Minor god Yato is down on his luck. Fed up with his slacker lifestyle, his partner abruptly quits. He has no money, no worshippers, and no shrine to call home. But just when things are starting to seem hopeless, a bus accident forces him to cross paths with Hiyori Iki, a sweet and perky high school girl. After the accident, Hiyori's soul has a bad habit of slipping out of her body, and after enlisting Yato's help to get her back to normal, she begins to fall into the world of spirits and gods.
But Hiyori's not the only one who's keeping tabs on Yato. A god from Yato's past is back, and he's not interested in a friendly reunion.
Gods are silly things. Vain, capricious and completely above the affairs of man, Their motives and tactics are not for us to discern. So when I decided to pick up a show about a Japanese god, it was too good to pass up because I know very little about Japanese culture in regards to gods. I mean let's be honest, when was the last time you ever watched a show about a good for nothing god? This is what I discovered about Noragami.
The show centres around a god named Yato who is supposed to be a god who grants wishes but unfortunately has fallen on hard times. Nobody prays him because nobody remembers him. Which like the way it is in the world of celebrity you're only as good as your last trick. So Yato find himself taking odd jobs which let's face it who in the right mind would take seriously if I told you the person who's helping you is a god? One day he's out looking for a cat and he is crossing the road and in one of those bizarre moments where someone's life intersects with a supernatural force, he is pushed out of the way of a moving lorry by a schoolgirl named Hiyori. That would be all well and good except as a result of the accident her soul comes home slightly detached from her body. She can slip in and out of her body any time she wants. The only downside is that her real body goes into a narcoleptic sleep and just falls on the ground. When she realises this, she makes a deal with Yato: in exchange for her favour (a 5 yen coin), Yato will help her find a way to glue her soul and body back together.
The show prides itself on treading a fine line between the comedic moments of Yato getting trashed by Hiyori for doing something that could be construed as lewd or perverted and the all out fights and magical dueling that goes on between Yato and the spirits of the underworld, here called Phantoms. The jokes sure are funny and no they don't ever get tired because they don’t try rehashing the same type of scenarios. Yes, Yato is constantly being attacked for doing something wrong but it's always something new and different. The staff work very hard at staying fresh in the moments. Where the shell accelerates its arc is in the moment when Yahoo is forced to defend himself against phantoms and in this the show's original creators wisely decide not to try and make Hiyori his armour or weapon or what have you. Instead gods here in the storyline, use ghosts from the netherscape or the the far shore is how they describe it. Ghosts were people who have died and are simply clinging on the edges of the light, they can be fashioned into weapons called regalia. The Regalia can be a sword, an armour and weapon, anything really. Each god has their own Regalia, there is no limit on how many they can have, but the basic rule is that each god has to have one Regalia and they have to name. After losing his most recent Regalia who quits on him, Yato is forced to use a new Regalia while defending Hiyori from a phantom attack. His new Regalia is a young teenage boy named Yukine. This seems like a master servant relationship and for the most part it is. However the show finds most of its conflict and the little surprises and delights that can be found in the show are to be found here in the relationship between Yato and his regalia. Yukine is not happy, deep down, that he’s a Regalia and when Yato’s former Regalia, named Nora, comes into the story, buried resentments and hatreds boil up out of Yukine and the storyline turns very drastic. I commend the show’s creators for having the courage to not be afraid to show dark, deeply held emotional moments all while being able to laugh at the whole absurdity of it all through the form of Yato. As Hiyori learns more about him from his fellow gods, she realises that his exterior of a money grabbing, quick witted warrior god hides an extremely dark past and sets up the conflict between Nora and Hiyori and Yato and an unnamed figure who isn’t revealed until the end of the show (see criticisms).
