Her name is Hishigaki.
After all the hostile chasing, Hishigaki ended up only wanting to ask Reiko, “are you okay by yourself now?” That was the moment when a one-dimensional youkai turned into a deep, complex character and an ordinary action sequence turned into a multilayered story with genuinely felt, internal turmoil.
The word “Natsume” means summer eye,
but this Natsume has cat’s eyes.
From the start, Natsume Yuujinchou 1 immediately put us in the middle of a chase scene, where a Cyclops-like monster slammed the protagonist Takashi Natsume against a tree and pondered about pulling his tongue out. This set up a tense tone of mortal danger from which the show slowly revealed a much richer and deeper reality. By the end of the episode, the monster had only wanted to be called by her name—an act of companionship that I suppose most Youkai had been starved of in the world of Natsume. It truly brought out the theme don’t judge a book by its cover.
Nothing Is What It Seems to Be
I’ll sign her autograph book, with my phone number too.
Probably the most complex and interesting character of the show, Reiko started out being portrayed as some aloof, spiritually powerful fighter who enslaved youkai with her contracts. However, in Hishigaki’s flashback, we see nothing but a free spirited, mischievous teenage girl who just wasn’t afraid to talk to beings that most other people would run away from. Unlike the magical fighter spoken of, she did not cast any it’s-over-9,000 spell or anything; she just sneaked in a smack on the head with a worn out wooden bat like a kindergarden kid in a schoolyard fight. And it was not contracts of enslavement she was extracting; it was more like an autograph of friendship that she was seeking instead. This really raised the question as to what her true power was: Was it really some supernatural reserve of energy, or was it just her spirit of friendship to inspire and lead the outcasts to follow her?
I missed Sesshoumaru.
The latter quality was already being displayed in her grandson, the protagonist Takashi Natsume as observed by Madara—the demon dog in cat form who owed his release to Takashi—who then agreed to lend his strength to help Takashi instead of crushing him and taking the Book of Friends as he was very capable of. When you can turn dangerous enemies into powerful allies like that, you cannot be weak at all.
I’m pretty sure that’s not Japanese.
One of the other nice touches by the writers of the show is the use of names versus faces. As a human, I could not tell if a cat is a boy or girl, even though I have grown up with them all my life. Not only does this indicate the attention of details the writers have put in, but it also serves to expound on the theme that what we have perceived for one thing cannot be applied without scrutiny upon perceiving another. We’re not in Kansas anymore. These are youkai with their own senses, own perceptions, and perhaps even own morals.
Once a neko, always a neko.
A major theme of this show will be companionship. Every major characters are outcasts, but yet the Book of Friends will draw them all to cross paths with each other. So in this sense, the Book of Friends is really a book about making friendship, whose mere existence is offering such opportunities to those who cannot do so on their own, be it whatever their initial purpose may be. I wonder if the “power” of the book was simply just a ruse Reiko had setup in order to achieve just this very goal.
“I just ran out of toilet tissue.”
So, this could be the format of the show: Each episode will feature a particular youkai whose name will be released with the result of learning something about their pasts. Some of them will be sweet; others, bitter; but it should be a flavorful experience with deep characterizations and themes. Had Takashi be traveling also, this show would instantly remind me of Mushishi. OK, let’s not raise too high of an expectation here, and just let the show speak its own message.
She might call your name next week.