Noragami: Some unsettling implications

xanalysisx

(Warnings: Spoilers for the anime. Highly subjective opinions.)

(Trigger warnings: Suicide, bullying, corporal punishment)

Noragami didn’t work out for me. Finishing the entirety of the first season was a tiresome and at times painful chore. But plot-wise and character-wise, Noragami is pretty tolerable. If I were to consider only those factors – well it still wouldn’t be an anime I actually like but neither would I hate it. What pushed me from indifference to dislike was not the story itself but rather the tactless manner in which it addresses some issues like suicide, bullying, self-harm and corporal punishment. On its own, each of these would be unpleasant but more or less negligible. Most of these have little impact on the overall plot. But when taken together, they are much harder to ignore and effectively ruins the entire anime, at least for me. One salient feature of media is how it’s open to the consumers’ interpretation and let’s just say that my interpretation of Noragami leaves me pretty pissed off.

There are two instances in Noragami where Yato is involved with humans attempting suicide, one in episode 3 and the other in episode 4. The former case is treated seriously and the latter humorously. And both are done in a way that is deeply flawed and downright offensive. Yato’s attitude towards suicide is this: “If someone wants to die, I say let them.” Now that’s an attitude I can understand. My personal belief that if someone wants to end their lives, then that’s a choice that should be respected. I know that most wouldn’t agree with me. But that aside, my problem with Noragami is not Yato’s words but the reasoning behind them. He is contemptuous towards suicidal people because he compares them with the Shinki/Regalia, i.e, spirits like Yukine who died even though they wanted to live. The implication here seems to be that because there are people whose lives were robbed from them despite their will to live, those who voluntarily throw away their lives are somehow lesser. And that makes me furious. No one just wakes up one day and thinks, “Oh hey let’s die today, it sounds fun.” People driven to the brink of suicide usually have their reasons, their problems and these problems are not always fixable. Depression and suicidal tendencies won’t go away if people just appreciate the value of life. It’s never that simple. I’m not saying that life isn’t precious or not worth the struggles; it is, sometimes. Sometimes, it isn’t. It’s all a matter of perspective and individual experiences. And the way Noragami seems to treat this matter from a moral high ground does not sit right with me.

issues-2

Then in episode 8, towards the culmination of Yukine’s arc, a boy in Hiyori’s school contacts Yato because he’s being bullied. And Yato’s brilliant solution is to give the boy a couple of pocket knives. Give the scared, traumatized boy a weapon and let him go confront his tormentor. There’s no way that can end badly. Of course, in the show, it doesn’t end badly. The boy, Manabu, almost hurts his bully but wills away the phantom influencing him so that he can preserve his humanity. The bully pisses himself and runs off and Yato concludes that everything is resolved. Except it isn’t. First of all, let’s look at Yato’s approach to the problem; he arms Manabu and sends him off to participate in something that is clearly a test. I have no idea what Yato was smoking when he decided this was a good idea. Manabu is clearly frightened and desperate in the aftermath of what seems to be frequent bullying; desperate enough that he called the number of a random guy claiming to be a god for help. Sending him to off to challenge his bully in a pocket knife duel is the most idiotic thing to do because there is a very high chance that Manabu might snap and stab the guy. After what he’s shown to have endured, it’s a reasonable enough response. But while I can write that off as Yato’s idiocy (I don’t imagine war gods would make good counselors), the way the show treats this as a legit solution is nothing short of ridiculous. So yes, the bully wets his pants and runs away in terror – next day, he might come back with his posse and hurt Manabu again. Or he might just tell the other students that this crazy boy threatened him with a knife. There are so many ways it could go wrong and yet it’s implied that everything’s fine and dandy. Manabu didn’t give in to the phantom and act violently so everything is fine. Violence is bad, I get it. I agree. But Noragami seems fond of using an oversimplified, black and white approach that once again trivializes the experiences of the people who actually have to go through this shit.

