Series Recap: Noragami

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There isn’t a whole lot to say about Noragami.  I enjoyed it…we’ll leave it at that.  Oh who am I kidding, I can never just leave it.  While I liked what we got I just have a lot of issues with the “could haves”, but even these are so general and expansive, that they don’t really come into play when analyzing the series.  Take, say, KILL la KILL, or Unbreakable Machine Doll, the “should have”s are based on very specific plot threads to those series where roads taken were less interesting than roads previously open.

But Noragami isn’t like that at all.  The biggest thing “wrong” with it, to me, is that its universe feels…smaller, than I expected.

Oh sure we have a few other grudges against this show, but like the above, they really are minor.

I adopted Noragami very late into the season, week 5, almost halfway over.  The story of “delivery god Yato” and the Human girl he befriends was interesting enough to me that I found my brain teeming with ideas.  It was well worth how much people were pushing it back then.

One thing I guess I’ll take issue with. People often refer to Noragami as an action series.  And I do not see it. Sorry. I know I’ve called it that but mostly as that’s what it was billed as by the community, and from the right angle it looks like an appropriate label.  But my instinct is different. The emphasis here is on character relationships from where I sit.

Obviously there are action elements, and damn well executed action elements.  But I think we really need to stop pinning genres onto a show because it just does a piece of its storytelling well.  And really that’s what the fights in Noragami have mostly existed to do: tell the story.  They are not celebrations of combat either in universe like Dragonball or out of universe like KILL la KILL. They just are, and Bones seems like they wanted to do those scenes WELL, so they put effort into it.  It does fights well because it needed them. It did character pieces well because it needed to.  It is a generalist approach, I believe, and I think that’s what I’d call Noragami before an action series: A Generalist Anime. It hits the parts of action, comedy, drama, supernatural, and brushes romance, mystery, and coming of age.

I mention this because I believe it is the root source of where I diverge from people on the whole.  Many hail Noragami as the standard to hold the rest of 2014 to.  In some regards that may be true, but standard bearer? I feel the show was casting about too much.  It was very much… “let us throw the characters together and see how they react against each other”.  In the end, that just meant the characters were free to drag us in any direction, and they did.  It was like…you know when you have multiple-party-tug-of-war? With like five ropes centered on a fixed point? The knot in the center (our focus) just kinda wavered around that center point most of the series.  I’d go so far as to argue that no one really won, we just ended with more samey-ness come the resolution.

This probably sounds far harsher than I am intending it to. But as Yahtzee said, I’m a critic, my job is to criticize.

On the whole I was pleased with my experience watching Noragami.  And it will probably be better to say, marathon in 3-4 bloc chunks. “Was that worth the three months of paying it attention?” Ehhh..? But I do love it.  So let’s start with the strongest foot forward.

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Delivery Gods and 5 Yen Coins

If I had to pick a genre I feel most accurately describes the experience you get watching Noragami, it would be “comedy”.  It is the best aspect of the series, and jokes rarely miss.  I think this happens because Noragami has this almost Red Dwarf approach to its universe.  Sure, it’s a supernatural series, but it is great at finding the comedy in that setting.  Be that Yato’s cat eyes being exaggerated, or holding a conversation with a jumper in a perpetual fall, Noragami nailed its humor almost without exception.  Indeed the jokes that didn’t work so well (for me) were the ones that fell back on cliche. And not even normal cliche, anime cliche, like the peeping tom gag.

I think this all spoke to one of Noragami’s strengths regarding its universe: It is worn.  It takes that George Lucas “worn universe” concept and applies it to this world of kami and phantoms.

For us, and for Hiyori, this world is strange and uncharted.  But to the people who inhabit it, there is no ceremony to be stood on, no great pontificating.  To misappropriate a quote, for the Humans entering this world it is the moment where their eyes are opened to the divine and how the metaphysical world acts.  For the characters already here, it’s Tuesday.  It’s this approach that the fantastical in the West never really embraces.  Take comic books, almost always serious serious serious.  Even a hero like Spiderman, known for wisecracking, is still business business business when you get down to it, he just lets his mouth do his second job. But if Batman operated on Noragami logic, he’d rub his forehead, “Can’t I pretend I don’t see the Bat Signal? The Joker will go away when he’s bored. How much collateral could there be?” I think this is the draw about shows like Archer, and Noragami has those same tones (Inari… this season also did a similar thing with the kitsune deities).

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The Calamity God

Yato had such a wide range. He was an exquisite character through and through. His appearance matched the comedy, action, and drama bits he was handed.  He believably pulled off “dorky homeless tramp kami” and “icy terrifying calamity kami” without significant changes to his presence.

One of the things that held these two sides together was the mystery. And it’s a mystery we don’t really have an answer for. Why did Yato abandon his ways?

