Not only is this the only new full-length series this season that hasn’t really had an off week, Noragami seems to have raised its game to another level in the last two episodes. There’s not an element of the show that isn’t working for me at the moment, and even if it doesn’t often amaze it never ceases to hold my interest. My only concern continues to be the one-cour schedule – it’s becoming increasingly clear that there’s a mighty big story underlying this show – but with a little luck and decent Blu-ray sales maybe we’ll see something more down the road (in addition to the already announced OVA).
One of my favorite things about Noragami is that it manages to balance offbeat humor and serious darkness as few series can. This show can be very funny – the facial expressions, the situation comedy, the dialogue – but it’s obvious that there’s a yawning pit of despair underlying the premise. Every week it peels back the veneer and lets us have a peek at it here and there, but never for too long. I have the suspicion that at some point the show is going to go extremely dark indeed, and that moment will be all the more impactful because of the way it keeps our guard lowered with its effortless charm.
At the heart of all this is the developing three-way dynamic between Yato, Hiyori and Yukine. Fundamentally, it seems to me as if the situation is this: both Yukine and Hiyori are tangled up in a terrifying world that offers countless dangers to their very souls. And their only lifeline is Yato – their survival and eternal salvation is dependent on a being who’s both supremely unreliable and capricious as only Kami can be. That’s where the story gets a little frightening – Yato may have saved the day (pretty much every episode so far) and he does seem genuinely capable of compassion, but this is not necessarily a good guy. He’s not someone I’d want to have to depend on, but Hiyori and Yuki have no choice. And I think both of them realize this only in the most abstract and fragmentary way so far – neither of them (especially Hiyori) realizes how screwed they are.
That Hiyori is still very much naive is obvious in the way she insists on yanking Yukine away from Yato (quite literally in part) and looking after him herself, and in the way she chooses to do so. The portrait of Hiyori that’s emerging is of a girl whose life has been pretty sheltered – she seems to have no grasp of just how wealthy her family is, for starters. And she also seems to have no awareness of what her presence does to the libido of a 14 year-old boy (even dead boys are obsessed with sex in this mythology, clearly). It’s a good impulse – Yato certainly isn’t suited to provide for a child – but as ever, Hiyori has no grasp of the reality of the situation. Both in terms of what it means to look after a troubled adolescent – especially when you’re still an adolescent yourself – and in terms of just who (and what sort of being) Yuki is.
Yukine is emerging as a sort of lynchpin for the story in many ways, I suspect. The scenes at Hiyori’s house are alternately moving and very funny (especially his reaction when he thinks he’s followed Hiyori into the bath, and learns that was actually her father) but sadness and menace underlies Yuki’s character at every moment. We see more evidence that even be Reglia standards he’s not normal – his “Borderline” ability shocks Yato – but also that he’s quite poor at controlling his impulses. This manifests both when Hiyori invites him to sleep with her (which in his defense, she should have known better than to do) and when she takes him shopping and the thinks nothing of petty theft. The story behind Yuki’s demise has yet to be told, and I suspect it’s going to be a harsh one (this kid is really afraid of the dark)when it is.
Yato goes AWOL after Hiyori (quite gently, really) scolds him for stealing a skateboard, and ends up crossing paths with the ghost of a little girl who’s been killed by a hit-and-run driver while waiting for her mother. Here’s yet another really grim Noragami plotline – the girl has no idea what’s happened, and Yuki doesn’t want to be the one to tell her. And when he lets the truth slip, she flees from him and ends up getting possessed by a phantom in the process. It’s only Yato’s arrival in the nick of time (as usual) that ends up saving Yukine himself, but all he can do for the girl is to eliminate her – which at least saves her soul from eternal damnation. As happy endings go, it’s not much.
As I said, Yuki is proving to be an important catalyst for the story in many ways. How to deal with him has already shed more light on Yato and Hiyori’s characters than anything else yet, and as Yukine’s path grows darker I suspect that will become even more true. Yato’s (almost gleeful, it seems) declaration that one day he’ll exact “divine punishment” against Yuki is an unsettling moment – it and his own literal declaration of the fact still more proof that this is an alien, remote figure whose motives and morals are not for a mere human like Hiyori to understand or judge. There’s a lot going on here, obviously, but as always it’s brought off with splendid style and artful direction – Noragami is never less than interesting to look at and listen to, and it seems we’ve only scratched the surface.