This is review number three hundred and thirty three. This anime is part of the Winter 2014 lineup. The anime I’ll be reviewing is called Noragami, and it’s a twelve episode anime about a girl with a cat tail. Also there are gawds here, and I’ll be spelling it like that because I’m crazy. This is a really great show though, and allow let me explain it in a long ass review. Let’s read on.
This anime is about a girl named Hiyori Iki that meets a minor gawd named Yato. Their first meeting ended in tragedy for Hiyori and she now asks for Yato’s help to turn things back to normal. Yato is a busy gawd though, because he has odd requests to fulfill, a rebelling partner to handle and a shady past out to get him. He’s busy, and Hiyori will just have to follow him around until he gets to fulfilling her request.
Taking the Pants Off
As much as I would love to dive into Yosuga no Sora, and this’ll be the second time I’m b*tching about not seeing that anime, I decided to segue into another show. First of all, I write for MAL now. As In, I now earn money for writing about anime and I feel so blessed having this opportunity to actually have “anime blogging” in my resume. Yes, damn it, dreams do come true and I feel like I’m on the path to some amazing things. Anyways, I am given the second season of Noragami to recap for MAL and I happily accepted it. Even though I’ve never seen the first season, I just said “hey, no prob, give me the weekend to marathon the first season and I’ll have the recap for the first episode next week”. So I binge watched the first season, and it’d be a shame to not review it. I don’t re-watch a lot of anime, so I’ll review shows off my lineup list from time to time if I ever cross path with it. It’s a great way to freshen up this blog, since I am a year late on the current season. I might even review the shows I recapped depending on how motivated I am, but that’s future TPAB’s problem. With this new exciting opportunity though, I have a few ideas I want to try out but I’ll keep the surprise on a later date. For now, let’s talk about Noragami. I’m three hundred plus deep in reviews, and I have to tell you that it’s very easy to spot a promising anime. If the first episode sounds interesting from the very start despite sharing very little of the actual content, then you have a goldmine. There are not a lot of shows that can be considered good in just the first episode, since it often takes three episodes for the plot to warm up. Should you ever spot an anime that just captures your interest in the first episode, then stick with it till the end because it’s destined to be a great one. This is the feeling I had with Noragami. There aren’t a lot of shows that really excite me nowadays, but Noragami stands out because it’s a very odd show. The structure is very Shounen, because it has people fighting evil monsters with spirits that transforms into a weapon, but the pacing isn’t shounen at all. It is character driven, which is weird because shounen is all about good guys kicking bad guys’ asses, and it focuses more on building a story out of what the characters are feeling. Shounen is about fighting and doing it as flashy as possible, so it’s surprising that Noragami is patient with its approach. It’s a character study shounen anime, and I don’t think I’ve ever come across one.
When you’re the Pantless Anime Blogger and reaching your goal is starting to feel stale, you really cherish the small stuff. The idea of an action oriented show fixated on fleshing out the characters before letting them kill each other is a unique one for me. While Shounen does feature exposition and character backgrounds, it’s not as precise as Noragami, wherein the first three episodes are dedicated to introducing the main characters and the personal conflicts they have. This anime follows a minor gawd named Yato, who does odd jobs to earn some money into building his own shrine. Being a small time gawd is tough, because no one really prays to you, so Yato has to tough it out and earn his keep by killing evil spirits and accepting requests in exchange for a shrine offering: 5 yen. It’s an ideal premise, and it gets even better when Yato comes across a girl that saved his life when he was almost hit by a truck. Hiyori Iki doesn’t know Yato is a gawd, so she is shocked to know about it. She is also shocked when she discovered her soul has left her body, and she’s now a wandering spirit. Hiyori is now introduced to the world of the gawds and Shinkis whenever her spirit leaves her body. It’s problematic for her to suddenly have her soul leave her body, so she makes an offering to Yato hoping that he’ll find a way to fix her unusual problem. He agrees, and now Hiyori accompanies Yato on his jobs in hopes that he’ll finally focus on fixing her spiritual problem. As you can see, there are no talks of armies of evil spirits invading the city or a bad guy conquering the world. This anime is focused on Yato and Hiyori, and the action becomes a secondary thing. Actually, it’s more like an afterthought for this anime, because it focuses more on exposition and character development than anything else. Besides that, it’s also patient in building the status quo. Introducing the characters in an elaborate way makes this anime unique, and it’s so dense in character study that the status quo is only properly established in the second half of the show. That means the first six episodes are all about the characters and small sprinkles of the overall plot.
