Monday Anime: Noragami

Ya know, this is a show I’ve been wanting to talk about for a while now. There was always just one little problem with that. In order to really talk about Noragami, there would be two obstacles. The first being that there would pretty much have to be spoilers. The second being, it’d be a really big post to tackle both seasons at one go.

So, I found a solution. There will be spoilers, and I’ll tackle season one and two separately. The depth and complexity of this show deserves that much, and frankly, I’m kinda lazy, so spreading one show out over two weeks saves me a bit of effort.

It really doesn’t, but we’re going to pretend it does, because the past week has been long, I’ve not been sleeping much, and I really want to dissect this show the way it deserves to be. That, and my usual format for covering a show was something I entirely made up off the top of my head, so it’s totally okay if I break with it now and then to do something crazy and different.

I like crazy and different.

This is less surprising than it should be.

Anyway. There will be spoilers ahead, so unless you don’t care, or are a whiny little crybaby, you have been warned. Turn back now, or have your world ruined by a cruel god that cares not for your tears at hearing things you have not yet heard.

Also, once again, this is just a review of season one, not the entire show. Figure if I say that enough times, somebody will freak out, and I’ve got popcorn, and wanna watch.

Noragami is a 2014, 12 episode anime series from Bones, maker of all things epic, such as FullMetal, Soul Eater, Skull Man, Scrapped Princess, Tokyo Magnitude 8, My Hero Academia, and you get the picture. They make awesome shit. Seriously, everyone at Bones shits awesome anime. It’s like a factory. Just guys lines up against toilets that feed into televisions.

I was going somewhere cool with that, but it kinda fell apart once shit got involved. Weird how that happens.

The series is based on a manga of the same name by Adachitoka, published by Kodansha, has been running since 2010, and apparently, still is, from what I can find. So, basically, almost eight years now, which leaves plenty of room for more anime, and shortly, you will see why that would be an awesome thing to have happen.

Somebody get the guys at Bones some extra bean burritos, dammit!

The shit joke really isn’t flying, huh? Okay, we’ll flush that one.

This exists, coincidentally.

Noragami follows teenage high school, student Hiyori Iki, whose name I spelled correctly without looking, making me very proud of myself, enough to have a cookie, as one day, while walking home from school with some friends, she sees a weirdo in a track suit running into traffic. Realizing he’s going to be hit by a bus, Hiyori dives out to push him to safety, and is hit by the bus instead, knocking her soul clear out of her body, making her a cat girl, and sending her to the hospital all at once.

Okay, she wasn’t actually turned into a cat girl, but in her spirit form, she has a tail, so I think it’s fair. Once at the hospital, she’s completely not dead, and got away with just some minor bruises. However, that evening, she’s awoken by the sound of strange voices whispering, and screaming, horrible things. Terrified, she gets the fright of her life when the weirdo in the track suit shows up under her blankets.

Have you seen The Grudge, by any chance?

Turns out, his name is Yato, and he’s a god. Like, a for real god. Just not one anyone has heard of. Still, totally a god. A sad, pathetic, broke, unimportant, minor god. Who explains to Hiyori that what she’s hearing are Phantoms, corrupted spirits that actively seek to cause the living harm. She can hear them because her soul got knocking out of her body, and he just came by to check on her, and advise her to ignore the Phantoms, and forget him, or she could become a target for them. Then, he jumps out a window, cause he’s a god.

Hiyroi, being a smart teenager, promptly ignores him, and goes running all over town in her spirit form, while her physical body develops a sudden case of narcolepsy. In her bouncing about, skipping school, and generally being rather foolish with her new found abilities, she encounters Yato, and some Phantoms, and learns that as a god, Yato is suppose to destroy Phantoms. He can’t at the moment, however, because he is without a Regalia, a special spirit weapon that gods use.

Hiyroi, being the helpful girl she is, goes and rounds up a Phantom to be Yato’s Regalia. This goes poorly, cause it’s an evil spirit. However, it does lead Yato to discovering a pure, untainted spirit he can name, which becomes his Regalia, the sword Seki.

But first, awfulness.

