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Natsume’s Book of Friends: Reiko’s Analepsis


Analepsis, or more casually a flashback, is a common form of exposition and characterization where the viewer or reader is shown a scene from the past, usually relevant to the present position in a story. Natsume’s Book of Friends recently returned with a third season and it’s peculiar dependency on flashbacks, which leads me to marvel at the intriguing method of character development for Reiko.

There are various interpretations about the purpose of flashbacks, but I find the most understandable use is for the purpose of character development, as Syd Field explains:

You can use flashbacks for any number of reasons but its primary purpose is to bridge time, place and action to reveal a past emotional event or physical conflict that affects the character.

Emphasis on “the character.” What is most important for Natsume’s story is that the analepses have a mutual purpose for both Takashi and Reiko. Takashi, living in the present, is able to identify with Reiko through the similar social struggles, and through the empathetic nature of Reiko’s development, we reach a deeper understanding of Takashi’s feelings. Yet Takashi is the beneficiary, for he is able to reflect and find a romantic medium, a realization that he can rest his heart among both humans and youkai.

As we know, Reiko’s time on Earth has passed and is no longer a character of the present. She  is a tragic character, not a wilting flower, but a lost soul, and I find her the most textured and alluring character in Yuujinchou. We discover her through flashbacks, and in doing so, realize her life was quite bittersweet. While youkai tell tales of Reiko and her spirit, the analepses show us her pure and bright existence tinted in sepia, as if worn through years of solitude. The pathos is beautiful and a genuine form of mono no aware often sprinkled throughout Japanese fiction, but in the case of Yuujinchou, the sensation is non-exhaustively reiterated through the subtleties of those meaningful moments in Reiko’s life.

We may never know more extensive details about her life, or if she ever found happiness, but Takashi is blessed having Reiko along his journey. And perhaps we are blessed as viewers to be able to witness her beauty. Such is the power of her analepsis.

Categories: Meditation.

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7 Responses

  1. Agreed that flashbacks offer an incredible amount of character development. It is often in the past that we understand where the characters are coming from, their motivations.

    I feel like I should watch Natsume~

    • I do enjoy the use of good flashbacks. You should watch Natsume, I think you would really enjoy the heartfelt sentiments. It’s quite beautiful, and I’d enjoy hearing your reflections on the stories and characters.

    • I feel like I should watch Natsume~

      Gosh Yi, what are you waiting for – do it! And enjoy~~

  2. they cut down on the flashbacks this season though.

  3. its primary purpose is to bridge time…

    Bridging distances between time, and between people, too… Loneliness and longing are clearly important themes in the show, and so the idea of analepses being used to connect Takashi’s feelings with his grandmother’s, and thus to help him bridge his own (former/ decreasing) feelings of distance from other people, seems like an ideal way of representing the late Reiko’s struggles and the similarities between these and Takashi’s.

    Though, as you point out, while Reiko spent a lot of her time away from humans through choice, Takashi’s growing ‘realization that he can rest his heart among both humans and youkai’ is clearly his answer to the Humans Vs Yokai battle that is often presented by other characters in the show. How many times have we seen Reiko declare that she hates humans, while nursing various wounds inflicted by their hands, I wonder… Which is hardly surprising given their treatment of her, but it thus seems fitting to use an analepsis at such a moment to reveal more about Reiko’s tragic experiences and then to see Takashi choosing not to give in to similar feelings in the ‘present’. For example, when he persists in talking with the young mountain god at the end of season two, whereas others would simply have him exorcised.

    Reiko is certainly both a tragic and spirited figure, and the fact that so many yokai repeatedly remember her and her strength – given how short a human lifetime is to them – highlights her uniqueness. I too love seeing the analepses involving Reiko, even though there seem to be less of them as season 3 progresses so far, as Sebz points out. What lingers for me, in particular, is her loneliness, despite (or maybe because of) her refusal to admit that she needs to be with people. As much as we admire her in such moments, out hearts go out to her… Before, thankfully, being soothed by the efforts of Takashi in the present.

    • Takashi’s growing ‘realization that he can rest his heart among both humans and youkai’ is clearly his answer to the Humans Vs Yokai battle that is often presented by other characters in the show.

      Yes, and I think that’s something we also witness in many other stories involving youkai, like Zakuro. Takashi is learning so very much, and I think early on Reiko is the driving force opening his eyes. Sadly we are seeing less of her, and I wonder if at some point the flashbacks will focus on more crucial matters involving youkai and humans other than Reiko (exorcists).

      I think Takashi has developed well through the Book of Friends, and he is beginning to extend his own personal awareness, as we saw in the episode with a former school bully; he is developing a more conditional sense of trust. Even in the details he gives to those he meets, he is cautious and often smart. His perspective is separate from most humans and youkai, which give him compassionate ground between both. Of course, such neutrality can be dangerous in conflict, especially as he grows less passive about these matters. He’s becoming more assertive, and I think that’s wonderful. I wonder if he’ll tune his spiritual abilities in the future, I find that interesting to ponder.

      Ah, Reiko. She’s so charismatic, so unforgettable. Let’s hope to see more of her soon. Thank you very much for your thoughts Hana!

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