Noragami Aragoto – 02

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That shaman-looking regalia did the “Evil Smirk at the End of the Episode”, so there was a good bet he’d turn out to be a less than swell guy, and this episode confirms that with all the subtlety of a Hiyori Iki Suplex.

Yukine comes clean about having made a friend outside the Circle of Trust, but everyone’s happy about it, and Yato, while a little weary that Suzuha is a Bishamon regalia, merely urges caution going forward.

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Suzuha already has Yukine in his thrall with his friendly demeanor and approachability, but seals the deal by telling a very sad tale about a girl who used to notice his flowers every Summer, but could never remember him, and forgot about him altogether thirty years ago, when they promised to meet at an old cherry tree he’s now desperately trying to rehabilitate.

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Suzuha’s longing turns to obsession and despair one night, after the shaman-looking guy (named Kugaha) seems to twist the knife, telling him even his master has forgotten him and that he has nothing. A pack of phantom wolves then kill Suzuha right there, and Bishamon, who may well have forgotten Suzuha what with the legions of other regalia she has to keep track of, only wakes up when she feels the loss.

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Unaware that Suzuha is gone, Yukine arrives at the time they agreed on for a picnic, along with his friend Hiyori. Yuki makes no bones about his concern about Hiyori forgetting about him when she grows older and moves on with her life, both to Yato and to Hiyori herself, but she tells him not to worry: she’s not going anywhere. At least, not until she’s satisfied Yuki has gotten a good academic education. When/if Yato fixes her tail problem, even she can’t say what will happen, but she doesn’t want Yukine to worry.

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The pain from Yukine’s worrying, after all, is also felt by his master Yato. So it really puts into perspective how much pain Bishamon endures every day from the collective pain of her myriad regalia. And she only knows it’s Suzuha who is gone when she spots a dead plant in the hall; all the low-level regalia put on happy faces so as not to add to her suffering, a geture that’s both helpful and unhelpful.

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Even though her exemplar Kazuma watches her like a hawk, he’s still caught off-guard when blight suddenly appears on Bishamon’s neck. He acts quickly and decisively, gathering all regalia for a full-body inspection to ascertain who gave Bishamon the blight. When Dr. Kugaha performs the examinations and finds no blight, and Bishamon shows up with no blight on her neck, Kazuma is confused and his confidence shaken.

And that’s probably also Kugaha’s doing: the guy’s a doctor; maybe he faked the blight to stir Kazuma up? It would seem he’s poking and prodding at the weak spots of his fellow regalia. Suzuha was only the first. As he remarks to Nora (who the bad guys always seem to consort with on this show), Kugaha doesn’t consider Bishamon worthy of being the War God, is acting to topple her, and seems bent on using Yato to facilitate that outcome.

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Noragami Aragoto – 01 (First Impressions)

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Wow, it seems like it’s been far longer than March 2014 since I last watched Noragamibut its new second season effortlessly slips back on like a stylish glove. The lush, busy, bullish episode wastes no time re-introducing the terms and mechanics of the show, doing so with a sudden phantom attack by Yato, the delivery god’s, latest babysitting job.

It also shows how certain things are now established, like Yato and Yukine being a solid team, with the latter able to slice through the phantom without harming Spirit Hiyori or the babe.

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The pacing of this episode was quick and peppy, but not relentlessly so, also refamiliarizing us with the various character dynamics, and the feeling of family emanating from the core trio, extended to Kofuku and Daikoku. But this season aims to focus a lot more on the always-badass god of war, the Lady Bishamon, and her endless quest to rescue spirits in danger and make them her regalia.

There’s a great contrast between Yato and Yukine’s phantom battle, fought in the tight quarters of a flat, and Bishamon’s, who soars through the sky smiting the bird-formed phantoms and catching their victim in midair, all while showing off her vast array of weaponry. I also liked that the regalia she creates from rescued spirits aren’t always weaponry, as this latest one becomes a broken mirror.