issues-1

The icing on this messed up cake comes in episode 9, the one where Yukine is ‘corrected’ via the supernatural version of a beating. They’re not even subtle – Kofuku outright calls it a beating. Three other Shinki trap Yukine in an obviously painful barrier and demands that he repents for his sins. It’s essentially torture. What bothers me isn’t the violence of the scene but rather how it’s portrayed as a valid, effective method to punish and reform Yukine. Sure, Yukine is pretty unsympathetic throughout the whole thing so it’s hard to feel bad for him, and I didn’t, but I do have a problem with the very obvious parallel to corporal punishment, particularly how it’s shown to be a successful solution. Yukine is perfectly fine after the ordeal; he’s still bratty to Yato but his penchant for theft and perverted thoughts are nowhere to be seen. How nice. Do I even need to say why this bothers me? This sort of discipline is a shitty thing to inflict on anyone, not to mention that it’s likely to be ineffective or downright harmful in the long run. Noragami does not even try to address this aspect nor does it focus on how utterly ineffective both Yato and Hiyori were at helping Yukine before the situation deteriorated so much. Part of the blame for it lies with them but instead all of it is heaped on Yukine. But hey, a lot of pain and a power of friendship speech fixed everything so why bother with it anymore, right? How about fuck no.

issues-3

I don’t know whether these problematic portrayals are intentional on Noragami’s part. I don’t know whether I’m reading too much into what the creators intended to be silly comic relief and melodrama. May I am, maybe I’m not. But the fact remains that none of the aforementioned implications are anywhere near subtle so I believe I’m justified in reacting against it. It’s good for anime to address relevant social problems. But it’d be great if it could do so respectfully, without coming off like a heavy-handed sermon.

Advertisements

About D

Just another avid anime fan.
This entry was posted in Anime, Noragami and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Noragami: Some unsettling implications

  1. heyitszel says:

    I want to read this! But I haven’t seen the anime yet; and if there are spoilers I will have to re-visit this post! I really was intrigued by the title and the first few sentences though! T-T

    Liked by 1 person

    • D says:

      It’s spoilery as all hell so yeah it’d be best to read it afterwards. I’m actually a little worried about this post since -as the trigger warnings indicate- it’s kinda heavy.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Rachael says:

    I think you make excellent points! These are definitely sensitive topics and I do agree that Noragami doesn’t treat them with sensitivity. I didn’t perceive Yukine’s punishment that way but reading this post I understand why you did. I didn’t think of it as a Dad beating his son with a belt because he was doing the wrong thing. I saw it as a purification. Painful definitely but making those mistakes corrupted him inside and purification was necessary to get rid of it. He would have become one of those creatures if they didn’t. Tough love definitely but I didn’t really equate it with being supportive of corporal punishment. The whole thing with Manabu was super awkward for all the reasons. I didn’t perceive this though as an espousal of beliefs. I saw it as flawed writing. The writer decided to resolve this plot point that way. It was a problem and solution that wasn’t really given enough time to be fully fleshed out.

    Liked by 2 people

    • D says:

      Corporal punishment doesn’t always involve parents or guardian figures. I didn’t quite equate the purification scene with a father using a belt or anything similar but rather the more public kind that can be found in schools. Raised in a society where corporal punishment is commonplace, I find it extremely distasteful in all shapes and forms. Until 10th grade, my teachers liberally used canes, slaps or pinches – and this begins from pre-school level- to punish everything from unpolished shoes to bad marks. The purification process reminds me a little of that.

      I sure hope that all this was unintentional on the writer’s part and that it’s just bad writing as you say.Thank you for your thoughtful input.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Karandi says:

    I didn’t really have the same issue watching this as you did (though I definitely see your point). For me, the fact that these behaviours were induced (or at least significantly influenced) by supernatural elements (phantoms) kind of allowed me to simply go with the black and white solution of cleansing or fighitng off the phantom and everything is fine. If the supernatural elements hadn’t been at play, then it wouldn’t have worked and I probably would have been more critical of it. Thanks for an excellent discussion point.