I think from the evidence presented (again, no research on the printed form here), we can surmise that Yato was dissatisfied with his existence as Rabo described it.  Fluttering from fickle human heart to the next.  In effect, the gods of calamity are portrayed here as pretty much the Nora of the kami’s world.  They have no true home in the hearts of men, so they must constantly seek new sources of faith from the desperate and depraved.  Yato wants to have a justified place in the culture of Human beings, so he has changed with the times to fill  a niche that the old gods like Tenjin and Bishamonten didn’t really have a point in filling: God of Delivery.  This seems to be what we get as Yato is surprised that Rabo has survived for so long.  Meaning that this change for Yato has been some time coming. He even shows disgust at Rabo’s suggestion he turn back to the old ways, and people are consistently surprised at his overly-compassionate behavior towards Yukine, and for Nora and Rabo, towards Hiyori.

But Tenjin and Kofuku do not see it as all that odd for him, they rather readily accept that Yato’s hanging out with a Human girl now. So this doesn’t seem to conflict with their opinion of him, and we remember that in Kofuku’s case, she specifically sought him out after hearing how brutal he was.  The fact that she sees nothing incompatible with the Yato then and the Yato now speaks to this being more of a moral change on Yato’s part than his being “forced” into it to hide or by circumstance.

And yet the door remains open just enough.  Still, it’s nice of the show to leave these details to us to figure out, it’s a feature of Noragami I appreciate.

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Dat Bones Ending

So we knew going into Noragami that for all the manga spoilers that could be thrown at this show, we’d be getting a custom animation-only arc as our finale.

Let me say that I don’t disapprove of these in general (Fullmetal Alchemist the best example of such divergent stories).

But I do disapprove the way it was handled in Noragami.  Several reasons.

First was Rabo himself. He just wasn’t very interesting to me.  Perhaps that is the fact it is a tired archetype to have “old friends” try and force the “old character” out of protagonists.  We’ve had variations of this in Strike the Blood, Trigun, you know the gigs.

The other shortfall of the ending was that it completely scaled back the universe.  It FELT like fanfiction in that regard.  I don’t mean that disparagingly (not entirely), but I mean that…when you write a fanfiction (AND I am just as guilty of this as anyone) you focus on the parts that interest YOU, and tend to basically ignore the rest. That was what happened to Noragami at the end. People who may have liked the story but did not entirely understand the reasons it existed took a swing at writing a little tale.  As such, the focus shifts to Hiyori.  She is no longer the bystander who views Yato’s conflict with fresh eyes.  She is the central figure in this chess game for Yato’s soul. I am of the opinion that shifting the focus this way was a mistake.  Hiyori, previously, felt like a girl who had been thrown into this chaotic universe unprepared.  In the Rabo arc, it is more like the big kami universe has started to spin around her.  That the reason we care is because it is the kami closest to Hiyori, not because she just happens to be around characters who have long histories that sometimes end up messy.

Kofuku, Bishamonten, and their regalia were all sidelined (especially the latter’s case). Tenjin came into the foreground more, the conflict contracted.  Previously we felt like we had been adding layers to the Noragami universe.  Now we were pulling back to be more personal.  I know this sounds silly when the primary “antagonist”, Bishamonten, had a personal grudge against Yato.  But Rabo was different.  His interest was in the past Yato, the one the show had made to be present, but mostly unimportant (beyond the grudge with Bishamonten).  I suppose if you’re read up on the manga you could make the argument that the NEXT chapter has a huge tonal shift for the dynamics and they didn’t want to mess with them, but that just shows a lack of will to emphasize the existing dynamics.  It was just the fact they were very clearly, deliberately, kept out of the action makes it hard not to treat Rabo like a teenage girl’s OC.  In Bishamonten, we had a figure who was ruthless, but we also had the understanding that she was being irrational by the way her regalia and the other kami were humoring her.

Rabo is just a dick. He’s clearly a villain, he lacks these shades.  He exists not to provide his own dynamic, but to serve as a catalyst for the drama between Yato and Hiyori. He was not a very well conveyed character.  All of his depth comes in hindsight, and it’s not a particularly Watchmen-level of surprise when we find out his reasons.  He’s a sloppier Toguro from Yu-Yu Hakusho.

What separates this arc most from the main body of the series, though, was Nora. She was drawn into the fore as a more active villain, rather than a creepy stalker who sometimes reminded Yato of her presence.  She almost became a different character. Severing Hiyori’s connections? That felt so out of place for her to do on her own.  It would have felt more natural for her to manipulate Rabo into doing it, by putting the idea in his head and letting him “make the cut”, keeping her veil of plausible deniability.   “But she had to do that to make the plot move!” And that is the problem. There is a serious flaw in your story inception if it requires taking a character and making them act out-of-character to move the story forward.  It needs to be fine-tuned a bit more.

