This was definitely the most “big-time” episode of Noragami so far. The drama, the volume, the importance to the overall plot – everything was turned up to eleven. That’s always a dangerous moment for any anime because there’s a lot more room on the downside of expectations than on the upside, but Noragami has lived up to pretty much every challenge so far so its success here should come as no surprise. I have a lot of unanswered questions (it’s too early to call them problems) with the larger picture, but in terms of execution this was pretty unassailable.
Let’s jump right into that, why don’t we? I’m actually pleased to see that there’s a vibrant debate going on in the discussion of this series on the question of just where our sympathies should lie in the way this entire arc has played out. It seems clear that both Yato and Yukine are flawed individuals who nevertheless have many sympathetic qualities – clear to me anyway. Even watching the rather ugly events of this episode play out, though, my reaction is pretty much the same as it’s been from the beginning – I still don’t see what makes Yukine all that terrible.
Setting up the resolution of this crisis in the terms of an ablution paints things in pretty stark terms – Yuki is on trial, convicted and sentenced. Repent or die. That it’s what must be done in the context of the series canon to save Yato I don’t dispute. But as Yukine was reading off the litany of his own crimes – pretty theft, lust, lying et al – what I was hearing is, “Yup – that’s a teenager”. There’s a reason the rest of the human species tends to regard adolescents with suspicion and often worse – they’re difficult. They’re often annoying. They’re self-centered and often dishonest. Does that mean they should be killed to make life easier for the adults?
When Yukine got to his greatest crime of all – envy – it only made me more convinced I’m not connecting the dots the way Noragami is. Why in the hell shouldn’t Yukine feel anger at his lot in life, when he’s denied so many things the average child his age is not? Yeah, he’s annoying and surly and exercises poor judgment but I just don’t see why that makes him the villain in all this. Frankly, it’s the system that sucks – dead people are used as weapons by Gods and expected to like it, and if they display very normal fallibilities and weaknesses they can bring their master to the verge of death. It’s not that Yukine is such a terrible kid – if anything, the moral of the story is that 14 year-old boys should damn well never be shinki, because they’re pretty much all like this (or would be, in Yukine’s shoes).
Where all this really gets difficult – and interesting – for me is that I’m not sure what the series is asking me to think and feel here. That’s been the case for a while, as I’ve noted already. Are we supposed to believe that Yukine got exactly what was coming to him or are we to rage at the injustice of the system? I’m honestly not sure – and because of that I’m not sure just what we’re supposed to think of Yato either. Clearly, Yato is capable of compassion and empathy, and he deserves credit for not renouncing Yukine when that seemingly would have been the easiest way out. But he’s no hero, that’s for sure – much of this stems back to his own abysmal communication with Yukine. It seems very likely to me that a little honest communication could have avoided this entire disaster, but instead you had Yato seemingly too proud to lower himself to Yukine’s level and Hiyori acting like a kind and well-intentioned but too permissive Mom.
What we have here, it seems, is a very typical dysfunctional family, right down to the adolescent son being the scapegoat for all their problems – with the one caveat that the cost of that dysfunction is the father dying in agony unless the son is killed or set straight. Like I said, I blame the system more than the participants – but whether I’m supposed to, I’ve no idea. All’s well, seemingly, that ends well – with the help of Mayu and Kazuma Daikoku manages to stage the ablution (you may as well call it an intervention) that’s needed, and Hiyori’s sincere appeals to his heart are enough to call Yukine back before he completes his journey to the other side. It was a good moment for Hiyori, and I’m glad Yato recognizes it – she had enough courage and good judgment to save the day when he was incapable of doing it himself.
With that, it seems that the Yukine crisis storyline is over for now and the series is going to turn to an original mini-arc for the final three episodes. It could very well be that their doing so is a good sign that they have plans to deliver a second season – I certainly hope so, because Noragami has consistently been a very good show indeed. Whatever issues I have with the series’ perspective are in good measure overshadowed by its execution – it’s technically superb, beautifully paced and nearly always engaging. I, for one, would be thrilled to see another season – we’ll see if the production committee feels the same way once the disc sales are on the books.