Noragami Aragoto Episode 6
by Gabriella Ekens,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Noragami Aragoto ?
After last episode's heated emotional revelation, (we've been having a lot of those lately, haven't we?) Bishamon has to make things right for the shinki she's hurt. She finally knows that Yato slayed the –ma clan at Kazuma's request in order to save her life. She's forced to put aside her hatred for Yato – which had always been an externalized distraction from her own personality problems – and confront her deep-seated, toxic emotional patterns. She succeeds, admitting that she's done her shinki a disservice. Now it's her job to put the ones who are past saving out of their misery. After banishing the weasel Kugaha, Bishamon heads inside to combat the super-phantom that's been massacring the other shinki. It's eaten most of the group by this point, so the tortured remnants of their souls cry out from within the phantom for Bishamon. She slays it, pushing through the pain and making up for her failure to do the same with the –ma clan.
She reunites with her surviving shinki, who include Aiha, most of her combat regalia, and Kazuma – the last to recover. When he wakes up, he meets a peaceful Bishamon alongside a harmonious gaggle of shinki. Kazuma's exile is lifted and he's reappointed as Bishamon's exemplar. We're informed that she has stopped taking new shinki, trying to have more personal relationships with every member of her household instead. They've suffered a devastating loss, but Bishamon has matured into a more responsible leader and caretaker.
We also finally get to the heart of Kugaha's character. It turns out that he's not the real evil mastermind, just a pitiable wannabe who was desperate for any sort of attention from Bishamon. His motivations aren't that far from Aiha's – he's a neglected child wreaking havoc in a desperate attempt to gain mommy's attention. It's Bishamon's fault that she let him get this bad, but he's also an adult who should've known better than to do this to his own god. Kugaha remains uncorrupted because he's convinced that turning Bishamon into a “properly” ferocious war god is the right thing for everyone. He despises her habit of taking in “useless” non-combat shinki – pretty ironic considering that his form is a scale. Sure, Kugaha's goal was selfish and more than a little insane, but he's not in any mental turmoil over it, so he's technically healthy.
This also makes him a foil to Kazuma, another figure who makes great sacrifices for Bishamon. The difference is that while Kugaha only makes sacrifices at the expense of other people, Kazuma puts himself on the line. Kazuma cares about Bishamon's safety more than her opinion of him, while Kugaha doesn't. Kugaha wants to change Bishamon into someone who will love him unconditionally. Kazuma loves Bishamon unconditionally. In the end, while Kugaha is punished for his actions, Kazuma is exalted. If Noragami's first season was about families being composed of mutually sacrificial relationships, this second one clarifies that such sacrifices need to be both given and accepted freely. Selfish manipulation disguised as martyrdom or “selflessly” killing lots of people to turn your beloved into some idealized version of themselves for you is bad. People need to accept each other, warts and all, for who they are. (Unless those people have become incurable despair monsters and are literally killing you. That one gets a pass.) So I guess the show is saying that you should only try to take care of as many people as you can handle and cut off those who have become irreparably toxic? Man, therapy can be depressing. I can't wait to see what hard emotional truths the next arc has in store. Nora calls her boss “father,” so it looks like we're about to get Freudian up in here.
For as much as I extolled Kugaha's role in the previous paragraph, his character is probably the worst part of Bishamon's arc. That's not to say he's bad – he's just functional in a storyline that generally reaches towards excellence. The problem is all in the presentation. It's too obvious early on that he's Evil McEvilton. He could have been ominous from the get-go, while still setting up the spark of sympathy that we only see in this finale. In Kugaha's final moments, we get flashbacks to his happy memories with Team Bishamon. These would be impactful if they weren't totally incongruous with the malicious bug-eyed weirdo that we'd known until know. We should have gotten to know him at some point when he wasn't totally up to something, like maybe in the first season as Kazuma's ally. Kugaha was entertaining in his hamminess, but I feel like his ending (while successful overall) would have been stronger if there was more ambiguity surrounding him.
Allowing the viewer to speculate on the traitor's identity for themselves would have made the first few episodes more suspenseful. As it stands, we were pretty much never allowed to know Kugaha as a benevolent figure, so his betrayal doesn't mean anything to us. If anything, Bishamon and friends look a little dumb for trusting this obvious sleazebag. Also, the crux of his character should have been apparent through his own actions, instead of a big expository speech from Yato at the end. So he wants to be Bishamon's most special person in order to dominate her attention. That's a good idea. (Also, kudos on not taking that in a creepy sexy direction, which would have been so easy and so horrible.) Unfortunately, Kugaha's characterization is explained by Yato (a mostly unrelated character) five minutes before the baddie exits the show. It's too much time spent planting bright flashing HELLO I AM A BAD GUY DON'T TRUST ME signs above Kugaha's head and not enough time giving his character emotional resonance. As it stands, he's not a bad character – he works as the extreme negative result of Bishamon's flaws – but the process of exploring that could have been smoother.
Even with these caveats, I consider his character more of a success than a failure. It says a lot about Noragami's overall quality that this fairly complex characterization issue is the biggest problem I have with the story. Noragami is friendly to mainstream audiences, but it still has enough meat on its bones to sustain thorough critical analysis. After three straight weeks, the “night at Bishamon's palace” setting started wearing on my eyes a bit, but this episode featured some excellent artistic and directorial choices. The highlight was Bishamon's culminant battle against the phantom. The editing interspersed the fight with shots from Kazuma's climax, back when he pleaded with Yato to slay the –ma clan and save Bishamon. This effectively ties the two events together. For as much as Bishamon forms the center of this arc, it's really a story about two people – her and Kazuma. The super-phantoms, which look like monstrous lime-green dinosaur skeletons, are genuinely freaky, mostly for how they sound. Their cries consist of a very high pitched voice and a very low pitched one alternating short phrases (like DEATH) over and over. This conveys right away that the phantoms are a hellish conglomeration of many souls.
Noragami Aragoto is only halfway over, and it's hard to tell if it can possibly get any better. The next arc concerns a new god, Ebisu, who has some sort of business with Yato. It also looks like our heroes will have some time to decompress after all this sound and fury. I'm excited for that – after all this, give me some goofy Yato antics please. You have to make me laugh before I can cry again. My tear ducts are exhausted.
Noragami Aragoto is currently streaming on Funimation.
Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.
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