    Liked by 2 people

    • D says:

      I agree that on the surface level, the phantoms’ influence do make a black and white approach more plausible. Though I do think that killing the phantoms won’t solve the problem since the real life consequences of what they did under its influence still remains.

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Arria Cross says:

      Same here. I actually enjoyed the series overall, but I do agree that I felt uncomfortable during the suicide episodes you pointed out in this post. I started watching this series with the mentality to enjoy, so I wasn’t very critical of it. It’s not the best anime I’ve ever watched and there are some “meh” moments, but I think that entertainment-wise, it delivered. Hmmmm. Reading this post, I think that it’s good to be bit more critical to it. I don’t think that it’s intentional for the creators to be insensitive about these serious issues such as suicide. I think it just focused too much on delivering laughs and trying to balance it with the more serious atmosphere. Anyway, good post. Cheers!

      Liked by 2 people

      • D says:

        I tend to be a biiit (ok more than a bit) sensitive about what I perceive as preachy messages about suicide and self-harm and the like, so as you can see, this show pissed me off a lot.
        But agreed that it focuses more on the humor and the other stuff is probably unintentional or at least very poorly thought out.

        Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. weekendotaku says:

    A lot to think about here. Like the others have mentioned, I didn’t see this right away so it was cool to see you take it from this angle.

    For better or worse, the approach that this series took is a popular theme. Suicide or otherwise violent thoughts are either caused by phantoms or create phantoms. It takes out the personal accountability, working off the idea that people are generally ‘good’ until an evil spirit gets involved. It’s pretty insulting to people who are legitimately struggling with these issues, but for the theme of the series it worked for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • D says:

      To be honest, I would’ve ignored it if it’d been only one of these incidents but all of these taken together seemed a bit too much.

      And yes, the idea of phantoms breeding dark thoughts in human minds does trivialize the actual dark thoughts in human minds. And even in-universe, killing the phantom won’t help on it’s own since the affected human is left to clean up the mess they caused while under the influence. Take the guy from that longass fall for instance; he’s broke, got no job, is probably missing memories and confused as all hell while the goddess who caused it all gets away with it. It’d suck to be him. Same with the bullying victim; he managed to overcome the phantom and didn’t get violent but there’s no real guarantee that the bullying will stop – that guy may have ran away but there’s a high chance he’ll try to avenge his humiliation. Since Manabu called Yato in the first place because of the bullying, I wouldn’t really call it a solution.

      So even though the series’ approach eliminates personal accountability, it just seems like that makes it worse for the humans involved since they have to pay the price for problems that aren’t entirely their fault.

      These gods really need to work on their efficiency…

      Liked by 1 person

      • weekendotaku says:

        Maybe it’s a a case of getting what you pay for. Yato does cheap work for a cheap price. If you want quality, go to Tenjin or Bishamonten 😛

        All joking aside, these are some very good points. I’ll have to keep them in mind for my own review.

        Liked by 1 person

      • D says:

        Haha in that case Yato would definitely need to step up his game if he wants to be a big-shot. And thank you! I stewed over this post a lot so I’m glad to hear that.

        Like

  5. I like how you explored the in-depth psychological appeal of the anime because when I watched the 1st season, I really wasn’t paying much attention to the implications. I would have to agree with you. It’s a series I don’t love but something that I can’t also hate. The 2nd season’s already out so I’d probably try watching it more actively to see if some of the points you raised remains dominant.

    Interesting review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • D says:

      Thank you!
      Psychology is a fascinating field and all the issues discussed in this post are ones that are personally important to me so writing this was an interesting experience, though a grueling one. I haven’t watched s2 and probably won’t any time soon but the general consensus seems to be that it’s better than s1. Good luck with it!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: In Case You Missed It | 100WordAnime

  7. Kyra says:

    Hello D!

    Found your post through Karandi’s list, indeed a nice read. I hadn’t really perceived it from these lenses, so a vastly different point of view struck me very well. Thanks for putting these thoughts into words.

