Noragami Ep. 1: Worth more than 5-yen so far

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My biggest concern for Noragami at the moment is that it’ll go through the motions where Yato deals with a bunch of somewhat disjointed, one-off vignettes for about two thirds of a season before the “real” story emerges. It’s a Bones thing. Yato is one of those minor gods in Japan, but the problem is that he doesn’t have much of a following; he doesn’t even have his own shrine. As such, he’s reduced to vagrancy, trying to “make ends meet” by fulfilling minor wishes like locating a lost cat. Too bad his “Sacred Treasure,” some sort of weapon for the gods in this universe, has also abandoned him. Yeah, weapons can talk. They’re actually anthropomorphized, only turning into a weapon when combat becomes necessary. From the looks of the OP, some younger kid will end up being Yato’s next Sacred Treasure, but until then, he’s somewhat defenseless as we can plainly see in this episode. Nevertheless, Yato isn’t lacking of confidence. He seems convinced that he’s destined for Super Jesus stardom. In that sense, I liken him to a young, wannabe rock star. The vagrancy fits, and so is the seemingly perpetual struggle in obscurity obstinately accompanied by dreams of grandeur. Sure, we don’t really know Yato’s actual age, and for all I know, he could be ageless. But his appearance is, of course, no accident, and even if he might be old in human years, he is definitely a small fry amongst the thousands of Japanese gods. But does his coming-of-age story have more to say? Is it a symptom of something bigger? Only time can tell.

So that’s Yato. What’s the other half of the equation? It appears to be the somewhat privileged Iki Hiyori, a consummate lover of martial arts. I don’t mean privileged here in the “Eat shit, shitlord!” tumblrite sense. I just mean she’s truly well-off financially. But for whatever reason, even before her near-death incident, Hiyori seemingly possesses a connection to the supernatural, or, as Yato puts it, the “Far Shore.” Yeah, this is one of those shows where there’s a lot of terminology to pick up right off the bat; it’s a little annoying, but the first episode remained briskly-paced enough to keep my interest. Anyway, back to Hiyori, she can see Yato when most humans, e.g. her friends, can’t. This is true even before she gains her strange powers after her accident. So when she tries to save a god from being run over by a car–at the time, she didn’t know Yato was a god and thus likely impervious to trucks–she ends up getting run over herself. It’s not quite clear how she didn’t die from said incident, but the impact did send her into some sort of limbo as Yato describes it. In other words, she can live as both a human for most of the day, but for odd instances, her soul can escape her fleshly prison whereupon she can apparently do battle with supernatural enemies herself. In perfect anime fashion, of course, her soul looks exactly like her human self except she now has a cat tail. But back to the original question regarding Hiyori: why was she able to see Yato in the first place?

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So according to Yato, there’s the “Near Shore,” which is where humans reside, and the “Far Shore,” a place which humans might refer to as the afterlife. Now that’s an odd explanation though, because at one point in the episode, Hiyori has the ability to hear the anxious emotional worries of the people around her. Considering that she was in a hospital at the time, you can just imagine the cacophony of pleas and crying; it’s never pleasant to hear people in anguish much less an entire hospital’s worth of despair. Out of nowhere, Yato appears in Hiyori’s bed and nonchalantly remarks, “You can hear the voices of the Far Shore?” So what exactly is the Far Shore then because it doesn’t seem like it’s just the afterlife. Is Hiyori hearing the voices of the afterlife? But it sure seemed to me–at the time of the scene, anyway–that she was hearing the thoughts and concerns of the other patients in the hospital. I mean, I’m not trying to say that there’s a contradiction in the anime. It’s the first episode, so obviously, there’s still a lot of world-building to do. Perhaps it is very much the case that while our corporeal bodies reside in the Near Shore, our emotional stress projects itself into the Far Shore. Still, it’s something that the anime itself doesn’t make very clear.

Oh, one more thing: emotional stress seems to lead to the manifestation of ayakashi. Whether or not these ghastly creatures are the direct products of human despair (a la Persona) or just attracted to the “scent” of it, again, the anime’s not quite clear on the finer details… yet, anyway. And what are ayakashi other than being heavily color-saturated beasts that somewhat resemble animals? The anime implies that they’re dangerous, and I don’t doubt it, but y’know, presumably there are a lot of ayakashi lurking amongst us. We just can’t see them for whatever reason until the proverbial dam breaks and the phantoms do appear in real life to threaten real, actual harm. But what’s that breaking point? The first ayakashi we see is supposedly fueled by both the anxieties of the exam season and a poor girl being bullied by her classmates. The second ayakashi is some weird collection of eyeballs that can collectively become a frog, but I guess what I’m wondering is what makes it come about. Its origins appear to be tied to the hospital, a place where I’m sure there is a lot of emotional stress, but why does it emerge from the hospital to attack a lost cat of all things and not, y’know, the despairing hospital patients?

