I’m a sucker for myth and fairy tales. Many can argue Jim Henson’s Storyteller is one of the greatest TV shows of all time because there’s something exciting about taking the everyday average world and instilling some magic into it, rendering even the boring aspects extraordinary. I quickly got that vibe after reading the first volume of Noragami Stray God which AiPT! will be reviewing each week leading up to the U.S. release of volume 7 in October. I haven’t seen the anime nor even heard about this series, but it’s already becoming one of my favorite manga.
Noragami: Stray God 1 (Kodansha Comics)
This volume consists of 200 or so pages and three chapters, which makes it more of a shorter introduction to the characters and the world. The main protagonist is named Yato and he’s a god. He’s actually one of the lowest and least recognized gods there is in Japan. To build up his credentials he does favors for those who need him at the cost of 5 yen. To call him you simply need to be in a certain state of mind and a certain amount of desperation to make him visible to you. This ability to see him is the foundation of the book’s premise.
Essentially, you have the living and the dead, but people don’t like thinking about death and this creates blind spots. Gods, demons, ghosts and everything supernatural are always around us hiding in plain sight and it only requires a push in the right direction for people to see them. Depression and anger are things the demons fuel in us and on the flip side positive feelings are angels and creatures who want us to do good. We’re completely unaware of them though, and assume it’s our own feelings when in fact we’re always being influenced. The first story opens with Yato being called by a girl who’s having suicidal thoughts due to bullying.
This first chapter does a great job introducing Yato and these rules of the supernatural world, and delivers a compelling done in one story about bullying in school. The girl he helps is very much trapped and can’t seem to get out of the funk the bullies put her in. Considering how huge a topic bullying is these days it’s a fantastic topic to cover straight out of the gate. Written and drawn by artist duo Adachitoka, you will quickly find yourself rooting for Yato as the story twists and turns and delivers a surprising conclusion. I won’t ruin it here, but it calls into question who is in fact the culprit of bullying and actually places some blame on the girl who called him. At the same time it’s revealed a giant monster is hanging over the school (literally) and making the students much more negative and inclined to bully. Basically you get a nice message and a complete mind-bending experience.
I think if I saw that I’d lose my mind.
Yato is a positive force and is a very likable character who wants to basically be famous and well known. Sure there’s some ego there, but who doesn’t want to be successful? This first chapter introduces him as a kind god and he ultimately does what’s best for the entire school.
You might think this bullied girl would continue on in the series, but she’s quickly forgotten as Yato moves on to more folks who need his help. Next up is a little boy who lost his kitten. This boy is used to introduce Hiyori Iki, a 9th grade student who for some unexplained reason can see Yato. This is an important detail since most adults can’t automatically see gods and her ability to see gets even more pronounced after she tries to save Yato from being hit by a bus. This changes her and she quickly realizes she can leave her body floating up and away, complete with a tail. It’s a wild idea and yet Yato finds her abilities none too peculiar. She wants him to help her and much of these chapters focus on her helping Yato acquire a spirit weapon which he lost earlier in this volume so he can help her.
Their dynamic is one that’ll most assuredly bloom into a romantic relationship, but at this stage they simply find each other obnoxious. By the end of the volume a new character is introduced: a young boy named Yukine, who is quite mysterious. While these three characters get a basic introduction – less so for Yukine since he is introduced at the very end – Adachitoka is clearly gearing up for an intriguing and entertaining character dynamic between these characters. All three characters have very distinct and fleshed out personalities which makes the character development fun to read.
Meanwhile, this first volume barely scratches the surface when it comes to the magical elements, but in a good way. When Hiyori Iki begins to see spirits everywhere it gets pretty surreal and I was getting some Labyrinth vibes. Think of the scene in that movie with the creatures in the closet and you’ll know what I mean. Adachitoka shows off more negative demons than positive, and boy are they creepy. They pop up everywhere, come in all shapes and sizes and seem to have different ways of moving about the world. I can’t wait to read the following volumes to see more.
Though the book is heavy on the character dynamics and dialogue there are three major action sequences that are fantastic. One has Yato facing the monster that’s making kids bully each other, which is some kind of giant octopus thing with long tentacle-like arms covered in eyeballs. Midway through the book, Yato is attacked by a giant frog like creature and then later a spider-like eyeball thing goes after him. These scenes are very well constructed with great layouts and well choreographed fights.
Speaking of the fights, the art is fantastic with plenty of detail given to backgrounds and the creatures Yato must face. The pages never repeat as far as layouts are concerned with many interesting storytelling elements thrown in too. Take for instance an extreme closeup of a yen, which sparkles, but then gets an added jingle sound effect to emphasize its importance. A pitiful amount of money but to Yato a great boon and the art goes a long way in hammering home that point. Yato’s expressions are quite nice too, with plenty of attitude used when needed and lots of storytelling going on in the facial expressions.
This volume also ends with a bonus translation notes section that I found fascinating. It seems translations are finicky things and aren’t always so easy to do. This section goes into great detail about dialogue choices that could have gone another way if interpreted more literally or in a different way. There are also some interesting explanations as far as cultural things Americans may not understand without living in Japan. Take for instance a note for a scene where the bullied girl speaks in the third person. This is apparently something you can easily do when speaking Japanese and actually something girls sometimes do to sound cute and childlike—a fact I’d have not realized if not for these notes. Interesting stuff.
Hiyori Iki’s tail is actually her “life line.”
This is without a doubt my favorite manga right now. The characters are interesting, their dynamics compelling and the world and its premise slips its fairy tale sensibilities perfectly into the real world. If you liked The Labyrinth you’ll love this.