Friday, April 4, 2014

Noragami Review

Year: 2014
Studio: Bones
Genre: supernatural, shonen, romance, action

Clearly for their 15th anniversary, Bones is taking a bow to many of their past connections – from the spiritual successor of Scrapped Princess to Soul Eater spinoff, from the staff of Cowboy Bebop to the makers of Star Driver. This is a highly reflective year for Bones to reconnect with its past self while reaching towards a promising future. And out of all of Bones production in the lineup, Noragami is the only one from which I had no idea what to expect, because it's concocted from a source material I'm not one bit familiar with. So how did it fare? It didn't knock my socks off, but it's so consistently excellent in all aspects I finished the last episode with a good taste in the mouth. Perhaps more than anything, consistency is the quality I associate with Bones as a studio. They always try their best to deliver the goods and I dare say Noragami has been such an enjoyable ride despite not being the most groundbreaking work. It's a charming and funny show that once again goes to prove that sometimes execution trumps originality. 

This 12-episode series can be roughly divided into three arcs – the introduction bits, the Yukine being a hormonal teenage prick chapter and Bones original creation. I've heard complaints that the Yukine crisis dragged on a bit too long. I'm afraid I don't quite share the same opinion. It's necessary to get the emotional messiness out of the way before the story can transition into a comfortable pace and it wouldn't have been as effective if they rushed through Yukine's development. Of course, it doesn't mean I didn't want to knock some sense into him, but it was a frustration I was willing – thought necessary – to put up with. Imagine waking up not knowing anything about yourself – a hollow with no memories and any sense of identity. And compounding that with the fear of abandonment, it's not difficult to see why Yukine behaved the way he did. The only quibble I have is Yato's lack of involvement in all of it – the situation wouldn't have been aggravated to such an extent if Yato had initiated communication. I suppose he wanted Yukine to come around on his own after displacing enough of his anger and truly process his feelings. Though I can't say I buy it completely given how bad things had gotten for both of them. But it's a small quibble and I've made peace with it.

Interlaced with Yukine's arc is the introduction of Bishamon, a character of paramount importance in the subsequent arc. We find out that Bishamon holds a deep hatred for Yato (and it's not hard to guess why), but her most-trusted shinki Kazuma on the contrary seems to genuinely care for Yato's wellbeing. The anime is yet to reveal the backstory, but having caught-up with manga, I think we have plenty left in the narrative tank to go for another season, which would allow the opportunity to fully unravel her story.

The existence of Nora and her tie to Yato is yet another mystery in Noragami that demands a lot of explanation. It's hard to dissect her exact nature given how elusive she's been so far and Yato's attitude towards her also sends mixed signals. He doesn't hate her, no that's not how I would describe their relationship, but he is undoubtedly wary of her. This is an anime review so I won't get ahead of myself and talk too much about the manga, all I can say is even at the current point in the story (chapter 40 to be precise), I still can't put together a clear a picture of Nora. Though there are reasons to suspect her shared past with Yato goes well beyond simple partner in crime.

Bones did something rather risky here with the ending. But let's face it, not everyone is going to be appeased no matter what Bones chooses to do here. Personally, I think an anime original arc is perhaps the least-disruptive solution to the manga/anime dilemma, because it leaves with us a resolved arc while also leaving the door wide open for a second season. Realistically, they will never fit the Bishamon arc in three episodes no matter how much they trim it down. Not that it's a good idea in the first place.

A three-episode arc in any anime is a daunting task and I want to pat Bones' on the back for a job well done. Expecting it to be phenomenal or even exceeding the canon just sets yourself up for disappointment. Rabo is not the most fascinating character, but as an antagonist who was never meant to live beyond the filler material, he still provides us some interesting insight into the mythology sitting at the heart of Noragami. Once again, we see that gods are not without their share of woes. It's not a great life when you are loathed by the very beings who wished you into existence. It harks back to the notion of necessary evil – the dark side of human nature that we are cursed with but also constantly struggle against. So what happens to the gods birthed from these desires? Where is their place in the world? Rabo solemnly remarks in his last moment that Yato who is also a god of calamity is damned to share the fate. It's been foreshadowed multiple times in this series and I have no doubt it will come into play in a big way later on. My fondness for the last episode also stems from its uncanny similarity to Jinei/Kenshin fight in RuroKen. I'm not sure whether homage is intended, but it's a nostalgia kick nonetheless.

At the end of the day, Noragami is not a terribly original show, but it wins on execution and its refusal to simply be another shonen story riding on Japanese mythology. The dynamic between the trio is both sincere and heartwarming. The fact they play off each other so well pushes the series into a better place somewhere slightly above rest of the play field. I love the little things in Noragami and I love that the Bones original content retained the level of emotional nuance displayed by the rest of the series – for instance, Yato spending his hard-earned cash on art supplies in order to jog Hyori's memory. This is how you do sweet without being overbearing.

A Bones production never looks sloppy on the animation front and Noragami is no different. It's beautifully animated throughout and the last episode fully showcases Bones' prowess in fight sequences. Fuse that with techno-y, almost hypnotic soundtrack, we have ourselves one of the best series of the winter lineup. The only question left is whether Bones will deliver a second season, and I'm squarely in the "yes" camp, for the simple reason that the show doesn't feel complete. There are way too many loose threads to call it a day. The real question in my mind is when we will see its inception.

Overall: 8.5/10 

1 comment:

  1. I love the Anime very much, Yato is kind, yukine is lovely, Hiyori is beautiful. On the other hand, Noragami cosplay costumes are unique, I think the Anime will be more popular in the future.