Noragami was many things, but among the most prominent was consistent. All season long it duked it out for best new series – albeit of a weak season – with Space Dandy and Hoozuki no Reitetsu. And while the anime-original arc wasn’t on the same level as the first nine episodes and thus probably nudges Noragami down to third overall, most of the variance in my ranking over these last three months was due to the fluctuations in quality among those other two shows – Noragami’s arrow flight has been straight and true from the beginning. Never transcendent, but always vastly entertaining and superbly executed.
The current complaints about the anime ending from manga readers (a full-throated roar) were no less predictable than the quality of the series, but I felt the original material was fine. If it was a step down from the near-brilliance of the best moments of Yukine’s arc, to this anime-original viewer it certainly felt consistent with the tenor of the show. By the nature of its construction the ending reduced Hiyori to a more passive role – her memory loss was the plot driver more than her character as a whole – but the Rabo subplot was quite believable and even moderately compelling.
There isn’t much new in terms of character movement in these last three episodes – more an entrenching of what came before – and they’re basically plot-driven. If that lessens the emotional impact some, I think it serves the purpose of not closing any doors on a potential second season. If there’s significant development on the character side here it’s in Yato’s increasing attachment to Hiyori, which he certainly displays more broadly in the finale that at any other point in the series.
The first nexus moment comes when Rabo (at Nora’s suggestion, naturally) destroys Hiyori’s memories. The cliche route here would have been for that to send Yato over to the dark side and return him to his old self – perhaps with Hiyori recovering and calling him back – but happily Noragami took a different turn here. Yato’s control – and/or his desire not to do what Rabo and Nora want and go back to full Calamity-God mode – is stronger than one might have expected. He’s pissed, but not blind with rage. He seems to be thinking rationally – first defeat Rabo, then try and figure out a way to bring Hiyori back from the soulless “sack of meat” Rabo says she’s become with her memories destroyed.
That Nora was pulling the strings here was never in doubt, though the full extent of her reasoning for wanting Yato to change back isn’t fully explored (after she fails she mentions going to talk to “Father” about next steps). Rabo, by contrast, seems like a pretty straightforward guy. His worshipers are gone (much of the ep takes place at his derelict Shrine), he’s been dormant for 500 years, and he wants to see the Yato God that he wreaked havoc and destruction with during their salad days. That he ultimately wants that because he wants Yato to put him to rest at last is a fairly predictable development, I admit, but one that feels consistent with the themes of the series.
In the end, that’s exactly what happens – Rabo gets what he wants, but without Yato turning back into what he was. Why Yato managed to stick around and change with the times and Rabo didn’t is an interesting question, but this change seems to be locked-in and sincere. Call it whatever you will – just as you can call Yato’s scent being the trigger for Hiyori to break Nora’s spell and regain her memories what you will – but at the very least there’s obvious affection between the two of them at this point. Hiyori even insists that she “wants to stay with Yato forever” – again, draw your own conclusions (Kofuku certainly does). But in refusing Yato’s offer to cut all ties with her, Hiyori makes it clear that she’s not interested in going back to her old life – even if it means she remains stranded on the boundary between two worlds, increasingly drawn to the Far Shore.
There’s certainly plenty of grist for the mill for a second season here, both in terms of plot and character. I’d be very interested, in fact, in seeing whether Yukine’s transformation to boy scout is as smooth and simple as it seems to be so far. There’s also the Bishamon arc, which manga readers speak highly of, and would seem to be a prime candidate around which to build a theoretical second season. Current guesstimates based on Stalker put the first volume at around 4500 combined units, which would likely be marginally profitable but on the light side for a series to get a continuation (second seasons almost always sell less that first seasons). BONES as a studio is perhaps less allergic to sequels than most, though – we can make a better guess after the hard numbers come in next month.
For my part I’d certainly welcome more Noragami. It’s clear that this is a well-written manga – if not especially profound or revolutionary, a smart and savvy take on an interesting premise. I like all three main characters a lot – including Yukine, who most readers of the manga seem to hate – and I especially thought the world-building aspect of the series was excellent. This was all brought to life with outstanding production values by BONES – superb direction, terrific music, clever and funny visuals, and a strong cast (yes, including Kaji Yuuki, who was perfectly fine here – which is at the top of his quality range). I also thought Noragami balanced humor and drama exceptionally well, especially in the early episodes. They were some of the funniest of the season, but there was a growing sense of darkness that was impossible to miss. It was a fascinating combination.
If there’s one element in the series I’d take issue with it’s in the way it treated Yukine’s situation – and I’m still not sure just how it treated Yukine’s situation. I’ve written about this plenty so I won’t re-hash it in detail, but I saw nothing to change my view that Yukine wasn’t the bad seed the series seemed to be treating him as. He was just a normal kid who got royally screwed by fate, and I still feel much of what transpired could have been avoided if Yato had simply communicated with him a little. In the end I’m still not sure exactly what Noragami wants the take-away here to be – perhaps it’s simply that the lot of the Shinki simply isn’t fair, and they have no choice but to deal with it. This is not a democracy, and Kami and Regalia are not created equal.
All in all I consider Noragami a solid success and one of the highlights of an otherwise dismal season. I think it did a superb job in bringing its setting to life, and it certainly leaves me wanting to learn more about it. Stylistically the show still feels like a hybrid between two of my favorite studios, BONES and Brains Base, but that it’s a BONES production there can be no doubt. They usually deliver the goods, and they did here – Tamura Koutarou is a name I’ll be looking for on top of the staff lists of future BONES productions. 2014 is looking like the year of BONES, and if Winter is any indication we can be very glad for that.