Hello everyone. It’s June and we are already halfway through my year of Nowltsume. Only 6 more of these posts and I’ll have reached my goal!. It’s been a lot harder than I would have thought when I started out. I’m relatively happy with how it’s going so far.
For this month’s prompt, we have vulnerability…
6th Monthly Topic: “Vulnerable”
In the month of June, we will be discussing what it means to be vulnerable. To some individuals, being vulnerable could be seen as a sign of weakness, but in fact, vulnerability is actually a sign of strength. In this month’s posts, we will explore what it means to be vulnerable and how certain characters in pop culture glamorize vulnerability. When do we show our vulnerability? How do we express vulnerability? Why should we show vulnerability? These are questions that we will be discussing in our posts featuring characters that show vulnerability and/or sensitivity and what we can learn from them or even our own personal stories.
- Shield Hero
- Kimi ni Todoke
I have a complicated relationship with the use of vulnerability in fiction. When done right it can be impressively effective. I once wrote that Kyoto animation, as a studio, were experts in weaponizing vulnerability. Their designs particularly tap into rounder shapes and softer colours we associate with innocence, youth and to a certain degree helplessness, and they carefully tailor movement to keep the impression going while putting those same characters in difficult situations. Similar strategies are used for all those tortured magical girl shows which generally go out of their way to highlight the fragility of the characters before punishing them.
I enjoy vulnerability in both those examples. However, I think that it’s because it serves a narrative purpose in those cases and isn’t used to shackle the character to a superficial trope. What I find difficult to appreciate, is when the vulnerability is treated as a character’s entire personality and renders them incapable of any agency in their stories.
In some ways, vulnerability can either be shown as a weakness or a strength. When done really well, it can be both. And this, dear friends, is where we catch up to Natsume Takashi.
I rarely speak of the boy himself. There are so many aspects of this series that captivated me that I don’t seem to have gotten to the main character yet. Among the very many things that Natsume’s Book of Friends is, it is very much Natsume’s coming of age story. A bittersweet and often calm yet magical saga that is outlined by the young man’s vulnerability.
In many ways, Natsume is a raw nerve that’s learned to dull himself. His rough childhood left deep scars that are still visible and his best means of survival was to numb himself to the pain. In order to avoid further hurt, Natsume retreated within himself, keeping everyone else at arm’s reach, never letting them see his disappointment, fear or pain. He became a pleasant blank mask, nearly incapable of sincerity. His life had been defined by lying to others about the Yokai he sees to avoid trouble for everyone, so lying about his feelings wasn’t that different. And in time, it became second nature. So much so, that the boy started to successfully lie to himself.
By the time we meet him, Natsume has buried any trace of vulnerability so deep within himself that he can sometimes forget it even exists. He’s put up thick walls of polite smiles and words. It’s an almost perfect replica of a happy young man without a care in the world. Almost but not quite. And those around him can tell something’s off.
Over the course of the six seasons that have aired, **As we wait for the next one. Cough cough*** we’ve seen the boy slowly come out of his shell. Either coaxed by the kindness of a real family, through self-determination for the love of newfound friends or dragged out by the force of a relentless and eternally hungry cat.
Life has gotten better for Natsume. He’s finally found a place where he belongs. For the first time, he can enjoy those little things we take for granted, like getting scolded by a worried parent when he’s late. In time he might even relax enough to take them a little bit for granted as well. The wounds of the past are slowly healing and he has finally become strong enough to be vulnerable again.
One of the most powerful episodes of… anything…I have ever watched, was the conclusion of Natsume’s season 4. It was a culmination of everything the boy’s been though. All the pain and loss but also the sudden hope that has come into his life. For a moment, Natsume let it all in. Allowed himself to feel it all. Accepted the weak and scared little boy that he was and held him close to his heart. And we got to experience it all alongside him.
To me, that young man shaking under the weight of years of remorse and pain was a monumental achievement. The courage it takes to put yourself through such a thing is tremendous.
I still remember that moment vividly and I know lots of Natsume fans feel the same way. It’s a scene that burrows in your heart and just stays there. Making it a little bigger.
The Natsume that walked out of his parents’ old house after giving in to his vulnerability isn’t the same as the one who had walked in. He’s more flexible and less likely to break. He acknowledges pain and disappointment which opens him up to joy and hope. Vulnerability isn’t pleasant. It’s frightening to face and difficult to acknowledge. But it can also be very beautiful and deeply human.
For Natsume, it’s a saving grace.
I hope you enjoyed my little post. You should not miss Dylan’s take on Check Please! while Lyn will talk about Secondhand Serenade on Tuesday.
You can follow along with the whole tour:
- 6/9: Megan at Nerd Rambles
- 6/10: Hikari at Hikari Otaku Station
- 6/11: Crimson at Read at Night
- 6/13: Aria at AniManga Spellbook
- 6/14: Dylan at Dynamic Dylan
- 6/16: Irina at I Drink & Watch Anime
- 6/18: Lyn at Just Something About LynLyn
- 6/20: Jack at Animated Observations
- 6/22: Matt at Matt-in-the-Hat
- 6/23: Karandi at 100 Word Anime
- 6/24: YumDeku at MyAnime2go
- 6/25: Naja at Blerdy Otome
- 6/26: Scott at Mechanical Anime Reviews
- 6/27: Mel at Mel in Anime Land
- 6/28: Carla at Popculture Literary
- 6/29: Takuto at Takuto’s Anime Cafe
- 6/30: Neha at BiblioNyan
Hope to see you there!