some water and some noodles and call it ramen. The meatball is still exceptional but now that is part of a dish it will only be described as good.