Last week, when I covered the first season of Noragami, I mentioned that the show gets really deep. This week, we get to that, as we return to the world of the wandering god, Yato, and see the massive payoff that season one set up.
And believe me, it is massive. Easily one of the most impressive pieces of writing I’ve ever seen in an anime, the foundation that was laid in the first twelve episodes results in an impressive piece of fiction, and more importantly, one that would be nowhere near as incredible had it not been for the heavy lifting done in the first season.
Speaking as a writer, there’s a lot of work that goes into the big payoff scenes, especially when you may not get to them for months, or even years. There’s a lot of pieces that have to be set, and moved around constantly, to reach those moments that resonant, and deliver not just a satisfying moment, but a fully realized climax.
With my own work, War Witch in particular, I had to put a lot of thought, and planning, into what would happen, when it would happen, who was where, when, and why, and how it should all fit together, in order to set up things that won’t come to fruition until the final two books. Of a six book series.
Yeah. Lots of work.
The amazing part of Noragami, is how effortless the writers, both of the original manga, and of the anime, make it all seem. You have to keep in mind that while you want to hit these big plot moments, they have to come about as a result of the characters choices, and actions. It can’t ever seem forced. The moment the characters do things out of character for the sake of the plot, the whole castle made of straw blows away.
Which is why I love Noragami so much. Everything moves as a result of the characters, to deliver the big plot moments, with perfect precision. It’s brilliant writing, and frankly, this is the kind of thing I watch anime to see. Personally, I find it inspiring, as an individual, and as a writer myself.
Enough rambling, I suppose. Let’s get into it, and you’ll see why this show has earned such high praise from me, even given my very low standards.
What? They are. We all know it.
Coming almost two years after season one, season two of Noragami, subtitled Aragoto, is a 12 episode extravaganza from the same anime factory that first season came from, Bones, maker of all things wonderful. I’d repeat the toilet metaphor, but I think we can all agree it’s best if we not go there again.
Season two picks up right where season one left off, as Yato, Yukine, and Hiyori go about their rather messed up lives. Fighting Phantoms and being giant dorks, more or less.
As they are fighting a giant plush bunny Phantom, however, we take a turn to catch up with Bishamon, the war god that really, really, really, really, really wants to show Yato what his spine looks like, as she rescues a spirit and takes her in as a Regalia. Which is where things immediately star to go pear shaped, as we discover that Bishamon has a habit of this. She literally has hundreds of Regalia.
Now, to revisit season one for a moment, we had the relationship between god and Regalia explained to us, and saw what happens when that relationship goes bad. Bishamon has hundreds of Regalia. If you do the math, you can see how horrible this situation could get, and how quickly.
The thing is, Bishamon doesn’t actually use most of these Regalia in battle. She just can’t stand to see a spirit wander, lost and alone. She tries to help every one she meets, and give them a place to belong, a home, and a family. For a war god, she’s actually incredibly kind, compassionate, and caring. Which is her entire problem.
Compassion can be a burden, as much as it can be a gift.
She also learns from her doctor, another of her Regalia, Kugaha, that Kazuma helped save Yato’s Regalia, as well as that Yukine has been seen befriending another of her Regalia, Suzuha. She ignores this at first, but once it becomes clear that one of her Regalia has been Blighting her, things start to get out of hand.
Which is where we really get into the meat of the first arc of the second season. Why Bishamon hates Yato so much, and why Kazuma would risk his gods wrath to save Yukine.
Again, to revisit season one, we saw what Yukine’s anger did to Yato. How it almost killed him. Bishamon is a powerful god, and well known, with many shrines to her name. She won’t die. She’ll just get reborn. But, she won’t be the same Bishamon. She’ll be a new version. A different version.
We’ll come back to this shortly. For now, just bear in mind that even when a well known god dies, they are reborn, but not as the same person. They are still themselves, but they are a different person at the same time.
As things begin to reach a boiling point, Kazuma begins searching for who Blighted Bishamon, Suzuha disappears, and Yato learns that Kugaha is behind all of it. He wants Bishamon to die, and be reborn, with him as her number one, instead of Kazuma, which is why he arranges for Bishamon to think the worst, and banish Kazuma.
Then, he unleashes Phantoms on her Regalia. Not just any Phantoms either, but ones with the same weird mask mark that Rabo wore. Kazuma, fearing Bishamon’s death, begs Yato to save her. Again.
This is where the story really gets heavy. Long ago, Bishamon ignored the pain her Regalia put her in, until it was too late, and they all became one giant Phantom that was devouring her. Kazuma, new to her back then, fled and begged Yato to save her, as he was a calamity god, and would kill even Regalia if someone wished it of him.
Which is just what Yato did. He slaughtered every single one of Bishamon’s Regalia, to save her, even as she begged him to stop. Only Kazuma survived. Since then, Bishamon has hated Yato with a passion.
So, when he shows up in her divine home, she assumes the worst, knowing she is Blighted, and launches a full counterattack against him, leading to one of the most epic battles in all of anime.
