On Lesser and Stray Gods

noragami, yato, lesser-god yato, noragami anime, stray god

Exchanges between humanity and gods in anime have always fascinated me. Perhaps it is due to my Catholic upbringing – where the primary relationship between man and god is built with the former firmly in awe of the latter, and a very rigid process of human life to afterlife – however, Shinto gods and humans have always appeared to have a fairly equal relationship. The beliefs of Shinto are that spiritual essences reside in all things, creating a collective known as yaoyorozu no kami or “eighty millions of kami” with the boundary between spiritual and natural  left undefined. This isn’t to say that these gods (for lack of a better term, I’m using “kami” as synonymous with “god”) are without organization as there is a hierarchy within the multitudes. Primary gods are enshrined at specific locations, naturally garnering more attendance from worshipers. 

Which leads us to the following question: would you trust the young man pictured above, of all gods, with your wish?

noragami, anime, stray god, yato

If you want your wish granted, you should probably aim for the top. Small fry like Yato from Noragami (shown above, daydreaming about moving up in the world) are not worth your time until they gain more followers and become a more powerful god, presumably with the ability to grant your wish more efficiently. Additionally, that power is somewhat dependent on how established that particular god is in the minds of the people. For example, gods tied to the Japanese creation myth – descendants of Izanagi, like the well-known Amaterasu (the sun) and Tsukuyomi (the moon) – are named with specific places of worship, and given precedence over lesser, unnamed gods.

koto, ah and un, kyousogiga, koto prays at lady koto's shrine, lady koto, capital craze, mirror capital

Kyousogiga touches upon this idea briefly in its recent OVA episode with the deification of Lady Koto and her shrine in the Mirror Capital. When asking the citizens whose shrine is located in the city, Koto and her two familiars receive a variety of answers, ranging from “I don’t really know.” to “A lady with huge boobs and ears like a rabbit.” Koto is shown a picture of Lady Koto within the shrine, with another resident telling her that Lady Koto left a long time ago and has yet to come home, implying that Koto’s prayers will go unanswered. We later learn exactly why Lady Koto has been unable to return; however, Kyousogiga introduces her as one whose power is tied to the amount, and memory, of her worshipers.

Yato is a god without a following or a shrine, placing him firmly in the lowest tier of deities. He spray-paints advertisements for his supposed godly services on spare walls, his sacred weapon abandons him in search of a better god to serve, and he spends the majority of Noragami‘s first episode searching for a young boy’s stray cat. However, there’s a bit of charm in how he responds to Hiyori Iki’s wish to return to her normal life as a human. Yato brandishes her five-yen offering and tells Hiyori that her wish has been heard. Their relationship with one another is open and built on exchanging money for wishes, desires, or services. What Yato will be able to do with that money, or how he will grant Hiyori’s wish, remains to be seen. Presumably, his power, much like that of Lady Koto’s introduction in Kyousogiga, is directly tied to the amount of believers – additionally, the amount of money he receives from them –that he is able to recruit or inspire into following him.

17 comments

  1. Great article as usual! That’s a really interesting point about the general equality of the relationship between gods and humans in Shinto, and the god’s power being tired to the amount of believers in them. I remember an episode in the Mokke anime where one of the youkai on the show was transparent because his type of youkai was hardly remembered anymore, and when the last person forgot about them, the youkai would disappear. It’s interesting when shows focus on the sort of power of belief, especially the belief of a lot of people.

    1. I think I remember seeing something similar in xxxHolic, but I can’t remember which arc (it’s been ages since I’ve watched the series or read the manga). Natsume Yuujinchou is another series where a once-powerful god disappears due to lack of believers.

      Additionally, following that line of thought, the belief of people also plays a large part in the phantoms or vengeful spirits that appear as well. Noragami gives us a good example in the red lamprey born of students’ anxiety towards their exams, but I’ve seen this in Bakemonogatari/Monogatari, the aforementioned xxxHolic, and countless other series. I just love how the boundary is so often blurred between human and supernatural.

      Thanks for commenting! ^ ^

  2. Noragami roughly translates as ‘Stray God’, if you match the episode title’s 野良神 kanji with the katakana title ノラガミ.

    The only info I could find on Adachitoka, Noragami’s creators, is that they are a 2-woman team. Adachi illustrates foreground characters and Tokashiki illustrates backgrounds.
    Not sure who does the storywriting though.

    1. It would appear that for Noragami, they’re responsible for both the art and the story (although if you find something to the contrary, please let me know). They’ve illustrated one other manga titled Alive, which was written by Tadashi Kawashima.

      Thanks for digging all of this up! I’m enjoying Noragami so far. It’s pleasant to watch, and I like that it focuses on the mundane more than the supernatural.

