Review: Noragami

The unusual story of a hobo god, his sword, and a girl.

Advertisements

So, it’s been a bit since I’ve gotten to write! Thanks to a summer course I’ve begun, my focus shifted away again from here, but I’m happy to report that I have some new material on the way, and this series is one of ’em. Initially released as an anime in 2014, this review covers both currently aired seasons of the show (titled “Noragami” and “Noragami Aragoto” respectively), and there’s apparently been speculation for a while about a potential 3rd season. Whatever the case may be there, the fact remains that the first two seasons exist, and that is the topic of this review!

The Lowdown:

Show: Noragami (season 1), Noragami Aragoto (season 2)

Studio/years aired: Bones, 2014 (season 1), 2015 (season 2)

AniB’s thoughts: Before I really delve into this review, a thought I’ve held onto for a while struck me again while covering this series: Man, I never quite like it when they split up seasons by different names and even different listings on your popular ranking sites (think MyAnimeList). It just makes things more confusing, in my own opinion, and while grading each season on its own is perfectly valid, for the purposes of this piece I would rather talk about the entire product as one show. So yes, Noragami  and Noragami Aragoto are simply season 1 and 2, or two anime cour as some call them.

As I mentioned in my preface, Noragami was a 2014 release (and presumably got buried under Kill la Kill hype at the time.) As an idea, it’s an interesting concept rooted in the Japanese tradition of shrines and different gods for different causes and wishes, and while this may be the case, this is hardly a religious show, but rather one of friendship, deep conflict, high stakes, and at the heart of it all is Yato- a minor deity without a shrine to call his own, with a shadowy past unexplained that slowly begins to come into focus as events unfold. Yato is an enigma at first- aloof and almost bum-like in his mannerisms; apparently quite difficult to get along with as he’s gone through a number of regalia- uncorrupted souls named by a god to be their holy weapons (more on that in the next paragraph), but as time goes on it’s revealed that he has a much more complex personality and understanding of the world around him, as well as an unsavory reputation as a “god of calamity”- meaning he is quite good at combat, if nothing else. Curiously though, he’s shown to take no pleasure when it comes to taking life, which is an odd contrast for a war god…

 

The master-regalia aspect immediately reminded me of Soul Eater’s meister-death weapon partnerships, but there are several important differences between a likely inspiration and the system employed in Noragami. For one, it is a deity in this universe that gives an un-corrupted soul a name as a bond, which is a “blessing and a curse,” as one certain character puts it, and somewhat similar to the Soul Eater relationship, both master and regalia must be perfectly in tune to perform at an optimal level. In fact, if the regalia acts out, or the master has some sort activity that makes then unclean, both can become “blighted”; a condition that left untreated will eventually kill the god and cause a regalia to transform into a phantom- corrupted spirits that take on monstrous forms, and which can only be rended by what else- a master and regalia.

There’s an interesting 3-wheel dynamic between the leads of this show in Yato, Hiyori Iki, the main female lead of the show, and Yukine, Yato’s young new Regalia. The former comes into contact with Hiyori through a certain incident that’s in the first episode of the show, and while initially she hounds Yato for a certain wish, she eventually does in fact become good friends with him, treasuring the relationship. The same goes for Yukine in relation to the other two, though how this all unfolds is the territory of spoilers. I’ll say this much: the young regalia has a pretty good character arc that unfolds for him in the context of the show. The supporting cast also plays major roles in different arcs of the show; each season has roughly two arcs in it, which develop the plot and the characters nicely.

 


Animation Quality: Modern 2-D computer-animation. As you’d expect, it looks quite good, and understandably so, given the studio (Bones). the animation certaintly helps illustrate the tension and world of the “supernatural within the ordinary” well in this show; the monstrous phantoms in particular were reminiscent  of some of the stranger, more disturbing scenes of 2018’s Devilman Crybaby, but actually worked well in the context of this show. There’s some minor fan-service mostly centered on Hiyori and another character, but it’s not terribly egregious in a way that truly detracts from the show. 4.75/5 points.

