Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Zoku Natsume Yuujin-chou 03: Sparkly Exorcist Dude Returns

Natsume meets up with the popular actor / shady exorcist and goes on an impromptu hot springs trip with him. No, nothing happens between them.
EPISODE 03: Youkai Exorcism Amid the Steaming Springs
More Screencaps from Zoku Natsume Yuujin-chou 03

Natsume is walking down the street when he hears voices. They are coming from a bunch of tiny spirits, carrying a shrine and arguing about how to get past the small puddle of water in front of them. Natsume helps them by placing a wooden board over the puddle, creating a makeshift bridge. The spirits talk about how they can now deliver their lord's head while Natsume watches them go. Just then, a breeze lifts a corner of the cloth covering the small shrine, revealing a three-eyed skull.
Moments later, Natsume arrives home and finds a curious piece of paper stuck to the door. He pulls it out only to find himself suddenly bound by it and being dragged to the end of the road, where Natori is waiting for him. Apparently, he is in town to invite Natsume to a trip to the hot springs, which he won in a contest. After some hesitation, Natsume accepts the invitation so off they (Natori, Natsume and Nyanko-sensei) go. However, although the hot springs trip is meant for relaxation, on first arrival, Natsume starts hearing noises coming from the closet of their room. Before he could check it out though, Natori comes so they can go to the baths together.
At the baths, Natsume and Nyanko-sensei get into their usual argument. Then Natsume finds himself staring at the lizard-shaped cursed spirit which inhabits Natori's body before he catches himself. Hiiragi, Natori's spirit servant, is also there and her presence shocks Natsume so much that he accidentally splashes her with water. He later makes up for it by helping her dry off with a towel, despite Natori's comment that spirits don't get cold.
Later, Natsume sees a body hanging on the wall of his room but when it disappears an instant later, he believes it's only his imagination. However, when he is alone with Nyanko-sensei in the room, he hears the noise from before. In the closet, he finds a jar covered with a half-finished seal. When he shows it to Natori later, he doesn't seem too worried about it. That evening, however, Natori tells him something that forces Natsume to remember the past and have a nightmare of both his foster mother, Mrs. Fujiwara, and Natori accusing him of being a liar.
When Natsume wakes up for the second time that night, it is from the noise in the closet. When he and Natori check it moments later, they find that the jar has been opened. Natori comments that the spirit must be so strong if it could break the seal by itself. While Natori is gone with Hiiragi, Natsume encounters the spirit from the jar and she (the spirit) apparently knew Reiko. She reveals that she has been trapped inside that jar a long time ago by humans but that she wanted to leave and the only way to do that is to get her name back. Natsume buys the story hook, line, and sinker and gives her back her name.
Unfortunately, once he does, the spirit makes a complete about-face and attempts to devour Natsume. Natori arrives just in the nick of time just as Nyanko-sensei likewise gets wind of the situation. The three of them all flee to a room that Natori has been preparing for just that situation. But Natsume, who doesn't like exorcism because it kills spirits rather than free them, has no idea that Natori has been intending to perform an exorcism all along. Natori apologizes and admits that he knew about the evil spirit before he arrived. Having been lied to, Natsume still declares that he wants to help Natori, saying only that this happened in the first place because of his weakness.
The spirit arrives in the room and Natori starts using his cursed binding paper thing. But now that it has its name back, the spirit's power has increased tremendously. It manages to slip past Natori's binding but just before she could reach Natsume, a huge hand reaches out from nowhere and grabs her. The new arrival is a three-eyed spirit and it turns out that he is actually the three-eyed skull that Natsume helped not too long ago. This spirit purifies the evil one and then disappears just as quickly as he appears. At check-out the next day, Hiiragi reveals to Natsume that Natori's real intentions were to make sure that the seal on the jar was still intact and to spend some time with Natsume (who can see the same "scenery" as him).

Pretty good episode. Has yaoi tendencies, probably, but still pretty good. Natsume is really coming together as a character now. Not all of his troubles are resolved yet -- he still has to tell his foster parents about his weird friends -- but that's probably going to be saved for last. Anyhoo, the most important thing is that his naivete about spirits being vaguely nice persons has just received a huge reality check in this episode. Let's see how this realization is going to play out in his actions in the coming episodes.

I really like Hiiragi as a side character. She's one of my more favorite side characters from the show, next only to Hotaru. Her story fleshed her out well, too.

As for Natori, he's coming out as less shady now. However, I wonder how his discovery that Natsume has the Book of Friends would alter his dealings with the boy. Being an exorcist who hates spirits on principle, will he try to take it and get the power for himself? Or will he develop into a character that can more or less acknowledge that spirits and humans can co-exist without need for exterminating each other? Only time can tell.