I’ve actually got two main issues I want to discuss in-depth this week.
Quick fixes and optimism
It seems as though Yato has spent quite a bit of his limited earnings on bullshit good luck charms. When people are stuck in a rut, they tend to look for an easy way out. For example, people picking up fad diets when the best thing to do is to regulate your caloric intake and exercise regularly. Or gambling on penny stocks hitting it big instead of just saving scrupulously and investing wisely. We want get rich quick schemes when we know that they don’t really exist. In Yato’s case, it’s buying a dumb, brown pot because some old lady told him it would bring him good luck. Why do people like Yato do this? Are they just stupid? I don’t think so. I think people like Yato know deep down that, at best, it’s just a placebo, but like I’ve said, they’re stuck in a rut. And when you feel trapped, you also feel as though the number one thing you honestly need in life is just optimism.
Sometimes, you just want something to compel you to continue pushing forward instead of resigning yourself to your fate. And look at Yato; he’s just the embodiment of optimism and blind faith. Why? Because realistically, he’s a no-name god with neither a shrine nor followers. He’s completely homeless and his friends don’t even like him all that much. His one method of finding work involves vandalizing public property with his number; it’s akin to sending out your resume to every single job offer under the sun. Even then, Yato can only find menial work like locating a lost cat. Let’s face it: if Yato didn’t have his blind optimism, he’d fall into a deep despair. Life as a jobless, homeless person isn’t exactly butterflies and sunshine. So yeah, from one perspective, it’s stupid to buy those dumb charms especially when you’re already poor. But on the hand, if it keeps you going, you gotta do what you gotta do.
Let’s put it another way: usually, old Asian ladies — and don’t get on me for saying this ’cause I was raised by an Asian woman — like to go to shrines or other religious locations to pay an offering to the gods. And for what? In hopes of good fortune, right? A couple years ago, my mom even sent me one of those red pouches that’s supposed to bring you luck or something. Look at how the situation has now been reversed in Noragami. The god is now paying old ladies money in order to improve his fortune. Still, it’s plainly evident to his friends and perhaps some of us in the audience that Yato is being scammed. Why isn’t it a scam the other way around? We don’t even bat an eye when people donate money to the church or a shrine. Is Noragami just pointing out a blatant hypocrisy? Not necessarily.
Religion is a touchy subject. You don’t want to say someone’s faith is misplaced. I’m not saying we should now think people are fools for buying good luck charms or throwing a few bucks on the collection plate. Rather, we should look at the issue from the reverse angle: people do the things they do in order to keep up their optimism — or blind faith if that’s what you want to call it — because, in turn, it maintains their sanity. It keeps them going! Like my mom, for instance. She could have just worried herself sick over whether or not I was doing okay. Or… she could buy a silly charm and it’ll give her some peace of mind. Obviously, you shouldn’t spend all of your money on a placebo, as this appears to be what Yato has done, but even so, my sentiments are the same. He’s not doing it because he’s maliciously stupid. Rather, he’s a lonely, homeless guy with very real problems, and his spendthrift ways are a symptom of said problems.
I just have one more comment on this particular issue. I know Hiyori pulling a wrestling move on Yato’s clay pot right in front of him is supposed to be a joke. Hey, it’s just a clay pot; it obviously can’t improve your fortunes! But then again, it’d be like me pretending to be Pele and drop-kicking my mom’s good luck charm into a trash can. I know a tiny, red pouch won’t have any effect on my life whatsoever, but it’d still be a dick thing to do. There’s no doubt in my mind that Yato’s flawed — he’s lazy and he’s hardly a saint otherwise — so perhaps the comparison isn’t completely valid, but I dunno… I still feel bad for the guy in this very instance. Sometimes you just need something to believe in.
Mental health as an invisible issue
I think it’s also important to consider the sort of requests Yato gets. Lots of people pray to the gods for all sorts of trouble, but there’s a clear pattern to Yato’s jobs: youth despair. More importantly, youth despair brings to mind last week’s theme of the invisible amongst us in our society. We’ve seen a bullied girl at school, we’ve seen a child missing his cat, and we’ve seen a guy want to commit suicide because college entrance exams are excruciatingly tough. And again this week, we see another suicidal young person. Other than the child with the missing cat, all of Yato’s “clients” thus far have required mental help, and I’m not saying this as though I think they’re crazy and that they need to be locked up. Rather, they need someone to talk to.
As soon as we even get the sniffles, someone in our lives will tell us to immediately go to the doctor. But so often, people are left to deal with minor mental problems on their own until the mental problems begin to fester and become too much to bear. In a way, mental health is an invisible social issue that’s only beginning to get a tiny bit of attention. Unfortunately, there’s just this stigma attached to it that if you go to see a therapist even once, you must be irreparably cuckoo in the head. Let’s not forget that Japan (and this is true of South Korea as well) has an incredibly high youth suicide rate. Mental health is a huge problem, but how often do you suppose young people in Japan are given a healthy, controlled environment to talk about the issues they’re facing?
