How many of us have started a new book based on a friend’s recommendation, or even the recommendation of a stranger on the interwebs? Pretty much everyone, I’d wager. That’s where today’s topic for review comes from, as you can tell by this slick transition. Adachitoka’s Noragami has been on my radar ever since I saw a gif set on tumblr. I was hit with the age-old dilemma of whether I should read the manga or watch the anime first, and in the end I decided to start reading the manga. So for today, I bring you a review of Volume 1, which covers the first three chapters.
The first chapter of Noragmi was released in 2011, and the series is still ongoing. In fact, the latest chapter was released in early December. Our main story follows Hiyori Iki, a teenager who becomes entangled with Yato, a god of war. Hiyori jumps in front of a bus to save Yato (and thus ends up getting hit by said bus), and as a result gains the (initially unwanted) ability to separate her soul from her body. She asks Yato to help her return to normal, and this is the main thrust of the story on Hiyori’s end. For Yato, he is a lesser god trying to get people to remember him. He goes around Japan putting his phone number everywhere, and if you’re in need of help, his number appears before you. Give him a call, and for only 5 yen, he’ll grant your wish.
Does it seem odd that gods are able to walk the earth? I assume so. The story states that supernatural beings cannot be seen by regular humans; if you do see them (normally at the witching hour, when the veil between worlds is at its thinnest), you immediately forget about them. In addition to gods just chilling on our home turf – Tenjin and Bishamon make appearances – there are also Phantoms, which are spirits that feed off of a person’s bad energy. Phantoms will increase those feelings and basically corrupt the person, causing them to turn violent, suicidal, or anything else that leads to destruction. Gods like Yato use shinkis to destroy these Phantoms and restore balance. Shinkis are beings who were once human that can change into weapons. Yato’s shinki quits at the end of the first chapter, and he gains a new one, Yukine, in the third chapter.
Phew! So that’s the main information we learn in the first volume. So Volume 1 really sets up the story; the first chapter demonstrates Yato’s power and wants, the second illustrates Hiyori’s main characteristics (more on that below) and how she meets Yato, and the third introduces Yukine into the Hiyori-Yato dynamic.
Story-wise, this is very similar to Soul Eater, which first came in 2003 or 2004. Both series feature characters that use weapons that other characters turn into, and the successfulness of the weapon depends on the weapon-master relationship. Yato and the shinki we see him with in chapter one, for instance, have a strained relationship but the shinki does not allow that to affect her professional life, for lack of a better term. But she does end up quitting, mainly because Yato doesn’t takes small jobs and doesn’t provide the best life for his shinki.
The first time we meet Yato, he pops up in a girls’ bathroom to help out someone. Sounds like a promising guy, right? He’s probably the funniest character in the series because he’s the butt of a ton of jokes about how he’s a pervert, how he can’t get work, etc. The artwork seems to support this as well, since his features are often altered to match a comedic tone. I mean, the guy’s dream is to basically sit at the head of the country; that’s fairly zany. However, there’s also this air of…not sadness, but melancholy that surrounds Yato. As a lesser god, there are no shrines devoted to Yato; no one recognizes his name, and he’s so desperate to be remembered that he’s willing to do anything – find a lost kitten, clean a moldy bathroom – to have someone remember him. While it’s usually played off as comedic, we do get some quiet moments. And of course, we can’t forget that Yato is a god of calamity. His outward comedic attitude is at odds with what every other god knows him to be, and as a reader, I cannot wait to see him show that side. I imagine Hiyori will be his berserker button, and while I don’t want her to get severely hurt, I do want *something* to happen that will make Yato lose his head. Also, as a reader, I want to know what happened that made Yato calm down; he’s not running around causing disasters, so why it that?
