Manga Review – Noragami: Stray God

Noragami Volume 1

Noragami: Stray God
ノラガミ
Adachitoka
Shounen – Supernatural, drama, comedy, action, romance
5 Volumes (ongoing)
Kodansha USA

Summary:

Hiyori tries to save a boy from an oncoming bus. She survives, but now her spirit randomly separates from her body! The “boy” from the accident is Yato, an unknown god who will take on any job in hopes of having his own shrine. Hiyori hires Yato to help her, but he’s busy looking for a spirit to become his new weapon.

Review:

As long as you don’t really rely on summaries and think this is a laugh-out-loud comedy about a broke wanna-be god, Noragami combines shounen action with supernatural drama, a combination not often seen.

I usually try to focus my summaries to the first chapter. In this case, the first chapter is pretty much a red herring. The heroine in the first chapter is unlikely to ever return, and Yato’s assistant-slash-weapon promptly ditches him. It might have worked as a side-story or as a one-shot/first draft for a serialization, but as a first chapter? It’s terrible. When I first read it, I was confused as heck.

The next few chapters aren’t spectacular either. After the rough opening, the series then has to cover duel setups: Hiyori adjusting to being part ayakashi, and Yukiné accepting being Yato’s weapon. Meanwhile, they are both wary of Yato, especially when another god quickly enters the scene in order to kill him. It doesn’t help the series first appears to be a humorous one starring a broke god and an unfortunate narcoleptic wrestling fan. I actually picked up this series thinking this was a comedy, and finding out this isn’t a laugh-out-loud comedy starring a pathetic wanna-be god was disappointing. Then I thought it was going to be “Supernatural Problem Solving (and Life Lessons) with Yato” a la (early) xxxHolic. It wasn’t that either.

However, I started enjoying Noragami when I realized what kind of series it actually is: a seinen-ish drama about gods and their servants struggling with lies, loneliness, and death. It has comedy and romance, but the action and drama quickly outstrips them. Yato admits gods do not operate on the same moral scale as humans, and his past is both a mystery and source of worry for his two reluctant followers. The manga’s tone is pretty heavy and serious. Despite the action, don’t expect a lot of hot-blooded characters a la Shounen Magazine.

There are some story gaps, most noticeably with Hiyori’s circumstances. Hiyori mentions her mom is old-fashioned and overprotective, but Hiyori loses her body quite often. She just falls asleep randomly, and now she’s hanging out quite a bit at shrines. One would think her mother would become even more overprotective after her daughter is nearly hit by a bus and now has narcolepsy, but Hiyori’s family has disappeared.

As for the characters, so far, it is Yukiné that has received the most character development and focus. He acts like a typical troubled teen, and much of these volumes focus on him accepting his current circumstances and handling his envy. I am curious if he will stay in the limelight or be relegated as the main observer of Yato and Hiyori. Central character Yato is pretty haughty and is the target of many jokes, but he is not as indifferent to others or as stupid as he seems to be. Since his past is yet to be fully revealed, Yato is still an enigma. We as readers do get a glimpse into his troubles and insecurities, but not a lot of focus has been on him yet. I want to add Hiyori and Yukiné say Yato is lazy, but he only charges ¥5 a job! Give him a little credit. As for Hiyori, I am a little confused on whether she is actually strong or if she just received a power-up. As for the side characters, in these early volumes, we meet a range of gods and shinki, from a cheerful jinx to beauty with a lust for vengeance to a secret schemer. While there are many gods in Japanese culture, I hope the story doesn’t continually expand the cast and make the number of important characters overly large. There’s already a good number of interesting ones here.

The art is quite dark. I mean that literally. Night scenes abound, and the creators use shadows frequently. The ayakashi are generally black versions based on real creatures (like eels) or a big pile of eyes, neither of which are that interesting. One shinki is a lion, and I hope we get to see more of this rather than the usual katanas and other typical weapons. The characters are drawn in a style quite common to all genres of manga. This doesn’t mean it’s terrible, but it’s just not unique. Characters like Hiyori and Kazama have dozens of anime/manga twins. On the bright side, the more realistic designs means the art is consistent and detailed among the different panels.

Translation:

This is a series steeped in Japanese culture and even the language itself, so I’m glad two of my favorite translators are working on it. Honorifics are used. Certain terms like “shinki” are kept. (It is translated as “regalia” in Funimation’s subtitles and dub.) Detailed translation notes are included. Sound effects are kept in Japanese, but most of the text on signs and advertisements are replaced with English text. I did notice some typos, and I still wonder why a certain character is called “Stray” despite the word “nora” being right in the series’ title. “Stray-chan” just looks really awkward. Words ending in the Japanese “e” sound are given an accent mark. This makes it easier on English speakers to pronounce the names correctly, but it also causes some problem in lettering. The mark is also dropped when Yukiné’s name is written in large fonts.

Final Comments:

You know the expression, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”? Yeah, sometimes you can’t judge a book by its summary either. Maybe it gets better, but right now, I feel like it is overrated. I’m not saying it’s terrible (nowhere close), but right now, I just don’t get what all the hype is about.

Kodansha USA did not include color pages. And fix the binding. I’m tired of saying it, but it is impossible to read some of the words since they are in the spine. You can still figure out what they are saying, but there is no excuse. We pay for it, we should be able to read ALL of it, not most of it.

Noragami has been made into an anime, which is licensed in the US by Funimation. It will be starting its second season soon.

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