I’ve opted to spend the first part of this final post providing a specifics-free review and the second part discussing the episode itself. I’ll be sure to let any newcomers know when to close the window to avoid spoilers, so feel free to click that link and read on for more.
It’s always tricky to write a review for a sequel because I’m never quite sure who my audience is. People who watched Season One but haven’t yet picked up Season Two? Or people who haven’t seen the show at all? In the interest of being newbie-friendly I’ll avoid giving away any major Season One plot points, but I’m also going to focus my commentary only on Aragoto, and how it built upon and improved the material that came before it.
And boy, did it ever. I’m tempted to copy/paste my mid-season review here because it continues to hold true: Aragoto is pretty much the perfect sequel. It takes all the good stuff from season one and improves upon it, expanding the Shinto/Buddhist mythology and overarching story, developing its core cast while also introducing new, unique characters, and maintaining its sense of style and effortless cool. Simply put, if you liked Season One even a little, you’ll want to watch this, because it only gets better.
Noragami is labeled a shounen/supernatural action series, and if that’s what you’re looking for then this adaptation won’t disappoint. BONES studio does stylish action better than just about anyone, combining music and motion and striking design/color schemes in a way that’s never boring and often downright thrilling. The battles are fast and frenetic, the paranormal elements suitably eerie, and the fights well-paced and well-placed, making sense in the context of the story (well, with one small exception) and serving to forward plot and characters alike.
Yet while some shounen titles are all flash and no depth, take away the big action pieces and Noragami not only remains a compelling series, but often shines its brightest. This is a thoughtfully constructed, character-driven narrative, where conflicts develop organically out of individual histories, personalities, and motivations. The first half of this season is about as gracefully woven a story as you’ll see, and while the second half struggles at times with quick pacing and poorly explained causality, it never loses sight of the people (and gods) who form its emotional core.
Noragami balances humor with tension with tragedy to follow a simple yet difficult formula: Give the audience characters they can care about, put them in challenging situations, and then have the audience care about them. It accomplishes this through big, dramatic moments but especially through small, understated ones, showing how little acts of kindness can have a profound effect on people and how building tight-knit bonds is as much about spending a lazy afternoon together as it is surviving an angry warrior god. These are people you can root for and cry about, and that connection gives both the physical and emotional conflicts a real weight.
Yet for all that, perhaps what surprised and delighted me most about Aragoto wasn’t its tight plot or ridiculously likable characters and dynamic interpersonal relationships, but the way it proved itself capable of dealing with some powerful ideas and issues. What was in Season One a fun romp that rode the line between comedy and drama turned into a poignant, insightful story about self-worth and trust. To say that Noragami at times reminded me of Utena in the way it used its flawed, layered characters to address ideas both cosmic (the relationship between gods and humans) and intimate (breaking free of toxic relationships) is a big, big compliment in my book, and one the show’s strongest moments fought hard to earn.
Aragoto ends on an emotionally satisfying note that wraps up a lot of ongoing threads both large- and small-scale, but if post-credits teasers are any indication, BONES has every intention of continuing their adaptation with a third season at some point. With characters this enjoyable and story arcs this moving, there’s no question I’ll be back for more.
Series Grade: A-
Okay, we’re entering finale commentary territory, so all you newcomers skedaddle. Fellow Noragroupies can scroll past Bishamon contemplating deicide for the week’s recap ‘n’ analysis.
As if to remind us what Noragami is really all about, Aragoto spends its last episode focusing on personal interactions and character beats rather than any grand battles, continuing its season-long trend of developing Yato, strengthening his relationship with his new family, and showing how even the briefest encounters can have a powerful effect on a person (or deity, as the case may be).
The narrative jumps around a bit this week, a decision that helps to build mystery and suspense in a relatively quiet episode, as we first see a very dapper Yato leading the reincarnated Ebisu to the Olive Tavern. It’s a scene filled with a combination of hope and tragedy that will characterize all of the interactions between these two, and the script wisely keeps the dialogue to a minimum and lets the moment speak for itself.
We’ll spend the rest of the first half of this one bouncing around in the timeline, filling in the blanks while Li’l Ebisu enjoys his “first” meal at the Olive Tavern. While it’s easy enough to draw a causal line between last week’s finale and this week’s opening scene (“I fought the law and the law won,” in essence), it’s important that we do get those small scenes between the other Lucky Gods finding out about Ebisu’s attempts and the missing Locution Brush—and even more important that we see Ebisu’s final moments with Yato, as painful as they may be.
Better than most shows, Noragami understands the nuance and variety of interpersonal relationships. Sometimes we spend a lot of time with people and they affect us gradually, as Yato, Yukine, and Hiyori have done to one another. Other times we spend comparatively little time with someone, but something about them—a single action, a casual comment, even a brief fight—can have a sudden and lasting effect on us. Yato and Ebisu spent less than a day with each other, and yet their contrasting histories and philosophies left a deep mark on the other, leaving them fundamentally changed from the encounter.
