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Lauren ([personal profile] quiddity) wrote2015-04-07 09:43 pm
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Noragami, Communication, and the Power of Words!

{under construction!!! FIVE-EVER APPARENTLY!}

One of my favorite things about this series as an English major nerd is the power of words and communication in this series. Maybe you'd expect for a shounen series that it would be tons of bad ass fighting with swords and whatnot, and there IS. Peoples' hands get chopped off, faces get cut up, people get bashed and battered with broken bottles and fists in violence both serious and comical. But there is a special love for words thematically in this series that, I think, actually makes them much more powerful than anything a weapon alone can do and that deserves special attention I think. Warnings for spoilers up to chapter 54 as I go through this, by the way!

What's in a Name?

Unquestionably, names and the act of naming hold a lot of power. Shinki that are unnamed wander around helplessly as ghosts / fodder for ayakashi. That's shown/stated pretty early on. It's not until they receive a name from a god that they're imbued with power to defend themselves and their god. And they have three names. One name is informal, they have a "personal" or "given" name and another name makes them into a literal object (their "vessel" name) that is often used as a weapon and usually imbued with powers of some kind. So, names, words, are literal power; in this case to a positive end. It goes a bit further than that, too, though: having your name called and used makes shinki feel loved and well-cared for. Suzuha says that he can't remember the last time his name was called by Bishamonten, and many of the –ha clan suffer a great deal of loneliness because the goddess simply doesn't have time to talk to each of them or regularly call them by name/use them. Calling out a shinki's name as they're degrading is a part of the process for helping them/keeping them from degrading too far, as we saw during the purification ceremony. Not only that, but for Yukine, once his name was called, it triggered a moment of personal catharsis for him, which literally saves his life and Yato's in an immediate sense. It also leads to Yukine being able to give up the things that his still-angry heart had previously been desiring, allowing him to move on and really begin his new existence.

The destruction or forgetting of a name is also critically important. For shinki, unless you happen to be a nora, losing one's name means a loss of protection. It would seem that a nameless shinki cannot even utilize the boundary line, if scanlations are to be understood correctly. Furthermore, it marks the ending of a very powerful, and usually positive relationship, with their god, who in most cases is a protective, supportive, and even familial figure to them. Even for Hiiro, who has many masters, losing the name that Yato gave her was a very big deal: the murderous look that she gives Yato after her name crumbles to bits is more like the kind of gaze she would give Yukine or Hiyori than the person she spent her childhood with. Consider too that for gods, relinquishing a shinki is also a big deal, since most of them have very few and because they see and experience their deaths and treat them like family, it is like literally casting out an adopted son or daughter, knowing that they might be destroyed by an ayakashi before they can find a new master. For gods, if their name is "destroyed" in the sense that humans forget about them, then they will simply disappear, though since this is more or less the entire plot of the manga (Yato's quest to not be forgotten / "make a name for himself") it's unlikely that the importance of this is lost on anyone.

In more recent chapters, we've learned that shinki actually still cling subconsciously to their names pre-death, and that the revelation of these names, calling them out in particular, results in the immediate and (supposedly!) irreversible transformation into an ayakashi that can no longer be saved. Hence what happened to Sakura: they must be purged/slayed. Communicating anything in regards to shinki's past life is apparently incredibly damaging and can and will, according to Yato, result in the spiraling-out amongst any shinki that discover this information, prompting them to have their own self-destructive thoughts. So here words are literal power... for less good purposes, and this is one of the rare times that silence/secret-keeping is portrayed as a positive end (but I'm going to come back to refute/refine/subvert this idea later).

The absence of names is also a big deal, as well as one's "true" name. In a lot of mythologies, having possession of a person's real name gives you power over them, and we see that's true within the shinki-to-god relationship (already covered; summoning and weapon transformation) as well as between gods and humans and even shinki-to-shinki. Shinki command spells can only work if you know the shinki's name; that's why neither Kazuma nor Yukine could successfully bind Kugaha (first because he had multiple names, allowing him to slip capture, and the second time because it was no longer his name). Yato nearly didn't make it out of Yomi because no one knew his true name; only a human with a god's true name could call them out of Yomi though. He himself realizes that the reason he never told them his true name was because he was afraid if they knew who he really is/was, they'd hate him. Discovering that all that time they'd only ever known him by an alias greatly shook Yukine's faith in his master (which we already knew from his duel with Kugaha is bad for a shinki; a lack of faith in one's master can spiral into a lack of belief in oneself which leads to powering down). Knowing one's "true" name then becomes a sign of deep trust and closeness, and this is part of why not having been told Yato's true name hurt Yukine so much, as it was a sign of distrust. It's significant that Yato's mini-shrine has his actual (though accidental) name written on it, since it marks it as truly his; if she hadn't written it with the proper kanji, Hiyori surely wouldn't have realized his true name in time (so in this case, the written word informs knowledge and gives power to the spoken word).

Murderdad is known as murderdad (sometimes trashdad) in fandom because his name has never been stated. If anyone knows it, they're not alive. Or at least, probably not living: supposedly, a "freckled" or "pock" -faced girl is or was aware of his name at one point in time. However, whether or not she is still around; at the time of calling she was a normal enough human being to summon murderdad out of yomi (a trick only humans can perform) so chances are, unless she became like murderdad later, she's long dead. The absence of his name makes him even more insidious and scary. Is he a human? A god? The other gods usually refer to him as "the sorcerer," or "an existence which should not exist," but Yato doesn't even seem to believe that he is a true sorcerer, if chapter 37's scanlations are correct, based on the fact that he doesn't actually possess magic but used an older koto no ha. In any case, the lack of an actual name and the confusion of many titles that conflict with one another and lack a solid meaning cloaks his identity. Murderdad is transformed from a person with a proper noun and a singular identity to just a noun that feels mutable and vague, which kind of suits him since he uses peoples' bodies and identities like skins. (So, there is only ONE Iki Hiyori, proper noun, but 'the' sorcerer... well... who knows, that article refers to a particular one but also hints that there could be more; we know that at one point there were at least two, since Ebisu was technically using sorcery). Even Hiiro and Yato only ever refer to murderdad as "father." Yato certainly doesn't know it. And although it seems logical that Hiiro might know it, based on the fact that she's the one who tells Yato about murderdad's trip into yomi, a close reading of ch 37 reveals that she was only told the story after-the-fact and was apparently not present at the time. Ultimately no one has control over him except maybe himself (and if there is someone yet-to-be-revealed but alive who knows his actual name) which means that he is his own master, an unpredictable wild-card. His lack of a name and lack of identity also means that we really don't understand what he is. It's said that at one point he was human, perhaps, especially since he apparently wished Yato into being (if this is to be believed; some people theorize apparently that Yato is actually another god that was abducted). Tenjin says that he is "an existence that should not exist." This makes him sound and feel even more unpredictable and frightening, since he seems to be some kind of anomaly/freak of nature; it might also account for some of Yato's unusual abilities, since the source is so strange.

Then consider that being known by multiple names is also empowering (with some major trade-offs). Shinki with multiple names, like Hiiro or Kugaha, may serve many masters, but it also means they're more durable. A proper shinki who was cast out of heaven the way Kugaha was would probably have been destroyed because they'd just be ayakashi fodder (I believe that this is what Bishamon thought would happen, before understanding that his betrayal actually went much deeper). Kugaha was able to survive, however, and come back to make more trouble because of the possession of a secondary name. Similarly, Hiiro has been doing all manner of things getting name after name over her many centuries until the names have covered her entire body. Being given multiple names means that every time, the shinki becomes something different and some new power or ability is accessed: so far, Hiiro has been a sword, a staff, and a gun. On the other hand, though, since it means that a shinki is considered disloyal and even unclean as its purpose becomes suspect (it is thought to be a weapon that can be used for dirty things a master would not want to use its proper, permanent shinki for) it results in their mistreatment. The fact that they are being used for unsavory things probably does result in some kind of mental damage, too. We haven't really seen much about Hiiro's past in particular, but I think that part of why she became so psychologically cold (aside from having been groomed to be a sociopath) is whatever suffering she went through at the hands of her various masters. It's notable that she gives a screech, even, when she's being used to kill Sakura, and seemed shocked (if not actually appalled) that the revelation of a name was so harmful... at least at the very beginning, there is an innocent element to her personality, being fairly new, and it's important to remember (as much as I do hate her) that she was abused just as badly if not worse at murderdad's instructions (remember that on at least one occasion he used his wolves on her to blight her to punish Yato, and no doubt continued contact with him only served to further warp her mind).