You know how some characters are given a quirk that never really amounts to anything? Well, I’m happy to say that this does not occur with Hiyori. She’s a huge martial arts fan, enough that she views one of the fighters as her god and actually uses fighting moves she learned from watching to defend herself and others. It’s pretty sweet. Anywho, like I mentioned before, Hiyori meets Yato after she saves him from being hit by a bus. So right off the bat, we learn that Hiyori is incredibly selfless to the point that she puts others far above herself. However, this good deed leads to a HUGE problem: it’s not that she has the ability to separate her soul from her body, but that when she does so, she RANDOMLY FALLS ASLEEP. Let that sink in for a moment, dear readers; Hiyori will unwillingly fall asleep in fairly dangerous places – schools, stores, streets – and not even realize it. It astonishes me that she hasn’t truly died, or that a less than nice person hasn’t found her body and taken it back to some evil lair. Her falling asleep is almost always played for laughs, and I just cannot get behind that tone. This manga primarily has a comedic tone, but still! This is perilous stuff. Asides from that, Hiyori starts off as a rather well-developed character in the first volume. We meet her school friends and family, we learn what her parents’ jobs are and how well they relate to their daughter, we learn about Hiyori’s likes, and we see that she is fundamentally a good person. There’s no conflict in her life until Yato shows up, which has SO much promise because he’s a god of calamity and, I assume, will bring said calamity into her life. Oh, also, Hiyori also grows a tail. Well, it’s not a tail exactly; it’s more of her soul. It connects her to both the real world and the spirit world, and if it gets cut, she’ll die. Uh-oh…
Hmm. Well. Part of me says he’s this little ball of preciousness, and another part of me says he’s a little shiznit. We only meet him briefly in Volume 1, but we immediately learn that he’s rude and unwilling to take Yato’s crap. The latter is a good thing, because Yato can’t expect to be remembered if he only does odd jobs. The former, however, is not as positive; he takes Hiyori’s scarf and stands on Yato’s jacket. Rude! I’m willing to give him a pass though, because he’s a kid. And when I say “kid,” I mean a kid kid: he has to be something like ten years old. He’s obviously younger than Hiyori, who’s something like 13 or 14. Since we know that shinki are beings that were once human, does that mean that Yukine died when he was a kid? (cue my look of horror). I know this is terrible to say, but I hope so because that will add more tension to the story. Not only will Yukine have to deal with it (is he aware of the fact that he died?), but Yato and Hiyori will as well. He seems to be a foil to Hiyori’s goodness, which should add some more tension.
The artwork isn’t anything that’ll blow you away. It’s not particularly angled or rounded, nor is there much detail on clothes or backgrounds. It does excel on comedic moments thought, especially on characters’ faces when they’re deeply affected by rudeness. This could change as the series progresses, of course; the artwork for Saiyuki improved dramatically, for instance. So I hold out hope.
Even though I’m only one volume into this series, I’m already invested in the idea of remembering and forgetting. Look at the very name of the manga: nora means “stray,” and gami means “divinity/god.” This is a story literally about a “stray god,” or one who is both a god and yet not a god. Yato is a god of calamity, yet we don’t see traces of that at all. He must have been popular/believed in at one time in order to exist and still exist in the story’s timeframe, but gods go in and out of fashion so much that it’s impossible for them to all be remembered. So what exactly happened to make Yato not be remembered? And then you have the supernatural beings, including Yato and Yukine, who can’t be seen by regular humans; if they are, they’re dismissed just as quickly, almost like déjà vu (to steal a line from Men in Black). That has to be lonely. So why bother going on if no one is going to remember you, when your very existence is akin to the idea of forgetting?
As I alluded to earlier, there is indeed an anime adaptation. Surprisingly, there are only 12 episodes. I say this is surprising because the anime was released earlier this year (in January), and there were at least 8 collected manga volumes published in October 2013 when I imagine the series was being finalized. There must be a ton of plotlines that were cut, and I wonder if the series only covered maybe the first couple of volumes. But anyway, I plan on watching it after I finish reading. However, I will say that I think the anime will improve upon a few aspect of the manga. This may sound like an odd description, but the manga is very static; there’s no movement in the panels, meaning that scenes that focus on moving, like Hiyori’s martial arts or the Phantoms converging, feel rather disjointed.
Should you read it?
Yes. Even though the series doesn’t have my favorite elements – angled art, dark storylines – it still has the potential to tell a really good story. I’m interested in how the characters will explore the themes of remembrance and forgetting, and I think the story’s setting and use of the supernatural is an excellent choice to do this. Story-wise, I’m invested in seeing how Yato’s past will affect him, Hiyori, and Yukine. Hiyori is so good that I imagine her acting as an anchor, and based on Yukine’s brief rudeness, he seems primed to bring about the most conflict. Hiyori will likely act as a catalyst for both Yato and Yukine to change, which I’m ~okay~ with for now because she doesn’t feel one-dimensional.
On another note, thank you so much for reading the IGGPPC blog this year! Have a wonderful holiday, and I’ll see you all in 2015.