Catholicism in Anime: The Consequence of Sin in Noragami

In lieu of a traditional review, I have opted to take a different approach for Noragami. It really is fascinating to see the overlap between different religious traditions. Noragami, with its (mostly) Shinto-based characters, displays a wide overlap with Catholic teaching on the nature of sin. It is a fascinating and hopeful experience to be able to bring two different traditions together and find, for once, the similarities, rather than the differences.

Disclaimer: Before I begin this discussion, I want to first guard against the criticisms that may come from undertaking an interdisciplinary approach to this topic. Any analogies that are made within this article are first and foremost that: analogies. When I discuss Yato as a Christological figure, I am not forgetting that he is a Shinto god of calamity, whose existence is directly resultant from the evil wishes of humans. The analogy is not perfect. I recognize this. But in fact there is no perfect analogy between God and anything extant on earth. My concern here is to distill parallels where they can be found, not to draw the perfect metaphor for the Catholic concept of God using this anime.

Noragami Yato

I. Phantoms, Temptation, & the Loss of Humanity

The Phantoms in Noragami are manifestations of negative human emotion, creatures of the Far Shore, or the afterlife. They are supernatural, or perhaps more accurately, paranatural existences visible only to animals and the very young. This in itself is interesting, considering reports such as Heaven Is For Real (a book relating the real story of a young boy who had a near-death experience and conversed with God), but as there is no theological basis for such a discussion, I must gloss over it here.

Instead, I want to focus on the role of Phantoms as Tempters, as invisible, but very real beings that seek to draw humanity into evil. The Phantoms in Noragami function in a very similar manner to the active evil of Catholic teaching. Noragami PhantomEvil is not a concept, a nebulous abstraction to be feared at a distance. It is an explicitly present reality, and its minions in this world are agent beings that actively seek the ruin of souls. Phantoms and devils/demons work in the same way: through the power of suggestion, of temptation. Like the Phantom at the railroad crossing in episode 3, temptation beckons, seduces. Sin is always an choice. Humans always have the option to choose either the good, or the evil. Noragami highlights this dynamic with Yukine, as well as with the high school student Manabu in episode 8.

In the confrontation with the bully, Manabu stares him down, empowered by Yato with two razor blades. Behind Manabu (and this is similar to the way that Phantoms are shown to operate elsewhere in the story) hovers a large Phantom, prompting him forward. “Kill him,” it says, “Cross over the line. Paradise is so close.” Temptation is always a hint, a suggestion, a promise that evil fulfills; but, in truth, it is no more than promptings. It is the weakness of the human heart that gives in and falls into evil, crossing the line. Manabu, fortunately, stands his ground and chooses to resist temptation.

And what is it that allows him to resist? Yato’s final words after giving him the razors…”If you want to give up your humanity, that is.”

II. Yukine and Corruption of the Soul

Yukine’s depression and subsequent fall into sin results in his merging with a Phantom. Before I go further, a word about Yukine’s responsibility. Is it possible, considering what I have said about the sin being a choice, for Yukine to be both at fault and still sympathetic? Absolutely. Yukine, whether he is technically dead or not, is human. He’s not perfect. He’s not supposed be. He never will be. But he is still making a choice, crossing the line that Manabu refused to cross.

In episode 9, the state of the human soul as it falls into sin is viscerally portrayed through the visual medium, as Yukine physically deteriorates into a Phantom. Now, I am about to contradict my earlier treatment of YukineNorgami Yukine Phantom Form as a human, though dead, and use him as an analogy for the soul. In some ways, he functions well as both, due to his semi-invisibility to regular humans and his very human appearance and behavior. Yukine physically embodies the state of the soul as it succumbs to temptation. It is implied that the extent of the Phantom growths on Yukine’s back are due to his repeated sins, and so Yukine (as an incarnation of the soul) becomes more and more distorted.

There are two items of note here. Firstly, Yukine has not noticed the Phantoms until they were pointed out to him by Daikoku. The human soul is invisible to the human person; it is not something we have any visual context to understand or physical experience of. It is often only when others point out flaws that they become recognizable. Secondly, Yukine, as I have said, mirrors the distortion of the soul as it falls into sin. With each sin, the soul becomes darker, more inclined to evil and less that its beautiful original form.

Finally, as Guardian Enzo over at Lost in America points out, Yukine’s state of corruption falls in line with an ongoing theme in the show: actions have consequences. This is likewise in line with Catholic teaching. Every action taken either draws the soul closer to God, or further away. There is no stasis in the spiritual life.

