By Shelley Pallis.
Yato is a god. But Yato is such a minor god that he doesn’t even have a shrine to his name. He supposedly rules over Calamity, but hardly anyone has even heard of him. Even his Regalia, the magical artefact that contains the essence of his powers, has taken to arguing with him. Desperate for worshippers, or devotees, or even just plain attention in a world that has largely given up on religion, Yato advertises his services as an odd job man. He’ll do almost anything, within reason, as long as he gets a donation. He’s a Stray God… a Noragami.
Beneath its action and drama, the Noragami series is fraught with deep-seated concerns about religion in modern times. When visits to Japanese shrines seem to pack in more tourists than worshippers, the size of the average donation has shrunk to a mere five yen – less a sign of belief than an excuse for a satisfying selfie. Yato and his fellow lesser gods have been reduced to literally fighting over copper coins, left behind by a society that has found new ideas to bow down before. Whereas the gods of Japan once commanded the hearts of men, now they are left wheedling at the sidelines, petrified that people will stop believing in them altogether.
In other words, even the gods in Yato’s world are feeling the pinch of two decades of the Japanese recession. In what the Anime Encyclopedia perceptively calls a “Gaimanesque” twist, it riffs on some of the ideas in American Gods (2001), asking how the divinities that once infested every Japanese crossroads, alleyway and forest can survive and adapt in an uncaring modern world. Yato is an everyman for Japan’s millennials, a poor sap who has grown up in an era of rising unemployment, falling opportunities, and austerity on every corner. He looks, of course, like a teenager in a track suit – the ideal hero for the readership of the original manga by the two-woman creative team Adachitoka in Monthly Shonen Magazine.
The second series, Noragami Aragoto, continues where the first season left off, with Yato still on the skids and in need of divine intervention. His family of lame ducks has expanded to include Hiyori, a girl with a semi-detached soul that keeps threatening to drift away, and Yukine, the spirit of an undead teenager repurposed as a magic sword. He is also dragged into a vendetta with the war goddess Bishamon, over a complex series of misunderstandings that plunge suburban Japan into a spirit war. And he is forced to confront an escalating series of dilemmas about the nature of destiny – does he have to be a God of Calamity? If we are free to choose our fates, then surely even gods should be given the chance to live the way they want to…? The result is a show lauded by ANN as “one of the year’s best series”, with a twist in the tail.
Noragami Aragoto is released in the UK by Funimation.