With such a stupid approach to anime, I really just tuned in to see when the show will screw things up. Making an action anime focused on character drama is pretty risky, and I was sure it would fail. I was wrong though, because the approach made this anime special. By introducing the characters and making it the centerpiece above all else, the events in the anime now feels a lot more personal. Even though the story itself is pretty flimsy and predictable to a degree, the focus on the attitude of the characters and how they feel during the moment makes the whole thing really amazing to watch. The show gives us insight on how the characters think, their stance on a lot of things and their own bright personality in order to really make the story deliver a punch the viewers will feel. I’ll admit right now that there was some melodrama in the anime I didn’t really enjoy, but the characters really sold me through the moment. Given how each character involved in the melodrama has shared their thoughts beforehand, and the audience has seen their personality shine through before, the scene still holds weight. Shounen is clichéd as f*ck and that’s actually the biggest appeal, but it can get repetitive. Noragami seems to avoid this one trait of the genre by focusing on other things. The anime still functions like a beautiful shounen, but the character driven approach really makes it stand out.
The first half of the anime doesn’t really possess as story, since it’s just introducing characters and the various layers of the status quo. I believe the show established three undeveloped plot points, and strengthened the characters for the rest of the series. It proceeds to develop one of these plot points to end the series, and then presented the last two episodes as the main clincher to establish the second season and lure audiences in. It worked like a charm for me, because I am giddy with excitement for the second season now. As I said, the story is character driven and it’s also very patient. Most episodes would consist of nothing but exposition, and this serves to flesh out the characters and develop them to really make the story complex. It’s unbelievably slow, but the pacing is never an issue, since the characters really do carry all the weight. The storytelling is pretty elaborate as well, wherein the exposition is strong but it’s balanced out by the various light hearted moments of the show. You’ll be sitting through six or more episodes of nothing but exposition and it won’t be a problem. This is just an example of what makes this anime great, because the patient story is still enjoyable despite its elaborate setup.
For now, let’s talk about the three plot points established in this anime. They all combine into the gigantic status quo of this anime, and it’s pretty damn big because shounen shows aren’t really that contained. It only expands the more you watch it. Do you remember the original premise of One Piece? It’s about that treasure in the grand line or something, but 1000 plus episodes later, the focus has shifted heavily and the various arcs strays away from its intended premise. Noragami basically functions like this as well, but it doesn’t really rush anything and it establishes story arcs first before proceeding to develop it further. I think it’s a way to ease into the even more gigantic plot the series actually has, but we’ll see soon enough. Anyways, this anime opens with a normal girl crossing paths with Yato. During one of his odd jobs looking for a cat, he crossed the street when the lights are green and a truck is headed straight for him. Hiyori panicked, and she lunged into coming traffic trying to save him. Both of them escaped alive, and she gives a stern talking to him, except:
Yeah, her soul escaped her body. It’s OK though, because she managed to come back. The problem is that her soul would keep on slipping out of her body, and she needs to fix this right away. She asks help from Yato, and he accepts it. The plot point kinda stops there and the rest of the story just follows Hiyori being introduced to the wonderful world of the supernatural. Being a resident of this world and the after-life, Hiyori sees things most people don’t. She experiences cool things, and she is also subjected to some awful stuff about the after-life. Hiyori follows Yato because she kinda likes him, but she’s also a caring person. Knowing that Hiyori will stay in the long run, Yato introduces him to the various gawds in the city. Hiyori, and the audience, is now introduced to the wonderful yet scary world of the phantoms and the gawds. The balance between the two entities and how this world functions is a part of the heavy exposition of the anime. It’s pretty cool though, because it’s rooted in the beliefs of Shintoism but not in a preachy manner. The show utilizes the concepts of the religion and creates a world out of it.