[[ It's ALSO notable that unlike other shinki, she does NOT fall prey to becoming an ayakashi when the god's greatest secret is revealed. That could mean that either it's not guaranteed that hearing another shinki's name is enough to immediately revert them to their "karmatic" state, OR it could mean that because her power in one of her states deals with the revelation of names that she's immune, OR... it could mean something else entirely (I don't want to speculate too far in here because Hiiro is a whole separate post to herself... but it may be that she doesn't / never had an original name, or has been robbed of those memories, or was never a human spirit to begin with). ]]

Get it in Writing

Written words are also exceptionally important. As mentioned once before, Yato's written name is the catalyst for Hiyori realizing Yato's true name (kanji in Japanese can have multiple readings called 'onyomi' and 'kunyomi' because they were imported from China; in fact, they can even have multiple kunyomi iirc). I think when Yukine's kanji name brand first appeared, we didn't really understand its significance, but as the series has progressed it's become obvious that this is really important. The kanji name tattoos are directly tied with a shinki's well-being: if a shinki begins to degrade too far, so does the name written on their body; the absolute degradation of the mark means that they've gone to the other side and become an ayakashi. If wiped clean/revoked/removed from the body, then the shinki is released from their servitude, but also left powerless to help themselves. To seek a new name even though you still wear the old means becoming a stray and the destruction of one's reputation. It's also become clear through Hiiro's powers when being utilized by murder-dad that these kanji can be manipulated by "cracking" them. This then reveals the shinki's true/first name (pre-death) and results in ayakashi-ism. Although it hasn't been shown to be possible as of yet, I also wonder if it's not possible for names to also be magically manipulated or changed—perhaps lines in the characters changed, swapped around, partially erased, the like—and what that might do: would the shinki be destroyed, or changed? It seems theoretically possible, at least, since the names can be lifted off and otherwise manipulated.

Having talked about names for two+ pages now, I'm going to start to try to transition away from that. To start that process though it's worth talking about how writing is weaponized in this series. There is a whole lot of talk about hafuri and nora and so I think it's easy to forget, sometimes, that the actual real BIG DEAL weapon in this series is not a sword or a pistol or even the shinki equivalent but the koto no ha. This big bad weapon gives even the mysterious, once-human spirit that is murderdad, the ability to give names to and manipulate ayakashi as shinki. Not only that, but it's indicated that it's even possible it could be used on a half-phantom or degrading human spirit to keep them from falling further. This is a huge fucking deal, because none of that is supposed to be possible and goes against the current system in the heavens. It also gives a human being power equal to or perhaps even greater than that of the gods, since without a proper shinki a god is defenseless against an ayakashi. It may even have more powers than that, since according to murderdad (or perhaps Ebisu? I forget which now) the newer koto no ha apparently is strong/better than the old one in some way. And what is this powerful weapon? It's a literal ink brush that appears to be perpetually wet with some magical ink (or not needing ink, either way). Interestingly, the manga depicts Izanami's box having space for four of these brushes. One of them is already missing when we see this image: that would be the brush that murderdad stole the first time. Whatever became of it? It's never clearly stated in the manga why, exactly, it is that murderdad would need or want a new one if he still has possession of the old, though clearly Ebisu wants one of his own for keeps. But of course, that never pans out, and murderdad gets his hands on the new one... but still, whatever happened to the previous one? Is someone else still running around with it, somewhere? It also seems a bit ominous to realize that there are two more unused brushes still sitting in that box. Obviously a trip into yomi to get at either of the remaining ones would not be an easy feat, but the fact that both Yato and his father have successfully managed it and the fact that the manga feels nowhere close to a conclusion does suggest that perhaps the other two might come into play at some point. If murderdad is not the "final boss" as it were, then this might make sense.

Fun fact: if you sandwich its name together like it would be in Japanese, the romaji "kotonoha" means "word," or "language" or "waka" – poem. Poems are yet another example of words weaponized. You'll recall that when Hiiro and Yukine were battling (sans masters) they both used poems. Hiiro's summoned up simple-minded water-monsters from the nearby pond that tried to eat Yukine; his poem created a blast of light that destroyed them. Even singular words can act as spells with power; take for instance the "bind" command or Kazuma's attempt at making Yato tell the truth with a spell (that he knew would fail). The efficacy of one's attacks—poems, physical attacks as weapons, even the plain old boundary line—can also be manipulated with additional words. While battling Kazuma, Yato attempts to give Yukine an edge over his opponent by revealing unsettling secrets to his mistress in his presence. Similarly later on, Yukine and Kugaha duel one another, attempting to use a concept like "raiding" / trash-talking to unsettle their opponents. It's indicated by multiple characters (Kugaha, Yato, murderdad, Kazuma) that it is really a matter of relative confidence and perspective that enables one to win against their opponent, and in fact Yukine probably would have lost his duel to Kugaha if not for Hiyori's words re-instilling his faith in Yato.

Hiyori also attempts to use written words to try to keep her promise to Yukine and Yato: she vows verbally not to forget them, and to that end, she writes in a daily planner or diary what they did every day. It's interesting to note, however, that this attempt failed, which may leave one doubting the power of words: she only lasted about a month that way. However, I believe this has to do with the way these words were being used. They were a record for herself, and not one that she probably actually reviewed. So the words became lost, not communicating anything to anyone, not even to herself, and she did forget, albeit for a brief time, until Yukine showed up and started talking to her. In fact, even though she passed Tenjin's shrine on a regular basis going home from school, lack of communication with the gods seems to be directly related to the problem: otherwise, why would Tenjin silence Mayu instead of letting her call out to Hiyori? This second time around, Hiyori seems to have wizened up to her mistakes at least somewhat and is trying a different, and seemingly more successful, approach: she can't see Yato and Yukine, so she communicates with them via letters that she's been sending by 'Coo Phone' behind Yato's back to Yukine. Additionally, it would appear that she has Yato's shrine with her and views it on a regular basis, perhaps thinking / praying on their well-being... and what, exactly, is prayer, but direct communication with a god? It's also stated that a shrine itself is the physical manifestation of one's feelings of gratitude and the expression, "thank you," so it's significant that instead of letting it sit forgotten in Kofuku's house that she's brought it home with her and given it a place of prominence in her room. Aside from Hiyori forgetting about her friends because they're not around to interact with, there are ample other incidents where a break-down in communication has disastrous results.

Silence & Lies & Secrets

First of all, (chronologically, though not in the order the story is actually told) Yato is forbidden by his father from ever speaking to anyone but Hiiro and himself. Obeying this command indefinitely might have led to a lot less dramatic trauma for Yato, as he then might never have experienced the degradation and demise of a shinki as he did with Sakura. However, doing so effectively made him a prisoner to his father's whims, unable to know or understand the wishes of others because he was forbidden to talk with them (and therefor receive them that way) and unable to have a shrine (which is another way of communicating, more indirectly, with gods). The difference before and after meeting Sakura is very obvious: once he was unable to understand that people were more than near toys, but after socializing with other children and coming to understand people better, Yato grows increasingly uncomfortable with and reluctant to play his "games" with Hiiro that require him to kill people. Any psychologist would tell you that proper socialization is a key component to a child's growth, and probably a big part of the reason that Yato is both so strange and stunted as a person is because murderdad is the primary and often times sole influence on him growing up.

Murderdad then manipulated Yato into being responsible for Sakura's destruction by having her name being revealed: Yato's inner voice was telling him to act one way, but he had Hiiro's reassurance that murderdad said it was fine. He knew full well that both he and Hiiro had positions of power and authority and trust that Yato would be unlikely to disobey, and being a child, Yato trusted them against his better judgment. Murderdad's scolding, saying that he should have known better, is then just icing on a psychologically fucked-up cake. It's pretty much a safe bet for him that it will be a long, long time until Yato dared to try to get another shinki and disobey him again. And in the meantime, as before, murderdad can continue his usual pattern: absences and silences in Yato's life, punctuated by more requests for murder. It would seem even that often months, years, maybe even decades, may go by wherein he doesn't communicate with Yato hardly at all until he has Hiiro act as his intermediary to deliver an order.

When he DOES actually speak to him, especially in the modern era, his words are usually cruel and wounding. He pointedly tells Yato about how gods don't mind being used even as he very literally uses Yato to complete his goals in a video game that acts as a really good visual parallel to how he's manipulated Yato all his life. He only ever extends praise to Yato when he does what he wants (slaughters people), and since Yato's other shinki are depicted as having grown to despise working with him (before Yukine) and Yato has never had repeat customers (before Hiyori), basically the only time he can ever receive validation for his existence is when he does something he hates. (Notably, Yato brings some of this on himself: by refusing to tell his shinki where he's going or why and simply disappearing for long stretches of time, he frayed their already tenuous working relationships time and again.) It shouldn't be any wonder, really, why Yato is so thoroughly messed up or obsessive over Hiyori's affection and care when you consider that he has literally been fed feelings of worthlessness and had no hope of salvation or successful relationships for literally hundreds of years. In fact, murderdad more or less confesses to having designed and molded him deliberately from day one: having poor social skills and a complete inability to properly communicate affection compounds those feelings of self-worthlessness by having him repeatedly abandoned by people who might otherwise care for him and help him and forces dependence on both Hiiro and murderdad.

