I remember when the words “Shonen Action” didn’t cause my blood to freeze upon hearing it.
Noragami is sort of interesting. It’d be damning with faint praise if I said it was one of the better shows of the season because the number of balls I can juggle at once is generally higher than the number of worthwhile anime released in every three-month span, and I can’t juggle to save my life. Still, that doesn’t mean I won’t raise an eyebrow if you describe the series as yet another throwaway shonen adventure. Just because a story relieves heavily on cliches doesn’t automatically mean said cliches define it. But then again, I think most people misunderstand storytelling, especially in the moving picture industry.
The series takes place in a world where Japanese gods are still trying to be relevant in a modern society that sort of treats religion more as a joke nowadays, and whilst quite a few gods are doing fine enough, Yato isn’t one of them. He’s a war god without a shrine to his name and a past of violence that still haunts him to this very day. He’s not even the famous Yatogami that lives amongst the greats like he pretends to be. To put it simply, he’s a well-dressed bum from a bygone age begging for change, and his refusal to change with the times have caused even his regalia – a sort of familiar that can change into a weapon – of many centuries to leave him.
I’m not exactly a religious person myself, but I like stories about adjusting to the times. Blame it on all the shitty modern interpretations of past classics I watched as a kid like those Looney Tunes movies or Fat Albert, but Noragami actually tells that a story in a way that isn’t entirely reactionary like those films were. Whilst the story starts with a girl getting hit with a car and turning into a ghostly figure that Yato has to help out like some gender-swapped version of Yu Yu Hakusho, that plot has sort of been left to the side (in an awkwardly comedic manner, but whatever) in order to focus more on the gods themselves. She doesn’t take over the story like Robin did in the Tom and Jerry film. She’s ultimately just an accessibility to gods suffering troubles, and I can dig that. And if you need to use some other shonen cliches to tell that story in an accessible manner, then fine.
Having said that, I don’t think I’m going to take off that “sort of” label attached to the “interesting” one for a while. Whilst I can swallow using shonen action cliches as a framing device (although seriously, fuck this show’s humor), I’m going to raise an eyebrow when you incorporate it into the actual substance itself, and the first season was kind of lousy with that. The pacing slowed down to a crawl when Yukine entered the picture and the finale was mostly to confirm that Yato, Yukine, and Hiyori had each other’s backs without really concluding any of what it set up. I had hopes for the second season considering fans admitted its faults – although that doesn’t seem to have stopped them from declaring it amongst the 2014 greats – because they told me that the next few arcs were when the series really comes into its own. And it focused on Bishamon, whose grudge against Yato held promise.
Long story short, the newest arc in Aragoto was pretty cool for the most part, even though the reveal that Yato and Bishamon’s hatred for each other was based on a hidden truth was kinda lame, because it was focusing on the positives and negatives regarding Bishamon’s treatment of her Regalia as family. The series has made it clear that gods are not all-powerful enough to not get sick and that familiars will get fed up with their masters over time, but seeing it have such a negative effect on Bishamon’s sanity and realizing she’s been through this before whilst learning the wrong lesson from that encounter was attention-grabbing stuff. And the fact that we get to see it with cool action and good development regarding how complicated Regalias can actually be was the icing on the chocolate cake. Not my favorite flavor, but I’m not going to say no to it.
However, it’s pretty obvious to me that whoever says the Bishamon arc is great did not watch the last episode, because I’ve got some major beef to dish out on the ending due to it being total crap. Well okay, not total crap, but generally at the end of an “epic” arc, I expect some fucking closure that fucking sticks. And there is just no excuse for Kazuma surviving that encounter. Maybe I’d have accepted it if nearly killing the dude had more long-term effects, but Bishamon seems to be rebuilding her life fine, and at a quick rate to boot if the latest episode is any indication. What made that scene work was Bishamon getting so lost that it took killing the one person she trusted more than anyone, even when he betrayed her once, to snap her out of her rage. And despite losing him, she knew she had to lose all her other Regalia too because their corruption was irreversible at the time. If you make the guy okay afterwards (with no good explanation, mind you), that effect is cheapened, especially since we barely got to know the other Shinki as characters. Also, is Bishamon even going to be all that relevant after this arc? Because if she isn’t, that just makes Kazuma surviving even lamer.
It also doesn’t help that aside from Bishamon releasing the main villain’s name, the conclusion was flat compared to everything before. Kuguha is revealed to just be a spoiled brat who can’t fight worth shit and the resulting battles were lacking in tension since I didn’t believe for a second that Yato would ever get overpowered by those nameless effects, leaving me with a mostly indifferent face throughout. I had hopes for the ending when Yato revealed that in order to save Hiyori, he had to pay a certain price, which was revealed to distance herself from her in the latest episode for good. I’ll give you one guess how that turned out. Let me give you a hint: Noragami is written for a crowd who likes their status quo as long as it allows them to keep their angsty Yukine being brushed in the hair by their chirpy Hiyoris. The same crowd who ruined Tiger and Bunny’s ending. Fuck you shonen action fanboys!
At the end of the day, whilst the arc was generally fun to watch, the only thing that stuck after it was over was Yato getting a power-up and Bishamon just continuing on with her life like normal except without her grudge (although I’m sure she’ll get snippy with Yato if they ever cross paths again). I can overlook the characters conforming to the shonen action archetypes since it’s just a surface personality to build on at the end of the day. I can sort of overlook the shonen-esque humor since it’s not obnoxiously jarring, although it still remains lame. But when the trappings of that accursed genre actively get in the way of what’s interesting like refusing to change the status quo at a level higher than just adding more stuff, that’s when I’m going to get sniffy. Extra annoying if it happens to shows that are just that much closer to achieving greatness.
And Noragami does brush up on it, even if I’m not sure how much is done on purpose. It doesn’t even have to do much in the way of scale to do so. Stuff like Yato getting his own little shrine is enough, since there’s way more going on in regards to that scene than just “power of friendship” stuff. But there has to be more than meets the eye on a consistent basis for me to declare a show great, and as long as Noragami adheres to its genre roots, it’ll never reach that level of consistency.
PS: Okay fine, I got the wrong shonen magazine in regards to this thing.