What They Say:
Minor god Yato is down on his luck. Fed up with his slacker lifestyle, his partner abruptly quits. He has no money, no worshippers, and no shrine to call home. But just when things are starting to seem hopeless, a bus accident forces him to cross paths with Hiyori Iki, a sweet and perky high school girl. After the accident, Hiyori’s soul has a bad habit of slipping out of her body, and after enlisting Yato’s help to get her back to normal, she begins to fall into the world of spirits and gods. But Hiyori’s not the only one who’s keeping tabs on Yato. A god from Yato’s past is back, and he’s not interested in a friendly reunion.
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo as well as the new English language adaptation in 5.1, both of which are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The series is one that works a very good balance between dialogue and action so that each is well served and the action gets a good presence in just about every episode – and not just for a brief couple of seconds. Those areas have some really good movement to them across the forward soundstage with it as the characters flit about and the monsters have their own particular impact. There’s not a lot of bass in some of the scenes but it’s well represented overall. Dialogue works in a similar form where it has some solid placement and good uses throughout with the supernatural aspects. It’s mostly straightforward in general but it flows well throughout and some of the moments of depth provides for the right impact where needed. Both language tracks are clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2014, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episode series is spread across two discs with nine on the first and three on the second. Animated by Bones, the series has a very strong look to it with some great detail and fluid animation that brings it to life. With a real world setting for most of it, we get to move through the familiar of school rooms, modern homes as well as a few temples along the way as well. But we also get plenty of exterior locations where events take place and it comes across as pretty fully realized, making for the character animation to feel like it’s well placed within it. Colors are a bit more earthen in tone here, though there are some moments of great pop and vibrancy, and it adds to the overall atmosphere of the show and its supernatural elements. Detail is strong throughout and it has a good clean look about it all.
The packaging design for this limited edition release brings us a heavy chipboard box that holds the two Blu-ray cases inside. The main box panel is a good one with our core trio together sitting along the edge of the roof as the look out at the viewer. What sells it even more is the contrast of them and their color with the cloudy sky behind them which is over the low run of the city itself. The result is a moody piece that really works well thanks to the combination of artwork and color design. The back panel goes for a black and gold design for the background while placing the core trio here again as well, with Yato in action mode and the other two alongside him, where Hiyori naturally has to provide a little skin fanservice.
Within the box we get the two Blu-ray cases where one holds those discs and the other the DVDs. The design is appealing as it works off of the Japanese release aesthetic with the white backgrounds and colorful character artwork. The Blu-ray case has Kofuku and her Regalia while the DVD case has Yato and Hiyori together. The back covers go for a soft green approach with a breakdown of the episodes by number and title across their respective discs as well as what extras are included and where. The covers all also have artwork on the reverse side that follows the same overall design with Bishamon taking one of them and Yato and Yukine taking the other. No show related inserts are included with this release.
The menu design for this release is certainly familiar enough but it has some simply but nice design elements to the navigation strip itself. That’s done in in a darker shade of gray to it with the selections in white while the end of it has the sea green to ti with the volume number attached to it. The strip runs the length of the screen and has a good kind of weight to it. It’s a minor touch, but one that just clicks well for me. The rest of the menu is given over to the clips from the show itself and it works a good range of sequences in short form with character panning moments and some action bits. Overall it’s a solid menu in terms of functionality and it has a good strip to it as well, but I keep hoping for something more creative and thematic to be put into play with their menus sometimes.
The extras for this release are fairly straightforward as we get the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences. For English language fans, two commentary tracks are included as well for episodes six and nine with the cast talking about the show and their characters. Also included and very fun to watch is that the fourth episode gets a video commentary, which is good silly fun with those involved.
Based on the manga by Adachitoka, Noragami is a twelve episode series animated by studio Bones that ran in the winter 2014 season. The show is one that did well enough that a second season is coming and fans of it definitely have reason to be enthused. THe manga is currently ongoing with thirteen volumes released so far, which is being released by Kodansha Comics, and that means some good material to work with in the adaptation. Supernatural based shows are fairly common but even a familiar series can really excel with a strong sense of execution. Noragami may seem familiar at first but it does a solid job of carving out its own identity and running with it – which definitely leaves you wanting more at the end of the season.
Though it’s easy to view the series through the lens of Yato, a god of calamity and war from ages ago, it really is best to view it through Hiyori’s eyes. Hiyori is your average teenager that’s going through her life with some good friends, family that we hear of but see little of, and generally enjoying life. Hiyori’s a bit different though, not that she realized it, Where her life changes is when she sees a young man walking down the street calling out for “Milord,” which is certainly strange enough in itself. But when she sees him walking into the street chasing after a cat, she goes to push him out of the way, saving his life. What this ends up unlocking is part of her nature in that she’s able to see between the two main worlds, that of the living and that of the dead, or the Far Shore. Hiyori’s able to separate from her physical body, with a tail that anchors her to it, and it’s through here that she’s exposed to a larger world. One where she becomes a bit of the catalyst and glue for a group that slowly forms.
