It’s fair to say that “insecurity” is a pretty core theme to Our World is Ended, and the different characters all express this trait in one way or another to varying degrees.
To date, we’ve seen how Tatiana is a walking contradiction in terms of the clash between her naturally childish nature and her genius-level intellect, and how Asano’s past trauma haunts her sufficiently to affect the person she is today.
Today, it’s time to take a look at Natsumi Yuki, seemingly one of the most unapproachable members of the main cast, but one who undergoes some of the most significant changes as the narrative progresses.
Some spoilers for Our World is Ended ahead!
Natsumi is introduced to us as the “Dark Angel of Chaos” during an early scene where Judgement 7’s leader Owari and writer Iruka No. 2 are attempting to defend the studio’s latest creation against the unforgiving nature of the Internet. Natsumi demonstrates that she has no particular desire to shill for the game itself, but at least wants her artistic contributions to be acknowledged.
From this initial impression, we can determine that Natsumi appears to be someone who is only out for herself; she seemingly only cares for her own individual contributions rather than the team’s work as a whole, and her initial interactions with protagonist Reiji appear to suggest that this is how she treats her personal life as well as her profession.
First impressions can be deceptive, though, as we already know. If Natsumi is so concerned with her own individual success rather than her contribution to a tightly knit team, why is she working at Judgement 7 at all in the first place? With that in mind, it seems obvious that there’s something deeper going on. But it’s also very obvious that this isn’t information Natsumi is going to readily give up; her public-facing persona is something she has carefully curated, and she is in no hurry to let anyone in behind the facade.
Natsumi, then, is one of many characters in Japanese popular media that explores the cultural phenomenon of honne and tatemae, or the difference between one’s true self (honne) and the front they put up to society (tatemae). Conventionally, tatemae is the adherence to Japanese societal obligations such as deference to perceived “superiors”, the use of appropriate honorifics and behaving appropriately according to context, but in Natsumi’s case, her tatemae is a deliberate attempt to push people away; the facade she puts up is not in order to “fit in” with society, but rather to deliberately distance herself from it.
Meanwhile, it gradually becomes apparent that her honne is actually a desire to fit in, to develop closer personal relationships with the people around her, and to build a vaguely “normal” life. But something is stopping her; something very powerful and important to her. And it’s making her live a curiously “inverted” life.
As these things tend to go, it’s protagonist Reiji who starts to help Natsumi be a bit more honest with herself. Reiji’s friends at Judgement 7 often describe him as a “light novel protagonist” and indeed he lives up to that reputation on more than one occasion, seemingly able to draw things out of people that no-one else has been able to simply by virtue of existing and of being… “normal”.
Natsumi frequently refers to Reiji’s “plainness” in a pejorative manner, but she makes it obvious that it is this very same plainness that allows her to feel like she can be more honest with him than anyone else. Owari is too much of a pervert; Iruka is too weird; Asano is too loud and saddening; Yuno is too much of an airhead and Tatiana is too much of a silly little girl. Reiji, meanwhile, is just right, with his only “quirk” of note, by his own admission, being the fact that he never quite finishes any bottle of drink he starts.
It’s a big deal for Natsumi to let someone in. She explains to Reiji that she’s frequently unable to cope with people being around her, and often escapes to remote, out-of-the-way places in town that few people know about in order to be alone with her thoughts and reflect on things. Interestingly, there’s at least one point in the main narrative where this particular character trait turns out to ultimately be to the group’s benefit.
Part of Natsumi’s desire for solitude simply appears to be a lack of experience with any sort of intimacy. During a situation where she and Reiji are out shopping and she is mistaken for his wife, she becomes extremely flustered and unsure of how to deal with the situation — but at the same time she lacks her trademark coldness and inadvertently lets slip the fact that she didn’t dislike the situation entirely.
During one of several late-night conversations with Reiji, Natsumi begins to reveal why she behaves the way she does.
“You don’t seem to like it when things are too noisy and messy,” Reiji observes.
“True,” she admits. “I don’t take to that quite well. Getting together with everyone has always been too painful. But strangely enough, I feel like that’s become somewhat fun. I was even excited for yesterday’s barbecue while we were still preparing for it. But the more fun I find it, the more I feel like I have to stop myself. I can’t allow myself to have too much fun. I have to keep a distance from everyone. I mean, Judgement 7 is all I have.
“People dear to you can instantly vanish,” she continues. “I don’t think I can bear that happening ever again. That’s why I turn scared whenever I have lots of fun with everyone. I’m so worried I can’t stand it.”
From this point on, Reiji comes to understand Natsumi a little better — why she’s so scared, and why she’s so hesitant to let even those who are closest to her get to know her too well. And Natsumi, in turn, comes to understand that Reiji is someone she can trust and rely on.
“I always thought her to be the proud Dark Angel of Chaos that she claims to be,” muses Reiji, “and constantly assumed that she’d be just fine being left alone. This makes me realise how wrong I was. The real Natsumi-san loves and cherishes the team more than the rest of us. So much, in fact, that she can’t help but worry about the prospect of one of us disappearing.”
And the reason she feels that way is, of course, because she has already suffered one such loss in her life. But that’s a tale for another time!
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