Review: Noragami Aragoto

[Synopsis]: Noragami Aragoto picks up right where Noragami’s first season left off and continues to follow the story of the shrineless god Yato (Kamiya, Hiroshi), his sacred regalia Yukine (Kaji, Yuki), and their human friend Hiyori (Uchida, Maaya). The renowned god of war and fortune Bishamon (Sawashiro, Miyuki), who bares an immense hatred for Yato due to the events of decades past, has once again begun suffering due to her shinki as a result of a scheme that aims to set the two gods against one another.

[Characters]:

Noragami Aragoto’s comprised almost entirely of familiar faces from the first season however introduces a handful of new characters, some of greater consequence than others such as Ebisu in the second arc. While maintaining a similar cast to the first season of the show might seem like a stale move on the part of the show it actually gives Aragoto a chance to make amends for one of the shortcomings of its precursor and flesh out and better define the characters we already know at a surface-level. The question then becomes, did it succeed?

The answer is highly dynamic in part to how this season handles its main cast and obviously some characters make out better than others however overall I would say that Aragoto does a good job in most cases improving upon what was established in the first season. Though the main trioof characters still serve as the central focuses of the show, a great deal more attention is attributed to Bishamon and Kazuma especially in the first arc of this season and their characterization and stories I think were integral to the show’s success in this area. This season does a great job of transforming Bishamon from a footnote character in the first installment into someone quite compelling this time around.

Though integral to the premise of the show and undoubtedly the most notable protagonist, Yato troubled me for most of the season. His personality is one of the few things in the show that did not show a marked improvement over the first season from the beginning of Aragoto. Best characterized by his childish, prankster nature and his deadly seriousness when things turn dire Yato offers very little beyond those simple elements and lacked the contextual backstory for the desires he expresses throughout the series. This lack of context includes his past with Nora which remains mysterious for the greater part of the season but not to any real gratification – the mystery, rather than being a compelling reason to want to know more about the character, served instead as a barrier that disallowed the viewer from knowing more in the first place. Luckily, though I think it may have arrived too late in the season, Yato does receive some context for his personality and more importantly, exhibits rather legitimate development in the latter half of the show – something that really pushes the premise of the story which is something that I don’t think has been seen anywhere else in Noragami. Yato has a small handful of genuine scenes which initially suffer falter a bit when juxtaposed to his usual behavior and actions however are more well-founded retrospectively once the Aragoto gets around to better establishing who he is and why he wants what he does.

To then speak briefly of Yukine and Hiyori who I felt were less consequential this season than Yato or even Bishamon and Kazuma – Yukine remains much the same as he was at the end of the first season. Having completed his makeshift character arc, his personality doesn’t require a great deal of changing and instead his characterization throughout Aragoto is mostly founded in him finding conviction for what he believes in and coming to understand his place in the world instead of something more developmental. I think Yukine is done much better this time around than the past season though failed to excite me like perhaps only Bishamon did. Hiyori, like Yukine, changes very little from the character we were introduced to in the first season and is mostly designated as a McGuffin and a gag character. Due to her character’s innate ‘humanness’ in contrast to the rest of the cast, she remains extraordinarily bland and mundane in order to emphasize this difference however this obviously does nothing for her actual personality. She primarily served as a remind to Yato of his attachment to his friends and aspirations and doesn’t accomplish much beyond this role.

[Art/Animation]:

One of the major shortcomings of Noragami which it carries over into Aragoto is is the complete lack of exciting fight sequences. When an action scene transpires it is often short-lived and doesn’t offer much in the way of animation to boot. The only real improvement in this area of the show is that the action scenes are slightly more frequent and now involve more interesting enemies than the ayakashi of the first season.

Beyond the action sequences the presentation of the show leaves a lot to be desired; excluding perhaps some of the Aragoto’s environments, almost everything felt aesthetically uninteresting. The character designs were pretty consistent though I can scarcely remember more than one or two particularly nice key frames that tied together the otherwise bland visuals. The gag faces of the first season are still around and continue to be the strong suit of the comical elements of the show and the absence of the first season’s random fan-service elements was a much appreciated improvement as I felt that they only detracted from the show when they showed up. Though its a minor detail, it was nice to see slightly more dynamic outfitting and attire this season – Bishamon in particular benefited from this change in wardrobe approach and it helped give a bit of life to the characters beyond their original design template.

[Story]:

While the show fails to excite aesthetically and sports both wins and losses in the character department, Noragami Aragoto’s strengths stem largely from its two story arcs. The first episode is a bit slow and doesn’t’ establish anything terribly new however it does well in conditioning us once again to the atmosphere and world of Noragami and lets the viewer know that things are as they were at the end of the first season. From there on out the first several episodes sow the seeds for a good mystery story and provide a great setup for the first arc of the show. The scheme at play is pretty interesting in regards to the world of Noragami and quickly builds into some decent dramatic moments through a far more coherent progression of the plot than the less cohesive narrative of the last season.

The second arc of the story slumps for a short while as the action dies down for a time after the climax of the first story however things pick up once again before the end and while I didn’t find the storytelling to be as strong as the first arc of the show, it introduced one of the more compelling characters of Noragami and provided Yato with his direly needed contextual information and development. The end of the show trails off a bit after arriving at the conclusion of the second story however what keeps me interested in future installments into the series is not the manner in which Aragoto ends nor its post-credits cliffhanger scene but rather what the second arc does for Yato as a character – possibly transforming his goals and desires into something more tangible and I would like to see how the show pursues this in the future though, given how Noragami has behaved thus far, I doubt it is the kind of show that would do so so forwardly.

Something that I think Aragoto brings to the table that did wonders for the show was providing greater context surrounding the lot of the gods and their instruments. Thematically we can start to see the shape of what Noragami has become and where its interests lie within the world that it is building.

[Music]:

Though I’ve already said my part concerning the visuals of the show, I have to say that the soundtrack is what stuck out the least to me. The music was highly reminiscent of the first season and in certain cases featured the same familiar songs which is good news for those that enjoyed the original soundtrack. There wasn’t a whole lot of diversity in the soundtrack’s usage and outside of the Yato’s ritual sword-wielding sequence the soundtrack wasn’t all that memorable for me.

[Final Thoughts and Rating]: 

I think from possibly the second episode on it becomes quite clear that Noragami Aragoto was going to outperform its predecessor and it followed through quite well especially in respect to its narrative. Though the characters don’t all receive the attention they might deserve given their screen time or role in the story, I think it is indisputable that Aragoto took what was established beforehand and ran with it well – both improving upon what we knew and adding new compelling details and characters. Looking at the story of Noragami as a whole, it almost feels as if the first installment into the series was a long-winded preface for the events that take place in Aragoto and moving forward.

Rating: 7

I gave Noragami Aragoto a 7 because of its back-to-back compelling story arcs which focused on two of the most interesting characters from the show – Bishamon and Ebisu. Though I found the visuals unexciting, the same cannot be said for the narrative elements of the show which I found quite entertaining and to which I would chiefly attribute the reason for Aragoto succeeding where its precursor installment fell short.

[Recommendations

Due to the nature of Noragami Aragoto’s strengths I feel most comfortable recommending the show to those interested in the show’s subject matter of gods, holy weapons, and phantom spirits rather than its genre elements which individually aren’t all that strong. Those that enjoy those things would do well to check out Noragami as it busies itself frequently enough with those things for it to be enjoyable for those reasons. Anyone who enjoyed the first season of the show excessively should consider Aragoto a must-watch because of how it further improves upon the material of the first season and outperforms it on a myriad of levels.

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