This is a collaboration between Karandi and Irina. If you are just catching up the previous posts are:
Be sure to check out Irina’s blog tomorrow for Round 2 Part B. Or, you know, just check out some of her great posts in general.
Irina: We said goodbye to some truly lovely characters in round 1. It speaks to the quality of the story that both of us found it so painful to cut anyone out. It’s very tough to argue your case when you truly love the other character as well but we did what we had to. This said, we had a clear winner in round 1 as 3 of Karandi’s characters advance to the second stage but Matoba is a strong contender! He may save me yet!
I’m not sure who will make it out of round 2 but there’s a chance neither of *us* will survive it. After ripping Natsume away from all his peers and actual friends in round one, the cruel hand of fate (a random number generator) now demands that we further shatter the boy’s social circle and support structure by pitting all the closest and most important people in his life against each other.
The mysterious and slightly ominous Matoba will take on our last Yokai and one of Natsume’s strongest allies: Hinoe, while the closest thing he’s even had to a family will be torn apart as Touko and Natori face off. I’m not going to lie, this is going to be way harder on me than it is one any of you…
Matoba vs Hinoe
For this match Karandi will be arguing for Matoba and Irina has taken on Hinoe.
Karandi: For all that Matoba has had a significant influence on Natsume and the plot of Natsume Yuujinchou, he’s all up appeared in 6, maybe 7 episodes. However, that just speaks of how notable his presence is. Amongst a pastel sea of sweet and misunderstood characters, Matoba represents something quite a bit darker and his fixation on power and later on Natsume always adds a bit of a thrill of danger to an otherwise placid story.
In fact, Matoba didn’t appear in the show until season 3, though the idea of exorcists and those that were not even as nice as Natori (who was definitely already a fairly grey character) had already been clearly established. And Matoba did not disappoint. Generally clad in black and with his eye covered, Matoba looks every bit the part of someone with shady intentions. His callous disregard for his servants (human and yokai alike) has been demonstrated several times, as has his overall ambition and desire to become more powerful.
While his view can be understood, the exorcists are serving a fairly important role in keeping dangerous yokai sealed, there’s always a sense of malice about him and a question about what he is truly seeking in the long term. The way he looks at Natsume and desires Natsume joining his family certainly has some darker undertones.
One thing that has become certain for me is that when Matoba makes an appearance, I’m going to love the episode. And it is going to get dark. Whether it is because Natsume is going to find himself captured and confined once again needing to escape or because there are going to be more yokai deaths, these episodes stand out from the others and yet perfectly compliment the darker themes that are constructed throughout the series. Over and over again, Matoba has proven himself a force to be reckoned with and as his views directly contradict Natsume’s views about yokai, the two are going to clash again and again. The episode where Natsume grudgingly helped Matoba was really interesting as it didn’t paint Matoba in a favourable light, but Natsume started moving toward understanding him a little bit more.
As much as I love Hinoe, and argued for her case in round one, I would strongly suggest that Natsume needs Matoba’s character and this is one character where despite limited screen time, he has made his presence felt and it sends tangible ripples through the entire rest of the series.
Irina: Hinoe is not a mere character, not a simple emissary representing the Yokai in this grand competition, more than any other person in the series, Hinoe is the living embodiment of the thread of faith that binds Natsume’s legacy to the turmoil he yet faces. As Karandi deftly pointed out in round 1 “Hinoe also forges a direct connection back to Reiko”, and this may prove much more important than we have been led to believe.
Reiko’s shadow looms large over Natsume, it always has. She is the only one he can truly relate to even though he has never met her and in a very real sense, the one responsible for everything in Natsume’s life, both good and bad. Unraveling the riddle of Reiko’s life will be primordial to Natsume’s continued growth and evolution. Without gaining a better understanding of what came before, he will be stuck repeating old mistakes or ultimately throwing away what makes him unique. The ominous repeated fact that Reiko died young and *alone* may also prove to be an omen that Natsume cannot afford to ignore.
The only person that is still in a position to offer any real insight on Reiko’s life and the lessons she had learned, is Hinoe. Without her, Natsume is set adrift.
Moreover, you cannot simply disregard the fact that she is a Yokai. I don’t want to sound specieist or anything, but how exactly can we think of Natsume’s Book of Friends and not have a single “friend” to speak of. The Yokai, their presence, influence, simple existence, are the singular most formative and important element of Natsume’s entire experience. They are a completely inextricable part of his world. Of course, Hinoe is hardly the only Yokai but she is one of the closest and kindest.
Because of her unusual willingness to interact with humans, Hinoe has managed to have one of the greatest impacts of Natsume that any of her kind (save Nyanko) have had. She has been a reliable big sister, a gentle guide and a comforting helper whenever Natsume has needed one. There is absolutely no one else that can bring these elements to Natsume’s life and without her, the Yokai side of the story becomes dreadfully unbalanced.
Yes Matoba’s influence is a catalyst and an important narrative element, but it is useless without the counterbalance of kind hearted Yokai to pull Natsume’s loyalties their way, and Hinoe is chief among them.
Karandi: Okay, if we’re arguing their knowledge of past events, Matoba and his clan have certainly indicated they have had past links with Reiko and have already done quite a bit of digging into Natsume’s past – a plot thread I definitely want to see developed. However, the point is well made that Hinoe has been one of Natsume’s strong links to the past and to the yokai from the beginning.
Irina: I’m sure that sneaky Matoba clan knows a whole lot more than they let on but are they willing to share? What good is that knowledge if it remains locked away?
Karandi: I don’t know. I like them both. They are both needed.
Honestly, I’d cast my vote for Matoba for the simple reason that he does bring those darker elements to the forefront of the show and I just truly love his episodes. Irina?
Irina: Yeah it’s Matoba. Let’s face it I always knew it was going to be Matoba but you have to admit, Hinoe put up a good fight!
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- Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 1
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