Yato may have the appearance of a knock-about teenager, but the truth is, he’s a god. The only problem is, he’s a god without any followers. That means he has to sleep at night in the temples dedicated to other gods since, lacking followers, he doesn’t have one of his own.  Yato dreams of building his own temple and having boundless followers – but in order to make the former happen, he must earn both the spiritual credit as well as the cold hard cash to make it happen. And so Yato hires himself out as a kind of spiritual fix it man – any problem, no matter how small, he will take on and grant a person’s wish for 5 yen a miracle. But 5 yen – the traditional offering at Japanese temples – is an awfully small amount of money, and many of the jobs Yato takes on are so petty they earn him very little spiritual credit. On top of which, in order to actually solve problems and grant wishes, Yato needs a Regalia – a human who is willing to allow their soul to be forged into a kind of divine weapon to be used against the phantoms and other demons that often invade the human world and are the cause of so many problems. And Yato’s most recent Regalia just quit in order to enter service with another, more credentialed god. It’s when he’s at his lowest ebb that Yato meets Hiyori Iki, a teenage girl who, due to the trauma caused by a traffic accident, has developed narcolepsy, with the result that, during her narcoleptic episodes, her soul detaches from her body and operates as an autonomous being. Yato also meets Yukine, the soul of a troubled teenage boy who died under tragic circumstances, but who nonetheless agrees to become Yato’s new Regalia. The three are thrown together despite their many differences, creating tensions that seem destined to tear their unlikely company apart. Hiyori wants her body and soul reunited, which would cause her to forget both Yato and Yukine; haunted by his ghosts, Yukine goes on a petty crime spree, with devastating karmic consequences for Yato; and all the while, there’s an angry war goddess and a mischief-making chaos goddess who mean Yato and his companions no good at all. It’s while Yato’s trying to deal with all this and keep alive his dream of one day having his own temple that the shadow of his dark past arises: who he used to be, and the terrible things he once did – an identity and events he had thought were safely locked in the distant past…

Based on the manga by Adochitoka, and produced by anime studio Bones, “Noragami” (lit: “stray god”) aired in two seasons in 2014 and 2015 respectively, with additional OVAs added after each series. Animated in a starkly realistic manner that powerfully sets the mood for the supernatural misadventures of Yato and his companions, “Noragami” is a blend of anarchic comedy, weirdly atavistic thriller, and coming-of-age tale, in which the dynamics between the three never-more-unlikely protagonists drives the plot forward.  Along the way, the series’ explores the issues of identity,  the impact and influence of the past, the nature of friendship, and the meaning of responsibility in ways that refrain from being overly didactic, and which are often surprisingly moving. Plenty of Japanese folklore and mythic narrative drawn from the ancient roots of Shintō are deployed in the service of both character building and storytelling, and the occasional over-the-top reaction tropes, instead of being their usual disruptive selves, serve the comedic element well. Not all the whys and wherefores that connect the various characters are explained in ways that will necessarily make sense to a western audience; however, this minor quibble aside, “Noragami” draws its various strands together with admirable lucidity, providing a satisfying denouement imbued with a nice touch of ambiguity. Always energetic, often violent, and shot through with moments of thoughtful warm-heartedness, “Noragami” is engaging fare that rewards patient and faithful viewing.

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