Almost to highlight this, we had a helpful Yukine demarcating the start of the original content (well, not entirely, we see Rabo in earlier episodes so there were some -slight- alterations, I imagine), it just enhances this feeling of “otherness” of the final leg of the series.  I don’t think they should have drawn out the Yukine stuff, only that after 9 episodes of status quo we were ALREADY moving into new territory.  It was thus all the more important to calm the audience “this is still the same Noragami”, but that didn’t happen.

This has nothing to do with Rabo being anime-only, that it somehow “pollutes” the story. I’ve never even read the original.  It’s merely the fact that Rabo feels tacked on, the fact he was an anime original is not the fault of this, merely a contributing reason he feels so out of place, I think.  You can have GOOD anime-original stories, but this was not a very strong one.  My problem with it is that it’s out of place, not that it existed. Like harem series. Despite what you may see, I do believe there are (a handful of) less-than-horrible good harem series.  Just the ones WE have covered together are not among them (well, save Outbreak Company’s harem elements).

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Morality Tails

One of the themes I saw in Noragami was the theme of “safety”.  Specifically, how it was for chumps.

Many actions taken are all or nothing affairs.  Like Yato’s helping the bullied kid. He did have a backup plan, of course, but he was willing to take the risk that the boy would turn into a phantom.  The purification ritual for Yukine, also a gamble.  It might sting now, but in the end it will heal better.

It was a very chaotic message.  I mean in terms of promoting chaos theory and what not.  But when combined with other morals we got in the series, it becomes…disturbing, in some ways.

Take the whole “Kami are fathers to their regalia”. On the whole it’s hard to feel like this isn’t some propaganda from a lazy dad saying “See, all those times I was neglectful and a jerk were part of a master plan, totally. Mhm.”

I’ve gone into detail about how Noragami’s morality lessons are bullshit, but now looking in hindsight, I had hoped to see a bigger picture.  All I see now is a conflicting picture.

And…again…a lot of the blame is placed on the Rabo arc.

If we take to the chaotic development theory, the hands-off approach to character growth, that’s fine.  And in fact is the big part of what endears Noragami to myself.  Because, shocker, that’s how I feel, personally.  Growth through conflict, struggle, messy with results. All good things, I feel.

But there are two conflicting morals here that seem less that Noragami is in favor of chaos, and rather, in favor of re-appropriating it.

The first is the fatherhood thing. And this is mostly in the context of the Eastern family unit, a rigid social structure that predetermines peoples relative worth.  It’s an abnormality.  Certainly these two ideas can coexist.  Bending to tradition while acknowledging personal growth.  It’s possible. Weird, but possible.

But then…Episode 10…

Where we learn about how strict and absolutely paranoid the regalia and kami are.  This was the step too far.  Where Noragami establishes that the regalia are encouraged NOT to contemplate their existence.  To live in a state of denial because it could lead to resentment over their existence.  Gee. It’s almost like ANYONE would feel bitter at living like a regalia, because clearly they can’t be trusted to think about it.  In other words, if they don’t THINK about how shitty their life is, they won’t be tempted into despairing over their state! Perfect solution! Cokes all around boys, time for a break!

Am I the only one for whom this sounds eerily like slavery?  Trying to keep the mass of spirits from thinking too hard on their state in life, and if they dare to THINK about it, which the kami know because they will be injured and instantly know who from, they are then cast out, to be homeless, and when they’re ready to graciously accept all they’re given, return to a willing kami? Just me? Alright.

Leaving that aside, if you think the simile is harsh, this runs COMPLETELY counter to the message of Noragami.  Growth through conflict.  This isn’t conflict, this is holding your hands over your ears going “LALALA MY LIFE IS GREAT LALALALA!”

And the WAY this is framed in Episode 10, it’s like this is the correct way to go.  At least previous to this moment, the argument could be made “Well that may be how those OTHER kami run things, but Yato, being a calamity god (and as we established, basically the Nora of his community) knows better and treats his regalia well.”  But not true, because Yukine accepts it and without even protesting is happy.

This also runs into problems when we remember that many regalia powers are based on negative emotions, such as fear, such as hatred.  The most powerful regalia are, then, the ones closest to Phantoms, like Yukine. It is not DENIAL that these people need, it’s humility.

But as I said, these are mostly points aimed at Episode 10 and perhaps we can attribute that to the anime writers not knowing what the hell they were doing.

One of the more bullshit moralities was regarding the Nora, whom Tenjin decried as “untrustworthy”.  Bull. Shit. We saw Kazuma go to some pretty extreme lengths because of past loyalty to Yato. Regardless of how the later series might rules-lawyer this, disobedience is disobedience. Just some forms are more forgivable than others. Hey, I wasn’t the one who dealt in absolutes here, Noragami started that bullshit with the regalia being dismissed because a woman, for a second, regretted she wouldn’t be a teacher to human children.

