This may come as a bit of a surprise to some of you, but I’m actually a pretty big fan of Natsume’s  Book Friends. It’s a long story, maybe I’ll tell you about it someday….

But I wasn’t exactly hooked on it from the very first episode. It was a fine first episode as far as they go, but a little dry and clumsy with the overbearing exposition. Natsume’s brilliance lies in the understated and gentle way it probes at the core of human existence. It’s a calm and meditative experience that subtly builds up without you noticing. For me to actually realize I was dealing with something special, it would take all the way to episode 2 and the introduction of Tsuyukami.

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Fantastic mask as well

Tsuyukami is a Yokai and quite literally a little god. He seeks out Natsume, as most do, in an effort to get his name back before it’s too late. As a divine entity, he holds a certain cache in Japanese society. A culture deeply seeped in mysticism, they have one of the most elaborate and far ranging parthenons which changes and evolves constantly. Tsuyukami is just one tiny voice in the fray but he still has his temple and his follower and his pride.

Being the second episode (or second manga chapter, they’re very similar) we haven’t had the chance to get to know many Yokai yet and those that we have seen were all a mix of menacing and silly. There’s a a frustration and bitterness that runs through the Yokai at having their world slowly usurped by unknowing humans who can’t even acknowledge them.

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for some reason I always see Nyanko this way

But Tsuyukami is different. He’s generally calm, patient and understanding. He explains himself clearly and is reasonable in his expectations. There’s a sort of measured stillness about him, a gentle understanding that guides his actions. It becomes easy to see why one would choose to worship him.

In time, we find out that he was a travelling Yokai, turned out from his home by encroaching urban sprawl, who came to take refuge in the temple many years ago. This changed him as the weight of human faith bound him to the place and role.

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the ties that bind us

It gave him a measure of power at a heavy price. In time, as his following dwindled and the fickle interests of humans turned away through no fault of his own. When he saw the humans he had always loved from a distance turn away from him, he saw not only that power taken away but his very substance. Humans who had carelessly taken his home were know chipping away at his existence without so much as a thought to spare for him.

And yet, the Tsuyukami we meet is cheerful, inhabited by a certain blissful assurance that the world is beautiful. A creature without malice or resentment, he shows nothing but ongoing fondness for humankind in all its heedlessness and neglect.

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Yeah!

What’s more, as someone who truly does believe in the goodness of others, he never once even mentions it.  He trusts that humans will find that same beauty by themselves.

In the closing scenes, as Natsume suddenly realizes that, having lost his last follower, Tsuyukami is about to flicker out of existence, and desperately tries to help by offering to come worship him as well, Tsuyukami simply answers that he can’t be a follower because they’re friends and he’s now really looking forward to getting to know his other followers as friends.

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greatness comes in all sizes

That’s it, no great revelation, no dramatic speech. Graceful and joyful acceptance the changing times and hope for the beauty yet to come.

I don’t know what happens to Tsuyukami after. Not knowing is kind of the point. I don’t know if this little god, stripped of his powers and reduced to a mere whisper of his former self, ever got his simple wish of forming a true connection with someone.  I don’t know what hope there is for gods once they are alone and forgotten.

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farewell my friend

He may still be around though, because I certainly remember him. Tsuyukami reminded me that strength is about a lot more than power. He showed me that life is just better when you greet it with love. He did all of that without ever saying it. And he opened my eyes to a series I cherish.

I’m ill equipped to talk about gods in general, but I do know these are gifts I will be grateful for, for a very long time. And if you think so too, maybe spare a little thought for Tsuyukami and all the little gods out there that make the world a little softer and nicer for all of us.  

Image result for Tsuyukami gif

28 thoughts on “Of Tiny Gods and Boundless Grace”

  1. This was such a wonderful read! You absolutely nailed exactly what makes Natsume feel like such a special show for me—its beauty really is in how understated it is. Thanks for putting into words what I couldn’t! 🙂

  2. Tsuyukami is such an awesome little guy, between him, the sparrow and the Fox child, (I’m horrible with names) are my favorites and the ones i find most memorable. This episode really did set forth a lot of what we could expect from the series.

    I’m glad we accidentally correlated our days content. It’s funny and awesome.

  3. Two Natsume posts in one day? That’s the best way to start a morning ever.
    I really enjoyed the contrast of the second episode with the first. The first kind of makes Natsume look like it might end up being a monster of the week kind of thing with the yokai all being a little bit violent but episode two lays those fears to rest and lays the groundwork for the emotional depth this series will explore. It’s a fantastic introduction to the series as a whole.
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. was it Shaddow’s? Shaddow did a very sweet Natsume post. I’m glad you liked this one, I’ve come to realize that Natsume has a wealth of wonderful Yokai characters that say goodbye during the series…

  4. I felt the same way you did about the first episode. I actually spent a long time avoiding finishing the first season because I wasn’t sure if the rest would be that way. The second… Yes, definitely hooked me. 😊 If I had read this before discovering the second episode myself, this review would have definitely made me give it another chance. 👍

    1. You’re too sweet and also Welcome Friend of Natsume!!! Meeting more people that have enjoyed this show is one of my dearest simple pleasures!

  5. The first episode of Natsume I saw was the first episode of season 2. I wasn’t wowed, and filed it for later watching. A year or so later, I tried again and only then did I realise my mistake. The first episode I watched wasn’t the first episode I remembered, so… (The first season I watched as it aired was #3, and I watched 1 & 2 in preparation. I was worrying I wouldn’t get it done before the start of the season… I don’t think there were many worries more pointless than that.)

    This was a really nice episode, perfect to set the tone for the show. And this is a great post, bringing back the memories.

  6. I am slowly making my way through this anime and I’m enjoying it also :). I liked the point you emphasized about how he can’t be a follower because he is a friend. This made me think of my parents…
    My father was a preacher and my mother a preachers wife. Later in life I never realized how lonely they were. They found that it was hard for them to be friends with members in the church since some viewed them to a certain standard while others would get jealous if they would spend more time with one person than the other.
    I never realized that disconnect and how they couldn’t have friends.
    I maybe explaining it weirdly, but it makes sense that there is some disconnect between leaders/gods and the people who follow them. It can be bit lonely.

    1. Well that’s a lovely little piece of yourself to share. But yes, heavy is the crown and all.
      We already hear how hard it is for celebrities to have normal relationships, one can only imagine how someone perceived to have actual direct power over your life would be treated…

  7. Some spelling errors here: As a divine entity, he holds a certain cache in Japanese society. A culture deeply seeped in mysticism, they have one of the most elaborate and far ranging parthenons which changes and evolves constantly. ” Should be cachet not cache. And pantheons, not parthenons. Parthenon is a building in Athens. And cache is a hiding place, but cachet is the political specialty. I think that’s what you meant.

  8. Wait… I’m confused… You LIKE Natsume’s Book of Friends?? I could have sworn that you HATED that one. You barely ever talk about it and it all seems to be negative!! Thanks for clearing that up! 😉😉😂👍

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