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Why am I asking all of these questions, you wonder? Am I just nitpicking? That would depend on whether or not you perceive this post as being critical or not. At the moment, Noragami is entertaining enough. I like it; it’s fun. Yato’s somewhat charismatic and Bones’s presentation isn’t lacking of style and panache. This is all fine and dandy, and if Noragami can just keep itself at this level, it’d already be a good enough show. Not a great one, but good enough to be a time-waster for the rest of the season. But I feel as though if the show wants to be great, it’s missing something. What that something is, I’m not quite sure just yet, but maybe the world-building could be tighter. Maybe each event could be more… deliberate? I don’t know if that’s the right word, but something along those lines. For now, however, let’s keep things in perspective and reel in our expectations for a bit: it is just the first episode. Ultimately, I’m saying I like what I see so far, but I nevertheless hope Noragami can elevate itself into something more.

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9 thoughts on “Noragami Ep. 1: Worth more than 5-yen so far”

  1. Just watched this one. Besides the Near and Far Shore thing (which are terms I swear I could’ve heard in Hamlet about the dead, but I doubt it. Been ages) there really wasn’t much terminology to grasp and it actually all ties in together as neatly as the “Milord” and “cat” themes.

    Ayakashi apparently is the plural or collective term for yokai, which is a type of Japanese phantom in folklore. They can be either mischievous or outright evil (hence why the first one looked like it was going to attack the young girl (or drive her to suicide) and the frog just…wanted to eat a cat) and have an animal appearance to some extent (probably why our heroine has a cat tail).
    The most interesting thing to note however is that ayakashi apparently have a tendency to show up on beaches and on coasts, hence the “Shore” terminology for the show I guess.

    You made a very apt comparison between ayakashi and shadows from Persona because they seem to work the same. Regularly they’re just amorphous things watching from the shadows that only take form once they’ve gathered into a single negative concept and then lash out due to their nature. The really interesting thing is, as you might not have known, is that this show also takes up Persona’s themes of the mind/afterlife being closely tied. It’s an ancient concept that when people dream they see the world beyond ours and it’s reflected in a multitude of religions on how mental states are either caused by or conjuring negative spirits (which is where the “don’t wish bad on someone or it can happen” thing likely evolved from).

    Another thing to note is how the ayakashi look in the anime. You notice the coloring, movement, and general translucent, mushy texture to them? Well, on wiki “ayakashi” is synonymous with “mononoke”. Remember back to Princess Mononoke? Remember how the beasts looked in that movie? Maybe the artists here were visually inspired by that flick to some degree, and considering the thematic relation to its monsters, they decided to have a similar take on the ayakashi beasts’ bodies (mushy and translucent).

    Long reply, but I just wanted to show you some of the interesting things I came across why doing some very light research into the show’s themes. What grabbed me most, however, wasn’t just the themes and how neatly everything came together in the end (a sign of decent writing which is sadly unique as of late). Aside from characters and incredible animation, it was the framework that kept up the fantastic pacing to the show. No one scene was static. There were angles all over the place, but never enough to disorientate, only enough to keep each scene active even when it wasn’t a fight scene.

    I agree with you, mate. This show has a lot of potential, and if it keeps this up it will be a good show on its own. Like you, though, I hope they do more with it than just keep it fun to watch. The themes they have in place deserve much more than just “monster of the week” action. Either way, I’m looking forward to this too.

    1. Remember back to Princess Mononoke?

      I think a lot of shows or anime do this. My first thought was Ghost Hound.

      Don’t really have much else to add as it’s too early to comment on the spiritual stuff until we see what Bones does with it. Disagree about the terminology thing. I felt it was inelegant.

  2. Oh, and I have to say, our Rockstar God (good call there, mate, reminds me of a rocker buddy I had in school) has either very modest requests or he’s surprisingly traditional. He moans about how much more money he’ll need to get a shrine of his own but doesn’t charge more than the typical 5 yen. I wonder what that says about him…
    Maybe he should some tips from the Vatican.

    1. Maybe he values the quantity of worshipers he has rather than how much money he can get off of each individual? A shrine wouldn’t mean much to a god if few people actually worship him, I guess.

  3. I read a bit of the original source and it looks to be monster-of-the week variety. The anime at least moves faster and skipped the somewhat dull intro of Yato. The animation quality of Bones is always fun to watch even though the show reminds me of many shounen shows before it.

    I agree that I’m getting allusions to Persona esp. with the idea behind the ayakashi.

    1. I read a bit of the original source and it looks to be monster-of-the week variety.

      That’s disappointing. Well, hopefully Bones takes liberties with the adaptation.

  4. I was very impressed with Noragami. The near-death experience triggering shamanic abilities is a very realistic touch, which helps to counterbalance the non-realism of the god’s superheroic leaps.

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