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Noragami Aragoto
Episodes 1-3

by Gabriella Ekens,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Noragami Aragoto ?
Community score: 4.3

How would you rate episode 2 of
Noragami Aragoto ?
Community score: 4.6

How would you rate episode 3 of
Noragami Aragoto ?
Community score: 4.7

Three episodes into its second season, Noragami is already better than it's ever been. Since it's been over a year since the first season, and this season dives right into previously established conflicts, I'll start out with a brief recap:

In the world of Noragami, folkloric Japanese gods exist imperceptible to regular humanity. They form a sort of hierarchy, where the more worshiped a god is, the wealthier and more powerful they are. As with any established hierarchy, it's tough for newcomers to break in. Delivery god Yato is an up-and-comer in the spiritual marketplace. While he dreams of possessing an enormous temple as the #1 deity in Japan, at the moment he's just eking out a living off the 5-yen offerings he receives in exchange for odd jobs. Toilet scrubbing, babysitting, and exterminating rogue spirits – you name it, he'll do it. It's not a glamorous start, but someday he'll be looking back on it from the top of the world...or so he thinks. Right now, he's only surviving due to the diligence of his good friend, the middle schooler Hiyori. Can Yato make it big, or will he be chained down by his dark past as a god of calamity?

Fortunately, gods don't work alone. They're equipped with regalia, weapons made out of the ghosts of dead people. These ghosts, or shinki, transform into weapons that gods use to fight deranged spirits, or Phantoms. Yato's shinki is Yukine, a recently-deceased middle schooler. While Yukine turns into a katana, shinki can take on more eclectic forms as regalia, like household objects, clothing, or even animals. Gods provide for their shinki, and in many cases they constitute makeshift families. The first season was about Yato, Yukine, and Hiyori coming to regard each other as family. At first, Yukine still felt anguish over his past life and untimely death. When shinki succumb to despair, they become enormous and destructive Phantoms. When a shinki is attached to a god, their masters also suffer from the corruption. To save the god, the shinki must either be cut off to die or purged of their attachments in a dangerous ceremony. Despite their rocky relationship and the personal risk, Yato refuses to abandon Yukine. The ceremony succeeds, and the two come to regard each other as family alongside Hiyori, who serves as an arbiter. This takes us to where we are now.

The most surprising thing about Noragami was its emotional resonance. While I came in expecting a supernatural shoujo romance ala Kamisama Kiss, Noragami turned out to be closer in spirit to Fruits Basket. Sure, romance is hinted at, but the real meat turns out to be a realistic examination of trauma, grief, and the nature of family. Things are only looking more intense from here on out, as the show turns its eye toward other characters and their own god/shinki dynamics. The weakest part of the first season is its last three episodes. Lacking material to finish off the season on a conclusive note, Studio Bones came up with an original mini-arc to fill up space. While the content isn't horrible, it's obviously filler and an anticlimactic end to what had otherwise been an impactful little show. The second season doesn't look like it will have the same problem, starting off with all emotional cylinders ablaze.

These episodes are also about dysfunctional relationships between gods and their vassals, but this time they concern the war goddess Bishamonten. She was introduced in the first season as a powerful, benevolent figure who holds a deadly grudge against Yato. At one point in Yato's dark past as a god of calamity, he exterminated an entire clan of her shinki. She's hated him ever since and desires to repay the favor by exterminating him and his shinki. As a wealthy goddess, Bishamon maintains dozens and dozens of shinki. She does this magnanimously, creating a home for souls who wouldn't otherwise have one. However, this also creates a problem – when she begins to suffer from corruption, it's tough to suss out which soul is the cause. At the same time, large numbers of shinki create a morass of clique-ish infighting. By necessity, Bishamon pays more attention to some shinki over others, leading to jealousy and resentment. The shinki also know that conflicted feelings hurt their master, so they're reticent to deal with their feelings out in the open. Bishamon is perched on a narrow tightrope, and each new shinki she accepts only makes the situation more precarious. It doesn't help that one of her shinki, the head doctor Kugaha, is clearly up to some nefarious business. If last season was about learning to accept your family, warts and all, this one might be about when you have to let go. For example, when trying to emotionally maintain dozens upon dozens of people looks like it's going to kill you, it's time to make some hard decisions. You can't take care of everyone, but you can take care of the people closest to you.

The first episode introduces Bishamon's domestic situation. Her head shinki and closest companion is Kazuma, the only survivor of the clan that Yato assassinated long ago. (You can tell because his name ends in the suffix –ma. Wandering shinki are nameless and gods claim them by giving them names. They also tend to have specific naming patterns. For example, the names of all Yato's shinki end in –ne. After the massacre, Bishamon began giving her shinki names that end in –ha. Kazuma is thus a member of the –ma clan, while the rest of Bishamon's shinki belong to the –ha clan. I'll use this terminology going forward.) Last season, Kazuma had been unexpectedly cordial to Yato – he even participated in the ceremony to purify Yukine. The reasons why are still a mystery. Maybe his perspective on the massacre differs from Bishamon's? However, that incident redoubled her desire to protect shinki, and it's landed her in this tough situation. It doesn't help that one of her shinki is clearly malicious.

The obvious bad egg in Bishamon's household is Kugaha, the team medic. You can tell because he makes weird faces and hangs out with Yato's stalker ex, Nora. From his privileged position within the clan, he exacerbates tension between the shinki and poisons Bishamon against Kazuma. Strangely, he's not the cause of Bishamon's blight, since he strips down to show off an unblemished figure. Something fishy is going on, and I bet it has to do with Nora, who has her own dubious associations. The other troublemaker amongst Bishamon's brood is the divine-clothing-shinki, Aiha. She was recently usurped by Tsuguha, who turns into Bishamon's current dominatrix battle attire. Aiha torments her rival, chopping off Tsuguha's long hair. At the end of the third episode, Aiha has teamed up with Kugaha to kidnap Hiyori. While Aiha's motivations are obvious, Kugaha's are more mysterious. What does he want out of Bishamon? Is he working with anyone? Last season gave us a sense of how the folkloric world works, but we still don't know much about its big players or worst villains.