The second plot point is about Yato and his quest to get his own temple. Being a minor gawd, Yato will do anything to get his 5 yen donation. He’ll do a lot of comical things, and he’s looked down for being such a minor gawd by other entities that flaunts their awesome-ness in front of his face. He also does a lot of phantom slaying though, and he often accept work from other gawds who doesn’t have the time to exterminate the enemies. Hiyori often tags along in his slayings, and she is treated to more exposition about the phantoms. These things manifest from all the negative energy humans let out, and they feed on it. When these things grow strong, they’ll start hurting humans. In the series, some of them persuaded vulnerable humans to commit suicide while others simply want to eat Hiyori because she’s half-spirit, which is like their food. This is how Yato lives, and it’s also the reason why Hiyori is so involved with him. She cares, but Yato has lived for a long time. Will she still care after knowing just what kind of gawd he truly is? Some gawds are born from the strong emotions of humans. There’s one gawd that students pray to so they can pass their exams, and he has a strong thriving shrine. As long as people keep coming for his help, he’ll be a gawd with influence. Some gawds are born from the malice of humans though, and Yato kinda falls in that group. I don’t want to spoil it, because it’s the beautiful thing about Yato. All I can say is that Yato has lived a long time, and he was needed once. In today’s world though, no one needs his services so he does odd jobs to keep himself afloat. He also believes that he’s no longer that kind of gawd, and he’s living a different life. Anyways, the second plot point is mostly about his past and the people he’s crossed paths with. There are a lot of them, and he’s doing his best to shake them off. He can’t run forever though, and he’ll soon have to face his dark past.
A lot of these characters from his past also seem to have their own plot points as well. There’s one about a stray spirit he once used as a weapon, since you can equip strong spirits and they’ll serve you forever. This girl, named Nora, just spews evil whenever she appears though. She’s pretty damn creepy, but I think her status as a stray, because she serves more than one gawd making her a dirty filthy slut, will be an active plot point at some point in the story. She keeps insisting that Yato uses her, and you just know bad things will happen if he decides to wield this stray spirit. Nora is persistent though, and she’ll even hurt Yato just to be with him. She’s like a crazy stalker, but a lot more mysterious and deadly because of how cunning she appears to be. There’s also a plot point about Yato and another gawd named Bishamon. He has beef with this gawd because he once did something bad to her, and she can’t forgive him for it. She wants him dead, and she would attack like a maniac whenever they cross path. All Yato could do is run though, because Bishamon is a badass. She has a lot of weapons, and they’re deadly as the next. These spirits are organized as well, and they lend their powers to make Bishamon virtually untouchable. Yato really did something truly unforgivable that another gawd can’t let it go, and it seems that this incident will be explored in a later date. It does give more insight on just what kind of gawd Yato is, because he would go to lengths that’ll anger other gawds. Since I’m recapping the second season, it’s clear that this plot point between him and Bishamon is a main story for that show. They’re developing Bishamon’s character in the second season, so tune in for that as well.
The third plot point is about Yato and his relationship with his spirit weapon named Yukine. These spirit weapons are called Shinki, and they form a contract with the gawd that they’ll serve. Yukine is someone Yato plucked off the street because he needs a weapon to fight phantoms. Shinki are the only thing that can kill a phantom, and he desperately needed one in order to save himself and Hiyori. He recruited Yukine, but the young guy didn’t really want to be a part of all of this. The third plot point explores the bond between a Shinki and his master. Yato would feel all of Yukine’s negative energy, and it’s his job to keep him in check. Yukine has strong ties to the human world though, so Yato is having a hard time trying to control his Shinki. Hiyori tries to soften up Yukine though, and the three of them often go through some light hearted misadventures whenever they can. The third plot point is mostly about Yukine’s negative energy building into something that’ll cause a big problem for the gawds in the city. This is the only plot point in the show that truly develops and reaches a conclusion. Yukine is a young kid and he feels lonely, so he’s rebelling against his unwanted fate of being a Shinki. Yato doesn’t console the boy though, and he believes the only healthy thing is to let it all play out by itself. Unfortunately, this involves a lot of complicated sh*t that’ll slowly spiral out of control. It’s a really well done plot point, because the way the characters behave in the story is really wonderful. Even though Yukine going emo is a bit tough to bear, the rest of the cast gathers to solve the problem and it’s a promising look at what makes Noragami truly special. I’ll stop here because I might spoil the whole thing if I don’t hold myself back.