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It matters not to Bishamon, who is tasked with battling evil, but her massive collection of regalia are starting to take a toll on her health, even as they make her more and more efficient and effective at collecting them. In other words, she’s a bit of a hoarder.

But that burden she bears, along with her longstanding beef with Yato (presumably for killing a lot of her regalia in the distant past) look to be the crux of this season. The seeds for the commencement of that conflict are already sown as the precocious, somewhat lonely Yukine (Hiyori and Yato are more like family), left to his own devices, befriends one of Bishamon’s many regalia, and a more senior regalia takes notice.

It should be a fun ride, helped in no small part by the phenomenal all-star voice cast (Kamiya, Uchida, Kaji, Sawashiro, Toyosaki, Ono, etc.), the crisp, sumptuous visuals (this show makes gorgeous use of light and color), and the thumping, eclectic Iwasaki score (didn’t hear any new tracks, but it’s early, and the old ones are still dope).

Finaly, Hiyori Iki is adorable as ever, but also strong and focused: she doesn’t let Yato forget he has yet to do job she originally paid him for.

Will Bishamon only be satisfied with Yato’s head, or will she learn to accept he’s changed, in no small part due to Iki and Yukine? Will a foe force them to work together? I look forward to finding out, and hope you’ll join me on the journey!

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Noragami – 12 (Fin)

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Noragami turns in a decent but unspectacular finale that provides relatively sufficient closure but doesn’t quite deliver the same emotional or visceral impact as Yukine’s ablution. For one thing, watching two angry guys swordfight just isn’t as visually impressive as the ablution; also, the fact that Hiyori is mostly just sitting/lying around this week, though ironically had she not shown up at all, Yato might not have beaten Rabo.

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Most importantly though, this battle didn’t hit as hard because we never really cared about Rabo. He’s significantly less interesting than the more puckish Nora, and kinda comes off as that lame old friend yelling “You changed, man! You used to be cool evil!” at Yato constantly. We were far more invested in Yukine’s fate, and appreciated the fact everyone had to put aside their baggage and chip in to help save him. There’s no redeeming Rabo.

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Rabo ultimately just had a death wish, and wanted someone who remembered him to end his life that had become meaningless because no one else did. He also seems to figure out pretty late in the game that the key to getting Yato as angry as possible is by hurting Hiyori. About her: even though the memory orb shatters, she gets her memories back on her own, thanks to Yato’s smell. Scent being the sense most tied to memory, this kinda makes sense.

With Rabo taken out and Nora again masterless (we imagine she and Soul Eater’s Excalibur would get along famously), Yato begs Hiyori to cut her ties with him an Yukine. Not surprisingly, she flatly refuses. After all, the girl who can break out of a powerful shinki’s spell and beat the crap out of a calamity god for being too close is not the kind of girl to end her two most meaningful friendships just to live a “safer” life.

7_very_goodRating: 7 (Very Good)
Average Rating: 7.667
MyAnimeList Score: 8.29

Noragami – 11

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So we got slightly ahead of ourselves when we said Iki forgot all about Yato and Yukine; turns out it’s just Yato she’s forgotten (at first). Therefore Yukine doesn’t panic, and assures his master she’ll remember him in time. Yato breaks out his awesome artistic skills to try to get her to remember, but doesn’t make any progress.

Then Nora shows up and shows them the memories she’s taken from Hiyori, and will give them back if they defeat her new master Rabo. Yukine has no idea who Rabo is, but sees how much he gets to Yato in their brutal (and very cool) fight. Then Yukine goes to Kofuku and Yato goes to Tenjin, seeking answers.

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Kofuku tells Yukine what she already told Iki: that Yato was a calamity god like Rabo, but has changed, no longer fulfilling bad wishes. Knowing that Iki was fine with this, Yukine is also willing to set Yato’s past aside. But then Tenjin tells Yato perhaps Hiyori’s amnesia is a blessing in disguise: the separation she needed from the Far Shore to stop becoming a half-phantom and focus on living in her own world.

