I don’t know whether that sound was the manga readers breathing a sigh of relief or just sighing, but for this anime-only viewer Noragami’s original ending started off pretty well. BONES seemingly had no choice but to diverge from the manga if they wanted to tell the Yukine arc in full and leave their options open for a second season, so I’m not complaining on principle – I wish more studios were willing to take this route. But there’s no denying the the roadside is littered with the bloated, stinking corpses of anime that crashed and burned while doing so.
So far, at least, I’m happy. This won’t rank as one of the best episodes of the series for me, but it was quite in-line with the quality we’ve grown accustomed to. In fact it had a nice balance of drama, action and comedy that was rather welcome given how serious and dark (by necessity) things had gotten with the Yukine arc. Noragami can be very funny indeed when it tries to be (the guy wearing the “I’m Bald” cap at Yushima Tenjin on New Year’s Eve alone was enough to win me over with this episode) but we haven’t seen much of that side of the series lately.
Yukine’s troubles are still impacting the story, but it seems for now he’s genuinely committed to being a good boy. He’s taken a part-time job at Daikoku and Kofuku’s Inokashira Koen snack shop in order to pay back the money he stole, and there’s a very funny moment where Yato and Hiyori get all proud-parents weepy over his situation. He’s even committed himself to studying, though he can’t do so at school of course. Speaking of money, there’s the matter of Kofuku’s fee for saving Yatty – a mere ¥1,000,000 (factoring in 90% student discount) – she’ll need a few arubaito to work that off (I still don’t understand why Yato only charges ¥5 when other Kami are making a mint).
The repercussions of Yukine’s corruption are felt at Team Tenjin, where one of the Shinki (Miya) was corrupted merely by thinking about what was happening with Yukine and stung her master. Tenjin follows the “one strike and you’re out” standard, so he cuts her loose, which quite naturally makes Yuki feel bad – and Tsuyu warns him not to, because his feeling bad is a threat to Yato. Damn, this Shinki business is a bitch. Yato makes an offhand remark to Tenjin about how he intentionally let things get so bad in order to teach Yukine a lesson. I’m not certain whether we’re supposed to take that at face value, but even if we are it seems an incredibly abrupt and inadequate way to address the whole issue of the rotten communication that led to the escalation of the crisis. Yato also confided to Tenjin that he has no clue how to solve Hiyori’s problem, but he’s finally feeling guilty enough about avoiding it to at least try. Tenjin suggests cutting his connection to her – I suspect we’re going to hear a lot more about just what that means, and very soon.
At this point the focus shifts to what I assume will be the driver of the finale arc – Rabo teaming up with Nora (who addresses her as “Reiki” – I believe the first time we’ve heard that name, though we know she has many) in order to… Well, I’m not 100% sure yet. Nora certainly has it in for both Yukine and Hiyori, and seems to want Yato back to what she sees as his old self. Rabo is keen to kill Hiyori immediately but Nora stays his hand, telling him that Hiyori is still useful. On New Year’s Eve Hiyori (dressed in full Kimono – for Yato’s benefit?) and her friends visit Yushima Tenjin (students traditionally pray for academic success at Tenjin Shrines, though Hiyori’s friend is far more interested in popularity), and Nora seemingly poses as Yato in order to lure Hiyori off by herself in phantom form. The result? By the time Yato and Yukine finish the job Nora has staged to occupy them, Hiyori seems to have forgotten who either of them are.
There are some interesting clues scattered throughout the episode as to where Noragami might go with this arc, not least is Nora telling Hiyori that she should “stop existing”. Tenjin also notes that severing connections with Shinki is Yato’s “specialty”, which seems another oblique reference to the Shinki-killing incident is his past. Rabo is officially referred to as a “Calamity God” several times here, so it’s safe to assume he and Yato have a shared past that will play a role in the final three episodes. It’s easy for me to go into this with no preconceptions, but I hope everyone keeps an open mind and gives Tamura and Akao a chance here – they’ve earned a lot of credibility with ten excellent episodes and I fully expect them to finish off the season with an arc that’s on the same level.