It’s also worth noting that the last two episodes focused on something else. It kinda breaks away from the usual pacing of the anime to focus on one thing: pure shounen brilliance. I think the show wants to point out that there’s a lot more stuff to happen in the story, and the action packed sequences have yet to truly make its presence felt. It’s basically a setup for the second season in a vague way. After the exposition and the character driven story, the last two episodes simply focused on two characters trying to kill each other. At this point though, the character driven story has already done its job. All the investment you’ve made on the characters is suddenly given a wonderful pay off when the relationships between them is threatened by the villain. The action sequence, despite popping out of nowhere at the last minute, is wonderful because of how the characters make the rushed story feel special. It utilized everything the previous episodes has setup, and then delivered a big “bang” for the show to end on.
Let’s now talk about the characters. I’ll focus on the main characters, since the character story really draws strength in the relationships they have with each other. I think mentioning the side characters might spoil the fun of the show. Anyways, the main characters are Hiyori, Yato and Yukine. Hiyori is the typical caring character wherein she is always on the side of good and her intentions are never bad. She’s just a truly good person, and she mostly stays with Yato because she cares for him. I think she likes him, but the narrative is a bit light since she’s often a secondary character. She’s looking from the outside in out so most of the plot points doesn’t concern her, but she still has an active role in them. I think the one thing that truly makes Hiyori special is when she asks in her monologue: If gawds take care of humans then who takes care of gawds and Shinki? I think that sums up her personality to a tee. Knowing that no one is really there for these people, Hiyori is the one that takes care of them. Despite being only a girl with a cat tail, Hiyori is still someone that would lunge in front of a moving truck to save someone that she thinks need saving. She becomes a lot more special when various people starts warning her that living in the other side and becoming attached to a gawd like Yato can only mean trouble for her, but she still pushes on and intervenes in any way just to help those that need it. Also, the fact that she would leave her body in shady places while her spirits goes off to cradle a crying Yukine or something demonstrate just how much she cares for others. Seriously, she passes out in public places, like in front of a restaurant or at the park, and I honestly want to see an OVA about the adventure of her unprotected passed out body possible created by TNK Studio. Seriously though, despite her little involvement in the stories, Hiyori is a crucial part of all of them. Wait, does that make sense? The last two episodes serves as a good example when Hiyori’s involvement is minimal but it’s heart wrenching considering all the cool things her characters has done beforehand.
Yato is a pretty cool character. He behaves like the typical shounen character that acts like an idiot and often used for comic relief, but he also transforms into a bad ass when the situation calls for it. It is f*cking old school shounen at its finest. This guy slowly becomes complex though as the show progresses. He has a cold attitude towards everything, and I bet his dark past has something to do with it. He would say questionable things in such a harsh manner that it’s a bit surprising given how idiotic he came off before. His stand on suicide is probably the one that struck me hard the most, because his belief is so black and white that I wanted to hate him. The show actually wants you to hate Yato, and he just accepts it knowing full well that he deserves it. He just keeps his head down and move on, despite of how much of a d*ckbag he comes off as. His cold personality is just a part of it though, because this guy is also caring. He lacks the skills to properly express it, but he is also the most caring person in the world. The list of all the sad things that happened to him is slowly revealed by the anime, but Yato just shake them off and move on. It makes him a cool anti-hero, and it’s amazing because he is introduced as a typical shounen lead before. His transformation into an anti-hero is so precise that I haven’t seen it done in a long while. Three hundred anime and this journey still have some surprises for me. Anyways, Yato’s past and his transformation is a big part of the show. His dark past and cold nature is a reason why Hiyori is attracted to him. His anti-hero personality is an important part of the show as well, because it buffers Yukine’s annoying personality.