And to one of the most painful, powerful scenes in any piece of fiction that I’ve ever seen.
Bishamon, overcome with fear for her family, is willing to spread her Blight to her Regalia in order to stop Yato. She is beyond mindless, in so much pain, and in such rage, she cannot see what is happening, much less, what she is doing. She doesn’t hesitate, for even a minute, even after she has disarmed Yato, to try and kill him.
So, when Yukine throws himself in the way, and is cut in half, Bishamon just keeps going, trying to kill Yato, to save her family, unaware that they are already being slaughtered by one of her own.
Yukine is not dead, though. His willingness to die for Yato basically superpowers him, turning his Seki form into twin blades, giving Yato the chance to hold Bishamon back long enough to try and talk her down. Which fails, as she is consumed by Blight, and fear.
It is only Kazuma throwing himself in the path of her blade that finally stops her, and makes her see what she has done, to her beloved family. Blighted, they are in such agony, and she she did that, not Yato. She let things get out of hand. She ignored the warning signs. She let people suffer in silence. She brought all of this on them.
With her kindness.
Bishamon rises from this, and tells Yato she will deal with it, and goes to cast out Kugaha, after he gets one of his hands chopped off for being a dick. Then, to save what is left of her family, she kills those afflicted by the Phantoms. With her own hand. As she should have done before.
They were her family. Her responsibility. It was her failure that caused them to suffer. It was her responsibility to end that suffering. Her real hatred for Yato was that he did what she could not. Her real anger was at herself, for letting things get so out of hand.
For being too kind, to compassionate, to be strong when she needed to be.
What makes this such an amazing piece of work is that it builds on what we saw before. Yukine almost fell to the Phantoms because of his own anger, pain, and resentment. In the Bishamon arc, we see that taken to the next step, as Kugaha schemes to tear down Bishamon, so he can rebuild her to his own liking. We see him drive wedge after wedge between she and her Regalia, until so many die a needless death, that alone almost undoes her.
It is what could have happened to Yukine, and Yato, had they not reached him, and pulled him back from the abyss. It is the tragic culmination of caring too much, of being too kind, too compassionate, to see that for all that she was trying to help, she was only hurting more.
It isn’t that being kind or compassionate is bad. Those are good qualities, and make Bishamon an admirable figure. It’s that she takes it too far. She accepts when people smile and say they are fine, because she doesn’t want to pry, she doesn’t want to upset anyone by making them worry, or talk about painful things. It’s because she forgets that they need her as more than just the person, over there, that lets them live a peaceful life. They need that connection with her that being a Regalia brings. They need to stand beside her in battle, to help her, as much as she helps them.
Bishamon doesn’t want to ask anything of them. She wants to carry all the burden, so they can just be happy. But, how can you be happy, when the person who does everything for you, accepts nothing in return?
Which is the real tragedy of the whole thing. Bishamon’s Regalia wanted to do for her in return. They didn’t want to just be handed things. They wanted to earn them, and in her kindness, Bishamon took that away from them, leaving them nothing, but the fear they may stress her. Fear that turned, that hurt not just her, but them, and everyone around them.
Just as being callous leads to hurt, being too kind can lead to hurt as well. Too much of anything is a bad thing. Sometimes, you have to be hard, to be kind. Sometimes, you have to be willing to cause a little hurt, to spare more.
As I said, the show gets deep, and explores some heavy, philosophical topics. What’s amazing, is that it does with some of the most intense action scenes in anime, and still manages to make it a powerful, emotionally charged story as well.
I’m sorry, guys, but that’s just fucking amazing. As a writer myself, I am in awe of the manga author, and anime writing team, for pulling out something that massive, that epic, with such amazing grace, and just nailing it with such precision.
It really is just plain incredible.
And it only gets better with the introduction of Ebisu, another god who, like Bishamon, is famed enough to not fear actual death. At first, he wants to buy Yukine, who has become what is known as Blessed Vessel, a Regalia who has such faith and devotion in their god that are willing to die for them. Yato and Yukine refuse the offer of course, but shortly after, Nora pops back up, and kidnaps Yato.
Missing for a month, Yato is at the mercy of his father, who has been sending him on missions to kill people, trying to bring him back around to his old self, a god of calamity. However, before Nora made off with him, Hiyroi gifted him with a tiny, hand made shrine, which gives Yato the strength to fight back, desperate to see his friends again.
He is promised that if he does one last job, he can go free. To rescue a conjuror from the Underworld, which turns out to be Ebisu, who is search of a magic item that will allow him to control Phantoms. They just have to convince the mad god who rules the underworld, Izanami, to give it to them, and let them go, which goes pretty badly.
Now, Ebisu is a bit of weird god, as he reincarnates a lot. Nobody knows why, just that he does. As Yato and Ebisu attempt to escape the Underworld, Yato learns that it is because Ebisu has been searching for a way to control Phantoms, as if they were Regalia. His reasons are, to put it simply, noble as fuck.
