Monday, January 25, 2016

Anime Review: Noragami Aragoto

It's a little awkward that I'm just now starting on the fall shows this late into January so let's get started my favorite [one and done] fall show from this past year and one of my favorites of the entire year as well.

Noragami Aragoto

In this world there are gods and humans, divine protectors and monsters who will gnaw at your soul if you aren't careful. Delivery god Yato and his regalia Yukine have gotten the hang of working with each other now and Tokyo is a little safer for it, although Yato is still baffled about how to help stop 9th grader Hiyori from slipping out of her body. But other gods aren't fairing as well and the trio find themselves tangled up in old and new problems as it becomes clear that someone is working behind the scenes to disrupt the peace that everyone is trying so hard to protect.

I've seen a number of people saying "I saw the first season, it was okay, so why does everyone love this second season so much more?" since if you haven't seen the second season yet then the effusive praise this season received does feel a bit odd. The first season was a bit slow as it built up the main trio (most notably Yukine) and turned Yato and Yukine from largely unknowable, unsympathetic characters to ones that were as human and darling as Hiyori. The second season doesn't have to do that all over again so that's where we start, with a relatable, simultaneously strong and vulnerable cast and it puts them through trials and troubles all over again. This time the two arcs are more tangentially related to the cast, there are times when the three of them could walk away and continue on with their lives but instead choose to get involved and seeing the characters make those choices instead of being forced into them is only the tip of the iceberg for how far things have come.

Like the first season you can think of the two arcs as "Yukine's Arc" and "Yato's Arc" which on the one hand it's great that the story shows you can have character growth on your own but on the other hand is a bad sign since it shows how distant Yato still is to Yukine and Hiyori at times. By the end of this season Yato and Yukine are much closer so I doubt I'll be able to look at future arcs in the same way especially since this is one of those anime series where FAMILY is important (and I'll talk about Hiyori in a little bit). With the first arc ("the Bishamon Arc") we see very clearly how Yato and Yukine have a pretty healthy relationship with each other already, they can speak their minds with each other, have some independence, and yet still respect the boundaries they've set for each other. This is not the case in war god Bishamon's household, due to the quirks of how gods and their regalia work their superficial smiles instead cause each other actual harm. But there's more to this arc than just feel-good character development for everyone, a larger plot really gets rolling and this carries over into the "Ebisu Arc", although once again large reveals take a backseat to character development as we (along with Hiyori and Yukine) finally see a bit of Yato's past. Bishamon's Arc is ultimately more satisfying and tense than the Ebisu Arc but it's that second one that in the end is more important and covers new ground. If this is what Noragami develops into then I am dying for a third season and grateful that if we don't ever get one that the manga is available here. 

Speaking of the original manga, if you haven't seen the first season yet I can now say with confidence that you can skip the last couple of episodes of the first season, the anime original villain does not come back, that arc didn't really help Nora's characterization anyway, and this season features Hiyori getting kidnapped again and losing her memories of Yato again! If you haven't seen that anime-original arc then neither of these two events feels egregious or out of place but if you have it really highlights one thing, what is the purpose of keeping Hiyori involved in the story. Don't get me wrong, she is my favorite character of the series since I really like her personality and drive but every time there's a conflict there's just no place for her (which is both actively mentioned by other characters and shown as she usually ends up just standing off to the side). She is supposed to be our point of view character, a connection for Yato to the human world, and does really need Yato to fix her spirit-narcolepsy problem but she is very unconnected to the larger events and this is a surprisingly plot-driven story, it's noticeable that she doesn't really have a place. I can sort of see where the creators might be going with her, and it sounds like one of the next big arcs involves her more heavily, but at this point it feels like even more minor side characters get to play a bigger role in the story than she does. 

Visually the show remains mostly unchanged from the first season, although there did seem to be a few more off-model shots which I've noticed in a lot of second season Bones series these days (it's happening in Akagami to an extent too, stay strong in your second season ConRevo!). I really like the character designs here regardless, I actually like the slightly more rounded style to them more than I like the manga's original, sharper lines and once again the entire show feels very cohesive visually. I also liked the soundtrack a lot and am sad that they were dumb enough to include the adzan, Muslim call to prayer, and not think it through before putting it in the show. Don't get me wrong, I did find a copy of the track on youtube and I liked it and I can see why they had the initial idea (given that this is a show about gods) but holy cow guys, how did no one think that using a holy song out of context could be really insulting?! I also say this as someone who has now worked in tv, do fictional shows just not have the same level of people double checking to make sure stuff like this doesn't make it to the final show?! Clearly a lot of thought went into this show, the first season's anime-original arc borrowed ideas from later manga-arcs, the final episode has a stinger showing that yes they did remember how one side character was supposed to be relevant, but then they also cut out a key detail in a popular fan theory that I like (spoilers for the entire show so far). These details weren't enough to keep the show out of my favorites of 2015 list but we could do even better, clearly what needs to happen is a third season to prove it!

Other recommended review: Josei Next Door, Gabrielle Ekens at ANN