In Natsume Yuujinchou, there is no faction more underrepresented than the exorcists, specifically the Matoba clan. While they’ve become more important in the plot as the series has continued and built on itself, they’re still mysterious people who we don’t know much about. Why do they do what they do? How do they justify the purification and bondage of youkai? Are their purposes really so selfish that they’ll eliminate anybody in their way? Through the power of flashbacks, episode seven of the fourth series attempts to answer these questions, giving us a fair glimpse behind the mysterious masks that shield the exorcists.
Natsume Yuujinchou is a series that’s always been firmly rooted in Shinto mythology, much to nobody’s surprise. Youkai run amok and occasionally wreak havoc on the human world, only kept at bay by sacred symbols and people with a gift for seeing and performing rituals to banish them—exorcists, if you will. With different motives (Usually either protecting people or wanting to destroy youkai), they have an oddly small part in comparison to other characters. But Nanase, an elderly member of the Matoba clan, is given her very own episode this week, one in which we see the moment in her childhood where she met a person who instilled in her certain values that she’s held well into the modern day.
The Matoba clan has always been depicted in a somewhat dubious light, the only youkai that they use being those that they’ve warped to their own devices. What they don’t use they destroy, and they’re not terribly fond of people interfering with their work. A comparison could be drawn between the Matoba clan and a criminal organization, if one’s definition of cruelty encompasses what they do. Seiji, the member being groomed into leadership, in particular is a cold individual who uses any means necessary to accomplish his goals. Many points have been made in the past contrasting Natsume’s policy of coexistence with the Matobas’ of domination of the youkai, but it’s very rare that we actually see things from their perspective.
The point has also been made that not every exorcist holds the same view toward youkai; Natori has been a companion to Natsume whenever he sees fit, and the difference between him and Matoba is as stark as night and day. He treats his servants with respect and sees fit to make sure they’re safe from harm. The conference in season two with all the exorcist clans helped to support this claim, very few of which have adapted the extreme methods of Matoba.
However, even if the methods aren’t exactly beneficial toward the youkai, the different mentality of Nanase offsets a fair bit of ill-will. In contrast to Seiji’s ruthless ambition to either control or eliminate any powerful youkai that crosses his path, even if other spirits must get caught in the crossfire, she sees her position in life, and that of the exorcists in general, as a counterpoint to the youkai. While they do what they do, she must stop them whenever the influence crosses over into the human world (Karma for karma). It doesn’t justify her deeds by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s nice to see that she acknowledges the legitimacy of the youkai world as something to mirror the human one, and doesn’t want to see it bowed to her will.
The point that I’ve tried to reach after several paragraphs is that I liked the fact that Natsume Yuujinchou decided to dedicate sometime to fleshing out the exorcist faction a bit more. They’re not some faceless amalgamation, contrary to their servants’ appearance, they’re a group that has wildly varying motivations for purifying and otherwise subjugating youkai to their will. While it still goes against what Natsume stands for, they’re still human. It was also interesting to see the Reiko enigma elaborated on a little bit more. Knowing that she had renown even among the exorcists gave the world a greater sense of cohesion. To me, it’s a nearly perfect series that continues to outdo itself at every opportunity, and I never stop enjoying what it has to offer. Even if that something is development of what passes for the recurring group of villains of this show.