Now, a thing or three about Regalia. Yes, they are special spirit weapons that gods use to destroy Phantoms. However, they are actual spirits, specifically, the spirits of dead humans. When a god names them, they not only name their weapon form, but give the spirit a regular name, as well. This binds that spirit to the god, and makes them master and servant, sort of. It’s a lot more complicated than that, but basically, that’s the short version.

When Yato named the spirit he found, it became a sword called the Seki. However, it also became a roughly fourteen year old boy, whom Yato named Yukine. Which is where the first season really takes off at a dead run.

I’ll get into that more in a minute, though. First, we need to cover some ground on Yato.

As a god, Yato needs people to believe in him in order to keep himself from simply fading away into nothing. Since he is a minor deity nobody has heard of, and doesn’t even have a shrine, he has to work hard to keep his name out there in some way. To this end, he basically graffities his cell phone number all over the place, and charges five yen to fix any problem a caller has.

By which I mean any problem. He fixes leaky pipes, looks for lost cats, battles Phantoms, and cleans dog houses. Whatever it takes to make people remember the name Yato for a few minutes so he can keep existing. Unlike gods who have shrines, if Yato is killed, he just dies. Gods with shrines are reborn as child versions of themselves, who grow up to become that god again. For Yato, battling Phantoms is extremely dangerous, because it can lead to him actually dying.

Now, all that said, Yato didn’t just wander into existence. He was brought about by the wishes and desires of mortals. So, at one point, people wanted a track suit wearing handyman of a god. Or rather, way back in the day, they wanted a god of calamity, who would slaughter their enemies in cold blood, because that’s what Yato use to be, and it’s a major part of Noragami as a whole.

Yato no longer wants to be that. He wants to be a god who helps people. He wants to be a god people can revere for caring about them. He doesn’t want to be a monster anymore.

The cat has no problems taking his old job.

Which is why he needs a good Regalia. Battling Phantoms is one way to save people, and wash the blood from his hands. More than just making sure he becomes a known god, he seeks to be absolved of his sins. With a good Regalia in hand, he can repay at least some of the horrible things he has done.

Which isn’t to say he doesn’t have access to a Regalia. He has Nora, a young girl Regalia, who is eager to serve him. Nora isn’t her name, as Regalia take the name given them by the god they serve, but rather a term for a Regalia who has many names. A Nora is basically a Regalia who serves many gods, doing things they don’t want to use their regular Regalia for, usually terrible things.

Nora wants Yato to be his old self again, a god of calamity, who strikes terror into the hearts of mortals. She wants him to call on her, so they can spill blood again. Since Yato doesn’t want to do this, he refuses, but can’t bring himself to sever the ties between them, as Nora was a friend of his when he was a child. More importantly, she’s his safety net, and he isn’t ready to let go of that. Not until he finds a Regalia that is everything he is looking for.

So, he needs a Regalia that is strong, devoted, and can help him save lives. Instead, he gets Yukine, a sullen child with a chip on his shoulder. Which, again, is where the story really takes off.

He steals a few scenes. Get it? Steals? I’ll stop.

Yukine can’t remember who he was in life, or how he died. Things are fuzzy, with only tiny bits coming through now and then. Yato apparently knows what happened, as when he named Yukine, he had a flood of images that brought him to tears. What that past is, however, he never speaks of. Possibly for good reason.

What Yukine does know, however, is that he was alive, and now he’s not. He’s a spirit, who turns into a weapon, for a nobody god, and battles horrible monsters. His very existence is at risk every day, but he still needs to eat, sleep, and do all the the things a living person did, just without any of the benefits, like, actually being alive.

Apparently, he won’t age, either. So, he’s stuck at 14 forever. All around him, he sees people going about their lives, while he’s in limbo, a thing, forced to work for a useless god that sleeps outside other gods shines, in the cold. His return to a pseudo life is filled with being cold, hungry, and essentially invisible to everyone.

It’s understandable that he’d become resentful, and boy, does he. Yukine’s anger at his fate manifests in a lot of ways, such as stealing, lying, and basically being a dick to everyone, including Hiyori, who is nothing but kind to him. While this might normally just be teenage rebellion, Yukine is not a teenager anymore. He’s a Regalia. When he misbehaves, he hurts Yato.

