With all this talk of risky titles and safe ones, sometimes quirky little titles like today's selection managed to slip through in the hopes of finding an audience. Of course, it's easy to pick series like today's selection up when it comes from the same company that's currently sitting on a giant pile of Sailor Moon and Attack on Titan money.
NORIGAMI: STRAY GOD, by Adachitoka. First published in 2010, and first published in North America in 2014.
Yato is a god without a home. He's so desperate for worshippers that he tags his name and number across the city in hopes of finding someone, anyone, who might need his help. Still, fighting the odd spirit for pocket change doesn't get him far until it leads him to cross paths with Hiyori. She saves him from being run over, but the accident has left her own spirit a bit ajar. Now her spirit can leave her body, and she uses that skill to help Yato at his tasks. Now the two are more or less stuck with one another: Hiyori can't fix her loose soul without Yato's help, and Yato needs all the help he can get to make some money and find a permanent home.
Noragami is good fun, but the story feels like it's still working out its growing pains even as the first volume comes to an end, and it hurts its potential as a result.
The strongest element here is the titular stray god himself, Yato. He's snarky, scrappy, a little arrogant and quick-thinking, and it's genuinely enjoyable to watch him hustle his way into finding a worshipper and solving their problem. The story never lets him get too high and mighty, considering that he's forced to sell himself via bathroom stall walls and neighborhood graffiti, but it also makes it clear that for all his self-interest, Yato does have a good heart. No matter how much he thinks a wish may be underneath him, he will grant it to the best of his ability. He's just not much of a people person, considering that every spirit he's teamed up with has quit in tears and frustration and that he still tends to judge his worshippers even as he aids them.
So of course the best course for such a character is to make him the bad cop to Hiyori's good cop. Hiyori can't help but suffer a little in comparison to Yato. She's simply too good-natured and ordinary to do anything else. Still, her unwitting partnership with him does force the two to start growing a little. Hiyori finds her inner action hero when she discovers that her spirit self has the power to fight ayakashi, even as she struggles to keep her social and school life afloat in between her involuntary bouts of narcolepsy. Yato is forced to explain a few things about his world and to look for Hiyori, since her status as a living ayakashi makes her a tempting morsel for the rest of the spirit world. Their social circle only stands to grow as Yato wrangles another ghost into becoming his weapon, a teenage boy who seems less than impressed with his new master. As more characters are added, though, the more it becomes clear that Noragami isn't quite sure what direction to take.
It starts out as a sort of monster-of-the-week story, with Yato serving as a sort of wandering hero. Then it turns into a buddy cop sort of story once Hiyori. Now just as it ends, it adds another character and shifts the status quo yet again. I understand that a manga series is prone to change in the early chapters as the creators hammer out the details. Still, the shifts in direction don't feel purposeful and planned. It feels more like the creators are swaying in whatever direction the popularity polls or editors demand. Noragami has a couple of good characters at its core, and it needs to have more faith in them to carry the story on their if this story is going to grow in a positive direction.
For what it's worth, the artwork is attractive and fits well. The character designs are nothing special; they're grounded and attractive enough, but not all that unique either. The fights are not all that well-drawn, as they tend to become a little too visually chaotic for their own good. Still, the urban backgrounds have a lot of detail and the ayakashi designs are suitably gross and inhuman-looking. Still, the artwork as a whole never quite rises above the average, and this muddles what is otherwise a fun little manga.
There are the usual omakes and translation notes, but the latter are much more long-winded than normal. There's apparently a lot of wordplay at work here, and one joke requires an entire page to deconstruct.
Noragami is enjoyable, but the artwork is merely average and the story can't quite decide what direction it wishes to take, and that drags down the rating slightly.
This series is published by Kodansha Comics. This series is ongoing in Japan, with 12 volumes available so far. 2 volumes have been published so far, and both are currently in print. This series is also available in e-book form through Barnes & Noble.
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