    Liked by 1 person

    • D says:

      Hello! And thank you for giving this a try. I know it’s a drastically different way to look at the series and I’m happy about the positive feedback.

      Like

  8. Pingback: Versatile Blog Award! | kyra desu yo!

  9. Some of the ideas you presented here are definitely circling around my head when I watched and briefly analysed the series: I decided to perceive the whole thing on a more middle ground perspective. I suppose Yukine’s highly rebellious disposition; while difficult to swallow, are perfectly reasonable within the circumstance, plus his breakdown in high school very much grounds his situation as an on-the-nose commentary on displaced youth, troubled teenagers and the usual toxic human emotions one can feel, along the lines of jealousy, lack of self-worth and…being suicidal.

    Plus, while I do see a lot of unpleasant but valid ideas in this post, I still have to remind myself that the series takes a lot of pre-Edo ideas back to the contemporary urban landscape: the morals of the Gods are never as grounded as ours. Nevertheless, purification I think was portrayed here along the same lines as typical shounen manga or mid to low-fantasy novel series, so I can’t really fault it as being advocating capital punishment. In fact, I stand by the belief that the series is more unforgiving to the Gods than of humans: the relationship between the gods and humans is always portrayed as one of faded perception: as long as humans remember the gods’ names, they remain. But how many still do in the 21 century?

    Liked by 1 person

    • D says:

      I don’t find Yukine’s attitude or action unbelievable, just unlikable. While I could sympathize for him, a character who acts like a brat from the beginning itself and only worsens in behavior is hard for me to care for, even if I can understand why he’s acting that way. His breakdown is a natural progression of events as well. My issue doesn’t lie with the fact that modern day youth’s problems are portrayed-I think that’s a good thing actually-but rather how it’s handled.

      Agreed that the Gods have it pretty bad, with the chance that waning faith will make them disappear. I’ve seen similar concepts in other media and always found it intetesting.

      Like

  10. Pingback: Writing a Posthumous Blog – A Noragami & Aragoto Review – Weekend Otaku

  11. remyfool says:

    I did read this when after Karandi gave it a shout-out, but I didn’t think I was qualified to talk about it since I’ve yet to watch Noragami.

    Still, I must admit it makes me angry when important issues are dismissed or mishandled like that. Creators should think of the implications when it comes to their media and be more careful!

    Thank you for the thought-provoking post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • D says:

      I don’t think Noragami’s creators really paid attention to how some of this could be interpreted. The thing is that ‘suicide is bad, life is precious’ is something you hear a lot. Some may agree but I emphatically don’t so that in particular was irritating.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts even though you haven’t watched the show. Good luck for when you do.I hear s2 is better.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Yep. I dropped this explicitly because of how it used suicide and such as plot devices for its supernatural setting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • D says:

      I wouldn’t have minded if they handled the issue with some tact or respect but as it stands, yeah it’s really unpleasant. I can definitely understand why you dropped it.

      Like

      • Yeah it made me really uncomfortable, not to mention it’s just not very good writing. Imo, the occult has immense potential to call into question common sense and our understanding of the world, so I really dislike it when it just gets used for a cheap truism. Not to mention this series is in the really unfortunate position of being easily compared to the monogatari series, towards which I’m somewhat biased.

        Liked by 1 person

      • D says:

        (I accidentally replied to the post and not your comment, and only noticed it just now. Sorry.)

        I like fantasy and supernatural elements in all shapes and forms, and am usually happy to suspend disbelief to immerse myself in the world presented. Noragami has some good ideas like the gods sustained by people’s faith and phantoms that influence human thought but I don’t think they do much with any of it.

        I’ve yet to watch Monogataari series but I will one day soon.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Pingback: Anniversary Follower Feature: D | 100WordAnime

  14. Pingback: Achivement Unlocked: Anniversary! (The Lily Garden Turned One) – The Lily Garden

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s