Silence and a refusal to speak honest feelings in the ma clan resulted in relationships crumbling and doubt and jealousy taking seed. It's indicated that the previous guidepost and Aiha are responsible for the stinging that sets forth the chain reactions that hurt Bishamon the most, because they are unable to voice their jealousies and concerns in a healthy way. However, with the ma clan, Bishamon wouldn't admit her own pain either, and was driven to mask it with drugs. However, the command amongst the family was to try to always silence their fears and smile their goddess, so as not to add to her troubles, but Bishamon, not being blind and being able to feel everything, still knew that things were Not Okay, and so it ended up hurting her anyway. Eventually Bishamonten became blighted and the situation spun so out of control that nearly everyone died, twice. Kazuma kept secret from Bishamonten for centuries that he was the one who asked Yato to extinguish the ma clan which led to a grudge that left her pursuing their "benefactor" all that time. Only by confessing this to Bishamon was she able to finally get over her hate and snap out of the berserker rage driving her further and further to the edge. Hiyori's explanation that Yato and Yukine function more like a family, sharing their worries, changed Kazuma's view on the practice, and even Suzuha, hearing about the way things were between Yukine and Yato, felt envy that their relationship was so *close.* Communication was a tie, a sign of their bond.

Although it seemed like the –ma clan was going to turn a corner and become healthier by adopting new methods of communication (for example, those written messages that Kazuma receives from all of the shinki after waking up), silence is again threatening Bishamon and the remaining ma clan. Although admitting the existence of a god's greatest secret does not seem to currently be a viable option, neither does persisting in secret keeping: Kazuma and the rest of the clan's worry will surely eventually turn into blight if the situation is not in some way remedied. As I mentioned earlier, this is what I mean when I referred to "keeping this a secret" was not a good idea. It definitely seems like murderdad is intent on finishing the job that Kugaha started. The threat of silence is compounded by the threat of denial here, in that a multitude of characters (Yato, Hiyori, Yukine, and Kugaha) have been lying and refusing to speak about Murderdad and his identity, preventing him from being brought to justice. Chapter 54 of the manga explicitly hits us over the head with this, stating that "denial causes repetition."

The whole beginning arc is also marked by repeated communication breakdowns that have calculable negative results. Although initially Hiyori tries to correct Yukine's attitude and thievery, his snappish reply effects her so deeply that she refuses to take a stand any further, allowing him to go create further havoc that eventually leads another spirit into being consumed, Yukine being traumatized, and Hiyori beating Yato up in the bus station. Yato later mentions an ominous "punishment" in store for Yukine, but then refuses to explain what it is or how it works or the good that it will do both him and Yukine, and although it's clear that Yato intended to frighten her, this backfires for him as well. His cryptic wording drives her to lie about and deny Yukine's misbehavior even more vehemently, even though it means she is effectively being punished for his misdeeds instead (by having to sweep the yard and do other miscellaneous chores to earn 100 yen, about 1 USD, at a time). Yato also declines to properly inform her about his blight and condition, which leads to her worrying and confusion when Kazuma informs her that Yato could die. He ends up getting beaten up for that, too, since Hiyori responds to him waking up in the nurse's office when she's trying to check him for blight by punching him yet again. And of course, Yato refuses to properly explain what situation he meant for Hiyori to go to Kofuku and Daikoku for help, which lead to Kokki opening up a hole to yomi and releasing a storm of dead spirits.

In the end, all three main characters pay for these silences, quite nearly with their lives. Yato becomes so blighted he collapses and cannot move or even speak. Yukine seems more or less fine, until they strip him and it becomes apparent he has something like six other peoples' eyeballs on his back; he quite nearly goes full ayakashi before he's brought back. And even Hiyori doesn't escape unscathed: she abandons her body at school (meaning undoubtedly her parents must also worry since their daughter has inexplicably collapsed yet again) and immediately the blight spreads to her body as she carries Yato to Kofuku's place. Although she is purified with the use of water, she then ends up needing to risk her life yet again by going to Vaisravana's temple to call on Kazuma. The situation culminates into a full-on train wreck that nearly destroys Yukine and Yato: even being trapped in the purification chamber isn't enough to get Yukine to admit he did wrong, and the other shinki present only exacerbate the situation by discussing how they can kill him without letting him out of the barrier. If Hiyori had not chosen at that moment to risk her life yet again by approaching the barrier and addressing Yukine directly (a boy-turning-into-a-monster who, moments ago, suggested that every human should die and be like him!) then Yato would not have regained his ability to speak (blood in his throat caused by his blight-injuries appeared to be preventing him from doing so) and Yukine would surely have gone full ayakashi and that would have been the end of everything. (This is also one of the very rare occasions that Yato ever apologizes to Hiyori for anything he has ever done/does do to her!) But it's doubtful that if these words had come from anyone but her they would have had the same impact: this is because the relationship, kind of person, and even the type of entity from which words come from matters.

The Fount From Which They Flow

The source from which words come from is just as much if not even more important than the words themselves. Consider again that only the god that has issued a particular name to a shinki can call that shinki forth in its particular weaponized form. Only Hiyori, of all the very powerful people present when Ebisu dies, is able to summon Bishamon and Yato back from Yomi (which is a nice subversion, since she is by far the weakest of them, being human). And only living humans can wish gods into existence or preserve their presence through memory and wishes. As the series is currently on-going, it is highly likely that yet more instances of "entity-specific" situations will arise pertaining to words and communication.

Personal relationships play a critical role as well. It's not just enough to point out that Yato is Yukine's friend, but that his words are "like that of a father." And if those words hadn't come from Hiyori, would they have even mattered to Yukine? Yato is also forced to reluctantly conclude, at least to himself, fairly early on that Hiyori's relationship with Yukine, being of a more affectionate and less negatively complicated nature, means that he has to rely on Hiyori to help bridge the gaps between the two of them. Even as recently as the conclusion of the Ebisu/Yomi arc, we saw Hiyori counseling Yukine to have patience and faith in Yato--and notably, not just her words, but in Yato himself. This is still not enough, though, to totally heal the many insecurities that Yato's silences regarding his activities and that stray have incurred against Yukine's pride.So after his return from Yomi, Hiyori practically begs Yato to say some encouraging words to Yukine and to reassure him. Initially, Yato is evasive regarding the matter, resulting in Yato being literally stabbed with coin bottle (direct negative consequence). It's only actually after Yato confesses to both of them what work he's been doing over the years as well as his true name and purpose, that his relationship with Yukine rounds that bend (direct positive for confession). Keeping the stray's name as long as he did was a long source of tension in Yato's and Yukine's relationship. It kept Yato from relying fully on Yukine, made him more vulnerable to her influence, and fed into Yukine's insecurities that he somehow still wasn't good enough. Yato destroying her name and effectively releasing her was also a really Big Deal.

Yato is pretty much virtually always seen to be desperate for and warmly responding to praise from any source, even the vaguest kind. When he gets extra beer or food from his customers, for example, he's ecstatic, and a few warm words will turn him moody to dorkishly enthusiastic faster than you can snap your fingers. These sources are very temporary, however, considering that they forget him so quickly, and so in spite of their sincerity, their effect is paltry. If he had more followers, more people making wishes for him to grant, then undoubtedly even these one-time customers could have a greater effect on him and the kinds of jobs he does and doesn't take.

However, Yato wants praise the most especially from those closest to him: this is why we see him collecting ears for murderdad as a child. We also see him begging for it from Hiiro the first time he has alcohol (and also begging her to tell him he's her favorite). Because the people that these words of praise are coming from happen to be sociopaths means that no matter how much Yato also desires to become a better god that doesn't murder people, because he wants and needs praise and wishes in a steady supply, he's continually forced to return to their side. In direct juxtaposition to their corrupting influence is that of Hiyori and Yukine. Receiving praise from them has a profound, positive effect on Yato. It's their repeated utterances to have more confidence in himself, that they believe that he can change, and explaining to him how to do so and not to give up, that is the driving force behind Yato's efforts and his personal improvement. We see this changing his work ethic (destroying countless ayakashi for no personal profit), changing the way he always thinks selfishly and thoughtlessly (like when he's stuck in Yomi and starts berating himself for thinking highly of bringing the stray) and bettering his obsession over Hiyori ( such as sacrificing his time with her for her safety). Yukine in particular is incredibly influential, encouraging Yato to give up on money and to re-think how "cutting" might be used to make people happy instead of sad (not entirely unlike how Sakura tried to teach Yato to cut things that were not living, or to search for solutions that didn't involve living creatures becoming hurt). It's their opinion of him and his desperation for their praise that make Yato want to leave the nora and murderdad even as he worries that they'll never accept or forgive him for what he's done, and it's ultimately their estimation of him that helps him to finally make his decision to do so more binding by terminating contact with the stray, making him more of his own person than he's been in centuries.