By which I mean he Blights him. In Noragami, Blight is a spiritual illness that slowly consumes a spirit, turning it into a Phantom, or in Yato’s case, just out and out killing him. It saps a gods strength, making them weaker and weaker until they simply perish. For known gods, this leads to being reborn. For Yato, it will lead to death, and nothing more.

Or things worse than death. Maybe. It depends on what the age of consent laws are.

Over the course of the show Yukine’s anger and resentment grows steadily stronger, until he explodes, shattering school windows in a rage that the life he should have lead has been taken from him. All his hurt, loss, and fear boils over, and the result is that Yato almost dies on the spot.

Which leads to the true culmination of the story, as Yukine is soon discovered to be in the first stages of becoming a Phantom as well. Forced to face his sins, Yukine fights back, and his transformation accelerates. Just as all seems lost, that Yukine will become a Phantom, and kill Yato in the process, Hiyori steps in, and gives him pause, by calling him her friend.

Much of Yukine’s anger was from the fact he would never have friends. He would never lead a normal life. Realizing he did have a friend, in Hiyori, is just enough to make him stop and really look at what he’s done, and what he’s become.

It is Yato who saves him, however, by reminding him that he was given a human name. Yukine. That is who he is, and while it cannot replace what he has lost, it was Yato’s attempt to give him a second chance, to live. To have that life matter. To be someone, not something.

It was a gift given, out of both love, and sorrow.

Because Yato cares. A lot.

Horrified at what he was throwing away, Yukine fights to save himself, by confessing, and begging forgiveness. He is saved, by love, kindness, compassion, and hope.

All given by a lazy unknown god in a tacky tracksuit.

I call this the true culmination, because what comes after doesn’t really measure up. There is more to the first season, concerning another god of calamity, named Rabo, that use to wade into battle at Yato’s side. He and Nora are working together to try and bring Yato back, and while the small arc that wraps up the season is good, it doesn’t measure up to Yukine’s arc.

Well, in a way, it does, by serving as a good counterpoint. Rabo, it seems, had fallen asleep for a long time, and awoke to discover he had been forgotten. Before he could fade away, he got hold of some kind of a weird mask that allowed him to keep existing, and basically, cursed himself, by absorbing Phantoms, so he could battle Yato.

Not to kill him, but to be killed by him. It was better, in Rabo’s mind, to die at the hands of a friend, than to simply fade into nothing, forgotten even by the people who knew him.

Being a badass requires a bird eye visor, apparently.

This is an awesome thing, but it doesn’t get the time it needs to be fleshed out well, sadly, as Rabo and his arc were anime original, and existed largely to get the show to twelve episodes, foreshadow some stuff for season two, and not force the writers to drag out Yukine’s arc to the point nobody cared if the kid died.

If that wasn’t enough, the show also lays even more groundwork, by having Bishamon, a god of war, who hates Yato with a burning frenzy, enter the scene. In so doing, it introduces us to Kazuma, her Examplar, the head of her many Regalia.

Kazuma aids in saving Yukine from becoming a Phantom, because, as he explains to Hiyori, he owes Yato a great debt. Considering Bishamon’s hatred for Yato, it’s hard to imagine what that would be, but it did compel Kazuma to disobey his god in order to save Yukine, and Yato’s lives.

All of this ends up having bearing in season two, which is part of what makes Noragami such a fascinating show. While Yukine’s story arc is amazing in and of itself, it also lays the foundation for what comes in season two, as does Kazuma, Nora, and to an extent, even Rabo. In other words, nothing in this show is wasted.

Except Bishamon’s wardrobe budget.

Every moment, every plot point, everything, serves multiple purposes. That is amazing writing. Seriously. I’ve been in awe of the writing for Noragami for a while now, because it tells an emotionally compelling story, with incredibly well crafted characters, in a complex world, while using all of that to build to the next, even more emotionally compelling story.

Which is then done again.

Nothing in Noragami is wasted motion. Not a single thing.

Of course, we’ll have to wait until next week to see how all of this ends up being important to the greater whole.

Come back later!