III. Yato as a Christological Figure

If you need to, go read the disclaimer at the top of the post again. All this so far has set the stage for Yato to take on the role of a Christological figure for Yukine. Noragami Yato Suffering

The first, and most obvious connection, is that Yato literally suffers to the point of death in order to redeem Yukine and bring him back from the edge of evil, to save his soul. Although Yato is not nailed up on a cross, he is shown numerous times to experience physical pain when Yukine sins and is eventually laid at death’s very doorstep before Yukine repents. Like Christ, Yato very literally takes on Yukine’s sins in the form of the blight. Yato also serves as a father-redeemer figure for Yukine. As Hiyori says, his words are “almost like a father’s.”

There are a few more subtle connections floating around Noragami, as well. The first is when Yato discloses to Hiyori the connection between gods and Regalias. He tells her that the gods learn from Regalias, the Reglaias, who were once human. Like Christ, Yato learns directly about the human experience from former humans themselves. He also wanders a metaphorical desert where he is unloved, suffers the cold, Noragami Rendthe pain and the hunger of a human being. Yato even discloses to Hiyori that, “Even I’d like [a friend].” Despite being a god, Yato experiences very human pain and desires. Contrasted with Tenjin’s grand quality of life (and it is grand, for sure, but very much detached from the lives of the people he answers), it is Yato who more clearly mirrors the experience of Christ on earth.

IV. A Digression on Spiritual Warfare

Before I finish, I want to take a moment to address one final point. In Noragami, the battle between the gods and the Phantoms is shown to be constant, yet mostly invisible from the normal human inhabitants of the city. This is, in fact, quite a good metaphor for the reality of spiritual warfare as articulated in Catholic teaching. There truly is a fierce battle raging at all times, where the forces of good and evil contest for human souls. The battle may not be as physically evident as it is in Noragami, but it is there nonetheless.Yato Fighting

NOTE: I gave Noragami a 7/10, and you can find its ranking on the Ongoing Rankings Page.

6 thoughts on “Catholicism in Anime: The Consequence of Sin in Noragami

  1. Coincidentally, I had been browsing a few Noragami amvs upon receiving this post.
    I would like to point out in the aftermath of Yukine genuinely repenting for his sins, the conversation that took place between Tenjin and Yato, in which the aforementioned regalia is the topic. Tenjin expressed his disapproval at Yato having tolerated Yukine’s rebellious and destructive temperament rather than resorting to the iron rod or at the very least stripping the regalia of his position as Yato’s weapon.
    Yato explains that his plan had been to give Yukine the opportunity to realize the error in his ways, bearing the pain he received ”as a stern wake up call.” This is another parallel to God in that He does not seek to punish us, rather to show us that He loves us despite our flaws (some which are unchangeable) and his capacity for forgiveness has no boundaries. He wishes for us to adapt such attitudes towards one another, even for those we’d rather not associate with.
    I am currently reading Interior Freedom by Jacques Philippe, and section 1 on Accepting Others highlights the idea of accepting others for who they are, rather than condemning them for being ‘evil’ or ”detestable’ for simply acting in ways they have no control over. According to the book, in ‘making allowances for differences and temperament’ , “people have very different and sometimes conflicting temperaments and ways of seeing things, and that is something to be recognized and accepted cheerfully. Some love to have everything in order and are upset by the slightest disorder. Others feel stifled when everything is over that organized and regulated. Those who love order feel threatened by anyone leaves the smallest object out of place; bills with this with the was opposite temperament feel they are being attacked by anyone who insist on perfect tidiness. We are quick to attach moral judgments to such behavior, calling what pleases as ‘good’ and what doesn’t ‘bad.'”
    Tenjin, whom I have no intention of denouncing but rather analyzing, is just like the said individuals that does not tolerate the slightest disruption or mishap in his metaphorical grandfather clock. Anything threatening to do otherwise is eradicated on the spot (for he had fired one of his regalias contaminated with Yukine’s blight, as later explained by Mayu.)
    In contrast, Yato took the time to observe Yukine’s mentality so as to establish a more intimate relationship with the soul he had claimed and given a name. Even during Yukine’s despair at having realized that he would never be able to return to the Far Shore and live a normal life reached a boiling point as he shattered the windows of a local high school, Yato in his agony acknowledged that Yukine was finally beginning to understand his situation. Given that Yukine is a child, he naturally assumed that due to the unusual circumstances he was in and the limitations I posed upon him for being dead, that he was entirely alone in the world. Only after hearing the reasoning of Hiyori and Yato in regards to them being genuinely interested in being involved with Yukine is he able to see that he was never alone to begin with.
    Yato is paralleled once more with God in that he did not seek to punish him for his sins but rather gave him opportunities to repent, which he fortunately did.
    On a related note I am Catholic, and I only seek to draw out analogies for the purpose of comprenhending and honing my analytical abilities to differentiate the fictitious from the real.

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  2. […] Yato, who happens to be not only a close friend but a god?  Then, the thought occurred to me that, just as Noragami‘s concept of sin closely mirrored the Catholic faith’s understanding o…, Hiyori’s forgetfulness of Yato was supposed to reflect the human inclination to forget God, […]

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