It is entirely suspect, even outrageous, that murderdad would try to convince Hiyori that the words and feelings she has to offer Yato are "cheap" and "half-assed," because (aside from the mountain of evidence we have to the opposite) it's obvious from his attempts to isolate Yato, in classic abuser fashion, from her and any other non-toxic human or shinki contact that he knows damn well it isn't true. (This is why he destroyed Sakura, and it's why he'll more than likely try to destroy Yukine if Yato will not surrender him willingly.) It is much more likely that he recognizes her as exactly the threat to him that she is, albeit a burgeoning one that doesn't understand her actual value, a virtuous enough person to have a lot of insecurities that he can prey upon. He's spent countless centuries learning how to read people and use them to his purposes. This is why he manages to get under her skin so easily: you can see the uncertainty and the way his words physically jerk her and emotionally torment her, and of course, so can he. He goes on to talk about how she'll die eventually, and how tenuous an effect she could hope to offer, and when you consider this section in conjunction with the first few pages of the same chapter when she is fretting over her future and the fact that she is continuing on, it becomes clear how devastating an impact having to hear these words from an outside source that claims to be an authority on such matters would be. (Nor should her fretting earlier in this chapter be viewed as an isolated issue; Hiyori is occasionally but with increasingly serious presentation, forced to consider this issue starting around the time that Yukine meets Suzuha.) While these long-developing insecurities that have been gathering in the back of her mind about her lifespan and her limitations as a mere human being are not always clearly present, as a character as deeply caring as she is and tries as hard as she does, no doubt they are still there, percolating.

By keeping Yato cut off from her for an extended period of time, murderdad managed to manipulate her into forgetting. Even though this was deliberate manipulation on his part, it clear that Hiyori feels no small amount of regret and shame over this, as she remembers that he kissed her at Capyperland, tenses up, and becomes angry enough to start issuing reckless challenges. There's no doubt that this was an attempt to not only solidify his power over Yato, but to punish him by hurting him as well (he makes it clear when he shows off the photo of Hiyori at Capyper Land that causing Yato pain is one of his pleasures in life, and again when he threatens to send picture evidence of an "afterschool date" with her to Yato). If it wasn't for Yukine, Murderdad might have gotten away with it. However, it really is a testament to just how much of a threat that he finds her to be that he insists on going after her again once she remembers, and now yet again he seems to be preparing something nasty for her following the hospital fiasco. And how does he try to attack her? Why, words, of course; nothing so direct as a punch to the face. First he tried to intimidate her (with words!), and when that didn't work, he used the kotonoha (which gives false names to ayakashi, and is a weapon in the shape of a brush for writing) to swarm the hospital, and then once Hiyori was in a vulnerable state, he capitalized on this by broadcasting words at her that fed on her insecurities and worries and drove her to becoming more and more like an ayakashi. Words, then, are his weapon of choice, just as much as silence, to try to stifle change and keep the status quote.

The Battleground of the Soul

By now it should be becoming clear that words and their sources have profound effects on both the characters' and story's overall development. There is a kind of effect here such that the opposing moral forces in the story (Murderdad and the stray versus Hiyori and Yukine) are actually fighting over Yato's soul. Toward the very beginning of the manga, Yato is an extremely cold and even dis-likable person: he straight up tells Hiyori in the beginning of the manga that "normally he'd want to make someone like her his shinki" suggesting that he'd actually consider killing her to have a weapon. He can't keep any shinki because he keeps alienating them. He has no money and constantly blows what he makes on good luck charms because he has no faith in himself. Although his job ethic is not bad once on the job, he's picky about what he wants to take, and is willing to let himself and his shinki reside in poverty rather than be responsible. His ability to empathize with his shinkis' worries and fears and complaints about their living conditions is pretty much intolerable. And inevitably, when called upon by Murderdad and Hiiro, he goes off a'murderin', and that's about the only time he wants to be involved with cutting things up. Although when called upon to do destroy ayakashi, he will, but Yato expresses such disdain for people even subconsciously tempted by ayakashi into suicide that he would rather let them die than try to help them (like at the train station, once summoned up by Tenjin). He's more tolerant of those like Manabu that are perhaps on the edge of temptation, but not quite there yet, and still in possession of turning things around for themselves. However, most shinki and gods (who also experience the lives of their ghost partners and understand their sorrows) find his pitiless attitude and scathing remarks deplorable. He also happens to also just plain be a weird guy, underneath all that, so he is a hard package for most people to accept, and most all of that is Murderdad's fault and deliberate conniving. There is no simple magic fix for all of this, but in the last 50+ chapters, thanks to Hiyori and Yukine's guidance, Yato has changed a lot!

Consider this: Two times in the three chapters (almost all the most recent ones) we've seen Yato exercising a new ability that is word-based in conjunction with his swordsmanship. The first time of course was with Hiyori; the second time was with the nameless painter ghost. There's also a third and minor occasion worth mentioning as well.

The incident with the painter girl, or the second occasion, is important because it is the first time that Yukine (his guidepost, the one who's supposed to be guiding him) points out what he did and explicitly praises him for doing this. It's positive reinforcement, and considering the value that Yato puts in praise (he's so dere outside he's rocking on a rocking horse for children?) that alone makes it worthy to note. But Yukine explicitly says that it's not cutting her out of the painting that saved her, and I think that's true. Stop and think: if Yato had only been able to get her out of the painting, what would have happened to this ghost? It would have become like any other spirit unable to move on, trapped, potential fodder for ayakashi, unless some god happened to take it as a shinki. Best case scenario would be to become a shinki, but most likely it would have just continued to use other living humans as a conduit for her own talent, endlessly trapped by her unfinished business of being unrecognized and unpraised. Yato's words release her, allowing her to pass on to whatever comes next for deceased spirits.

Another thing not to overlook is just how much Yato's words changed the trajectory of Grandma Iki's life. This is by no means a "super-power" in the same way as the previous example. However, he has no way to actually save Grandma Iki from dying: as he tells Hiyori, if he destroyed the shadow, grannie would just have to forever wander the earth. Instead, he uses his words to empower Hiyori and Masaomi to make her life, while alive, better. Before she was living all by herself in that big old home. Considering her daughter's and son-in-law's busy schedules, as well as Hiyori's youth, it's unlikely that the family was visiting much outside of the periodic health checks to make sure she was okay. The toilet isn't even properly stocked with a spare roll (which prompts Masaomi's call), indicating that she doesn't get many visitors. She's apparently been living in dread of the "black ones" every since she saw the one down at the cemetery more than two months before present time. So she was living a very solitary, probably lonely, sad and anxious life, and we know that soon she's going to die: what kind of way is this for a person to have to spend the last of their days? Now she's going to be surrounded by her family, which no doubt will cause her nuisances (we saw toward the end of the chapter how particular she is about wanting quiet) but we also see from her expression that she's deeply touched that her family wants to spend more time with her. This is also probably a noticeable and sharp improvement for Hiyori, considering that her family now feels so much closer than before.

However, the first occasion that Yato uses his power as an actual power is equally if not more-so important than both previously mentioned incidences combined, enough to warrant its own section for consideration. I'm referring of course to chapter 51, when Hiyori is becoming an ayakashi and losing her grip on reality and sinking into a very sudden, guilt-ridden depression. Even while her body is continuing to operate in the physical world, presumably on some level seeing and hunting Yato out, some part of her is caught in her own inner turmoil. The panels where she is running from her family and friends and then huddled alone, in the dark, literally falling apart, are clearly meant to be symbolic of suicidal thoughts: she believes that she can't go back. Right before this, before fighting with Yato on the truck, she was running through the streets, begging Yato to "take her with him," and to not make her go back to face the ugliness of her life. It's unclear whether or not she was really conscious of what that meant at that time considering she was half out of her mind and filled with incredible amounts of pain, but even if she was simply looking for an escape from the pains and anxieties (as most people who contemplate suicide are) the results who have clearly been the same. Yato saves her by correcting these visions, by overcoming murderdad's hateful words with his own, and reassuring her. But there's another reason why this scene is so important that I want to touch upon.

Earlier I brought up a reminder about how early on in the manga, Yato was unwilling to save people who had already been tempted over by an ayakashi while he was on the job for Tenjin. The boy at the train station only had an ayakashi on his back, which is a far cry less affected than Hiyori, who is also technically a living person, is in this scene. Hiyori might be the first and only human we've seen taken that far into the far shore. If Yato had encountered Hiyori in her ayakashi state from Chapters 49-51 at the beginning of the story, he probably would not have saved her. (In fact, it's suggested when he first learns about her ability to slip out and her spiritual strength, that he even momentarily considers the value of taking her as his shinki at that time!) Instead, not only does he put the sword down, but he really does his best to try to comfort her, even knowing that at any moment if he failed she would take another bite out of him (and he was already in such shitty shape, who knows how much more he could have taken). Not only is the good influence of his current shinki and Hiyori gradually saving Yato from Murderdad and Hiiro (and to some extent himself), it's making him capable of saving others with words of hope and love. Because although a sword is great for cutting down pesky ayakashi or the odd rope dragging a man to his horse, its uses are limited. A sword cannot bring back innocent people who have been killed, like the brother and sister who died while Yato was out fetching her kimono, or the woman whose child was murdered by a convict expected to go free. Once someone is dead, they're gone, and a sword can only cut. Words are flexible and have many, many uses: a painter that can't move on without her working appreciated can finally go once she's been praised for her dedication, and a school girl can be brought back from the precipice of despair by reassuring her that she is still loved.

