Title: Noragami (The Stray God)
Format: TV anime
Genre: supernatural, action, comedy
Series Creator: Adachitoka
Series Director: Kotaro Tamura
Series length: 12 episodes
Original Airing dates: January 5, 2014 – March 23, 2014
Reviewed format: HDTV download
“Hiyori Iki was a regular middle school student until she was hit by a bus while trying to save the life of a jersey-wearing person named Yato. This incident causes her to transform into a half-phantom. Soon after she learns that Yato is a god, her life is never the same.”
The manga is way better.
Harsh way to start but its true.
For however good you may feel that this series is, the manga better & the anime would’ve been better if it followed the 1st manga arc -which is about an attempt to corrupt the War God(dess) Bishamonten & her past with the central protagonist Yato- instead, that is just flirted with & we are left with an entirely new invented arc that makes little sense in context to the earlier episodes.
The anime also starts in the wrong place.
Basically, the manga begins with the wandering god Yato & his shinki Tomone responding to the pleases of a high school who is bullied & used as a target for the stress of her classmates. This mini arc serves to introduce Yato & the narrative world in which he functions & more especially the Ayakashi (evil spirits). Yet the anime starts at the end of this arc & doesn’t explain the reason why Yato & Tomone is there. Only having Tomone demand her release without showing the previous tension between her & Yato.
Although, for the 1st half of the series, it does get so much extremely right in terms of it’s relationship with the source material as well as being a good series in its own right.
The characters are one of the reasons for this.
In terms of narrative, narrative world & character creation, Noragami is fairly original on so many levels. One reason is that it is based on a solid foundation of Shinto traditions & beliefs as well as mythologies but also isn’t afraid to break away from them to try something new & interesting.
Yato is a prime example of this.
He is a wandering Kami (god or high level spirit), which means that he doesn’t have a shrine to serve as a focal point of his worship. Thus he is forced to take any requests, for the price of 5 Yen (a reference to base level Shinto offerings), so he can eventually build his own shrine. He is often depicted as being shiftless & egotistical, acting like a tyrannical villain at times whilst doing almost anything in order to get attention & gain followers but this merely a surface facet of him. It hides a lot of pain at his dark past, his fear of being forgotten (which means death for any god), being left alone as well as his utter devotion to his friends, willing to endure the worst if it means that they see the best.
This is exemplified through his interactions with Hiyori, who wound up having her soul being able to level her body when she tried to save Yato thinking that he was a normal human. Like Yato at his best, she is selfless & devoted to her friends but she is also idealistically naive, to the point of willful ignorance. Unfortunately this naivety is drawn out in an inconsistent manner in the anime then in the manga, which Hiyori often acting hypocritical towards Yato, especially in regards to him trying to protect her & him training his new shinki Yukine.
Yukine is also a brilliant but wrongly depicted character creation. Despite being a reconstituted human spirit, Yukine is also the closest to being human because he is so young. & being young he is more given to rage & temptation at his situation -realising that he is dead & cannot have the life that others have. This also comes about from Hiyori babying & spoiling him because of her own longer to have a connected family, especially a younger sibling.
Unfortunately, whenever a shinki succumbs to temptation or commits an evil they inflict a “sting” upon their master; which inturn becomes a blighted curse which manifests Ayakashi upon the shinki & eventual death upon their masterful god. Thus, in this fictional world, any shinki that causes the slightest sting upon their master is released from their godly name & forced to wander until either picked up by another god or devoured by Ayakashi.
This is the main conceit of the first half of the anime series, where Yukine must come to terms not only with his death & the fact that he can never have a mortal life but that he will receive punishment in one form or another for his transgressions. Because Hiyori’s ignorance & protective nature shelters Yukine from many of the surfaces consequences of his actions, lying to herself over what he does because she feels sorry for him, it ends up almost killing both Yukine & Yato. Yet she is the one who sets about doing her upmost to save them both because she feel responsibly.
Unfortunately this responsibility becomes muddled in the hypocrisy of her anime depiction as well as the machinations of Yato’s 1st & former shinki Nora (meaning Stray, a cursed name given to shinki who serves multiple masters without severing their former names).
Nora is a quiet antagonist of the series. Not an outright villain, but the one behind almost all the action within. All because of her twisted devotion to Yato.
To this end, she attempts to destroy Hiyori’s spiritual form & corrupt Yukine so Yato will reject him & take her back. In the anime arc, she also resurrects the god of calamity Rabo, who was both contemporary of & rival to Yato in his original incarnation as a murderous god.
Here is the massive divert from the manga series & I personally find that it just doesn’t work well or logically.
There was so much time spent building up Yato’s past with Bishamonten & her desire to destroy him. Which means Yato, despite his weakened state, defends both Yukine & Hiyori from her blind wrath. Rabo’s half arc is meant to show more about Nora’s desire to reclaim her position at Yato’s side by making her turn back into the destructive, murderous god whom she seems to love utterly but no real context or background is developed. & the pay off for it, whilst visually spectacular, doesn’t feel all that satisfying.
Same with the episode dedicated to building the side character of Kofuku, the goddess of poverty & misfortune who ends up cursing anyone & anywhere she spends too much time with or around. Whilst very funny with its 4th wall breaking jokes, it doesn’t lead to much pay off.
Yet the overall humour, especially Hiyori’s violent overreactions to things does save a lot of the series. The humour is balanced with some real harsh emotional stuff centred around ideas of suicide & redemption yet the existence of one doesn’t cheapen or ruin the value of the other. They are juxtaposed & balanced nicely for the most part, especially with how Yukine comes to terms with himself as his role as shinki to a fairly feckless divinity.
Visually, Noragami is exceptionally beautiful, with clean distinction designs & smooth action scenes. The destruction of the Ayakakishi is rendered in an interesting broken pattern, whilst all of their designs are based upon twists of the insect or reptile world. The shifts of expressions, such as Hiyori’s outrage & her tail are very well done -as are the emphasises on some of Yato’s cat-like traits (such as eyes or facial expressions). If I can praise anything in their series is how amazing it looks & how great the quality of the animation is with a rich use of colours & shades.
Ultimately, I say go into this series openly & to be prepared to be drawn to extremes of love & hate. For every misstep there are still so many good things about it.
But, if you haven’t already done so, I’d recommend reading the manga after watching the series & hope that they make that into the 2nd series.