“Fast, affordable and reliable! Delivery God Yato, at your service!”
In an increasingly secular world, it’s tough being a god. Especially if you’re a god that’s so minor, no one’s actually heard of you.
Noragami (literally “Stray God”) fits in with this year’s theme quite aptly. We have our protagonist, Yato, a minor god who uses rather dubious business tactics in his attempt to secure worshippers and the capital to have his own shrine built. As befitting the title, Yato is an oddity among his kind–he is virtually unknown to humans and lacks a place to call his own. Instead, he lives like a vagrant, wandering the streets of Tokyo by day, mooching off shelter from the established local gods by night, all the while supporting the spray paint industry by advertising his godly services.
Hiyori: Who are you?
Yato: I’m a god.
Hiyori: Hello, police? There’s a weird guy wearing a jersey who’s calling himself a god–
Yato: Wait, wait wait! I really am a bonafide member of the gods!
Yato’s modern wear may be stylishly grunge, but clothing can be telling about a character. While Yato’s certainly not the only god to opt for modern twenty-first century attire (check out Bishamonten, who sports the sexy motorcyclist look), his wardrobe does get called out on. Why? Because jerseys (even sweater ones) are pretty standard pedestrian attire. They’re comfortable, unassuming, and more importantly, are a transient type of clothing, meant to be worn for sporting activities and then taken off and changed for other clothes. Just as jerseys occupy a distinctly ephemeral attire of choice, Yato’s limbo-like state between “god of calamity” and “actual godhood” is a state of transition.
Yato: There’s no such thing as a free wish! It’ll cost you this much (holds five fingers)
Hiyori: 50,000? 500,000? I don’t have that kind of money!
Yato: Fool! I’m a god, remember? And everyone knows you’re supposed to offer 5-yen coins to gods!
Yato’s marketing tactics are the anime’s main source of comedy. We see glimmers of his war-like former self in the efficient way he dispatches Phantoms, or in the solemn flickering of eyes older than his youthful face when he observes the human world, but the story is quick to move away from those moments, and instead, is eager to poke fun at the god’s failing attempts to secure worshippers.
I’m supposed to be a god of war, so why am I replacin’ rubber seals and cleaning out mold for chump change?
It’s no wonder that Yato is particularly bad at business since common sense would perhaps point out that advertising one’s presence through graffiti isn’t the best way to reaching out to potential worshippers. Yato, as Hiyori finds out, used to be a god of calamity, a being who would grant the depraved wishes of humans seeking vengeance or violence.
Yato’s strength is in fighting and killing so it’s hardly surprising to see how he flails in the more pacifistic arts of making capital. But in a way, Yato’s entrepreneurial ventures are also oddly appropriate. In a time of peace, business becomes the method of battle.
Rabo: Why? Why do you not return to your old self? We are gods of calamity! We grant depraved wishes and feed off of human greed and hate.
Yato: Hell if I care! Quit bringing up old times that don’t mean anything now!
The reason for the anime’s continual return to emphasizing Yato’s silly characterization ties to the theme of adapting to change. The gods might be powerful, but the pace of the world is ultimately set by humans. And humans, unlike gods, are ephemeral and changeable. As beings who rely on the worship of human beings to validate and define their existence, the gods themselves are subjected to change and must change in order to continue living. A fundamental difference between Rabo and Yato is their adaptability to change. Yato found a way to leave his place behind to seek a new one while Rabo, crippled by the past, is driven to depravity and self-destruction when he realizes that his efforts to validate his purpose in life will go unacknowledged.
No matter how many wishes we grant, people will always fear, loathe and forget gods of calamity. For better or worse, people’s feelings are always fickle. That is the way of things. It is our fate to be slain by disregard. But when I awoke from my 500 year old slumber, I yearned to be eliminated. Not by people who don’t know me, but by you, one who does know me.
A god’s greatest fear then, is to be forgotten. To wander anonymously like a stray through the constantly changing world, an invisible entity, bereft of purpose and utterly alone. It is a fear that touches every god, regardless of how powerful or well-known he or she is. For a god who knows nothing but war, hears nothing but desperate dark pleas for blood and violence, the dark inviting loneliness is a particularly potent horror.
We see gods seeking company from their shinki, formerly human spirits that the gods can transform into divine weapons, gods seeking each other’s company, and gods interacting with humans themselves. All of these actions at forging relationships, ideally ones that are lasting and constant, act as the gods’ anchors to a tumultuous, terrifying world. Some gods will take anything they can get, because even the cold distance of a business transaction (“Your wish has been heard loud and clear!”) is a relationship, a connection to another being. Because if there’s one major downside to immortality, it’s a proclivity towards loneliness.
I want to stay with you! I want to be with you forever!
Luckily, Yato’s journey to carve out a place of his own is a successful one. While he’s still without a shrine and a congregation of worshippers, he has a place to belong. Yato manages to find a shinki that won’t ditch him at the drop of a hat and makes a connection with a person who accepts him, his entire being, one who truly cares for him. Hiyori and Yato’s relationship, which starts off as a simple business contract, deepens to one more steadfast, more complex, and more emotional. Although it is a far cry from Yato’s power god fantasies of ruling an entire country, Yato’s relationship with his first worshipper is a far more intimate and consequentially powerful bond.