Yukine first appeared as a snow flake-like spirit stuck to a mailbox, clean and untainted. This is important because this guy just f*cks himself up as the show progresses. Yato spots him and gives him a name so he can use him as a weapon. Yukine isn’t approached or asked to become a weapon to serve Yato, he just becomes one. Yato even mentions that this spirit is young, and it’ll be problematic. Pay attention to that as well, because Yukine basically f*cks Yato up too. I’ll skip the details, but Yukine is really a very young kid that lived a miserable life and then turned into a Shinki by Yato. Yukine seems to have a complicated past, and life as a Shinki is too much for him. It’s easy to understand him though, because he is young. He isn’t prepared to face the world yet, and he is suddenly thrown into a world full of phantoms and scary people. In a sense, no one understands him as well. Sure, there are other Shinki in the show but no one quite like Yukine that is young and confused. Emphasis on the young as well, because this guy is strongly attached to his past life that it complicates matter for him and his master, Yato. I think the episode where Yukine met a lost soul about to be eaten by a phantom, and Yato coldly commanding him to end the soul’s life gives you an idea where Yukine’s head is at. The character driven story really served Yukine well, because I can’t f*cking stand his whiny personality but you can also feel his pain. His inexperienced personality comes through, and his desire to be a normal living boy is also something that tugs at a personal level. The dynamic between him, Hiyori and Yato is the greatest strength of this anime, and their wonderfully developed personality plays a huge part in it.
Lastly, I want to talk about one important theme of this anime. Actually, this show has a lot of themes like the complicated stuff about gawds and the yin yang aspects involving the phantoms. There’s also one about the importance of life and the regrets of not living to your fullest, but the one theme that really completed this anime is loneliness. Yato’s desire to stay a relevant gawd that people need is rooted on the fact that he doesn’t want people to forget about him. The theme of loneliness strikes you at a personal level, and it really makes the character driven story a lot more special because you can connect to them. Hiyori stays with Yato and Yukine because she knows they are lonely. She figured the world of the gawds and the Shinki is a lonely one, so she always does her best to stay with them. Yukine’s strong attachment to his human life and his emo personality is also rooted on him feeling alone. The anime also paints a really sad world for the characters to move in, wherein tragedy is a normal thing, so the theme of loneliness is really a powerful force that drives this show. It makes you want to hug each character and tell them everything is going to be alright. With this theme, the light hearted moments that really only serves a fluff often becomes important because tragedy is just around the corner. Seriously, I love how complex this anime is.
Bones has done well with this anime. It also fits nicely in their repertoire because they often do great things with action anime. Norgami has all the good things of Zetsuen no Tempest except better. It could also be the next great thing next to FMA if Bones really want to pursue past that benchmark anime. Noragami is that f*cking good and I hope Bones just keep pushing for more seasons. The second season is already starting out as promising as the first season, so there’s no reason to stop. Make that OVA about Hiyori’s passed out body and just don’t stop. First impressions will make Noragami feel like a really good Ao no Exorcist successor, and I bet the director has a hand at it. He storyboarded Ao no Exorcist, and his influences are strong for Noragami. Kotaro Tamura’s talent really plays a big part in this show, because he also storyboarded Zetsuen no Tempest and FMA: Brotherhood. The patient storytelling and the character driven story is something he seems to have mastered, and it made Noragmi such a joy to watch. Of course, he only improved upon the author’s work though because the character driven shounen story faithfully came from the manga. There are chapters that are just monologues of one character in thirty plus pages, it’s amazing. It takes one hell of a director to capture it though, so points for him.