Control Phantoms, and you can stop them from visiting sorrow and pain upon humans. Do that, and you’ve made the world a better place for everyone. To Ebisu, this is worth dying for, over and over again.
Unfortunately, Heaven has figured out what he’s up to, and gotten entirely the wrong idea. They think he is the one who has been creating Phantoms with the weird eyeball mark that we saw on Rabo, and the Phantoms that Kugaha summoned. So, they decide to kill him.
Yato ensures Ebisu escapes the Underworld, but remains trapped, until Bishamon arrives to save him, as repayment for him having saved her life twice now. Izanami is too powerful a foe, however, and eventually, Bishamon begins to lose the battle. Knowing what they face, Ebisu teaches Hiyori how to use a Soul Call to bring both Bishamon and Yato out, but it only works on Bishamon, as Yato is not Yato’s real name.
With time running out, and Heaven’s execution squad bearing down, Hiyori figures out Yato’s real name and saves him. Ebisu, resigned to die yet again, despite having escaped with the magic item he needs, is inspired by Yato to fight to live. To believe that this life, this version of him, is worth saving, and deserves to live.
Sadly, it is for nothing, and Ebisu is killed, the magic item lost, and Yato devastated.
Ebisu is reborn, but has no memory of his previous life. Yato befriends him, and explains to him who he was, and how he inspired Yato to try to be more. To be better. To be the god he has always wanted to be.
Meanwhile, Yato’s dad has made off with the magic item, and is revealed to be the real one behind the masked Phantoms. To what end, we don’t know.
What makes the Ebisu arc impressive is how it builds on everything that has come before. Gods being reborn, the masked Phantoms, Yato’s past, all of it. Everything comes into play to tell the story of a god willing to go to any lengths to help people, and the price he pays for thinking he can.
For being too kind, yet again.
However, this is the flip side of the Bishamon arc. Ebisu is not being so kind he neglects to see the suffering of others. He is being too kind because he cannot stop seeing that suffering. Where Bishamon failed to notice the pain her family was in, Ebisu can’t help but see it. Where Bishamon accepted the silent worry, Ebisu willingly dies again and again, all in service to his goal.
He is too kind in a different way, willing to give of himself, until there is nothing left. He sacrifices over and over, always hoping to move an inch forward, toward his dream, of ending suffering and sadness, blind to his own. He remains that way, until Yato makes him see that his life matters too. Not as a god, but as a person, as an individual.
This Ebisu, the man he is right now, has a right to be happy, to live, just as much as anyone else. Inspired by this, Ebisu fights for that right, in vain perhaps, but fight he does, against all of Heaven. Because someone saw his suffering, and gave him the gift of caring.
Just as Ebisu was inspired by Yato to fight for his life, Yato is inspired by Ebisu, who was so willing to do whatever it took to end human suffering, he would die countless times if it helped even a little, Yato begins to seek a new path. Not as messenger, or as handyman, but as god worthy of respect, praise, and devotion.
Even when Nora shows up, and tries to talk him back into his old ways, Yato is now changed forever by what Ebisu showed him. Another way. A better way. A way that means he can finally cast aside Nora, and pursue his dream, of being a god people love, and that is worthy of that love.
The moment he revokes Nora is truly beautiful. Yato has grown, and has been changed by his experiences. With Yukine, with Bishamon, and now, with Ebisu. He has seen what he could be, and now strives for it. His old life is over, and he lets it go with finality. Because he can.
We are all inspired by others, and in turn, inspire others. Some do it in large ways, with film, or novels, or science, or any number of other ways. Some, though, do it simply by touching another life in a meaningful way, leaving a lasting mark, that inspires that person to go on, and inspire another.
Just as we are driven by one, so too do we drive another. This is what life is. This is what it is to truly live.
In that way, Ebisu lived a full life, and in turn, gave Yato what he needed to do the same.
As I said, the show gets deep. Really deep. It is not just a great work of fiction, or animation, but a thought provoking, inspiring, meaningful exploration of life, and what it means to live in a way that has meaning. It is ambitious, without even trying. It is powerful, without making apparent effort. It is moving, by simply being what it is.
One hell of a good show.
The animation remains consistently high quality for the second season, with the battle at Bishamon’s castle being one of the highlights of the season. It is really something to see, both breath taking, and painful, all at once.
The entire crew from season one returns, with Kotaro Tamura directing, Deko Akao writing, and Taku Iwasaki composing the music. As with season one, season two is an incredible example of their skills, and a really amazing piece of work.
As I said last week, even being told all of this does not compare to actually watching it. Noragami is more than an anime, it is an experience, and one you should have, if you haven’t already.
To date, Noragami is one of the finest anime series I’ve ever seen. I remain eternally hopeful for a third season some day, and a return to the world of a wandering god in a track suit named Yato, his Regalia, and the human girl who changed their lives forever.
On a side note, I totally forgot I was doing themed months, so I dunno what the hell I’m gonna review next week. Guess I’ll just pull something out of my ass, like I usually do.
Hey, maybe if I go get a job at Bones, it’ll become an anime! Save me a toilet guys!