Noragami Complete Series Collection (Cert 15)
2 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 291 minutes approx.
Because the Japanese take on religion and supernatural folklore is wildly different from ours here in the west, they have the greater luxury of integrating these elements into stories set in everyday suburban life with relative ease. Anime in particular is rife with many shows concerning characters from the spirit world crossing over into modern day Tokyo where no-one bats an eyelid.
Joining the ever expanding library of supernatural crosspollination is Noragami, created by the curiously named Adachitoka and adapted here by top notch animation studio Bones. Yato is a God who does odd jobs for the modest sum of five yen, plastering adverts in graffiti form all over town. He is assisted by his regalia named Tomone but she tires of Yato’s elevated opinion of himself and quits, leaving him in the lurch.
While handling the next job alone, searching for a missing cat, Yato spies the wandering moggy across the road and charges to retrieve it, oblivious the oncoming bus he ran in front of. Luckily a passing schoolgirl named Hiyori Icki spots Yato and pushes him out of harm’s way although she herself is not so lucky. While everyone crowds round Hiyori’s still body, Yato notices her spirit temporarily left Hiyori’s body with a cat tail attached to it.
Yato visits Hiyori in hospital, her spirit now back in her body, and once the initial hostilities and misgivings have been addressed, Yato explains that Hiyori is now a half-phantom, hence her wandering spirit, so she offers Yato five yen to restore her life back to normal. And thus begins a beautiful friendship. Sort of…
For a series that lays out its comedic credentials fairly early on Noragami gets rather dark and violent as it progresses, diverging from the zany humour to explore deeper themes of loyalty, identity and responsibility. Surprisingly the relationship between Yato and Hiyori remains strictly business but gradually morphs into solid friendship, avoiding the cliché of an unnecessary romance, which given the dichotomy of their personalities wouldn’t work anyway.
Besides Yato already has a girlfriend, the God of Poverty Kofuku although they don’t see much of each other and their closeness appears largely superficial, despite an established rapport. Kofuku’s Regalia is the intimidating Daikoku who dotes on his master which explains his antagonism towards Yato. However they are quick to come to Yato’s aid when he needs it, befriend Hiyori and Yukine in the process.
Naturally not all the Gods get along and while there is no singular antagonist, Yato is forced into conflict with the pseudo Nazi-esque Bishamon who holds a long time grudge against Yato, and her small band of efficient and ruthless Regalia. As an adjunct to this, a former Regalia named Nora also begrudges Yato for a past indiscretion and aligns herself with a malevolent God named Rabo, using Hiyori’s memories as bait for their final showdown.
As alluded to earlier, Yato is a bit of a lad who takes his “God” status a lot more seriously than others do, unaware that he is quite a long way down the totem pole. He is earnest however and never shirks on a job. Hiyori is your average well meaning, polite teen heroine albeit one who idolises a martial arts fighter. Once she acclimatises to her new found half-phantom form (in which he body falls asleep while the spirit wanders off), Hiyori isn’t shy about getting stuck in where necessary.
Initially Hiyori only helps Yato out to expediate his fixing of her problem, the first step being to find him a new Regalia, which she does in the form of an untainted lost boy phantom. Yato gives the boy a human form and names him Yukine, transforming into a white sword which connects with Yato on a telepathic level; this is exposed when Yato senses Yukine having prurient thoughts about Hiyori.
The relationship between God and Regalia forms a significant part of the narrative as Yukine struggles to accept his new role, while Hiyori does her best to help Yukine out. But, having never lived a proper life like other boys he feels excluded from society and takes his frustrations out on both Hiyori and Yato with devastating effect.
It feels a little odd that this dramatic development comes to a head midway through the twelve episode run but it is an emotive piece of storytelling that doubles as a further exploration into the mythos of the Gods. A welcome by-product of this is to bring out the noble side of Yato and show how much of his gregarious attitude is really bluster, adding depth to what could have been a cookie-cutter lead protagonist.
Watching Yato and the other Gods in action will draw inevitable comparison to the likes of Soul Eater or Blue Exorcist which is where the dramatic elements help distance this show from being an ersatz rip off. The truth about Yato’s past is revealed in drips in a rather rushed final arc but the payoff is a climactic battle between former allies that doesn’t pull any punches, providing a satisfying conclusion built around pure raw emotion and righteous redemption.
Bones have delivered a superb looking show here, with strongly defined artwork and character designs and fluid animation for the action scenes, although the reliance on still frames and static characters is noticeable. While the lure of fan service isn’t completely resisted – Bishamon is scantily attired and there are a couple of bath/shower scenes – this is a surprisingly clean show, leaving it to the themes and violence to justify the 15 certificate.
On the surface Noragami ticks all the shonen-fantasy boxes but the underlying subplots that chart the growth of the central relationships adds plenty of weight and dramatic capital. Balancing action, comedy, horror, fantasy and thoughtful character building of the likeable cast, this is welcome addition to any anime collection.
English Language 5.1 Surround Sound
Japanese Language Stereo
Episode 6 Commentary
Episode 4 Video Commentary
Episode 9 Commentary
Textless Opening Song
Textless Closing Song
Rating – ****
Man In Black