What Might Have Been?

To really fully understand the significance of him using his words in order to make the "right" choice, though, we have consider the consequences of the wrong choice, in which violence (alone) was used. We've already considered for both the painting ghost and Grandma Iki what those outcomes might have been. The manga itself more or less makes those explicitly clear. However, it takes a bit more imagination with Hiyori's scenario, which is truly the one that would be most devastating to everyone involved.

Yato was proposed two options by murderdad: sever her tail or sever the bonds. Cutting the bonds with Hiyori would have meant losing her, a surely disastrous result for he and Yukine: it's possibly Yukine could have blighted him further, but perhaps more importantly in the long-run, Yukine and Yato have a relationship that is best labeled as "complicated" and more accurately as "tumultuous." Although it continues to get better, a lot of that has been because of Hiyori's direct and indirect influence. Losing her at this point could lead to disaster. It also would probably not have been a good result for Hiyori, either. Yato seems to think that if he is simply no longer a part of Hiyori's life, she will no longer be in danger from murderdad, but unless severing the bonds means he too forgets, her continued well-being would still be a noose he could pull around Yato's neck. Furthermore, although her friends' and family's words and deeds obviously are a part of Hiyori recovering from her incident, the impact of his words on her mentally, as someone else that she cares for deeply, really shouldn't be taken for granted. Remember that until the moment he tells her otherwise, she fully believes that she will be hated, that she has nowhere to go to: if she'd simply returned to consciousness with those feelings still intact, the results could have been disastrous, as we know that living beings are vulnerable to ayakashi without ever even knowing they're there. Encountering even just one in a fragile mental state following such a serious incident could be bad. We also know now that Hiyori has inherited a natural ability to see spirits from her family, so the point that she might forget everything or be somehow better protected from ayakashi is unlikely.

If Yato had chosen to cut her tail, though, things would have been even worse. Yato most certainly would have been badly stung / blighted by Yukine; even just using the boundary line on Hiyori in a way that gave her a minor injury stung Yato. Killing her, their good friend, someone they both love, when Yukine has sworn not to let him kill again, would almost certainly do irrevocable psychological damage to the both of them, even if they did somehow manage to convince themselves this was the "best" option. Hiyori would have been died, and as we know, she'd forget everything about her relationship with Yato and Yukine. Worse, it would have risked the revelation of a god's greatest secret: just think what would happen if Yukine or Yato were to accidentally say her original name again. It's quite possible that if Yato would want to keep her, he'd have to give up Yukine, who we know Murderdad wants. At the very least he probably wants to prevent Yukine from continuing to have a positive influence on Yato, he could be yet another tool to force Yato to behave (since he DOES care for Yukine even if he is shitty about it) and possibly for more plot-related-reasons yet unknown.

Even assuming that Hiyori's name was never spoken and that Yato kept Yukine and shinki!Hiyori, this likely would have destabilized Yato and Yukine's relationship. We know that shinki can become jealous of one another's familiarity with their gods (see the ha and ma clans) or disturbed by the presence of other other shinki even when it's unintentional (Daigo and Daikoku). It's kind of been made a very big deal in the manga that Yukine is Yato's "one and only." Granted, it's probably not helped by the fact that Yato was hiding and lying about his continued involvement with the Stray, but it clearly negatively impacts his personal feelings of self-worth as well as his feelings about Yato and their relationship that Yato feels the need to depend on another shinki. I could really only see Yukine accepting some alternative to this if Yato had radically changed for the better by the end of the series and if Hiyori was at the end of her natural life or had died through some other unnatural means and this was the only way to rescue her from being forced to endlessly wander with ayakashi. Even so, this would still leave the problem of Hiyori's original name being so well-known; unlike Yato, Yukine probably doesn't have some kind of built-in protection device (isn't this why Yato tells Hiyori that once she dies, there are people she'll never be able to see again, and why Mayu needs to be protected from her own daughter?). The fact that Murderdad and Hiiro would both know her original name would mean Yato would have to be their slave forever or risk her being destroyed; at any point all they'd have to do is say her name and it would be Sakura 2: The Hiyori-ing.

None of that even touches upon the fact that ultimately, Hiyori didn't actually want to die. Although he doesn't seem to get it or see it for himself just yet, Hiyori happily declares to Yato that if it wasn't for him turning her away at that time, she wouldn't still be there, so it's very clear that she is actually very grateful to him for not granting her wish at that time. It's very clear from her quick refocus to her family, friends, and studies that she has plans and goals and dreams, which is as it should be! For all her family's numerous flaws and failings toward her (namely, what would appear to be an egregious amount of unintentional neglect)Hiyori still obviously loves them, as is evidenced by her concern for her parents and grandmother and her complete joy that her brother returns home to them. If Hiyori had in fact died because of the attack on the hospital, things would have been just that more horrific for all of the remaining Iki family, particularly the grandmother, who sees herself as responsible for the misfortune befalling them, and her mother, who responded to Hiyori's black out by trying to attack someone herself. It's also a helpful thing for her relationship with Yato. Although Yato seems to see his inability to grant her wish as a failure and thus tries to avoid her for it following the incident, Hiyori seems to perceive it as a moment in which he put her actual, long-term needs in front of his desires or her short-sighted pain at the most critical moment. This is reaffirmed later when Hiyori informs Yato in chapter 54 that he's 'been her god of fortune for a long time now.'

Hiyori's salvation, and even the group's collective benefit from Yato choosing to react the way he does, is easily enough understood. One thing that I feel might be a little more miss-able, however, is how Chapter 51, "salvation" may actually be a specific moment of salvation for Yato... from himself. To understand why, we have to consider Chapter 51 (Salvation) in relation to Chapter 25, or what I like to call the "Bodysnatcher Disaster" chapter, and see the way these events might be affecting his character.

A Personal Turn-Around? : High School Horror

Chapters 51 and 25 don't appear to have much in common superficially. Chapter 25 is comical, filled with whacky hijinks and trashy stunts only Yato at his worst is capable of it. Presented at the end of the Ma-Clan-Crisis arc, and before the beginning of Ebisu & the Underworld Arc, it can even feel like a more light-hearted break from the seriousness of the concluding arc (in which a lot of people died). It's also the first time that the concept of "divine possession" is formally introduced, which later becomes a crucial plot point. Meanwhile, Chapter 51 is extremely dramatic and fraught with tension because of the violence and risk in spite of feeling like it might be the conclusion to an arc (perhaps Murderdad's High School Hijinks Arc). But there is a common thread to be found here, aside from the introduction of new powers (if we take Yato's words as being a legit new power, or perhaps just new to him). We just have to closely analyze what's happening in both.

Yato reveals to Kofuku during his "high school debut" that he intends to run Hiyori's reputation into the ground so that he can then ride in to save her and her sweep her away; he says he wants everyone to turn their backs on her so he's all she has left. He imagines that in some way this will be deeply romantic and she will fall head over heels for him, either not seeming to really understand that the kind of damage he's talking about is not something that can be magically cured by one's "rescuer," or worse, not caring. (I believe personally it's a lack of proper empathic skills/understanding, and I'll get there in a minute.) Kofuku tells him straight up (and she's the one trying to snag 5,000 dollars from the boys/men she's been flirting with!!) that he's truly evil, and she's not entirely wrong. Up until that moment, Yato's antics might feel like the same-old, same-old, reaching new heights: this is not the first time he's trashily and inappropriately tried to use Hiyori as a selling point for his marketing (think the kotatsu chapter, in which he tries to trick her into offering a pair of her panties to a customer).

But this is kind of the first moment when it's explicitly made clear to the audience that these are not just "whacky hijinks" executed in isolation or for his imagined self-benefit (raising money for a great big shrine). We're being made aware that Yato is aware that his actions could have some kind of negative impact on Hiyori's life, and at this moment that is his hope. Put aside the magic and exact means of how he intends to accomplish his goal, and just look at what the end-goal is, and what you're seeing is textbook abusive relationship patterns. This is the kind of thing abusers do: drive a wedge between a person and their family or friends in the hopes of making their victim dependent solely on them. I think there are a couple of clues here that we're not supposed to see this as a "good" thing. Although Kofuku makes no attempt to stop Yato because gods try not to interfere with each other's business directly (we even see this with wise old Tenjin, because fighting between gods causes chaos, and the grudges can last for decades or even centuries, as seen with Bishamon and Yato) she does inform him that what he's doing is evil. Again, examine what she herself admits to doing in the same panel, and consider that she's willing to risk hundreds of peoples' lives with her deadly aura so she can have a date (and ruin Yato's) at Capyper Land later on. Furthermore, Yato's fantasy as depicted in the manga shows him in a stupid cheesy, run down costume, showing that he's a far cry from the shining knight in armor he wants to envision himself as. So we're not meant to see it as attractive or romantic, but the seriousness of this can kind of be lost due to the craziness and humor during an initial or just-for-fun read.

