Noragami – 02

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So far, so good.  But there are trials ahead for Noragami.

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.

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  1. t

    great review!

    Noragami's 2nd episode was great and continue the very good start of ep #01.
    I love this episode on his own, but also you got to love it because looking at both ep 1+2, it's seems great – it's consistent, doesn't lose itself to jokes, keeps being itself and pushing a little on characters and story.
    this show prove that it's growing, little by little, but it's only ep 2. it's like watching a kid starting to walk on his own or learning to ride a bike. so this show is very good, and is now evolving to something even better.

    I must praise the music composer or who ever is in charge with that, it was great. but wait, producing good music is important, but knowing the exact tone and moment to combine it with what's on the screen is even harder. and Noragami did it naturally in the best way I couldn't even imagine.
    sometimes we ignore BGM(background music) but man, after episode like that, you just wanna download the OST.

    pace is good. they aren't pushing plot, everything is under control. characters (like Hiyori) isn't in panic. it's perfect scenario set up by BONES, allowing to enjoy what's going on and still push a little, for example by adding new character to the cast or by revealing a little more about Hiyori's condition and the way she handle it.

    sure, Noragami isn't perfect, it's only the start, and Noragami will soon face challenges in many levels. but I think Noragami, and more importantly, we, are in good hands.
    this is the BONES I like in all aspects – animation,music, characters, comedy, story. and it's getting better and I am sure it'll become even better.

  2. P

    Well, Yuuki Kaji might not be the best and I can"t count how many times I wanted to punch [Insert annoying character] he voiced but honestly I don't think he is that bad. He can do an OK job when it's not that type of character. (Satoru in SSY, Judeau in Berserk, just to name a few)

  3. Indeed – but if you listen to readers of the manga, it seems a lot of them feel Yukine is that type of character. We'll see.

  4. M

    I try to keep a neutral stance towards him. Thing is,I kind of appreciate him when he's put in annoying roles because he does his job(which is being annoying) very well.

    I'm like,almost positive I'll find Yukine annoying but as long as he's there for comic relief it's all good. I think Kaji Yuuki voicing a goofy,annoying,supporting character that isn't meant to be taken seriously works fine as long as he doesn't get too much screentime. It's when he's present in shows that take themselves seriously that it becomes a problem,especially if he's the protagonist…

  5. s

    Yukine is not that type of character that the manga readers are portraying him out to be (at least from what i have read). Without spoiling anything, Yukine's demeanor is sort of like Hikari's from the beginning of Nagi no Asakura. They're not exactly the same, but there are some similarities (and you know viewers acted towards Hikari's character when they first caught glimpse of him and now look how he turned out so i think that should give you a good picture of what you're going to be dealing with)….cough *character arc* cough. Noragami is more about its characters, lore, and themes rather than the action and it makes for a good experience.

  6. Oh man, you just planted Kaji as Hikari in my head. Way to ruin Nagi, thanks a lot!

  7. M

    Not hard to imagine, Natsuki Hanae sounds quite similar to Kaji Yuuki. The latter would make a great mermaid at least.

  8. s

    Muahahahahaha…..just as planned….when everyone sees the zeal in you're nagi no asakura posts squander this week, you can tell them that it was I who broke you.

  9. Well, fortunately Hanae is actually competent so the image will dissipate quickly (I hope).

  10. S

    Hmmm. What's up with the fanservice in that screenshot? And here I thought that one of the best aspects of episode 1 was how tasteful it had been. Surely, a bath scene is still in the realm of decency (way better than that awful screenshot I've seen everywhere from No-Rin, to say one), but a show completely devoid of fanservice would be nice for a change, now and then.

  11. B

    God the bath scene at the beginning made me think that this was going down in flames.Thankfully it was short and the show never went back there.

  12. w

    Good review, good episode. I agree, really liked the depiction of the two shores in this one.

    I can't help but wonder how many talented young voice actors are starving in the streets right now because Kaji Yuuki keeps stealing all the work. Same thing applies to Hiro Shimono and KanaHana (especially this season).

  13. Z

    The decisions largely rest with the studios and agencies not the VAs themselves.

  14. M

    My hunch is that Kaji (like Miyano and others) has a certain idol status, so his involvement in an anime raises its profile somewhat. Think Hirano Aya from half a decade ago.

  15. Z

    Oh god Hirano Aya.

  16. w

    He's definitely popular, alright. But he's very overexposed and seems to have completely saturated the industry in the last year. How can he draw people to watch a series when he's in everything anyway?

  17. w

    The Hirano Aya craze was a bit before my time, was she a huge deal?

  18. Z

    Most popular seiyuu are overexposed at some point. It's the nature of the business.

  19. Z

    After voicing Suzumiya Haruhi Hirano Aya was a BIG deal.

  20. M

    This review is a real BONER.

    You can polish a turd, but it's still a turd. BONES doesn't seem that interested in making this non-story that interesting. For a 12 episode show it's rather sluggish and hesitant, almost like the team are ashamed of the incredibly pedestrian material they chose to adapt.

    But golly, that bath scene.

  21. R

    Very harsh words but I agree.
    Hamatora is a better "BONES" anime than this.

  22. M

    So much lopsided studio worship going on lately, that a bit of balance seemed necessary. I have nothing against the studio, but they often dull people's discernment I find.

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