While we’re sure he’s not happy about it, Yato concurs, and tells Yukine to stop seeing Hiyori. Nora may have inadvertently solved Hiyori’s problem is solved, right? Well, Yukine being Yukine, he shows Hiyori the picture book Yato had begun (but the last page of which Yukine had to draw in a, shall we say, more naive scrawl). When he hands the book to her, she loses her memory of him as well.

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So no, Nora wouldn’t inadvertently help anyone; she’s too evil. Instead, this is no longer a matter of Yato grudgingly closing the book on his friendship with Hiyori: it’s about restoring her memory before there’s nothing left but an empty vessel. While the stakes are higher, we think part of Yato and Yukine are glad they don’t have to say goodbye, having come to love her as much as she loves them. They’ll get her memory back and fix her tail problem the right way.

Yato and Yukine stop by Hiyori’s to tell her they’ll fix her memory. It moves her to tears she can’t even explain due to the amnesia, but she’s also moved to grabbing Yato’s shoulder as they teleport away, leaving her mortal body behind. Does this mean she’s willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and support them? Is that even wise, in her deteriorating condition? We’ll find out next week, when Noragami (or Noragami’s first cour; we’re not sure yet) wraps up.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Noragami – 10

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It’s great to see the ablution worked, as Yukine is no longer a demonic bomb, and even gets a part-time job helping Daikoku in order to pay him back. There’s also a sense that Yukine is far luckier than he imagined, as Yato was being uncommonly patient with him. Around the same time, Lord Tenjin’s regalia Miyu gave him one little sting, and for that she was banished without appeal. Harsh!

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The bond between Yato, Yukine, and Hiyori has never been stronger or more stable, and yet when Yato asks Tenjin for advice on how to solve Hiyori’s problem (we were wondering when he’d get around to that!), Tenjin tells him that could be the problem: Hiyori has grown too close and familiar with Yato, and his first task in ridding her of her cord is to cut off all ties. Of course, that isn’t something any of the three friends want.

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Even though Yato never gets around to her about it, we’re sure Hiyori wouldn’t be happy about the prospect of abandoning two friends that have become just as real as her living ones at school. By now Hiyori has a pretty good (if incomplete) idea of how perilous her existential situation is, but she still seems willing to continue taking that risk if it means she can still be with them, having fun and helping each other out.

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However, it looks like the matter of whether Yato will tell her what Tenjin said (or whether it would actually work) is made moot by Nora, who is royally pissed off that Yato not only squandered the best opportunity to ditch Yukine, but that Hiyori was integral in keeping them together. In return, Nora lures her into isolation and sics masked wolves on her. The wolves disintegrate at dawn, but Nora isn’t done: she apparently wipes Hiyori’s memory, eliminating her from the equation out of the belief she makes Yato weaker.

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Meanwhile, Yato is kept busy by hordes of scorpion phantoms set up by Rabo, another calamity god, who has come to kill him. Yato and Yukine deal with them relatively easily, but by the time they meet up with Hiyori, she no longer knows who they are…which is obviously not good! This could have been a pleasant (and well-earned) festival episode for the trio, but with just two episodes left, the show wisely kept the pressure on by immediately introducing the next threat.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Noragami – 09

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As it turns out, Daikoku’s borderline was only a precautionary measure to protect Kofuku; he allows Hiyori (and only Hiyori) to enter the shrine and shower in the spring water. But there are only two ways to cure Yato: if he himself slays the increasingly corrupted Yukine (something he won’t do) or if three regalias combine their powers and initiate an ablution—the confinement and punishment of Yukine until he confesses to his sins and repents. It’s a neat concept: only regalias can fairly judge other regalias, since they were both human at one point.

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But first, three regalias are needed. Daikoku, setting aside his dislike of Yato for Kofuku and Hiyori’s sakes, visits every shrine in the area begging for volunteers. Mayu is the first who agrees to help, an interesting gesture that almost suggests a smidgen of guilt harbored due to making Yato release her from his service—or maybe just because her distance from Yato in Lord Tenjin’s employ has led to a gradual dissipation of the hatred she felt for him when they parted ways. Even regalias need a cooling-off period. That leaves one more regalia required, and while Hiyori’s pleas for Kurama were initially ignored, the debt he still owes Yato moves him to volunteer as well.

