You know the drill – every week Noragami just delivers the goods. More than any new show this season this is the one that’s managed to evade the usual peaks and valleys – in fact, I’d go so far as to say the quality range between the “worst” and best episodes has been remarkably narrow. Given that it also looks like it has a chance to do respectably well commercially I wonder if BONES isn’t second-guessing their decision to go one-cour – it’s not as though they can’t do more later (indeed, they already have three series on-tap next season) but there seem to have been creative changes made to accommodate a one-cour run (evidence of which appeared this week) that might be hard to take back later.
The overall trend of Noragami is definitely towards the dark side, and it’s been so slow and steady that it’s never felt jarring. “Consequence” seems to me to be a strong recurring theme here – the costs of our decisions and our actions, and the fact that the universe doesn’t seem to like giving anything away for free, even to Gods. This is evidenced by a pair of conversations Hiyori – who’s getting a crash education in the harsh realities of the spirit world – has.
First, she meets up with Tenjin while in search of the runaway Yukine. Indeed, the boy has been there asking for a job (again) but Tenjin rejects him on the grounds that if he accepted Yuki, the boy would become “a Nora”. Indeed, this is a crucial moment in filling in the blanks of this premise – Nora isn’t a name, but a classification for wayward and detested Shinki that have multiple masters. They’re the black sheep of the spirit world, loathed by most and their use disdained by reputable Gods like Tenjin. Tenjin seems like a fairly decent sort – if a bit of a dirty old man and an elitist – but his kindness towards Hiyori only extends so far, and he doesn’t seem anxious to get his hands dirty any further.
Afterwards, Kazuma pays Hiyori a visit on a rooftop, and this too is extremely illuminating. There are hints that both he and Bishamon (Kazuma calls her “Veena”) have conflicted feelings about Yato – especially Kazuma, who “owes him a great deal”. Kazuma also tells Hiyori that Yato will definitely die if something isn’t done about Yukine, and that he should be “disposed of” as soon as possible. Also fascinating here is that Kazuma appears to be the only one on team Bishamon (there are at least eight Shinki here) that can see Hiyori – not even the Goddess herself can see her when she joins Hiyori and Kazuma on the rooftop.
I like Kazuma a lot – he’s an interestingly nebulous and quite powerful character, and the sort of role I tend to prefer Fukuyama Jun in. But this entire scenario is interesting beyond any single character. There’s such an obvious inconsistency of attitude here – Tenjin and Kazuma speak of Shinki in respectful terms, and both Team Bishamon and Tenjin seem built on that respect – yet they speak of Yukine as if he were an object, trash to be cast aside. The conflict is obviously being set up as an “either/or” with Yato or Yukine – if the one isn’t killed, the other will die (though perhaps Yuki would die anyway if his master did) – but Hiyori isn’t buying that it’s that simple, and neither am I.
For now, there’s the practical concern of Yato trying to stay alive. He’s taken a job on the graveyard shift at a convenience store, and Nora (as we know her, and Yato calls her) has taken to torturing Yukine directly. Nora is clearly one of those detested ones Tenjin speaks of, the kind who you only use if you’re truly desperate – but she’s keen on Yato using her again, and another in the chorus calling for Yukine’s elimination. Kofuku and Daikoku show up and offer Yato a gig eliminating one of the many phantoms that escaped from Kofuku’s vent, which he accepts – leaving them manning the register in one of the episode’s few comedic moments. But Yukine – after wounding Yato yet again by stealing the donations box (that really is pretty detestable) “dulls himself”, and is unable to cut the phantom. Rather than turn to Nora, Yato has another of his weekly heroic interludes and “re-forges” him in order to finish the job.
We’re certainly left with a fascinating tangle here, with Hiyori seemingly the only one preaching the humanitarian approach to Yato (no, I don’t think it’s as simple as that either). As well, the anime-original character Rabou (Takahiro Sakurai) shows up whispering in Nora’s ear – completing the reunion of Shirokuma Cafe leads and causing gastric distress for thousands of manga readers. And through it all, almost unnoticed, Hiroyi seems to be quietly drifting further and further towards the Far Shore. Noragami has built it’s story brick-by-brick and done a better job of it than any other Winter series, but it has a formidable amount to deal with in the next six episodes.