The second episode concerns Yukine's friendship with another of Bishamon's shinki, Suzuha. He illustrates Yukine's worst fears and the sad fate of all shinki. Every summer for many years, Suzuha would meet up with a human girl in the area for summer vacation. Due to his nature as a shinki, she forgot about him every year after she left. Still, she'd always return, and they'd form a connection all over again. He fell in love with her, but one year, she never returned. It's been a long time since then, but Suzuha still maintained the garden, hoping that she'd come back. Suzuha doesn't seem to be in a good state, both heartbroken by his lost love and feeling low from Bishamon's neglect. Kugaha emotionally manipulates Suzuha into lowering his guard, and Nora's Phantom hounds devour him. Back in her mansion, Bishamon is startled awake. She knows that one of her shinki has died, but has no idea which – there are too many for her to know by name. Yukine, meanwhile, is struck with melancholy. He's afraid Hiyori will forget about him as she grows up, just like what Suzuha experienced. Either way, he's basically an immortal, permanent middle-schooler, so Hiyori will age and die without him. Yukine's already a mess, and he doesn't even know that his friend is dead yet! At least Yato is somewhat capable of keeping Yukine's emotions stable now. (I feel like Noragami has one of the worse afterlives in fiction. If you end up a shinki, there's no way out besides getting killed or turning into a despair monster. Better hope that you end up with a nice master!)

When Yukine finds out that Suzuha has died, he follows Kazuma into Bishamon's domain to confront the goddess. He makes it in, and Bishamon is shocked to find her second-in-command conversing with her archenemy's shinki. Bishamon tries to attack Yukine, but Kazuma defends him against his master, which is a horrible taboo. Then the distraught Yukine lashes out at the goddess, hitting all of her emotional weak points – she can't care for all of her shinki and couldn't even immediately tell that Suzuha had died. Feeling betrayed by Kazuma's association with Yato and stunned by Yukine's accusations, Bishamon begins to release her beloved lieutenant, but finds that she can't do it. Instead, she just exiles him. The Bishamon household is left in a worse state than ever, Kazuma moves in with Yato at Kofuku's home for freeloaders, and Kaguha makes deranged o-faces from the sidelines. The rest of Bishamon's personal armament is struck by Kazuma's comment that Yato is Bishamon's “savior,” but Kaguha is able to deflect their inquiries. Now Mr. Suspicious has unlimited access to Bishamon.

Whew, that was a lot of summary! After a year long break, Noragami has dived right back into some intense drama between its established characters, but these first episodes do a capable job of reintroducing us to this world and its status quo.

While Yato and Hiyori's relationship is clearly the central thrust – that's where it all began – it's been developed on the sidelines for a while, first with Yukine's drama and now Bishamon's. I'm curious about what the ultimate conflict will be and what it might have to do with Yato and Hiyori's relationship. Hiyori is contrasted with Nora, a stray shinki and the “other woman” in Yato's life. While Hiyori appreciates Yato for who he is, Nora tries to manipulate him back into a past version of himself that he despises. This seems like an analogue for an abusive relationship that Yato is in the process of escaping. Right now, Hiyori is his tether to sanity, but she may only be a temporary presence in his life.

Yato is one of the most charming and distinct leading men that anime has had in recent years. As a goofball, most of the gags surrounding him land, but you can also tell that this personality is a front hiding some serious pain. Hiyori is a female lead in the tradition of Fruits Basket's Tohru. She's very much the feminine caretaker, but she also takes an active role in protecting the people she cares about. As an added bonus, she's a huge fan of martial arts and tries to use this knowledge to go toe-to-toe against Phantoms, albeit to little effect. The other female characters are also strong and interesting in varied ways. It's hard for me to choose a favorite between the bubbly Kofuku and the strong but complicated Bishamon. Manga author Adachitoka writes women as people, and I think that's part of why her work is so popular.

Studio Bones continues to do an excellent job translating this material into animation. The direction and art design are great. Phantoms are distinct anime beasties. The animation quality began to slip a bit in the third episode, but it was almost difficult to notice thanks to the strong direction and design aesthetic. This series has excellent character designs, simple but distinct. Yato is attractive and approachable, so girls want him, but he's also cool enough to appeal to boys. This adaptation also does an exceptional job translating gags. Noragami Aragoto isn't just one of the strongest character dramas to come out this season, it's also a solid comedy. Most of this comes from Yato, who makes silly faces and acts like an incorrigible scamp. Unlike many anime I've covered in the past, the comedy gels well with the drama. Noragami is, above all else, constantly entertaining.

I can recommend Noragami to almost everyone. The action and spiritual world politicking appeal to fans of shonen. Meanwhile, the intimate character dynamics and strong cast appeal to fans of shoujo. The humor appeals to both. It doesn't have any violent or sexual content too intense for middle schoolers, while the writing is strong enough to attract adult viewers. It's easily the strongest general audience anime out today. I even have some experimental data – I gave the first season to a friend who had never seen anime before, and she blasted through it in a week. If any of this sounds appealing to you and you haven't seen Noragami S1, breeze through it now before the episode count racks up too much. There's plenty more manga past this point, so this show could be fairly long-running. Hopefully, it can all be this great.

Grade: A

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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