After two episodes Noragami remains the best new series of the season for me (I haven’t watched Space Dandy #2 yet as I type this). It’s not doing it on the strength of innovation or invention – basically, at this point Noragami is a triumph of execution. For me it’s this season’s Hataraku or Blood Lad – a show that isn’t groundbreaking or tricky but succeeds based on style, timing, cast and general dexterity. The premise here is a pretty good one, but it’s the way it’s being brought off with panache that makes this the best show of the season (albeit a very weak one).
A couple of things stood out for me in this episode. First was Iwasaki Taku’s background music – he’s one of the best, and talent just wins out most of the time. It’s an interesting mix of creepy Shinto winds, techno and hiphop, and director Tamura Koutarou always seems to have the right touch in applying it. The second is the pacing, which keeps the episode involving despite the fact that not all that much happens. Despite the action sequence in the final few minutes this is basically an expositional episode, but it never feels like one – the layers behind the premise are laid out quite naturally in the context of the narrative, and not via extraneous speeches that stick out like a sore thumb and grind the story to a halt.
As with those two shows I mentioned earlier, the fact that this is a winning cast has a lot to do with the success of the series. Yato is a loser of a Kami, certainly, but he’s not an idiot – he’s quite competent at utilizing his limited means and concerned enough about Hiyori – but not too much – to be both sympathetic and a believably capricious spirit. Hiyori also strikes a nice balance – she adapts to her new situation with a schoolgirl’s childlike curiosity, but gets freaked out at the times a normal kid would freak out. The outstanding facial expressions – again a callback to Blood Lad and an element that really makes Noragami reminiscent of a Brains Base series – go a long way towards both selling the characters and making the humor work. The comedy in Noragami is mostly visual rather than verbal, so that element of the production is absolutely critical. Fortunately, BONES is nailing it.
I also like the way the setting “between the Near and Far Shore” is being depicted. The episode jumps around from Shinjuku to Inokashira Koen (in Kichijouji, where I lived for a month after I moved here) to Yushima Tenjin, and all the while we see the elements of the spirit world layered on top of the familiar elements of Tokyo. Again it’s not flashy, but very effective – from the tiny “Yuki” grommet (look familiar?) to the giant tick (or whatever that was that ate Yato’s hand) to “The Storm”, these spirit elements are brought off with imagination and wit. We also get nice little touches like Yato drinking “Lapin” (rabbit) beer instead of Kirin, and the fact that even in his delusions of grandeur he’s drinking ¥190 sake from the convenience store.
All that said, it seems we’re at the point in Norgami where we’re going to find out if it has legs. The plot is about to take center stage and be asked to carry a major burden, and of course we have the introduction of a new character – Yukine (Kaji Yuuki). I won’t deny I’m worried – I can’t think of a single show he’s made better but there are plenty that have been strong enough to survive Kaji’s addition to the cast mostly unscathed. This is one of those characters who superficially at least looks like the kind that prompt people to say “It’s not his fault he keeps getting cast in those roles” – it’s amazing how often I hear that excuse, and not only is it not true, but the fact that it keeps getting offered is a condemnation in itself. I hope Yukine isn’t one of those characters, and I hope there’s enough gas in the tank to keep the series on the road. It’s not just appearances or Kaji – Yukine is a very divisive character even among readers of the manga – and it’s going to be very interesting to see what his addition does to the alchemy of the anime.