Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Zoku Natsume Yuujin-chou 04: Baby Youkai

Natsume finds himself taking care of a youkai's hatchling....
EPISODE 04: A Chick Hatches
More Screencaps from Zoku Natsume Yuujin-chou 04

Natsume has appointed himself as watcher over a nest of newly hatched chicks on a tree outside his window. Nyanko-sensei just wants to eat the chicks. One day, however, Natsume notices someone standing outside, so he and Nyanko-sensei rush over to the spot. But no one is there and all that they see is a strange writing on the wall, written by an ayakashi. Suddenly, strong gust of wind blows by scaring the birds away. Natsume later checks the nest, only to find it empty save for one single brown egg. He takes the egg to his home and designates Nyanko-sensei to sit on it until it hatches. Nyanko-sensei, of course, is less than amenable to this but after Natsume tells him that the chick might be good to eat, Nyanko-sensei grudgingly does as told.
Meanwhile, Natsume has to go to school and leaves Nyanko-sensei to take care of the egg. This continues for a while, during which time he notices that the writing on the gate of his house changes every time. Little does he know that an ayakashi wearing a hat with the "rat" character on it has been coming over to his house every night to change the writings. Finally, the Rat shows itself to Natsume to ask him about the egg on the tree. He says that the egg belongs to a species of rare youkai that his master wants to eat. He adds that he has been counting down the days for the egg to hatch (hence, the "countdown" characters on the gate) but recently discovers that the egg is gone. He says that Natsume, being a mere human, would not think of stealing the egg. Before Natsume could reply to this, he goes away, leaving only a trail of wind in his wake.
After the ayakashi is gone, Natsume hurries to his room to tell Nyanko-sensei about his recent encounter. However, all he sees there is a letter from him; the cat has gone off. Left to himself, Natsume muses over the egg for a while until Nyanko-sensei returns, drunk and barely lucid. Upon seeing the piece of crumpled paper on the floor, Nyanko-sensei immediately deposits himself on it, thinking it to be the egg. Not long after, the egg finally begins to hatch and as Natsume and Nyanko-sensei both wait in anticipation, a flash of white light comes out, blinding them for a moment. The next instant, they find themselves staring at the hatchling.
Nyanko-sensei explains that it's a tatsumi and that they are youkai that are not known to take care of their young. As such, only very few survive. Also, the hatchling tend to look like the first thing they see when they hatch, which thus explains why this particular hatchling looks like a human. However, they would outgrow this appearance once they mature. Natsume makes some clothes for the hatchling and generally takes care of it. Before long the hatchling grows bigger and bigger. Natsume wonders what he should name it but Nyanko-sensei says that he already decided on a name: Tama ("eggy") since it came from an egg. At one point, Tama makes a papier mâché nest and proudly shows it to Natsume and even invites him in. Of course, Natsume can't fit inside but he monologues that Tama just wants to be loved.
The quiet days of watching over Tama as he grows up come to an end when Tama suddenly grows sick and refuses to eat. Then, to make matters worse, the Rat invades Natsume's home in order to steal away Tama. Nyanko-sensei tries to attack him in his cat form and while the two are distracted, Natsume steals out of the window, with Tama in his arms. He runs towards the woods and hides there. However, it does not take long for the Rat to find them.
The Rat demands that Natsume give him Tama, saying that it is only one youkai which should not matter to a human like him. When Tama hears this, he struggles against Natsume's arms. He stops only when Natsume assures him that he is never going to let the Rat take him away. At this, the Rat becomes angry and tries to forcefully take Tama away. However, as he does, a blinding flash of light suddenly emits from Tama's body. In the next moment, Natsume finds himself looking up at Tama, now a fully-grown tatsumi, holding the Rat between its gigantic beak.
Nyanko-sensei sees the light from a distance and runs towards it. Once he arrives, he warns Natsume that it's already too late for Tama. Having grown up so fast, the shock of it has caused him to lose his previous memories. Even so, Natsume tries to call out to Tama to let the ayakashi go. It takes a while but after Natsume touches Tama's beak and tells him to come home does Tama remember. In the next moment, Natsume and Nyanko-sensei both get to ride on Tama's back on their way home with the Rat their progress from the ground. Once at the house, Natsume and Nyanko-sensei say their final goodbyes to Tama before the latter flies away into the night. In the ensuing days, Natsume monologues that Tama's makeshift nest is empty but that somehow he knows what was inside.

A quietly touching episode. Tama is the cutest baby youkai ever. I also really like how Natsume's self-perception was portrayed here. Of course, he sees himself as Tama, an abandoned chick that just wants to be loved. He says that the whole time he was growing up, he wasn't lonely (because he always had company in the form of youkai and ayakashi, no matter how unwanted they may be) but that he was sad because he had no one who loved him. Now, he has his foster parents who appear to genuinely love him (his mother is adorable) so he wants that for Tama as well to the point that he is willing to stand in for his parents.

Nyanko-sensei also appears to have really grown attached to Tama. The signs are quite subtle but they are there, in the way he warms up the crumpled paper, thinking it to be the egg, and how he gives Tama his name. The cat has a heart! ^.^

The nest, or rather its invisible contents, symbolizes that which cannot be seen by the eyes. A fine allusion I should say and it made for a very thoughtful ending.

All in all, good episode. This one pretty much can stand on its own.