Noragami: A Study in Sin, Redemption and Divine Love in Japanese Mythology

Image credit:

We see a lot of weak attempts at synthesizing Catholic values into entertainment in the Anime world.  At best many of them seem like romanticized fan art, and at worst display a complete misunderstanding of the point and purpose of things like exorcists, priests, nuns and our sacred liturgies. But every now and again, quite by accident, you’ll stumble upon a show that has a feeling of Catholicity to it, albeit unintentionally.

Noragami is just such an anime; beautifully rendered, bright characters, an engaging story line and wonder of wonders, Christian ethos hiding within the framework of the  Shinto Pantheon of Divine Beings. The story basically centers around self-appointed “delivery-god” Yato, a very minor God, almost unknown deity caught in the middle of a particularly difficult conundrum. On the one hand he desires to distance himself from his dark past and reinvent himself as a more “friendly and popular” god, while simultaneously understanding that if people forget who he was he may cease to exist completely.

On top of that he seems to be losing support fast. His weaponized human soul, called Regalia in the show, has just quit to go work for a more profitable (and well-known) god, leaving  Yato weakened and vulnerable to attacks from Phantoms (dark beings from the underworld that feed and increase human misery and immorality). A freak accident causes fate to intervene and he meets Hiyori, a young MMA loving human  girl, who Yato becomes indebted to.

As the show progresses, Yato  attempts to find another Regalia. They are hard to find because the only way a soul can become a Regalia is if it 1.) human (and deceased) 2.) Has remained pure of corruption by the Phantoms that roam the streets unseen by most.  Yato finds just such a soul, and makes him his  Regalia, and here’s where it really gets interesting.

The dynamic between the human Regalia and the God is a very delicate one. Even though at its core the soul is GOOD it still struggles with human impulses and feelings like doubt, loneliness, anger, and jealousy. If the Regalia errs and gives in to those impulses it HURTS it’s master. Ringing any bells, my Catholic friends? It’s this particular thing that got the cogs turning for me, since as Catholics we believe that while we are fundamentally good our sins DO cause pain to Christ who loves us and chose us to be with him.  If a Regalia repeatedly errs, and hurts the God enough the Regalia will become  corrupted and eventually a phantom. The difference (I call it the “ante up” that you’ll almost always find in these shows) is that the “sins” of the Regalia make its Master Deity increasingly ill and weak, infecting them both with Blight. If uncorrected or if the God does not sever ties with the corrupted Regalia, the God will eventually perish as well and the Regalia’s soul will be lost forever to darkness.

I don’t want to spoil too much since I highly recommend watching both of the two current seasons for yourself. There’s a lot of rich opportunities for conflict, character development and just plain old good story telling that I don’t want to ruin by giving you too much of a play by play. But expect to see strong correlations to the sacrament of Confession, the strength of love that a God can have for a human being, and suspicious parallels to Yato as a Redeemer figure, one willing to sacrifice himself and take on the burdens of those entrusted to his care.

Of course, it is most definitely still a supernatural anime rooted within Japanese mythology. There are many Gods, and even though they often have conflicting interests, they “can do no wrong.” But not far underneath the typically and culturally Japanese elements this story resonates very much with me as a Catholic especially the end of the first season.

So my verdict is, SEE IT. Both seasons I believe are around 13 episodes each, each episode is about  30 minutes, so it’s very  watchable if you have  only a few minutes to spare (or stayed up all night twice to watch the whole season in one sitting…which….someone I know…er…definitely not me…um, might have done).

Just be advised there’s mild language, one scantily clad character who makes regular appearances, and mild suggestive humor, but honestly, it’s all very manageable not constant and overly focused on. Season Three is expected for release sometime in winter 2017. Noragami and Noragami Aragoto (Season 2) are definitely must sees.