In terms on animation, Noragami is simply gorgeous, as one would expect from Bones. The backgrounds are stunning, the lighting is amazing, and the character designs are beautiful. There’s stunning fluidity to the motion, and while they do rely on sight gags now and then, everything in the show is just amazing to look at. It’s a big bowl of eye candy if ever there was any.

The first season was directed by Kotaro Tamura, who, besides sharing a name with a Japanese politician, has only one other directorial credit to his name, which is the second season of Noragami. Why, I cannot imagine, as Noragami is beautifully directed. Every shot, like the story, is used to serve multiple purposes, highlighting everything from how real world stresses, and Phantoms, tie together, to how a sunset can reflect the melancholy of one god, while symbolizing the death of another. It’s just amazing work from a guy who hasn’t directed a series before.

Which isn’t to say that Tamura doesn’t have some industry know how. He’s worked as everything from a storyboard artist, to unit director, to an episode director on a bevy of shows, such as Eureka Seven AO, Baccano, FullMetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Wolf Children, Sword Art Online, and Space Dandy. Every single one of those shows was obviously an amazing learning experience, because Tamura brought all of it to bear on Noragami, creating an epic, funny, fun, and amazing series.

Sure, he worked on some of them afterwards, but who are you, the continuity police? Hush, and be in awe already.

Be like Kazuma, dammit!

The series was written by Deko Akao, who… uh… okay this is gonna take a minute. Akao did the series composition for shows like Arakawa Under The Bridge, Flying Witch, and Snow White With The Red Hair, as well as handling script work for shows like Asura Cryin, Gintama, and the Japanese Monster High, Kowa-Ike Girls.

Yeah, that’s some big name stuff, for the most part.

However, Deko Akao is a nom-de-plume. Her real name is Hitomi Mieno, who at the age of thirteen, became a labeled singer and songwriter, after winning a competition. Since then, 1994, she has gone on to have a successful music career, and even performed the theme songs, both OP and ED, for some shows.

I guess some people just get all the talent. And the looks, cause dayum, the lady is a looker to boot.

I’d hate her, but I’m too busy crushing on her.

Anyway, her musical talent aside, her writing skills are top notch. While she had the enviable task of adapting the successful manga to an anime, she also manages to seamlessly work in original material in a way that is barely noticeable. The stuff with Rabo was her own creation, and as I mentioned, served multiple purposes, like everything else in Noragami. Had she had one more episode, I don’t think I would have noticed the slight hiccup Rabo’s appearance created at all.

She’s just that damn good.

Oh, and she’s married. Of course.

Hey, she could have been into a slightly pudgy middle aged guy from the backwoods of Oklahoma. You don’t know.

What?

What was I doing? Oh, right.

The music was handled by Taku Iwasaki, and hold on to your hats, kids, cause this cat is an anime legend. He did the music for shows like Now and Then, Here and There, and Rurouri Kenshin: Trust and Betrayal, way back in the late 90’s. He did the OST for freaking Witch Hunter Robin. He did the soundtrack for Black Cat, Soul Eater, Black Butler, and more recently, Bungo Stray Dogs. He did the music for Origin: Spirits of the Past, for God’s sake!

This guy is literally one of the most amazing composers in anime. Enough so, I’d almost have to do an Art of Sound post to really get across how amazing the music in Noragami is.

Let’s just say, for now, that it’s the kind of OST you want to buy, and listen to on repeat, forever. It’s damn near perfect. Or, in other words, everything I expect from flipping Taku Iwasaki.

Basically, yeah.

Noragami, as a first season, does so much right. It builds a world, so like our own, but different enough that we have to learn new terminology, and what’s what as we find ourselves treading dangerous waters, full of horrible monsters. It has well crafted characters that move, breath, and live. It has an amazing, character driven, emotionally powerful story, and best of all, it builds on itself in ways that are simply amazing, just from the writing perspective.

Even having spoiled so much of the story, I have not prepared you for the experience you will have stepping into this world, if you have not seen Noragami. It is more than an average anime series. It is an experience.

One you do not yet know, your life is poorer without.

If that doesn’t elevate this show to art, then nothing does.

Next week, Season Two of Noragami, where the shit hits the fan harder than the staff of Bones visiting an air conditioner factory.

Yeah, okay.
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