Reviewby Theron Martin,
Noragami Season Two: Aragoto [Limited Edition]
Life is back to normal for Yato, Yukine, and Hiyori – a bit to Hiyori's consternation, as Yato still hasn't fixed her problem with her soul slipping out of her body. Big new problems are on the horizon, however, as Bishamon falls ill due to problems with her numerous Regalia. This causes Kazuma to fret, since it seems to be repeating the pattern that led to the death of her previous Regalia family centuries earlier, leaving Kazuma as the sole survivor. This time, a secret instigator conspiring with Nora is to blame. Yato and Yukine are drawn into this scheme for various reasons, dragging Hiyori along with them. Later, the actions of Ebisu, another of the Seven Gods of Fortune who's known for reincarnating frequently, bring up concerns about a conjurer that the heavens cannot ignore, involving Yato when his “father" materializes.
The first season of the Noragami manga adaptation got off to a strong start with its story about a girl who finds herself associating with various Japanese gods and the Regalia who serve them, but it floundered later with an anime-original arc. That arc existed because the next one – the Bishamon arc – couldn't possibly have fit within the confines of three remaining episodes. Hence the second season, broadcast in fall of 2015, animates Bishamon's story in a six-episode arc, followed by a full seven episodes for the Ebisu arc. Together, those two arcs achieve the full potential promised by Noragami's first season, resulting in one of the year's best series.
These two arcs shine by combining the two main strengths of the franchise – compelling characterizations and the well-defined supernatural mechanics of Noragami's world – and flavoring them with appropriate, non-disruptive doses of humor. Each character's development is rooted in their deeper psychological struggle. Despite his frequently frivolous attitude, Yato desperately wants to be remembered and appreciated as more than the nameless guy who does all the dirty work. His relationship with Nora is emotionally abusive; he knows that it's not good for him, but it's so hard to walk away, even when healthier relationships are at hand. Bishamon, contrarily, suffers because she doesn't temper her magnanimity with good judgement. As much as she wants to, she can't be responsible for everyone, as the toll it takes on her becomes overwhelming, leaving her open for nefarious parties to take advantage of her. Kazuma's devotion to her needs little explanation, but the truth about the massive debt that he owes Yato finally comes out this season; viewers will understand perfectly why not helping with the ablution back in the first season wasn't a realistic option for him despite his master's hatred for Yato. Ebisu, meanwhile, has gotten so tied up in his self-destructive obsession with making the world better for everyone that his regular reincarnations have left him detached from the world. On the sidelines, Hiyori is still caught in that tenuous space between fascination with what's going on in the spiritual world and the fear that she shouldn't be a part of it for her own good. Given her age, this could be a metaphor with various interpretations.
The first season delved heavily into the spiritual structure of the world, but this one finds plenty of room to add more details. It expands greatly on how the reincarnation of popular gods works and why Noras are actually powerful (and feared), while also introducing the concept of a Blessed Vessel and further detailing what it means to be a god's exemplar. Details on the colloquy the gods hold to make important decisions and how the Underworld works are also interesting, as is Yukine's abjuration training – the most powerful tool that Regalia have when not being wielded by their masters. All of that is introduced smoothly through a story that packs in ample drama and pathos, but I also appreciated the emphasis placed on discouraging Hiyori from getting so deeply involved in the spiritual world that she starts neglecting the real one. The way that sentiment is couched at times, I have to wonder if it isn't meant to be a subtle warning against getting too engrossed in fictional worlds.
At worst, the second season maintains the technical standards of the first and even improves on them. The most striking aspect of the production is still characters' eyes, especially in the opener, though Bishamon also cuts an impressive figure. Fight scenes have a little more edge to them too, including the spectacle of the Bishamon/Yato fight in the latter part of the first arc. The portrayal of Izanami in the Underworld is also suitably creepy, though I think more could have been done there. Graphic content is a bit higher this time around, but Bishamon provides only mild fanservice with her various bathing shots. On the musical side, the soundtrack mostly reuses the theme from the first season, though it does employ a new opener and closer.
The English dub returns the entire cast from the first season, with similarly high-quality results. John Burgmeier and Phil Parsons are excellent fits in new key roles as Ebisu and Kugaha respectively, but you'll be hard-pressed to find a weak casting choice or performance anywhere in the dub. Amongst established roles, Elizabeth Maxwell (the new Motoko Kusanagi) shines in smoothly handling some of Bishamon's trickier emotional scenes, especially those at the climax of her character arc.
Funimation is releasing the series in both regular and Limited Edition Blu-Ray/DVD combo packs. The Limited Edition version houses the Blu-Rays and DVDs in separate cases with reversible covers, which come in a sturdy artbox along with a pack of 14 art cards. On-disc extras present for both versions are an English video commentary for episode 6, an English audio commentary for episode 13, all clean versions of the opener and closer, and an assortment of promo videos. Sadly, neither the OVAs for the first season nor the second season are included, which is a glaring absence in the case of one first season OVA that serves as an epilogue to the Bishamon arc.
But this season – and this release – are otherwise a resounding success. The last episode ends with a jaw-dropper of a revelation about Yato's “father”, which raises big questions about the meaning of certain scenes earlier in the series. Whether or not there will ever be another season to expand on that remains to be seen, however.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Well-developed characterizations, takes full advantage the world's mechanics, strong English dub
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