With the young man Yato, what we discover is that he’s something far more, but not quite what one would expect. Being a god of calamity that’s been involved in a lot of death and destruction over the centuries, he’s turned a bit of a new leaf in the present day to be a bit of a jack of all trades problem solver, doing various deeds for a five yen payment. Hence things like finding the cat, cleaning places and other sorts of odd jobs. Yato’s using this in order to build up a new level of believer in order to sustain himself as most of the gods, in familiar fashion, have lost a lot of influence as the modern world has become more connected. Some gods are able to hold their own as they were sizable to begin with, but others like Yato really have to struggle more in order to make it. His struggle is one that he mostly does with a smile or grin, a little joke and some happiness. In a way, it’s better for him because it’s not filled with the bloodshed and chaos of the past, even if it is harder, because it’s more rewarding. Not that some gods and those involved in this in between aspect agree with him on that for a range of reasons.
Within this framework, we get Hiyori learning more of this world at various times – while her body sleeps somewhere – and it proves to be mildly intoxicating for her because she’s so free there and there’s a lot to see. We do get plenty of familiar elements to stories of this nature with gods in human form and interacting with special people, so there’s not a lot in the way of real surprises. What she ends up providing along the way is also familiar, but worthwhile. With Yato having largely been alone for many years while his influence waned, the requests dropped and he had little going on, she provides a bit of life and activity during his attempted upswing period. He’s warned by others to get rid of her and move on because of the potential danger she represents, but there’s an honest and earnest side, one that never goes cloying or too far, that makes her interesting as the real glue of the series.
While the show starts with these two, we do get some changes along the way. Yato has to do battle with all sorts of Phantom’s that populate the world and cause trouble, which usually come through random Vents that open up to allow access. To do this, he uses his Regalia as weapons, which are people who have mostly passed on but haven’t made it all the way. He and other gods are able to transform them into weapons but also end up being bonded to them. His lifestyle keeps him from holding onto Regalia for long and it doesn’t help that he has a reputation from centuries past where he’d use them to their destruction to accomplish his goals. In fact, the series opens with one such Regalia in the present that quits working for him because of how poor and difficult he is to work with. So as Hiyori enters the picture, so does Yukine, a middle school student younger than Hiyori who died and was basically a little puffball floating around in the darkness until Yato forged him.
Yukine’s story is one that’s certainly interesting and it dominates a good chunk of the show in this season as he and Yato have to find a balance to work with each other. Yukine’s pretty much a difficult child in many ways and with him having died not having friends and being somewhat of an outcast, that causes a rift between him and Yato as well. Hiyori proves to be his friend, though it’s a long journey as well as she’s almost parental at first to get him to stop doing things he shouldn’t as a Regalia in the human world. With the bond he shares with Yato, it’s a slow build but seeing the impact they have on each other, and how Yato suffers in order to get Yukine to realize his worth, is definitely a strong arc overall. Yukine’s a hard one to take because of the selfish and childish aspects early on, but it’s key for who he is when he died and the difficulties thereafter.
Naturally there’s a lot of characters thrown into the mix over the course of it to flesh things out, especially on the supernatural side. This works well for the most part as we get other gods and a few Regalia thrown in, and also the title character of Nora, which is a complicated subplot that only becomes a focus towards the end, and even then minimally as this season really isn’t about her. There’s a great bit with the final arc with another calamity god that’s longing for the old days and wants to fight it out and that provides some solid closure for the season. The subplot that I liked the most though is the one involving Bishamon, another god that spends her time with a whole lot of Regalia going about dealing with Phantoms and other errant things. She has no love at all for Yato and is looking forward to ending him, making for a complicated relationship along the way. There’s a lot of those in this series in a sense, as they’re standard relationship problems but with the number and scope of them, it weaves in and out in really engaging ways.
What helps to sell all of this is that animation studio Bones has made this a fully realized world in so many ways. There’s a weight to it all as it plays in the real world for pretty much all of it but knows how to bring in the supernatural in an effective way. With strong background design and some solid choreography in the action sequences, it elevates the material just a bit more. The show itself is strong as the characters are engaging, funny and layered properly, but by giving it such a polished presentation they’re able to really pull it all together in a stronger way. The result is that we get a very slick and smooth series with its visual design but also one that’s backed up by a strong central cast of characters that’s kept small while touching upon many others in order to make it feel like it’s part of a bigger world from the get go.
Noragami was an unknown to me going into it other than it did well enough for a second season to be coming, so I went into it pretty fresh all told. There’s the obvious air of familiarity about it, but Noragami stakes out its claim well with what it wants to do and be while also making it clear that what we’re getting is a first chapter of a larger story. And what helps is that while we know it’s incomplete as the manga is ongoing at this point is that there’s a sense of closure to events here so that it’s not dragged out or just made to feel empty at the end. It leaves you wanting more to be sure, but if this was all there was it’d still be very easy to recommend. It’s an appealing show that knows how to work its magic well and the overall presentation is certainly a strong one that will make fans of it happy and likely make new fans out of more people that end up checking it out here first.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Episode Commentary (6, 9), Textless Opening and Closing
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: A-
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: July 7th, 2015
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.