But think about this a little deeper, with the further context of Yato's own personal history in mind. Yato was raised by an incredibly manipulative, abusive bastard. I don't want to rehash this too much, but just to reiterate, in case I missed anything before: Murderdad specifically saw to it that Yato was effectively cut off from anyone who actually cared for him by preventing him from establishing bonds with humans and shinki other than Hiiro (talking was strictly forbidden) in the first place, and then he saw to it that Yato was personally responsible for Sakura's destruction to make the "punishment" extra painful. It's suggested in a number of places that Yato is a lot like his father (even one of the manga chapters is called "Like Father Like Son") and considering that Murderdad wished for him to be exactly as he is, there is some suggestion here that to some degree, Yato may not be entirely responsible for his personality. If we consider child development as it happens with humans, it should be pretty obvious that such an unhealthy, abusive situation could have direct negative consequences for a human child. There are numerous studies that show that, statistically speaking, children who are abused or bullied grow up to become bullies and abusers themselves. That is what we're seeing here: Yato does not himself recognize it, but in this moment, he is taking the same pattern of behavior that hurt him so deeply and considering, trying, to use it on another person. But gods, for all that they look like humans and have many of the same emotions and reactions, are not humans, and the manga does try to keep this in mind for us (ex: god cannot sin). So then the question we have to ask ourselves is, does this then matter? If gods are like humans, but not humans, would Yato's early development as a young god matter in the same way that it would for a human?

I think the answer is still yes. The manga also makes a big deal about the proper socialization and guidance of god by good guideposts with both Ebisu and Bishamon Iwami keeps shit together and maintains, overall, the knowledge and direction between the various incarnations of Ebisu, which has lead to Ebisu seeking the use of the KotonoHa for the good of mankind. In his most recent re-spawning, he has tried to follow Ebisu's newest desire to help his master gain a bit of self-preservation so that he won't self-sacrifice so easily in the future. As for Bishamon, we've seen the way she degraded due to her guideposts' issues (jealousy the first time, guilt the second) but overall, in both cases, she was still a very caring, compassionate person, which was Kugaha's objection. He envisioned raising her re-spawned child-self into someone just as fierce but far less caring than Bishamon is currently, and considering that Kugaha is a ruthless bastard, if he'd gotten his way he'd have succeeded. So too with Kofuku and Daikoku there is a consideration of how a god might be changed by different relationships, if Daikoku really did raise her to be like his own daughter instead of being her lover. During his many informative years, who did Yato have? Hiiro, who is never bothered emotionally by anything, and finds the suffering of others funny, and his wish-giving father the sadist. By cutting Yato off from anyone but himself and Hiiro, Yato has been stunted. And while at some point, one must take responsibility for one's actions, and Yato is himself responsible for perpetuating the shitty cycle of things that happen to him, the continual loss of shinki who might replace Hiiro as better guideposts has been everything that Murderdad has probably counted on and has everything to do with feeding into this self-fulfilling prophecy of personal ruin.

Of course, Yato's half-baked scheme doesn't work out. After Yatori dislocates her arm, the god abandons her body, so he's unable to continue his reign of terror. He is then thoroughly walloped by Yukine for his misdeeds, which he so rightfully deserves, and presumably some combination of his shinki's anger and Hiyori's convinces him not to pull that stunt again (at least, until he tries to get her canonized; notably, he still wants to, or at least fantasizes about it). Because it was just the one day, of course her relationships with her living friends and family are not truly damaged: people who really love you won't usually abandon you for acting outrageously once or twice in your life. It's also notable that because Yato is an idiot, he does actually seem to really believe that somehow things will be magically okay: Hiyori will just get over it and fall madly in love with him, problem resolved. He certainly doesn't picture her as potentially depressed or suicidal. Basically, he doesn't understand just how grave the potential consequences for his actions are. In some ways, the results of that chapter could even be counted as a net gain for Hiyori, as it tests the strengths of her friendships and actually forces her a little more out of her shell afterward since everyone wants to go to her for advice. But it still courts with a very dangerous idea: being so obsessed with a person and so selfish about your own desires that you're willing to hurt them to get what you want, willing to drive them to a place where they feel abandoned. For a very long time, since Yato is never pictured apologizing for it, this incident sort of feels unresolved, and when you think about all of the trashy, possessive things he does in the interim between 25 and 51, it can feel like if he's improved, it's not by much: he's (literally) getting into her clothes, threatening to either cut her bonds with other boys (or perhaps outright murder them!), threatening to beat baseball players over the head, trying to cheat his way to her heart by using spells... the list could continue. WILL HE EVER SEE THE ERROR OF HIS WAYS? . . .

A Personal Turn-Around? : The Juxtaposition

So then we reach chapters 49-51, and this idea comes up again (made explicitly clear in Chapter 51). Only this time, it's Murderdad perpetrating it, and because he is an actual abuser with a lot of experience and absolute ruthlessness, he's taken the idea and REALLY expounded on it. Although divine possession is not at play here, Murderdad has a bunch of the Iki family's hospital's patients, staff, and visitors infected with ayakashi. People start attacking each other, leading to speculation that there may have been bad drugs, and Hiyori's mother is badly wounded. He then begins broadcasting to her via ayakashi that it's all her fault (because of her involvement with Yato), that she has no future and no hope. Caring for and loving the people around her as deeply as Hiyori does, she was in a vulnerable place already; it takes very little of this influence to push her over the edge. Unable to deal with what she feels is all her fault or to face her friends, she lashes out even at Yato and then runs away. We're made to explicitly understand by the pictures in the panels that she honestly believes everyone will hate her. Driven into despair and feeling that she has no one left to turn to, when Yato comes after her she literally "sees" him as her one beacon of hope, wreathed in light and full of forgiveness and love that she fears she can never have elsewhere. This is what Yato wanted in his original plan, though certainly not the way he set about getting it: her isolated, turning to him for salvation.

But here he's made to understand just how fucked up this is. She begs him not to leave her, not to make her go back, to take her with him... which incidentally means killing her, as Murderdad explicitly explains. He tells Yato that she has nowhere to go back to, no one left to her, and that it would be cruel to turn her away: he should take her as his shinki so she won't have to deal with it anymore. Her death would wipe her memories of her family, but they wouln't be able to see her anymore, either: she would be effectively, totally, and permanently cut off from them for forever, forcing dependence and the kind of deep relationship that until this moment Yato thought he wanted (one in which she can't leave him). It's like an abuser's dream come to true, and it's also Yato's idea from the previous chapter taken to its most extreme.... Or rather, stripped of the panty shots and physical comedy, it's the ugly truth behind his original plot. It's offered to him again, this choice, and this time... he could have it. At that moment she is vulnerable and willing, detrimental as it would have been to all of them, instead of understandably pissed. And Yukine is in no position to chastise him because he doesn't know how to save Hiyori any better than Yato does, and furthermore, this isn't technically Yato's fault: this plot was executed by Murderdad, and they all just fell into his trap.

If Yato was truly an abusive person, or someone who wanted to be an abuser, then he would have accepted. Or, at least, he would not have reacted in that moment the way he does, and going forward with Murderdad's suggestion would have put him one step closer to becoming like his father. It's crucial that we see the stricken look on his face as he realizes and internalizes Murderdad's words, finally processing that being with him as thoroughly as he originally intended can only mean one thing for Hiyori. This is followed up by him flashing mentally on Sakura and himself as a child while he holds her and says that the wish she has is the only one he can't grant. Without these two panels, I'm not sure that we could be certain that he's finally making a connection here with what's happened to himself and what's happening now, nor would we realize just how deeply revolting he finds it and how much he doesn't want that for her. It's also important that Yato hear all of these truths about Hiyori's vulnerability and being so cut-off because I don't think he'd make the connection between his own goofball plans and what Murderdad's done otherwise. It is still not 100% clear whether or not he understands his schemes were ultimately the same considering that we don't see him flashing on 25's contents as well, but it seems reasonable to me that he would finally make the connection here. As dense as he is, it's hard to believe he could miss it if spelled out for him so plainly. So it's critical that Yato rejects becoming like Murderdad and looks for a different solution, one that puts her needs before his desires and seeks to actually help her instead of himself, and that includs a verbal apology.