Remember how Hiyori’s advice to Yato from just earlier in the episode was to simply pull it together for the sake of Yukine. If a person fails, there’s this sense that he or she is really letting someone else down instead, and while this is true to an extent, this issue shouldn’t supersede and thereby erase the main problem at hand: the person is struggling to begin with. Yato’s obviously struggling to find his place as an obscure god in the modern world. He’s also struggling to find work. Is he going about this in the best way? Probably not, but Hiyori’s words of concern ring hollow and, quite frankly, a bit careless to me.
But Yato himself isn’t completely blameless. Last week, he didn’t even want to save suicidal people because he felt as though they were wasting an invaluable privilege: life. He only stepped in to help Hiyori because he didn’t want people’s despair to affect Yukine or the other Regalias. In the end, he too echoes Hiyori’s troubling approach to serious personal problems: worry more about how your issues will affect the world around you rather than how you can personally cope with them. Again, this is a shame-based society where the nail that sticks out gets hammered into place. In this case, perhaps mental health being invisible is sometimes self-imposed.
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Episode summary: Not a lot really happened in this episode in terms of actual events. Yato brings everyone to meet Ebisu, the goddess of poverty. He then fulfills a quick job that is coincidentally related to her. Afterwards, Ebisu warns Hiyori about Yato’s bloodied past. We then meet Nora, who seems to be a bit yandere about Yato. The episodes ends there.
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• It’s amusing to me that Yato has already started daydreaming about how lonely it’ll be at the top.
• Plus, is he looking for shrine maidens or groupies? Perhaps they are one and the same. It makes you begin to wonder about what doesn’t get portrayed. Like with Lord Tenjin, what do his ladies do during their downtime?
• Hiyori drops by to bring them food again. This time, their meal comes in the form of bentos. Obviously, she’s mostly doing this because she wants Yato to help her out. I’m sure a tiny part of it is that she cares for them — probably pities Yukine more than anything else — but this isn’t really the point I want to consider. Rather, I wonder how this would’ve played out had Hiyori been poor instead. You sort of take for granted that she can just buy them giant lunches or even have the time to put together fancy bentos. Perhaps a character in poverty wouldn’t have been able to do much to curry Yato’s favor. Perhaps a character in poverty would’ve just been doomed to his or her fate as a half person, half spirit amalgamation that Hiyori is now. I dunno, I think this is an interesting question to ponder considering the themes of homelessness that we’ve seen throughout the series. It’s like being able to afford healthcare or even social mobility, if you want to think of it like that. Too bad Hiyori’s “doctor” is more like a quack than a John Hopkins graduate.
• “I wanna work, but I’m not getting any job calls…”
• Hiyori’s solution is to, uh, tell Yato to pull it together for Yukine’s sake. I don’t know what that means. How will that make jobs fall out of the sky?
• Kofuku may call herself Yato’s girlfriend, but it’s done in the sort of jokey manner that suggests to the audience that we can’t take it too seriously. Plus, we haven’t heard a thing about her ’til now. Look at Yato’s eyes in the screenshot above though. Right off the bat, we know there’s something iffy about Kofuku.
• Oh look, a female character in an anime touching another female character inappropriately. I guess I can’t expect much from any show, not that Bones as a studio has been a bastion of perfect taste or anything.
• “Yato, why’d you bring those two here?” That’s a good question. What did he really want to show them? That he has connections if things ever really go bad, but he’s just too prideful to ask for help most of the time?
• Yato pitches himself to the falling suicide victim as though he’s a quack in those paid advertisements that you only see during late-night television:
“Do your daily doldrums have you down, Miss? Are you torn between work and family, Sir? Have some bullies you want to teach a lesson, kiddies? I can solve your problems in a jiffy! Fast, affordable, and reliable! Delivery God Yato!”
But within this comedic sales pitch are the two issues I talked about above: the prevalence of quick-fix schemes and mental health. This time, they seem almost intrinsically bound to each other.
• Look at how the suicide victim is exchanging business cards with Yato. It’s funny, isn’t it? But it’s also a hyperbolic reflection of how propriety in East Asian culture is of the utmost importance. This guy is about to die — hell, he wants to die — and yet his primary concern at this very moment is to follow proper social etiquette lest other people think you’re rude and uncultured. Yes, this is an exaggerated example, but let’s not mistake the trees for the forest: your problems are not as important as how your problems might affect the people around you. To put it bluntly, don’t bring shame upon your family name.