Hiyori and Yato make a great duo and spar whenever they can. Hiyori is not completely guilt free whenever she overreacts and it’s nice to see a show work at both main leads being flawed people. While you can argue that Yato being a former war god is enough to carry him in the baggage department, in these types of shows the female lead has to be as good or the show becomes "isn’t main lead character awesome!??". Hiyori has a soul underneath her cute exterior and not just the one we can see whenever she turns into her half-phantom form. She finds herself being drawn into Yato’s world, initially, against her will but something keeps her hanging around the two boys after that. So intergrated does she become into their lives that several more senior gods comment that she knows too much for a human to know and why doesn’t Yato cut his ties with her so she’ll forget the whole thing and go back to the real world. When she sees that Yukine is hurting by spending time with Yato, she offers to take Yukine in and protect him at home (nobody can see Yato or Yukine). At first we’re led to believe that it’s the tug between Hiyori and Yato that causes Yukine consternation but it’s really something deeper and nastier in his soul that drives him to rebel. Some of the most horrific moments in the show come from Yukine staring into the abyss of the netherworld around him or in some cases staring into his own abyss. We see where the souls of whose who left go when they can’t find release and it’s not pretty. For the most part, the phantoms looks like squid, scorpions or other animals and similar creatures. I found the scariest moments came from innocent people who have died becoming phantoms. Like the soul of the 6 year old girl who is just scared of the dark and wants her mammy to come and collect her and her fall into darkness right in front of our eyes. Just as Yukine is horrified, we are too and see that Yato’s constant warnings not to fall from the light to be prophecy not prevention. Director Kotaro Tamura (Wolf Children, Assist. Director) binds the three friends together slowly but surely until the end when we feel comfortable seeing Yato risking everything to save his servant and friend and the girl who saved his life when she didn’t need to.
The music of Noragami is quite pass remarkable, flowing between choral choirs and techno, hip hop and electronica which I have no problem with if done correctly and in this show is done correctly. It’s an eclectic mix and shows a confidence to work with different tones to find itself. The animation is top notch with the characters having a varied design and the fights between Yato and the Phantoms are done in a quick, workmanlike fashion. Nothing overtly flashy but nothing to suggest corners being cut. The best fights are the ones between Yato and his fellow gods. While there is an all out duke-a-roo between Yato and the final boss in the end of the show, the best fight is between Yato and Bishamon. Bishamon is depicted in most Japanese folklore as a large man who is the punisher of evildoers. In the world of Noragami, Bishamon is a twenty-something blonde girl dressed in a mini-skirt, leather bra and jacket topped with a sailor cap, armed with a whip and astride a lion. Of course she is. Bishamon and Yato crossed paths years ago and she wants him dead. It shows because their fights are tooth and nail stuff and I enjoyed Yato fighting for his life because he hadn’t been tested like that in the show up until that point.
If the show has one weakness it’s that with two episodes to go in a twelve episode show, things literally rush towards the end. We’re introduced to a main bad guy around episode only to be told this bad guy is actually a servant of a much larger bad guy introduced around episode eight. Then in episode ten the final reveal happens and the villains start their main plan. Just in time for Yukine to find his inner strength and become the chosen weapon of his protector and for Yato to find the correct path between his destructive former life and the path of righteousness he chose. We’re not shown any foreshadowing and the writing flows into this as a matter of course rather than discovery, however hard they work at masking it. It’s the only blight on a very well written and animated show and I can’t overlook it. Even if there’s the proposed second season, ending the show in the manner done only makes it seem like the creators got scared at the end that the audience wouldn’t have been happy with a cliffhanger. They needn’t have worried: the show is more than capable of carrying that load.
The show has a great voice cast and for once, the English dub actually sounds better with Bryn Apprill as Hiyori, Jason Liebrecht as Yato and Micah Solusod as Yukine in the roles. There’s nothing wrong with the original cast and they work very well in their own roles but there’s something infectious about their interacting that makes things easier to buy into when the show takes a sharp turn. On the video and audio commentaries I listened to on the disc, they clearly had fun with the show and even if they weren’t together for their recording sessions, they are able to mask it with sheer enthusiasm.
Noragami is a great show with a promise of an incoming season two which is probably why this first season ended so abruptly. If it all holds together, the second run could be better than the first. As it is, the first season is lively, comedic and serious at the same time and will appeal to fans of supernatural shows like Blue Exorcist.