The “What if” Question

the what if question

For the first few years, at least, the Natsume household goes about its day to day life peacefully. The house is small, but it’s warm. Though his mother passed away soon after he was born, Takashi is happy living with his father. Throughout his childhood they often sit on the porch admiring the flowers his mother planted before she died; they bloom year after year, lighting up the garden with their color, a constant reminder of the love of the person they both lost. Sometimes he misses her presence, but keeps it to himself, silently treasuring the picture of his parents his father gave him.

As Takashi grows older, he starts taking greater notice of the small monsters that have been a constant part of his childhood. His father doesn’t doubt him when he tells him about them; if he does, he doesn’t let on. When Takashi goes to school, his father helps him learn to keep his ability a secret so he can try to live a normal school life; it’s not always easy, but Takashi is content with someone believing in what he sees. Though his father worries when he sometimes sees Takashi come home with his clothes dirtied or when he startles at something only he can see, he always welcomes him back with a smile, no questions asked. Eventually, Takashi’s father tells him Reiko, Takashi’s grandmother, and about her own ability to see what Takashi can. Sometimes, when he feels particularly alone, Takashi will think back to her, wishing that he had had the chance to meet the person who could understand him the most.

Despite his small bouts of loneliness, Takashi has learned kindness and is happy with the people he has come to know, friends and family alike. He doesn’t hate the monsters he sees and will sometimes try to help out the ones that approach him, though he’s also learned to be weary having been attacked more than once. He’s not the strongest person, so he lives his life quietly, treasuring the memories he makes with others, knowing that there may come a day where he won’t come home. He’s afraid of hurting those around if that day comes, but, until then, he’ll try to live happily and return the happiness he has been given.

This particular “what if” question regarding what would have happened if Natsume hadn’t been orphaned is one that has lodged itself in the back of my mind after the numerous hours I’ve spent watching Natsume Yuujinchou. The series is one that’s won my heart through and through with the emotion it manages to eject into its best episodes (aka almost all of them). Natsume, especially, is a character that I’ve come to really like over the course of the show’s four seasons, and seeing his growth is one the most rewarding anime-viewing experiences I’ve had so far. The question of what would have happened had his dad not died is an interesting one to think about because a large part of what makes Natsume Yuujinchou so interesting, for me at least, is Natsume’s development as he deals with what happened to him as a result of his father’s death. Personally, I’ve always wondered if Natsume would have turned out happier had he been with his dad during his childhood, having been spared being shuffled around by his relatives.

What I discovered–and it’s something that I think many people do when they think about the answers to their “what if” questions–is that the direction the story turns isn’t quite as ideal as I had thought it would be. Now, I’m sure there’s a much better fan fiction out there that actually articulates this particular “what if” better by tweaking the circumstances some more as well as putting more thought into the scenario, but I”m not setting out to really create the perfect solution. In my answer to this “what if” question, Natsume does live a happier childhood, but after that not so much so. Assuming he stayed in the same town, he would have never met his current friend group or his charismatic bodyguard or many of the youkai that became his friends. Admittedly, the Natsume in this situation probably wouldn’t even be as open or happy as I made him seem. The most depressing part of my answer, I suppose, is that, eventually, Natsume, being the way he is, would probably end up being killed by a particularly nasty youkai at some point; he isn’t exactly Reiko reincarnated after all.

The problem with the solutions to “what if” questions are that they often require a sacrifice, and, in the end, no one would be quite as happy as they would be had they met the right person, not made that right turn on that Friday in October, killed X and Y, etc. Natsume needed to that childhood full of loneliness and pain in order to make his way to the place where he could be happiest which, sadly enough, doesn’t include the person who would have loved him the most.

“What if” questions are tricky things. On one hand, the idea of having a character’s life play out differently (usually for the better) is tantalizing because it’s endless in its possibilities. One the other hand, the character created isn’t quite the same one that we’ve come to love. For instance, when Shigeru told Natsume that he had become a stronger person from when he first arrived, he was talking about how Natsume has grown emotionally as a result of being in the right environment that would allow him to rise above his hardships and not let them continue to drag him down. A Natsume who had been given someone from the start that supported him wouldn’t have had the opportunity to have that growth. Sometimes it’s for the better that”what if” questions go unfulfilled.


What kind of “what if” questions have you all ever been left with? Have you ever come up with answers to them?

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