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That’s a good thing, because we were worried for a moment there that Hiyori would seek the help of Nora, which was bound to cause more trouble than it solved. So with the three unlikely regalias joined, the final piece of the puzzle is Yukine, who is steadfastly unrepentant and believes himself unworthy of the punishment they start to dole out. It’s an uphill battle, as he nearly transforms into a phantom, nearly wiping away the mark of the name Yato gave him. Yukine isn’t guilty so much as angry and resentful that he can’t interact with people of the near shore anymore. Yato knows he has to call out to him, but is weak and needs time to gather himself to say the proper words.

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He gets that time thanks to the person without whom he and Yukine (and possibly others) would have died long ago: the tough, resolute, dependable Iki Hiyori, who throws herself into danger yet again to make a personal appeal to Yukine. She snaps him out of his near-calamitous tantrum with the threat that they’ll no longer be friends if he completes his betrayal of Yato. That threat assumes Hiyori is his friend, something he’d never considered. Now that he knows he has friends, he repents and is purified. The final scene is replete with raw emotion appropriate for the aftermath of such an ordeal. When Yato and Yukine bow their heads to Hiyori in apology and gratitude, all she can do is gather them in a big ol’ hug.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)

Noragami – 08

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Last week Hiyori and Yato decided not to give up onf Yukine, but if they’re to survive, Yukine has to not give up on himself. That becomes increasingly difficult when Yato’s next request for help comes from Hiyori’s underclassman, a mercilessly-bullied kid named Manabu. Manabu’s whimpering disgusts Yukine, and when Yato calls him out for harboring similar feelings, he wanders off on his own.

The “Bullied Kid” mission may be relatively routine for Yato, but after we’ve seen a case of someone crossing over to the dark side (i.e. that lost little girl), the possibility Manabu could meet the same fate remains throughout the ordeal. The danger is only compounded by Yukine growing more resentful and alone as he observes the living students. Throughout all this Yato is looking far more sluggish to Hiyori; to the point her playful beatings actually end up hurting him.

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Yato decides to place Manabu’s fate in his own hands in the form of two utility knives: one for him, and one for the bully he confronts. A phantom grows behind Manabu’s shoulder, egging him on with a creepy chorus of voices that he himself joins. But while he scares the bully into wetting himself, he remembers Yato’s words to him: crossing the line means abandoning humanity.

Through his unpleasant school experience Manabu’s cultivated the wrongheaded belief thinking he has no place in the world; but if he used the knife, he really wouldn’t. And while Yukine’s angsty antics (angstics?) are starting to wear thin, there’s still ample motive for them continuing and escalating: unlike Manabu, Yukine has no place in that school.

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The frustration that comes from realizing that truth leads him to smash the school’s windows with a bat. That’s the bat that breaks Yato’s back, as he can no longer hide the blight that covers most of his body. Hiyori is shocked by its progress, but snaps to and heads for Kofuku as instructed by Yato if things turned bad. You can see and hear her bitter disappointment in Yukine, after everything she’s done for him.

Only things are worse than she can imagine, because when they arrive, dripping with blight, Daikoku throws up a borderline. It may only be a quarantine precaution, but it was still surprising, and a gut punch for Hiyori. Earlier Kofuku momentarily switched into badass mode when she told Bishamon there’d be hell to pay if she harmed Yato. But so far Yukine’s doing Bishamon’s work for her.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Noragami – 07

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Usually we like our anime series’ mythologies to be kept as simple and un-embellished as possible, but Noragami is a notable exception, where the more we (along with Hiyori) learn about the whys and wherefores of the divine world, the more rich and immersive the experience becomes. After bowing in respect to Yato last week, Bishamon’s right-hand (or to be precise right-ear) shinki Kazuma and Lord Tenjin expand our understanding of the situation quite a bit.

