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Noragami: The Complete First Season
Noragami, otherwise known as Stray God when translated, was one of the most talked about anime of 2014, and for good reason. The show was such a success in it's debut that a sequel series, Noragami: Aragato, was quickly green-lit in Japan, and ended up in one of FUNimation's recent broadcast dubs lineups. Featuring the directorial debut of Kotaro Tamura, who has worked on Mamoru Hosada's brilliant film Wolf Children, and other acclaimed works such as Baccano! and Michiko & Hatchin, Noragami is a 12 episode series about a god of war from ages ago who has lost his way, and is determined to scratch and claw his way back into prominence and fame by taking on odd jobs around Tokyo.
Noragami follows the story of Yato (voiced by Jason Liebrecht), a minor god who is down on his luck that dreams of having his own temple so that all of the world's beautiful women will come to worship him at his shrine. Yep, that is essentially the setup for the show. Not kidding. And it's an absolute blast. As it has been in literature for years, in Noragami the concept of a god's existence is based around acknowledgement from humans. For Yato, this literally means that the more people who come to praise him, the more he can live up the high-life. Due to this, Yato is a cheery guy, always looking for the best in every situation, taking on literally any mundane job that comes his way for that 5 yen coin!
While Yato is the primary focus of the show, the character that the audience sees through is that of Hiyori (voiced by Bryn Apprill.) Hiyori seems to have it all, she's beautiful, well liked, and generally has a pretty great life. That life all changes the day she meets Yato during one of his odd jobs of finding a lost cat named Milord. Hiyori observes him seemingly unaware that he's walking into oncoming traffic. She rushes over to him, pushing him out of the way and saving his life, only to be hit in the process.
They both escape alive, with Hiyori ending up in the hospital with only minor injuries... oh yeah, and her soul slipped out of her body. Yato visits Hiyori in the hospital, explaining to her that the problem she's experiencing is that her soul will continue to slip out at random times, linking her to both worlds, the world we know and the supernatural. Hiyori asks for help and he accepts it (but in true Yato fashion, only when he can get to it, that is, as he's busy finding cats and fixing bathrooms for 5 yen!) Hiyori won't take no for an answer though, and swears to follow him until he reverts her to normal. For a few episodes, this is the basic gist of the show as we watch Hiyori going with Yato on random odd jobs and being introduced to the world of the supernatural. This includes meeting various other gods (all of whom for the most part look down on Yato) and vanquishing Phantoms, creatures spawned by the negativity of humans and which can cause them harm, even going as far as making people commit suicide. In order to extinguish the phantoms, Yato needs something known as a Regalia, weapons that are forged from the lingering spirits that refuse to move on to the afterlife. This is where we meet Yukine (voiced by Micah Solusod), the focal point of the second arc.
Yukine in all honesty is a very sad kid. He just doesn't seem to enjoy his life, before or after his own death. Yato sees this darkness inside of him, and decides to take on Yukine a a disciple, and forge a new path for him. Yukine's journey is truly the emotional crux of the show, and just like numerous similar to it, they could have easily went into emo territory with this story, thankfully for Noragami, the writer's are skilled and handle his arc with aplomb, never getting too overly dramatic, but keeping everything true to what we know about the characters. His arc for the most part concludes with Episode 9, and for me, it's the climax of the season, everything is just so well done and impressive in this episode. Episodes 10-12, while having it's own story line, feels more like an afterthought when it's all said and done.
If the show sounds too drama heavy, believe me, it's not. Actually, the show is mostly lighthearted, bordering on the line of plain comical sometimes. There's one episode that has Yato having a conversation with a suicidal jumper while they are falling from the top of an apartment building, with Yukine and Hiyori regularly commenting about how improbably long the fall seems to be taking. There are some underlying dark tones throughout the show, mainly dealing with Yato's backstory, something that shouldn't be spoiled in this reviewer's opinion, and this story line doesn't really even come into focus until the final arc of the show. Don't worry, this show is an absolute blast that everyone involved clearly had fun making.
+ Comedy has always been tricky when it comes to dealing with anime but Noragami is one legitimately funny anime that pulls it off correctly.
+ A great cast of characters who are chalk full of development throughout the course of the season.
+ This is one of the better dubs I've listened to recently. The voice acting is top notch across the board. I've always have been a fan of Jason Liebrecht's work, honestly i feel the man is one of the best performers in front of the mic, from Luck Gandor in Baccano! and Train in Black Cat to his most poular works in Eden of the East and Darker Than Black, I've never been unimpressed, but Yato may be his best work to date yet. Likewise, or even more-so for Mr. Micah Solusod, an actor who was once referred to in the anime community as Johnny Yong Bosch's voice double. Here he truly shines as Yukine, delivering one hell of a performance, carrying the weight of the show on his back, I've never been more impressed with his work.
+ Yukine's arc and episode 9 in general.
+ Season 2!
- I've never been a fan of the arc format in which the series presents itself. It's a format that brings down other various shows, like Index/Railgun and more recently, Tokyo Ravens. Regardless of how good it is, Noragami would've been even better with one cohesive overarching narrative.
- Underdeveloped villain for the season. The antagonist is introduced at the cliffhanger for episode 9, when you only have a 12 episode block of episodes, the primary villain should not only appear in the final 4 (really, only 3) episodes of the season, especially when the aforementioned villain is so crucial to Yato's back story.
Video and Audio:
Noragami is presented in it's original 1.78:1 aspect ratio in a 1080p format. The series has some stunning animation. Animated by studio Bones, best known for being the studio behind Space Dandy and Soul Eater the series is truly gorgeous. The character designs are all well executed, and the details in the world surrounding them are beautiful. Though the artwork does lose some detail in the far away shots, it's not too distracting. A great effort from Bones.
FUNimation's release of Noragami features an English dub in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and the original Japanese language track in Dolby TrueHD 2.0.
- Episode 4 video commentary with the director of the dub, Mike McFarland, along with the various stars of the dub, Jason Liebrecht, Bryn Apprill, and Micah Solusod.
- Episode 6 commentary with Mike McFarland, Bryn Apprill, Micah Solusod, and Elizabeth Maxwell.
- Episode 9 commentary with Mike McFarland, Bryn Apprill, Micah Solusod, Ian Sinclair, and Alexis Tipton.
- Textless opening and closing themes.
- US Trailer for the English dub.
- Trailers for various FUNimation titles including The Devil is a Part Timer, Is This A Zombie? Of the Dead, Ping Pong, Soul Eater Not!, Blazblue: Alter Memory, Nobunagun, Future Diary, and 009 Re: Cyborg.
Noragami is an immensely entertaining show. While I wouldn't exactly call it the best show I've ever seen, the series has built and established an incredibly rich world with well developed characters in these first 12 installments. I'm looking forward to see what the future of the Noragami franchise holds. Highly Recommended.