The apology itself and the explanation that comes with it is pivotal as well because it means that their relationship can finally mature and start to become more healthy. Up until now, Yato has been so self-absorbed and consumed by his fears and issues with abandonment that nearly if not every action that he's taken with Hiyori since going dere has been about trying to keep her with him as much as possible regardless of what it means for her as a person. Consider, even, the disastrous Capyper Land trip, which, though designed for her sake, didn't actually take into account any of her expressed desires. During this scene he actually comforts her, which has been pointedly made known is not one of Yato's skills (ex: when Suzuha died and Yukine was grieving). After this moment, we see him trying to cheer her up with a birthday party invitation that doesn't end up happening because Daikoku tells him his plans are inappropriate. He then somewhat-reluctant accepts that he cannot solve all her problems personally thanks to Ebisu and merely wishes her well instead of trying to involve himself personally in her life with some crazy scheme to manipulate the people around her (ala 25). Then he attempts to avoid her entirely for two whole months on the grounds that if he appears to care for her less or not at all, that will make her less of a target for Murderdad. It seems he's trying, with mixed results and efforts, to not be a detrimental force in her life, to the point that he refuses to visit her until he's met his own unreasonable standards (this seems to me to be what Yukine mean when he says that even if Yato was a god of fortune they'd never go back in chapter 54). It's also the second time (in the whole manga I think) that Yato apologizes to her of his own accord. We are never shown in the manga that he apologizes for borrowing her body or thinking such nefarious deeds (though notably, in the OVA, not only does he NOT express that he intended to drive everyone away, but also he DOES apologize, saying he did it only because he was lonely). It would be a stretch to say that he's apologizing to her for Chapter 25's events since he makes explicitly clear what he's apologizing for (not being able to fulfill her wish, wanting her to live a full life). However, it is still a rejection of a reality in which he would take advantage of her desire to be with him or her despair in order to get what he wants, and is still therefor also a rejection of his previous patterns which opens up a multitude of possibilities in the future.

Words and the Future?

If Yato continues on his current path, it seems to me like he may become a god of salvation or mercy. I find this really interesting because if you go back to the chapters regarding his childhood, there is a panel in which young Yato is slaughtering people, and one of them begs him to please have mercy. He responds immediately and enthusiastically, asking if that was a wish, and it seems he would have granted it, if not for the fact that Hiiro was there to remind him of "father's" orders. (So here his words as a child are a potential foreshadowing of what may come to pass.) Additional potential foreshadowing of this ability came about when he also managed to, with Hiyori's help (in word AND deed) save Yukine during the purification ceremony. Now, in the most recent chapters, he's managed to do a lot of good for both living and dead people with his words as opposed to just action as mentioned earlier. Because salvation is occurring through word-use, I think that part of becoming this god of fortune or salvation is going to mean an increased reliance on his words as opposed to cutting shit up with his swords. Maybe, eventually, it will even mean that Yukine turns into something other than swords. (Less likely, seeing as we've yet to hear of shinki having a second evolution, but you never know.) What's going to be instrumental in encouraging to continue in this direction, of course, are going to be Yukine and Hiyori's words.

Yato still technically has a long way to go before he's a competent god. He may never be on Ebisu's or Bishamon's level (he would not be Yato if he was not a goof and an occasional fuck-up) but he could certainly still be better and has the potential to be, because at his heart he wants to... he just doesn't really have that faith in himself yet. But every time Hiyori has told him that she wants to be with him, or that she has faith in him, he has become more loving and more open and capable of expressing love, even though he still sucks a LOT at showing it and comes off as super creepy. (I think that the current chapters might show that he's going to round a bend there, but it's still too soon to tell.) And every time Yukine has expressed faith in him, or given him praise, Yato has responded positively, and gradually, he is getting better, becoming kinder and more concerned with other people. Compare how Yato responds when Hiyori's depressed after Yukine chews her out at the bus stop in Chapter 5 (he's not even aware that something's the matter) with how concerned he is when he notices something is wrong with Hiyori and she won't tell him what it is. He's even starting to spend his money on people other than him! Literally every time Hiyori tells him something important that expresses that she cares about him (hugging him and saying she's relieved he's alright after the ceremony, saying she wants to be with him more and begging him not to cut the bonds, again saying she wants to be with him longer at Capyperland) he has become progressively more dere. His biggest personal problems at the moment remain that 1) he still doesn't know how to appropriately show his affection and 2) he still lacks in self-love and self-confidence. Nothing highlights the latter more than his instantaneous dislike for Masaomi Iki, because as Yukine points out, they have a lot in common.

I think at some point, it's going to become critical that Hiyori expresses to Yato just how much he means to her (ie: an actual love confession). Part of this is because of just how hard Murderdad has tried to drive a wedge between the two of them. Think about it: first he tried to get her out of the picture by making her forget Yato and "stealing" her at Capyper Land. Then he tries to convince Hiyori that her feelings and words have no value and to drive her away (silence her). Finally, he executes a nefarious plan that would have prevented her from ever saying the words, either. If Hiyori had been shinki'd, she would never have been able to tell him how she felt before that, because she would have died and forgotten. If the bonds had been broken, again, she would have forgotten. If her loving him was not something of actual, deep consequence, Murderdad never would have wasted his time in the first place: remember, he even had to get Fujisaki moved to Tokyo and everything. Even if that is reading too deeply, though, it's impossible not to see just how deeply her words have an effect on Yato throughout the manga. He believes whole-heartedly in her, and because she has expressed faith in him, he's starting to believe it and work harder to change, too. However, at the moment development in their personal relationship is sort of stalled because Hiyori still insists that they're "just friends" even though it's obvious they both have had deeper feelings than that for a long time. Not to harp on it, but as mentioned much earlier before, the manga has made it clear that denial only makes for repetition until things are accepted, so it seems that it is pointing to this becoming an eventual reality.

It's worth taking a paragraph or so to consider whether or not Yato actually has improved, overall: in chapters 51 and 52 he seemed to be doing so well and then in chapter 53 we see him eatin Hiyori's letter and wearing her old school uniform. It's easy to see this as a complete step-backward or maybe even several into creepy-town. HOWEVER. I think it's important to keep perspective and remember that previously every time Yato has been creepy, it's been to get her attention or because he doesn't know how to appropriately show affection. Considering his deliberate lack of proper socialization / most of what little he got being toward psychopaths and having never had anyone love him back, it stands to reason he'd fuck up spectacularly in the beginning. Here, at least, his creepiness is not an attempt to win her over or seclude her, and when we DO actually see him interacting with her in 54 he's not behaving inappropriately at all. No, all of that nuttiness is Yato trying to cope with two-month withdrawal: they both want to see each other, or at least hear from each other, but unlike every other time he's tried to cut himself off, he's not even allowing himself Twitter or texts. Nothing, cold turkey. He's lonely, and it's... pathetic, and obviously this level of dependence on a person isn't good, however, perhaps he could progress past this intense need if she told him how she felt instead of denying it. It's important to realize, too, that being away from someone you deeply care about with literally no contact and are used to seeing every day, for two months, is a very difficult challenge for most people. Even many well-adjusted normal people would have difficulties with something like this; it's only natural to miss someone at that point. The difference here as to why Yato appears so off the rails is that he has a very poor support network, made poorer by the fact that he's also cut himself off from Daikoku and Kofuku and the others apparently as well, relying ONLY on Yukine (which seems to be a pretty big burden for the boy, poor thing). He is also NOT a well-adjusted person to begin with: jokes about his crazy antics aside, consider again this is a person trying to recover from literally hundreds of years of isolation and loneliness, and I think it's a lot more possible to feel some kind of empathy for him.

Originally, I thought that this radio silence between the trio was going to backfire in the personal realm, because it's clearly not sustainable, and because the manga has made it clear that silences and denials have bad results. However, now it seems like this will not continue to be an issue, though the denial of feelings might. HOWEVER, there is another silence / denial that is an ongoing issue, in that Tsuguha's dreams of her past are becoming increasingly vivid and seem to be approaching the moment of her death itself. Yato has already said that if something is not done, her sickness will spread, and yet Bishamon is refusing to make that difficult choice. Yato seems to think that she can't be saved, and I am inclined to think that for the purposes of showing us what Murderdad is capable of, she will in fact be sacrificed (though whether or not she will be released to prevent her death or destroyed after monster-ifying... I'm less certain).

Murderdad predictions

I think now that Hiyori and Yato have resumed communication, we're going to see a resurgence of the stray and Murderdad soon. This shouldn't be a shocker; I don't think anyone except maybe Yato was naive enough to think that he would actually simply go away at this point. Hiyori challenging him verbally meant that it was on, and her refusal to back down even after the hospital attack only seemed to have momentarily stumped/frustrated him. I fully expect that we will soon find out that in the interim silence he has been preparing something quite nasty, something to be unleashed at such a time as their contact is renewed. Furthermore, I imagine that at some point in the soon-ish future, something will happen with Kugaha, or it might already have, and we simply don't know about it because of the broken contact; he was, after all, being targeted by Murderdad's assassin ayakashi well before Yato and Yukine were driven away. I don't think we're ever going to know his name before he dies.