      1. Interestingly, the Alive manga was to have been animated by anime studio Gonzo, but the project was cancelled after Gonzo got delisted from Japan’s stock exchange due to its massive financial losses.
        Even though Gonzo was able to recoup its losses, everyone moved on to other projects and thus no anime was ever made.

        How did you find Nobunaga the Fool’s 1st ep, by the way?

        1. Re: Nobunaga the Fool. It was very Kawamori. ^ ^ I’m going to keep watching, as it’s looking like he’s throwing the kitchen sink of random historical figures at us. Usually Kawamori has a degree of restraint in his series within the construction, i.e. NO ENTERTAINMENT (Macross), NO LOVE (Aquarion EVOL), NO ENTERTAINMENT AGAIN (AKB0048), so I’m wondering if there will be an element of that in this series or not.

  3. Very educational and fun piece.

    I am also fascinated with how the natural and supernatural interact in Japanese mythology/spirituality. In the major religions of the West, there isn’t a lot we human beings can do to effect God. Yet, in Shintoism, not only can the gods effect us, we can directly effect them! Noragami demonstrates this principle in showing that Yato’s power is directly tied to his believers.

    Though it isn’t as good as Noragami or Kyosougiga, Kurenai also addresses this topic in an interesting way. The goal of the main character goddess is to acquire more true believers.

    I wrote a post that touches on the interaction between the natural and supernatural in the Black Jack OAV that you might find mildly interesting if you’ve got time: http://rayoutblog.wordpress.com/2013/08/15/science-and-the-supernatural-in-osamu-dezakis-black-jack-oav/

    1. Others have recommended me Kurenai, enough that I’m certain that I’ll get around to it eventually.

      The Black Jack manga increasingly focuses on the supernatural throughout its tenure, so I’m unsurprised to hear that the OVAs are similar. One thing present in Black Jack that sets it apart from other medical dramas is that, occasionally, there will be something that Black Jack cannot reconcile, and the patient’s recovery will be left to either a supernatural force, and the patient’s own attitude/outlook. As you point out, the procedure administered by Black Jack is similar regardless.

      I should get around to watching the Black Jack anime, as well. It’s one of my favorite manga series.

      Always good to hear from you. ^ ^

      1. Agh, did I say Kurenai? I meant Kannagi. Why do I always mix those titles up? They are truly nothing alike, and that is frankly an insult to Kurenai. I don’t think Kurenai deals with the interplay between gods and humans.

        The Black Jack OAV is directed by my favorite anime director, Osamu Dezaki (Dear Brother, Rose of Versailles, Cobra). Very entertaining. I have heard that it is more melodramatic than Tezuka’s manga.

        1. Ah, Kannagi. I have seen that actually. It was alright.

          Have you seen Aim for the Ace? It’s definitely my favorite Dezaki product (and one of my favorite anime of all time). ^ ^

          1. I -LOVE- Aim for the Ace! It’s one of those shows that I’ve wanted to do a post on since I started blogging. I’m a bit scared I won’t do justice to the moment and theme I want to cover. But yeah, Dezaki.

  4. I think my favourite portrayal of multiple gods in an anime series – particularly lesser and stray gods – is in Kamichu. The exchanges between humanity and gods (as well as between gods and gods) in that is well worth a look, assuming you haven’t already seen it.🙂

    1. I need to see it. I’ve seen in the first few episodes and it is really charming! Now that I’ve finished Aria, perhaps I’ll move on to Kamichu! as my relaxing, before-bed offering. ^ ^

      Thanks for the comment.

  5. Though it’s a little flashier and slapstick, I found myself comparing Noragami with Natsume Yuujincho, since they both tackle the issue of the human and supernatural realms coexisting but not really interacting with each other. Natsume deals mostly with spirits as opposed to gods, there are a few episodes where local minor gods or spirits who just get mistaken for gods are featured. Yato’s struggle to gain worshippers via graffiti job ads is reminiscent of the quiet struggle for the local gods and spirits who end up touching human lives in Natsume’s world (i.e. the dewdrop god episode in the first season of Yuujincho).

    Though I’m still reserving judgment for the second half of the series, Noragami’s been a surprisingly delightful watch.

    1. That dewdrop god episode makes me cry every time I watch it. ;_;

      Another series this season that deals with this to some extent is Inari, Konkon, Koi Iroha, where a high school girl is granted godly powers. It also shows her relationship with the goddess who gave her said powers and the effect the transfer has on both of them. It’s a charming series that I’m enjoying wholeheartedly, although is less concerned than Noragami with the spirit realm.

      Thank you for the comment!

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