Ebisu’s story is a tragic one: He comes to value his life only to lose it, and his final, tearful admission—”I don’t want to die”—is a gut-punch of a way to end Act One. Yet for all that, Noragami finds a way to inject this conclusion with hope. Ebisu’s new incarnation may not have his memories, but his core personality endures, and he’s able to enjoy the Olive Tavern with the same passion as his past self. That Yato immediately gives Ebisu this personal, even self-centered memory suggests that our newly incarnated god may be able to find that same sense of self and value in his existence that his previous incarnation finally did.
On the other side of this encounter, Yato takes that spontaneous burst of self-motivated altruism from the underworld and decides to make it a lasting part of himself. Rather than obey Father’s orders and kill because “it’s the only thing I’m good at,” Yato decides to step off that path and be his own person. Yato and Ebisu come to value different lives (Yato with others and Ebisu his own), but they’re rooted in the same action: Breaking free of others’ expectations and becoming one’s own person.
Noragami understands that there’s a fine line between selflessness and a lack of self-worth, and pushes its characters towards kindness and empathy while still fighting for their individual wants and needs. It’s a delicate balance, but the series pulls it off with aplomb, and this finale is the feather in that thematic cap.
With the support of Yukine and Hiyori beside him and the memory of Ebisu pushing him forward, Yato is finally able to cut ties with his old life. He meets Nora/Hiiro (who snuck out of the underworld once Izanami lifted the barriers, presumably) with Yukine at his side and explains to her that he’s ready to change even if she isn’t. She “never changes,” but just keeps smiling at the havoc they wreak, something Yato can’t do anymore. And so he releases her.
It’s the first time we’ve ever seen genuine shock and hurt on her face, and the rapid-fire blast of centuries-long memories of their time together shows that, at the very least, Nora did genuinely care for Yato. I sympathize with her to an extent, as Father likely put her through the same emotional manipulation and abuse he did Yato, and her detachment and lack of empathy are pretty clear responses to that upbringing.
Even so, she turned those same methods on Yato, gaslighting him at every opportunity and doing everything she could to shred the supportive, healthy bonds he’d built with those around him. Their relationship was toxic and destructive for Yato, and as much as Nora needs help, it is absolutely not the abused person’s job to give it to her. Yato was right to break ties with her, and while Noragami does an excellent job of making Nora more than just a two-dimensional monster, the series also knows that this is a moment of triumph for our protagonist. I cheered for him, and I hope you all did, too.
As important as it is for Yato to break ties with his past, it’s equally vital that he strengthen his current relationships, and that means trusting those around him to accept him, past crimes and all. He’s finally able to come clean with Yukine about the work he’s done moonlighting as an assassin, and to ask for something that our proud delivery god never has before: Help in becoming the god he wants to be.
So Yukine offers him a new path. If “slaying” is the only thing Yato knows how to do, then he can use those skills to “slay disaster” before it strikes, bringing happiness to the Near Shore by defending it from the dangers of the Far Shore. Yato’s confidence wavers, so his human friend and worshiper provides him with a boost of belief and prayer to help him along his way. Yato and Yukine chose each other, Hiyori says, and that agency grants them a strength Yato never had when he was passively going along with Father and Nora’s orders. Our delivery god is at last ready to shed the name “Yaboku” and become the Yato god.
And that would be a mighty fine place to end a season—even a series—but BONES seems pretty confident they’ll be adapting more of this sucker sometime in the future, given Dat Post-Credits Ending Scene Tho. You did stick around through the credits, right? ‘Cause there’s a certain bland nice-guy who’s got a fancy-pants Phantom-summoning brush and an even bigger secret to unveil…
It might be a while based on how much manga Adachitoka has out so far, but an eventual season three looks pretty likely from where I’m standing. Better send a wish and a five-yen coin to the delivery god, though, just to be safe.
This, That, and the Other
- “Big Brother Kazuma’s paying the bill today!” He may have found a new family and purpose, but he’s still Yato, all right.
- Gods die like True Blood vampires, and it is just as gross here as it was there.
- I spent most of that post-credits scene shouting “WHAAAAT” and then laughing hysterically. I was never quite sure if I could trust that kid, but MAN, I sure didn’t see that one coming. Slow-caps all around, Noragami.
- Some of Nora/Mizuchi’s (as Father calls her) comments suggest that he’s a fairly big deal among the gods and was able to pull a few strings to get Ebisu’s capital punishment pushed through so quickly. I’d have to go back and listen to the voices, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if one of those faceless arbiters shared an actor with Mr. Fujisaki.
Thanks as always to Anime Evo for giving me the opportunity to chat about an awesome series, and thanks to all you readers for your thoughts, theories, and feels! Have a great holiday season, and I hope to hear from you all again in 2016 as well!
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