 

Characterization: As mentioned in my thoughts, there’s a triumvirate for the lead cast: Yato, the former war god-turned-attempted fortune god, Yukine, his Regalia that takes on the human form of a teenage boy, and Hiyori Iki, a teenage girl who becomes an half-ayakashi, or half spirit being upon a certain incident that this critic can’t help but think was a reference to the first episode of Yu Yu Hakusho

Yato as mentioned is a minor god, typically said to be a god of calamity in his past, but in the present, is doggedly in pursuit of his own shrine and a new reputation. While he seems outwardly narcissistic and uncaring at first, he’s shown in fact to be far more perceptive than people give credit for, and as the show unfolds, quite the opposite of those initial impressions. In particular, he grows a deep bond with Hiyori, which becomes a point of conflict given her unique status as “in-between” the human and spirit worlds, and Yukine.

The oft-mentioned regalia in this piece, Yukine takes the form of a katana when wielded by his master, known as “Sekki.” With the “Yuki” command he turns back into a teenage boy; while Yukine’s past is only surmised in a few panels, it’s implied he died of some tragic accident as a human… Yato saves his uncorrupted spirit by making him his regalia, and takes on a fatherly role that grows closer after a series of events. As a teenager, Yukine is prone to mood swings and often laments that he can’t do normal teenage things, and while this comprises a portion of his plot, it also helps explain why he befriends Hiyori Iki…

A regular, kind girl, Hiyori led a perfectly normal adolescent life until a chance encounter with Yato led to her becoming a half-human, half spirit being who could split from her body at any point, notably gaining a “tail” in the latter form, which actually signifies her link to the living world. As a result, Hiyori is able to see the gods and remember them whereas normal humans cannot, and gains some superhuman abilities in her spirit form. However, it leaves her corporeal body vulnerable, as she falls asleep as a human (which her friends believe is narcolepsy, unaware of her actual predicament.) She seeks to get rid of this status by making a wish to Yato, but later comes to treasure it as she befriends the god and his regalia, plus some others.

 

There’s a good supporting cast here with varying levels of importance, from Bishamon, the supreme god of war who holds a long-time grudge against Yato, to Tenjin, the god of learning who has an extensive shrine and who a former regalia of the latter’s went to; and Kofku and Daigoku, a god/regalia pairing who while eccentric, are friendly with Yato and take kindly to Yukine and Hiyori as well as allies. 3.75/5 points.

 

Story: The story revolves mostly around Yato and everyone else’s storyline sort of fits in neatly around that dynamic. It’s a bit complicated to explain, but it makes sense in context when you’re watching the show. This show is heavily character-driven, meaning the plots here are largely driven by character action as opposed to some other force, but it works overall, with each arc’s story demonstrating good tension and engaging climactic moments. It’s overall very good. 3.75/5 points.

 

Themes: There’s some heavily existential type questions in this show tied into the existence of one’s being, their place in the world, and perhaps also the concept of free will. How such topics are explored is part and parcel with the subject material of the show, which answers these questions in different ways and through different character arcs. It’s a very human sort of look into the deepest sort of fear we tend to experience, despite the supernatural and fictional settings/characters juxtaposed against the backdrop of modern Japan. 4/5 points.

 

Don’t Insult the Viewer: There is definitely a lot of intensity in Noragami, from phantom slaying to very high stakes battles and all sorts of unusual problems. The show also features two absolute bangers for OPs, which are pretty catchy. Overall, a good presentation. 4.25/5 points.

 

Overall: 20.5/25 (82%): An interesting adaptation with a heavy Japanese cultural influence driving its story, Norgami delivers a solid, character driven narrative with plenty of emotional highs and lows, and a good balance between lighter, comedic moments and far more serious ones. It’s worth a look, and it remains to be seen if a third season is released (which if so, I’ll be sure to revisit this series!)


Like what you see? Enjoyed Noragami or are you curious? Leave a comment!