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Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Noragami.


Noragami.



So here's one I've been meaning to watch and review for a while, having heard good things about it. Until last week, I hadn't been able to muster the willpower to actually start it, and didn't entirely know what to expect when I did.

A comedy-action-drama type deal, Noragami follows Hiyori Ike, a girl who saves a homeless boy from being hit by a van, only to discover that he is a god, Yato, who has been trying to raise enough money to build a shrine for himself by essentially working as a divine handyman. As the two begin to form a friendship, they are joined by Yukine, a spirit who serves as Yato's weapon and assistant. But all is not well, as Yato is hunted by Bishamon, the god of war, for a crime he committed in the past, and is being stalked by Nora, a dangerous and unhinged spirit who was once Yato's weapon of choice.

In much the same fashion as Kyokai no Kanata, Noragami attempts to span a range of genres, incorporating elements of slice-of-life shows, comedies, shounen-esque supernatural action, and angsty drama, which is always a slightly risky move - unlike Kyokai no Kanata, it does a much better job of actually balancing all of its disparate parts to create something that feels like a single coherent work. The story is a little messy at points, for sure, with the Bishamon plotline being more or less dropped part way through, and the Rabo plotline barreling in completely out of the left field in the last four episodes, but it's never distractingly so.

The short 'Yato fantasises about his future life' sections are charmingly silly.

(It helps, a little, that the Bishamon plot will probably be picked up again in Noragami Aragoto, which I've not yet seen, and the Rabo plotline, while it comes completely out of the blue with Rabo having never been mentioned or alluded to prior, ties into the ongoing Nora plotline.)

Technically, Noragami is a pretty competently made production. It's well-animated, without any sudden lapses in quality, it has some great voice-acting, and a good soundtrack. While its pacing could certainly use a bit of work, with some arcs going a little too slow and others a little quick, it's certainly not terribly paced by any stretch of the imagination.

The three main characters - and it is definitely an ensemble show, being more about the relationship between Yato, Yukine, and Hiyori than any individual character - have a fun, engaging, dynamic relationship that is almost never boring to watch. With the exception of a few short moments, the show manages to avoid falling back on some of the more tired anime cliches. There are hints of romance everywhere, between every character in the main trio, and certainly also between Yato and a handful of supporting characters, but it never feels like there's a 'love triangle', and nor does it feel like the romantic elements are detracting from a solid story about friendship.

Yukine is adorable.

As a viewer, I found myself heavily invested in their friendship, and when circumstances endangered that, it was a lot more gripping than any of the action scenes.

The action scenes themselves are fun, but short. They're not the main focus of the show, and that's fine, even if the Phantoms, who make up most of the monsters in the show, are absolutely fascinating. The show does a great job of making them sinister, having them often initially manifest as just a slight distortion in sound, then as eyes appearing in the air. They come across as almost Lovecraftian in nature, and the show doesn't pull its punches in those few moments where it does explore their origins. One particularly memorable episode has the ghost of a little girl transforming - slowly, then all at once - into a Phantom, in a short but nevertheless terrifying sequence that continues to have ramifications on the next few episodes.

Umbrellas for fun and profit.

In general, the show does angst and distressing moments very well, and balances it out with a fair amount of (slightly less deflty handled, but still very enjoyable, and certainly better handled than most anime) comedy. Themes of death, mental illness, loneliness and regret come up frequently throughout the show, and they are handled in a very direct, straightforward fashion that nonetheless never seems mean-spirited or cynical.

All in all, I definitely enjoyed this anime a lot, even though I will probably never adore it with the fervent zeal that a lot of people do (although I can certainly see why they do). It takes some genuine skill to balance comedy, drama, and action, and Noragami handles those three tones pretty deftly and with a fair amount of nuance, wrapped up in an interesting and engaging story with some genuinely unique themes. I'm looking forward to watching Noragami Aragoto, which I'll probably try and review next week.

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