A recurring theme among the new offerings this season has been the big fluctuations in quality from episode to episode, but Noragami is definitely the most consistent show of the season for me (at least among the ones that aren’t consistent and bad). It’s never done anything to knock my socks off but every episode has been solidly entertaining, well-paced and atmospheric (Iwasaki Taku’s music is a big reason for that, and the best of the season so far). I still feel like I’m watching a Brains Base show and not a BONES one every time I tee it up, but I won’t quibble – they’re both among my favorite studios.
Having been led by manga readers to expect the worst from Yukine, the actuality was pretty low key. Kaji Yuuki as ever makes no effort to stretch beyond his usual delivery, but so far he’s in restrained mode most of the time and that’s a good thing. Yukine comes off as a tragic figure more than an annoying one so far (though there’s certainly nothing saying he couldn’t be both), a young kid who died too soon and has no memories of his time as a living human being. His priorities seem quite normal for a 14 year-old – food, shelter and oppai – and while Hiyori’s presence may offer an occasional fix for the latter, Yato as usual doesn’t seem like he’s going to be a very good provider.
Yato, certainly, is the key figure in all this, more an anti-hero than a true protagonist. As a God he’s not a very good one, he smells bad, he squats in other God’s shrines and he’s obviously stringing Hiyori along because he has no idea how to really help her. And yet, in spite of all that, I find him pretty likeable – maybe because despite his background his desires are recognizably human and he clearly has a compassionate streak that occasionally asserts himself. I suspect Yato is going to be walking the tightrope between capricious loser and genuine good guy for the duration of the series, but so far it’s working for me.
Yato’s favorite shrines to appropriate seem to be those of Tenjin (the unmistakable Ohkawa Tohru). Tenjin is the deification of the legendary Heian scholar and poet Sugiwara no Michizane, one of the most revered figures in Japanese history. He loved learning and Ume (plum trees) and his shrines are invariably planted with the latter and frequented by throngs of students praying for academic success. As I mentioned last week Yato slept it off at Yushima Tenjin, the top Tenjin shrine in Tokyo (I also have trip pictures from Kitano Tenmangu in Kyoto, the head Tenjin shrine for all of Japan). Tenjin comes calling this week, offering Yato the chance to eliminate some phantoms for a ¥5 coin.
This encounter is interesting, as it strongly highlights the income gap that exists in the spirit world. Tenjin has a wallet full of ¥10000 bills and a fleet of pretty regalia in miko costume – including Tomone (now calling herself Mayu), the regalia who quit on Yato in the first episode. It also reveals how phantoms attach themselves (I suppose this would be possession, though it’s presented uniquely) to living beings and drag them to the Far Shore via suicide. The phantoms themselves are almost cute, but this whole sequence is quite creepy – it makes an interesting contrast with Kyoukai no Kanata, which presented a roughly analogous world in many ways yet never managed to make it feel nearly so captivating and unsettling despite high-rent animation and backgrounds. There’s just no substitute (certainly not piles of cash) for creativity.
I’m pretty much buying into all of this, because even if Noragami isn’t dazzling me I’m thoroughly caught up the in the world-building and so far at least I like the characters. Lots can still go wrong – Yukine could get a whole lore more obnoxious, for example – but of all the narratively conventional new series this season this one seems to have found the surest footing. I also have a growing sense that this show has the potential to go much darker – I think we got a taste of that this week – and that could level up the series as a whole.