I’ve already spoken about a character from Natsume’s Book of Friends for this series of character sudies. In fact Karandi and I have discussed many of Natsume’s supporting characters. The series is densely populated by absolutely wonderful people who wonder in and out of Natsume’s life, leaving behind precious little drops of wisdom and meaning. I could probably dedicate the rest of these posts to Natsume characters and not run out.
Natsume is a series that seamlessly blends joy and sadness in a way that makes one inextricable from the other. At every turn happiness is coated with melancholy and grief dampened through hope. One of the first character to really personify the bitter-sweet nature of the series for me, was the firefly Yokai: Hotaru.
When we meet Hotaru, she is already getting ready to move on. Her triumphs and hardships are behind her. She’s made her peace with the unfair nature of life and simply wants to say goodbye to the one she loves.
Hotaru is a quiet and kind little Yokai. When Natsume meets her, she is in the form of a young woman wearing a telltale mask. Throughout the episode, we get to know how this little Yokai once met a boy very much like Natsume and made a connection with the only human that could see her. How they slowly got to know each other. Through quiet moments by the lake and simple interactions we take for granted, but that are miraculous for Hotaru, we see a connection form and a trust establish. In time that trust deepens to true caring.
Two little souls feeling otherwise alone and abandoned, finding each other through magic and rediscovering the wonder of the world. It’s a calm and comforting friendship. One tinged with a bit of longing. The feeling of belonging to someone takes on a new meaning when they are the only one who even knows you exist. When they’re the only one who believes you unconditionally.
It’s Hotaru and Sugino against the entire world! A world only very few people can even see. Full of dangers and ghosts and mysteries. So much larger and brimming with magic and menace, than we could ever imagine in our limited perception. Yet Sugino and Hotaru’s world is also tiny. A cozy little private place, just for the two of them. One comfy sitting spot next to a beautiful lake. For a long time, Hotaru and Sugino are half of each other’s entire reality.
Part of the Yunjinchou mythology holds that the ability to see Yokai and any powers associated with it, diminishes with age. It’s a reality we see over and over across different stories. This often has very unpleasant implications for the exorcists. It’s also a constant worry nagging at the back of Natsume’s mind that bubbles up to the surface in times of doubt.
I don’t know if Sugino was lucky in this regard or not. Certainly, losing his sight never put him in any danger as it did others. It even allowed him to go on with his life….
I saw this episode over a year ago. I have seen countless shows since. I even saw the rest of Natsume since and let me tell you there were some tremendous episodes to come.
Sugino runing through the forest and along the bank desperately screaming Hotaru’s name. Panicking at the idea of losing someone that has become more than just a presence in his life. Someone that defines his very existence. Letting raw grief tear him apart…All the while, Hotaru staring silent just in front of him. Unseen, unknown. Stoically understanding that her world had just changed forever. That a big part of it was simply gone. It’s a scene that still haunts me. I remember it in detail.
I also remember slowly sinking to the floor as tears welled up in my eyes, my mind wretchedly trying to grasp what my heart had understood. The entire universe disappeared for a second. I didn’t know what, but I knew I had just been told something very important.
I numbly watched Hotaru and Sugino resign themselves to faith. Little by little accept how unkind life can be. I watched Sugino come back, day after day, month after month, talking to himself, waiting for a response that would never come. I watched Hotaru dance, scream, plead to be noticed, simply acknowledged by the one she cared for most, in vain. Eventually, Sugino started coming less, the conversations kept in his head. Hotaru stopped answering out loud. She stopped jumping around. They simply sat side by side quietly grieving.
After years Sugino has found someone else to be a part of his world. Wanting to share this happiness with someone he still cares for so much, he came back. Just one more time. To say goodbye perhaps or maybe thank you. And after having waited for him for so long, all Hotaru can do, is be happy for him and go on her way as well.
I do not know where fireflies go. They’re lives are so brief, yet they can both fly and shine. I do hope Hotaru is happy.
You guys probably know this already. I’m a little slower so it took me a while to truly appreciate Hotaru’s lesson here. I walked around the house not knowing whether I should be happy or sad. Trying to wrap my mind around being both at the same time. With time, and distance, things get a little clearer. Maybe I got it wrong, but this is what I finally understood.
Happiness is brief and can disappear without warning in the blink of an eye. It’s our job to hold onto it as tightly as we can. To stare at it and commit every detail to memory. To savour it and enjoy in every way possible. To protect it while it’s around. And once it flickers out, we still have to protect it. Polish those memories to avoid them becoming dull. Be diligent and weed out the splinters of bitterness that creep in. Be strong enough to not let regret rob us of the good times. It’s difficult to do but worth it. That bright and shiny memory is a treasure without equal.
And the best part is, tomorrow, you can start on a new memory.