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Best Girl

Hiyori? Fuck no. My girl of choice is Bishamonten.

I can forgive the outfit trapped in the 1980s.  And this is wholly biased, but no matter how justified or unjustified she ends up being in her vengeance against Yato, I am in love with any woman on a deeply personal quest to rip apart someone’s body for the slight against her.  I’m just odd that way.

Bishamonten was a very interesting antagonist. The first being she is a gender-bended Kami, that is just hot. Through Kazuma we learned that her quest was definitely personal, not objectively a moral crusade.  And I loved that about her.  She’s so deferential and polite to Kofuku, but uncompromising in her quest to purge Yato from the world.

She also represented Yato’s past in a very real way.  Sure, he may be the goofy tramp kami right now, but that baggage of his war days is still stuck to him.  Bishamonten is the god of warriors, and she will pursue Yato for his actions presumably during war. She is the reminder that no good deed goes unpunished.

All those dark roads in YOUR past that you took can crop up when you least want them to.  “I don’t have time to deal with this”.  Just be glad it isn’t in the form of a six foot blonde woman with a singular obsession of hoisting your corpse in her shrine.

I think what made her truly interesting was that Bishamonten didn’t seem to be “on high”.  She was at street level, like our other kami.  Sure, a more wealthy-middle-class street level, but not pontificating from the mountaintops about her divine will.  Her divine will is HER will, and in that sense, she’s a very empowering figure, taking her justice into her own hands.  Because, as Yato did say, only she has the right to do so as a kami. She is another incarnation of the morality of chaos.  She is taking action despite the fact it MAY VERY WELL BE the wrong action.  But not to move is stagnation and there will be none of that on Bishamonten’s watch. She is what happens when you take Yato’s philosophy of “ACTION!” and apply it without thinking the consequences through. And yet the other kami were just not interested in the loud neighbor complaining about the christmas tree in the town square, they just wanted to be left alone and humored her as such.  It was an interesting way of bringing Bishamonten “onto our level” rather than just a misunderstood crazy like Rabo would be.

Again, she’s not an objective reason to like the show, but she is one of MY reasons.

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Painful to Watch

Well we have to address the Yukine sub-plot.

‘Kay. Done. The less said the better.

Okay not done entirely.  I will just say this: It was too long.  Or not long enough.

If the series had been about the story of how to save Yukine, I could have dealt with it.  We could have filled those last three episodes.  One about his backstory, perhaps? What killed him? Why did Yato call his life a sad story? These were things I still wanted to know.

Otherwise it should have been shortened.  We did see Yukine as a more functioning member of this little team, but with the focus shifted to Yato and Hiyori, Yukine, who until now had been very important to the character growth side of things, mostly existed to give various actions pathos.  He doesn’t really get a moment until Yato has him save Hiyori’s life. Glad for those ten seconds. It made the tightfisted development of assassinating his character worth it.

You’ll note the sarcasm.

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The Verdict

Noragami is a competent and enjoyable, if not somewhat directionless, series.

I yell a lot, and that’s mostly because as a show with heavy spiritual themes, I’m just giving it that much more scrutiny in the morality department.

That aside, there is a lot to love here, and I understand why people praise it as the big breakout of Winter’14.

Without exception, if you’ve enjoyed any anime, Noragami comes recommended.  There is something to love here, no matter what you’re looking for, and it’s at least a defensible series if not a perfect one.

If you’d like to see my full journey watching Noragami, you can do so here.

 

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4 thoughts on “Series Recap: Noragami

  1. I definitely agree with you that Noragami didn’t for the most part feel like an action series at all, despite being billed as one. And I can certainly see how that would have disappointed people who were going in expecting something a bit darker, or more intense, or just plain more battle-orientated. To me though, the fact that Noragami didn’t turn out to be an action series was a huge plus. I was afraid that the show would turn into a fairly typical shounen battle piece, and was incredibly relieved to find that it didn’t – though of course, that’s purely personal taste.

    … I also really enjoyed the Yukine arc. I get it, I do – the audience just didn’t like Yukine’s character, and that’s entirely reasonable. I, on the other hand, loved that particular storyline. If there’s ever a second season – and I think there’s a good chance there might be, considering the manga is still ongoing – then I very much hope we get to know something of Yukine’s backstory.

    • Hehe, I don’t think we could have handled more mindless action with the mass of KILL la KILL obscuring our vision xD And I didn’t feel like stringing much together about the Yukine plot as I’d already covered that in detail as it was happening. The only thing I got from it in hindsight was mostly that I’d have preferred it been slimmed down to less-than-half-the-series OR be the focus of the entirety of the season, neither of which happened xD

      • I would likewise have been more than happy to see Yukine’s storyarc become the main focus of the whole season, but I’m sure fans of the manga (and Yukine haters, of which there seemed plenty) would have revolted.

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