Toru OhkawaKazuhiko InoueJun FukuyamaAki Toyosaki
Episode 1 also reviewed here: Anime 1st episodes 2014: N
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2014
Director: Kotaro Tamura
Original creator: Adachitoka
Actor: Hiroshi Kamiya, Maaya Uchida, Yuuki Kaji, Aki Toyosaki, Asami Imai, Daisuke Ono, Jun Fukuyama, Kazuhiko Inoue, Mikako Komatsu, Miyuki Sawashiro, Rie Kugimiya, Saori Hayami, Takahiro Sakurai, Toru Ohkawa
Keywords: anime, fantasy, ghost
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 12 episodes
Website category: Anime 2014
Review date: 15 June 2015
I liked it a fair bit, but it's less entertaining than I'd been expecting. A homeless, penniless god loafs around modern-day Japan doing any job that gets thrown his way, e.g. minding the shop at 3am, or cleaning out an animal cage. He lives in a track suit and charges five yen per job, which is nothing. He's invisible-ish to normal people, until a girl gets involved in his activities on the boundary of the living and the dead.
That's Rumiko Takahashi's Rinne, until you look at the tone. Noragami (literally "stray god") is harder and darker. It's not without laughs, but this is a world where innocents can get punished, where demons ("ayakashi") are waiting to possess humans and where your fellow gods are liable to advise you to reject your servant and sever ties with your best friend.
Firstly, there's no such thing as a nice god. Even our hero, Yato, while being basically a good guy and indubitably a devoted friend once he's accepted you, has a dark side and a scary past. We're told that he was once a God of War. That would explain his lack of worshippers in modern-day Japan. He can be brutal and cold, while he's notorious among his fellow gods for having once killed a shinki (see below). One of those gods has sworn to kill him and will launch murder attempts on sight.
Other gods beyond Yato include:
(a) Koufuku, who puts the "bimbo" in "bimbougami". She's cute, but in one episode we meet a man she drove to attempted suicide.
(b) Bishamon, who looks a bit like Elsa, She-Vixen of the SS, and takes everything very seriously. This includes trying to kill Yato.
(c) Tenjin, who's everything Yato isn't. He has a shrine. He has lots of respectful girls (okay, shinki). He's a respectful old gentleman who does everything by the book. However if any of his shinki you put a foot wrong, they don't get a second chance.
(d) Rabo the ayakashi-summoning psycho killer. He's also basically Yato.
I mentioned shinki. These are dead people brought back to unlife as a god's tool. The god gives his new shinki a name, which will be the magic word to turn this person into a weapon for killing (hopefully just ayakashi). This creates a two-way bond, with the god and shinki basically sharing a split existence, so a rebellious shinki can cause serious damage to a god's mind and even body. Yato, being Yato, finds a teenager who can be a really unpleasant jerk, even if in fairness there's a good kid somewhere in there too. None of this is being played for laughs.
There are two unequivocally nice people in this anime and one of those is the brutal, rude, violent shinki of Koufuku. The other, though, is the anime's real main character, Hiyomi. She's human, at first. Early in ep.1, she unnecessarily tries to save Yato from being squashed by a truck, not realising that he'd be fine, and as a result becomes semi-detached from life. She's not dead, but she's halfway there. She still lives in the world and can walk, talk and attend school, but she becomes prone to narcoleptic attacks that make her astral form leave her body. She attracts ayakashi. Also, more importantly, she starts hanging out with Yato and trying to help him and his problem shinki.
Hiyomi's sincere and kind, albeit not without her quirks. She's a fan of pro wrestling. (Her astral form can jump over houses, so it's useful to be aware of exotic fighting moves.) She's also the emotional heart of the series. She's selfless, she keeps her head in a crisis and she never stops caring. Other people go through more hell than her (e.g. Yato and his shinki), but she's the one who can make the show heartwarming.
It's quite an elegant show. The opening title sequence is cool, while the art style is refined enough that shots that could have been played for fanservice don't come across that way. However it can be funny, e.g. Yato's squabbling in ep.3 with a shinki who dumped him for being a loser. (It's hard to disagree.) Yato is also goofy a lot of the time, being rude, full of himself and chasing his dream of becoming the object of a major world religion. That's never happening.
Overall, I thought this show was good without regarding it as a favourite. Most of its characters are far from cuddly and its universe that can come across as cold and distant. Its storyline isn't high-octane either, although it has its moments. However it's quite good and I love Hiyomi. I'll be watching season two when it starts in October, if that helps.