• Yeah, our latest victim works — or rather, worked — for an ad agency so he’s not exactly a youth like Yato’s previous clients, but he’s still relatively young for Japan’s rapidly aging population.
• You might think it’s crazy to commit suicide over a company going bankrupt, but there’s a serious problem with the hierarchical structure inherent in a lot of Japanese businesses: how long you’ve been with a company is a large factor in determining your position within it. This is why a lot of Japanese women don’t want to take time off from work to raise a child. And as for men, we see this play out in the Japanese film Tokyo Sonata. You can’t just leap from one salaryman job to another without having to start all over again or, at the very least, struggle mightily. That’s even assuming there are other jobs to get. In the film, the troubled patriarch eventually swallows his pride and takes a blue collar job as a janitor, but this isn’t as simple as it sounds. In fact, it didn’t turn out so well for his peers; it is hinted that one of them committed a murder-suicide with his wife because the shame and hopelessness that comes with being jobless in Japan is just that bad.
Don’t forget also that a lot of Japanese kids spend everyday and every year studying just to get into a prestigious university. Why? Just so that a big company recruits them as soon as they graduate. The job, therefore, is like a huge badge that you can wear, and it says to everyone, “Hey look at me, I succeeded!” But when a company goes under and it’s not even remotely your fault, what happens to that badge? More importantly, how do you think others will begin to think of you? Will they say, “Well, y’know, times are tough. Maybe he got laid off”? Or will they actually say, “Wow, that freeter probably failed out of school so that’s why he doesn’t have a job”? A lot of people don’t want to deal with this shame.
Of course, We can agree that suicide isn’t the way to go, but it’s not a black-and-white issue. For a lot of people, young or old, they feel as though they don’t have any other options. You could pick up a mop and continue to fight for your life, but it doesn’t mean others won’t judge you to hell and back for it. And as for Yato’s latest client, he confesses that he had not actually meant to call the delivery god at all. Rather, he was going to say his goodbyes to his parents in the countryside before jumping off the building. So there’s another factor to consider: like Raskolnikov, our suicide victim feels the crushing guilt of being supported by his family from afar. He could return home, but how can he face his parents when they’ve done so much for him?
• Y’know, if I wasn’t so lazy, I could time this scene and determine just exactly how far everyone’s been falling. Needless to say, it’s a ridiculous height.
• There’s also another interesting factor to consider. Love is apparently hard to find in Japan lately, and as result, some guys probably feel as though they have to buy it. Do Japanese women have high standards regarding their boyfriends’ salaries? I have heard conflicting answers to this question, but regardless, Japanese men like our suicide victim nevertheless feel as though they are inadequate if they can’t afford to take their girlfriends on expensive dates. It’s not Yato’s client’s fault that his company went bankrupt, but it definitely was a terrible idea to go into crippling credit card debt just to date a girl. There is thus another shame to worry about: if you don’t have a job, you’re apparently not enough of a man to find love.
• I’m not too keen on Yato’s solution. He thinks he could just make the guy forget about Kofuku and everything will be solved, but who’s to say our suicide victim won’t just meet a real girl — rather than the goddess of poverty — and repeat the same mistakes? Sure, you could blame his ad agency going under on Kofuku’s luck-killing powers, but who’s to say other companies wouldn’t naturally go under without the help of divine interference? ‘Cause shit, times are tough right now. Perhaps it’s fair to say that Noragami raises a lot of interesting questions, but at the moment, it has little in way of answers. What Yato’s doing is no different from just sweeping things under the rug.
• Every god is flawed. We’ve already discussed to death Yato’s problems. As we saw last week, Lord Tenjin isn’t exactly magnanimous himself. Last but not least, Kofuku, a.k.a Ebisu, just ruins men’s lives. I dunno, though… that last one seems a bit much compared to the previous two examples. Did you really have to portray the first female god as a bankrupting temptress?
• Oh boy, Yato has a grimdark past. So cool… yet so brooding.
• In any case, it is said that Yato used to fulfill anybody’s wishes regardless of the wish’s content in order to stay alive. What has changed now that he doesn’t have to do this? If anything, Japanese society is less spiritual than it was in the past. That isn’t to say spirituality isn’t important in Japan, but what I’m really trying to ask is… if Yato was worried about being forgotten hundreds of years ago, wouldn’t that be an even bigger concern in the present day?
• Ah, Yato thinks Kofuku and her Regalia are good enough people (I know they’re not really people but y’know what I mean) that should anything happen to him, Hiyori and Yukine should lean upon those two for help.
• According to Hiyori, “[Yato] smells so nice!” Oh dear. I mean, I wouldn’t expect that from a guy who bums around other gods’ shrines, but more importantly, is there no place in anime where I can escape from the relentless onslaught of pairings?