There's also been some fairly decent speculation as to whether or not Sera Kaii / Masaomi might not be Murderdad at this point. It seems awfully coincidental that her brother would just-so-happen to run into Yato's graffiti and call the number. He also exhibits kind of weird behavior that's reminiscent of Murderdad, and the timing of his coming-home feels a little bit weird, especially when paired with the fact that Hiyori said none of her family initially recognized him when he showed up. It would certainly place Hiyori and her family in as much if not even greater danger than before, and interestingly, nothing has been mentioned by Hiyori about Fujisaki-senpai and his doings since the hospital incident. Girl is trusting as fuck, but you'd still think she would have the wisdom to keep an eye on the guy who tried to kill her and her family. It could also be very plausible that Murderdad would set this up to invite Yato back into her life just so he can try to make what he does to Hiyori and her family that much more painful (again, not unlike what he did with Sakura): even Yato can't recognize his father unless he goes out of his way to make himself known, like the time when, passing on the street, he calls Yato's true name. The only thing(s) about this that make me think that it might not be Murderdad at this point is that I would have expected Murderdad to hunt out and destroy Yato's shrine. But even this he could simply be waiting to do until a moment of his choosing to amplify the horror / pain he tries to inflict on every/any one involved. I am pretty much certain though that if Hiyori actually does confess to Yato, Murderdad will make some kind of move, as that seems to be the one thing he wants to prevent happening.

Regardless of that, the situation with Murderdad really needs to be coming to a head soon. He's already made very decent threats on two out of three of the main protagonist's lives, and currently Bishamon is in a lot of danger since she refuses to give up Tsuguha. Yukine's name is only a little cracked at the moment, but I'm fairly certain that this will not be a situation that lasts: once an idea is introduced, it's sloppy story-telling not to follow it to its logical conclusion. It's also probably the only way we're going to ever learn Yukine's backstory in detail, which they've been teasing us with since the very beginning. I do believe that we're going to see either further degeneration for Yukine either because his name continues to crack on its own (if such a thing is possible, like Tsuguha's deteriorating situation) or because of exposure to Tsuguha or because Murderdad will decide to make a second-attempt. It's interesting to me that while a shinki could be saved by calling their name during the purification ceremony (to keep it from disappearing) that this same technique cannot be utilized in this scenario by a god. I suppose that this could be due to a god becoming too wounded to be able to do so (like Yato suffering so deeply from Yukine's blight that he's choking on his own blood, or Bishamon coughing up blood when Tsuguha was hit) but I'm guessing that this actually has more to do with the fact that the shinki's mind is trapped in the past, and they literally cannot hear/receive the word/communication, since no doubt Bishamon has probably tried everything she could think of to help Tsuguha at this point. (She even went so far as to call in Yato!) In that case, speculatively, one would have to actually be able to enter a spirit's dreams or memory in order to communicate with them. ...And if you're like me, then you're thinking that this ability has just recently been introduced to a character who has in the past saved both Yukine and Yato with her words. It could of course go some very different way, but I think that that Hiyori's new skill is probably more than just a one-off to introduce Yato's backstory, just the same way Divine Possession was more than just a one-off for hijinks. While she isn't a god, she did partially restore his name during the purification ceremony and prevent him from crossing over into becoming an ayakashi. Furthermore, she knows and can give him reminders of some very important things to him--namely, that Yato has told him to live like a person, and he's already said that he considers his life as a human before to have been meaningless and his existence with Yato to be his entire purpose.

I do wonder what this would mean/do for Yukine. If Yukine could overcome and reject his past, would that mean he finally relinquishes his original name? Would that then mean that he would be able to remember his life as a human without becoming an ayakashi, or would he really and truly forget it once and for all and possibly become something less human and impervious to Murderdad's particular brand of sorcery? I don't think that the latter is outside the realm of possibility: according to Tenjin, Murderdad is himself an "existence which should not exist;" it seems reasonable to think that his continued tampering could bring about more unnatural or previously impossible outcomes.

Something I continue to wonder and speculate on is who is going to kill Murderdad and how. I know probably a lot of people would think it's crazy to even think that anyone but the main character, in this case Yato, of a shounen manga would take down a major villain. However, a few lines in earlier chapters makes me wonder. When Yato is talking to Kugaha in Chapter ___, right after he's chopped off Kugaha's hand, he proclaims that Kugaha is inhuman / worse than a human because he's like a child that grows up to murder its parents. The manga repeatedly stresses the value of parents and family, and shows that having to destroy one's own is psychologically traumatic: see Bishamon as she's destroying her shinki who keep calling out to her even as she's cutting them down. Although all of the gods in this story are from the Shinto pantheon, it's impossible to say that Confucian values, which heavily influence Japanese society to this day, are not also a part of these characters' existences since humans create gods and the story occurs in Japan. These same values call on for children to honor and respect their parents. Of course there's conflict,though, because superiors should be obeyed for "moral rectitude," which we have seen Murderdad clearly lacks, and perhaps for these reasons we see Yato torn between trying to take a stance and fight Murderdad we also see him continue to hesitate (in addition to his obvious worries for Yukine). While we are told that gods cannot sin, their shinki are most certainly aware of it. It's hard to imagine that, while believing Murderdad's death is justified or even necessary, Yukine would not find it a sin. Particularly since he has previously vowed not to let Yato kill anymore. So much of Yato's progress as a person seems to be tied up with him shedding his identity as a killer that stepping backward, even for the sake of putting down what is the equivalent of a mad dog, would be bad. There would be something symbolically fitting about him destroying the one person that keeps forcing him back into that lifestyle, effectively cutting off the cycle, but I'm just not sure. I think it is more likely that Murderdad will be killed to effectively silence him by someone in the heavens: we've been given multiple inklings that there is someone or several someones within the higher order of gods working with him in some capacity (consider how quickly Ebisu was made patsy and then how quickly he was destroyed by heaven before he could tell anyone about what he was doing, with whom, or why) and we know that they're happy to kill to keep their secrets. Consider, too, that while Hiiro's loyalty belongs to Murderdad, we still have no clue how she came to be, whether or not she really is a human spirit, or
planets: (ppg » c:)

[personal profile] planets 2015-04-16 07:06 pm (UTC)(link)
I started watching this series on netflix, im not done with it but after I read your dissertation on it imma binge it all and maybe start reading the series. ♥

[personal profile] foreverdreaming17 2016-02-08 04:03 am (UTC)(link)
wow great essay. I'm new in the noragami fandom but you analysis left me speechless.I've never paid any attention to the details.Please edit it with the new chapters that are coming out. oh yes i have a doubt .. which kotatsu chapter do you refer when you talk about hiyori and yato's trick ? i can't remember that panel in the manga maybe you could link where you read it ? thank you, waiting for your answer
withmyownfists: by verisimilitude @ plurk (WHAT ARE YOU SUGGESTING)

[personal profile] withmyownfists 2016-02-08 04:11 am (UTC)(link)
Oh my god someone who doesn't know me read my essay.... I....

/ROLLS AWAY IN SHAME this is so outdated by now s;ldfa, I'm not even sure I remember what all I wrote at this point.

UHM. Kotatsu chapter. I'm probably referring to the "curse of kotatsu" short! You can read it here: https://imgur.com/a/g5XRb/layout/blog

I'll probably try to get back to editing this at some point, but... I can't make any promises as to when that will be at this time since I'm currently employed at a full time job and also RPing in my free time and that takes up a bunch of my time but I AM SO FLATTERED skdfm seriously how even did you. find. this. I've never linked or shared it with anyone.....

[personal profile] foreverdreaming17 2016-02-12 02:24 am (UTC)(link)
:) sorry for the late reply.Long short story haha I found the essay liked as quotation in tumblr. the user Plush-girl i'm pretty sure it was her .. answered an anon with a quotaation of yours and then i read your essay.
Wow i have never seen that noragami special *laugh* i usually read noragami in manga stream or manga panda . Do you have a link that contains most of the specials or updates with new info orloads the chaps?
withmyownfists: by verisimilitude @ plurk (conclusion drawn freak-out immenent)

[personal profile] withmyownfists 2016-02-12 03:16 am (UTC)(link)
I... wow. Multiple people have read my disgustingly long essay. I'M. Sorry I'm in a bit of shock here. Haha....

ALSO, after a very long scroll through--I'm pretty sure I saw a post related to my essay, someone asking if Yato really tried to trick her into giving away her panties. HE CERTAINLY DID. :'D As you've now seen. I'm not sure how to get into contact with plush-girl about that / link her so that her followers can access that content, but... yeah. It's a thing. EDIT: I also wish I could talk to her about some of the content she originally referred to in some of her posts, as they came from earlier, rougher drafts that I have since revised... Yato has certainly improved over the course of the manga, but he is still far from selfless, and I hate that anything I might have written would have lended to that impression. Yato is still very much struggling with his selfishness, as is made crystal clear in the chapter during which he cuts Hiyori's matchmaking ties, and he's definitely still got ample inappropriateness in him.

For extras... If you can afford it, I highly recommend the extra volume that was recently released by Kodansha. The translations are fantastic, you get all the nifty translator's notes in the back--plus, the images are all high quality. THAT SAID, not all of the extras are actually in that book, and there's the money issue. I think Kissmanga hosts the *most* of them, including the Christmas extra, which isn't in the book, but there's several that are not hosted online... and I know of the existence of a short involving Rabou from the anime that I've only ever managed to run across the first (of two parts) online. I'm not sure if anyone ever translated the second half.
Edited 2016-02-12 03:55 (UTC)