Sight and Sound
Adachitoka is a pretty awesome artist. His designs are strongly shounen influenced and his panels really scream the genre. I love how consistent they are though, and the use of inking to really make every panel look elaborate. Character design is pretty amazing because body composition is solid. He captures the appeal of typical shounen characters that have slender bodies and pretty faces. The strong fierce eyes, attached to that cleanly designed face, are pretty awesome to stare at. Yato is incredibly fierce in the manga version and he exudes that manly shounen appeal most slender characters have. He’s handsome, hot, and bad ass at the same time. I did love how they toned Yato’s intensity down in the anime though, because he’s more relatable in the anime considering the character driven story. Adachitoka’s design might look typical shounen but he makes up for it with insane details. I also love the use of different angles of his panel making him draw Hiyori in different views to suit her cat tail spirit personality. His design is completed by the strong inking on the hair and the smart shading on the outfits. It brings the characters to life as you read the panels. Of course, this isn’t present in the anime but the strong details are still intact, and Bones really did a good job capturing the author’s vision. The heavy atmosphere of the manga is established in the anime, and the consistent expressive faces are wonderfully intact.
The animation is pretty great. There are not a lot of action sequences, but they are still impressive because it just looks so bad ass. The use of different camera angles, characters flying all around and the fast paced sequences are perfectly captured by the animation. It’s able to keep up with the insane fight scenes that are littered all over this anime. My favorite is Yato fighting Bishamon in a short sequence, but guns are fired, whips are lashed and a lion goes on a rampage in that small exchange. The true beauty of the animation appears in the last two episodes though, where the show really went full shounen to end the show. The way it utilized the background and the damages the characters took is so wonderfully animated. Bones makes consistent animation, and I love them for that. They really captured the beauty of the manga. From the light hearted comedic moments to those heartfelt ones, the animation is always on point. From killing phantoms to Hiyori walking on the electric wires, the animation really established the wonderful world the characters move around in. The character expression is also on point, and this is important because that basically makes up eighty percent of the anime.
The anime’s OP is “Goya no Machiawase” by Hello Sleepwalkers. I love this song, because the intro instrumental just sounds freaking solid, and it sets the mood for the song. It’s like a dark song about someone lost, with a rifle in his hand, out to make something of himself. I think I missed the point of the lyrics, but it’s only because I am so enthralled by the song. The lyrics are captivating and the instrumental just screams awesome. It begs you to keep on listening, but I think the lyrics does tie in nicely with the whoel theme of loneliness the anime has going, but a bit more emo. The OP sequence features Yato walking around the city, in the same heavy atmosphere established in the manga. That one is for all you manga fans, so I hope you got pumped when you saw it. It also features all the characters, and it erupts in an action sequence between Yato and some other people. It’s awesone, and you should see it if you want to see a small piece of what makes the anime awesome. The anime’s ED is “Heart Realize” by Tia. I believe she is now the vocals of the band Supercell, because I think Nagi has gone solo so good for her. Tia’s voice is captivating, and it instantly draws you into the song. It reminds me a bit of Nagi, but Tia’s style is a bit more chilling and haunting. It sends a chill up your spine because it sounds so angelic. The song is also very ryo for some reason. I’ve been a fan of Supercell for a long time, so I kinda smiled when I hear the same pace and solemn approach like some of their greatest hits. The song is about someone trying to get close to another that feels lost. It captures Hiyori’s love for her two friends, and it’s really well done. The ED sequence features Hiyori walking in the snow approaching a sleeping Yato and Yukine. She smiles and shares her umbrella with them. It’s a really cute sequence, and it tells a lot about Hiyori in a wonderful manner. The train tracks separating her from her friends is a powerful scene that adds to the nuance of the song.
8/10 “The character driven story is amazing and this shounen story slowly becomes an engaging personal journey I’m sure any viewer would appreciate.”
This is a wonderful anime. It has a strong story, incredible characters and action to balance it all out. The experience this anime gives you is unlike any other, and I’m sure it’ll stay with you because that’s just how effective this anime is at its storytelling. I’d knock points at the lack of action, but that’s a minor thing. I’m sure the second season is already fixing that problem. If you love character driven stories then you’ll love this anime. If you appreciate shows that makes an effort into making the characters relatable and engaging then you’ll love this anime. If you love good shounen then you’ll love this, no doubt. It’s a really solid show so I highly recommend it.