Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Noragami: Stray God
Yato is a stray god – a god with few or no followers and no temple of his own. He craves attention, however, and so goes around putting up advertisements for his services everywhere he can in the hopes that someone in trouble will see them and call. For five yen, he will then answer any prayer pretty much on the spot. But at only five yen, it's going to take him a long time to build up enough cash for a temple...maybe his new relationship with Hiyori, a human girl who can see him and has a bad habit of leaving her body behind and taking on spirit form can help.
Some first volumes have the definite air of a prologue to the story to come. This is one of them. Noragami: Stray God, the first solo effort by artist duo Adachitoka (one does backgrounds while the other does the action) is clearly gearing up to be a more complex story than we see here, but it is very enjoyable despite that. At only three chapters (all quite long), there really isn't much of a chance for things to develop beyond the “starter” stage, but Noragami still manages to pull you in and make you check when volume two is hitting stores.
The titular stray god is Yato. He mentions in passing that he used to be a war god, born of people's prayers rather than of woman, but as time has moved on, so have his former worshippers, and now he's barely holding on as a self-styled “delivery god.” This doesn't mean that he's a spiritual form of FedEx, but rather that the minute you call him, he delivers the answer to your prayer. We see this in action right from the start with the first chapter, which is essentially a stand-alone short story. In it a middle school student named Mutsumi is crying in the bathroom after being bullied by her classmates. She finds Yato's number scrawled on the stall, and since she's desperate enough to call a phone number she found in a school bathroom stall, she “summons” him. Mutsumi's request is to be freed from the bullies and the sense of doom she feels, which is essentially her own depression and that of her stressed classmates summoning ayakashi, a catch-all phrase for spirits. These are of the evil variety, and while Yato does in fact deliver, the final resolution is somewhat unexpected. On the one hand, it certainly gives hope that people can change, but on the other, it uncomfortably suggests that Mutsumi was the single largest factor in her own bullying. However you feel about it, this is the last we see of her in the book, and possibly forever, as chapter two moves us on the main story.
Things move a bit faster once we meet Hiyori Iki, a high school third year who for unexplained reasons can see Yato. Typically, we learn, only children, animals, and those who need/believe in him can see him, so clearly there is something special or particularly innocent about Hiyori. Unfortunately she doesn't realize that he's a god, and so rushes out to save him from a bus when she needn't have done so. The result is that Hiyori becomes able to separate her spirit from her body, most times only realizing that she has done so when she notices that she now sports a long tail. (It is worth noting that this doesn't feel fetishy and Adachitoka does explain its existence.) Basically her trauma has rendered her narcoleptic, which is neither overused nor really explored to its full humorous potential, although Adachitoka is clearly leaning in that direction. Yato finds her exasperating, she finds him annoying, and basically we've got the classic set-up for them to become romantic interests, which could, if it plays out, be a lot of fun. Of course, the final chapter also adds in a new male character in the form of ghostly Yukine, a spirit Yato binds in order to transform him into a weapon, so who knows.
Those who remember the anime, which Funimation simulcast in winter of 2014, will notice that this does not have the air of sadness that the show had, at least not yet. While we are vaguely aware that it is tragic that Yukine is a ghost in his teens, indicating that he died young, our attention isn't really drawn to it. This is more lighthearted at this point, poking fun at both Yato and Hiyori's situations, but given the authors' afterward, it seems very likely that the manga will get a bit sadder from here. Previously Adachitoka worked with the late Tadashi Kawashima on Alive, and the afterward talks about how much he is missed. One gets the impression that his death lead to the creation of this particular story as a way of coping with his loss, and it will be interesting, albeit possibly depressing, to see if this proves true.
The art in Noragami is heavy on the gray space, but this gives a sort of twilit impression rather than that Adachitoka has been hitting the screen tones too hard. There is a rounded quality to all of the characters' faces and bodies tend towards the sturdy, which is pleasant to look at. Yato has a nice sense of movement when he's jumping around, although there's no really feeling of momentum – he's clearly moving, but it looks effortless. Since he's a god, this can perhaps be excused. Monster designs aren't all that spectacular, but are creepy enough to work.
Kodansha has gone out of their way with the translation notes this time (one of which is amusingly self-deprecating), providing extensive explanations for many of the terms and customs. It's a lot to process, perhaps, when you just want to read manga, but if you're interested in the why of what Yato is saying and doing, it's a real treat.
Noragami's first volume feels like set up, but it's good set up. Adachitoka is clearly getting the groundwork laid so that the plot can take off, and while the first chapter drags a bit, once Hiyori comes in, things pick up. With an other-worldly feel and some humor, as well as interesting use of Shinto mythology, this is one of those books that reads faster than you expect it to. If you like supernatural stories that have the potential to get a bit sad, Yato would be pleased if you picked this up.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Interesting characters, art is gray for a reason (not just because the artist is a screen tone junky), and there's a clear sense of potential. In depth notes.
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