In short, Tenjin cannot take Yukine on as one of his regalia because that would make Yukine a “Nora”—shinki with many names akin to a stray cat. Such agents are apparently a necessary evil, as they essentially do dirty work gods don’t want to sully their own regalia with. Like Hiyori, we’d thought Nora was just Yato’s on-and-off shinki’s name, but it actually describes what she is: trouble. But even if Tenjin agreed to take Yukine in, there are other issues.

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Far more dangerous than Nora pestering Yato is Yukine continuing to think impure thoughts and commit misdeeds, forming the defilement covering Yato’s body that will ultimately kill him. The logical, pragmatic, and honorable Kazuma owes Yato a debt, so far from harming Hiyori when they cross paths, he lets her in on this truth, and how something must be done to prevent Yato’s demise. Kazuma believes killing Yukine is the best way, but when Hiyori saw the chemistry and teamwork of Bishamon’s regalia, she glimpsed another, less killy way.

Yato isn’t ready to give up on Yukine either, even after he attempts to steal the disaster charity donation box from the convenience store where Yato works the night shift. Before he and Hiyori find him for a phantom battle, Nora gives Yukine the “You’re Useless” talk that always proves so devastating to kids in his emotional state. But Yato chooses a dull, uncooperative Sekki to running back into Nora’s sinister clutches, and as Hiyori begs him, he looks poised to adjusting his behavior towards Yukine, treating him not like a tool or object, but as the person he is.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Stray Observations:

  • We could say this about every Noragami, but this was a beautiful episode, especially the diverse use of lighting: Bishamon’s ethereal bath; the fluorescents of the convenience store; the robust sunsets; the pale city lights; the stark shadow in Yukine’s room.
  • We liked the episode opening with Bishamon, who is far from an overbearing tyrant, and Kuzama, whose scolding advice she actually takes to heart.
  • After hearing her sweet voice in Kyousogiga, it’s more than a little unsettling to hear Kugimiya Rie spewing such awful, if poetic things. She definitely evokes a healthy fear.
  • It’s been a Kaji Yuki-heavy week. He plays an angsty Yukine here we’ve heard a lot of him as Hope Estheim in Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII—the first (and hopefully not last) U.S. FF release with an available Japanese language track (and yes, that track makes the game infinitely more enjoyable; the English dubs are abysmal). On top of that, Kaji voices Shuu in Nisekoi and the Prince in the latest Space Dandy.

Noragami – 06

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Yato’s quick return to greatness is further impeded by two obstacles that rear their heads this week: the beautiful walking armory Bishamon (Sawashiro Miyuki doing her standard Tough Chick routine), and the increasing difficulties Yato is having with Yukine. You can hardly blame Yukine, who isn’t even sure he should be on Yato’s side, considering Yato’s Dark Past, which includes killing one of Bishamon’s regalia.

As Yukine continues to think impure thoughts and steal that skateboard he had his eyes on, he’s doing damage to Yato in the form of a growing “blight” on his neck, and we imagine would kill Yato for Bishamon if it gets out of control. For now, dealing with problems on all sides, Yato goes into survival mode, telling Yukine to shut up and shape up, and thanks to Sekki’s power, is able to avoid most of Bishamon’s whips, bullets, and…lions.

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Hiyori is as conflicted as Yukine at the moment about whether she can trust Yato, but she has no choice; she’s stuck between shores and needs his help if she’s to avoid full phantom-hood. So she remembers his advice to seek the help of Kofuku and Daikoku, and after some brief wrangling and some cool “Yatolocation” Hiyori and the cavalry arrive just in time to save Yato. Even Nora pops her head in to deliver an assist.

Even so, this rescue was provisional: Kofuku did it because Hiyori begged her for help, but Bishamon will be back and will be just as eager to kill Yato, and the compatibility problems with Yukine continue, to the point Nora pesters Yato to use her instead. Yato hasn’t once apologized for his past, and even said he killed Bishamon’s regalia because he wanted to. But something tells us he’d rather not have to rely on Nora too much. Almost as if Yukine is his fresh start.

7_very_goodRating: 7 (Very Good)