Noragami is a sensational series that gives whole new definition to Gods and Demons. Or rather, in this case, Kami and Ayakashi (Phantoms). The series follows Yato, a down-on-his-luck god, who in general seems to have no real power. In fact, he’s honestly a god-for-hire, who will “Grant any wish for just 5 yen!” as he so cheerfully exclaims all over media networks. Seriously, this guy has a TWITTER.
Poor guy only has two followers though.
Along with him are Yukine, a spirit that he has allowed second life to serve him as a Regalia (a system that will be explained later), and Yatori, a human girl whom made a wish, and Yato is having trouble granting it. All in all a beautiful story with great characters and a lovely, multi-faceted protagonist.
So why is it so interesting? Well, because of the fact that the WORLD in which it is built is so very interesting. As normal humans, this world isn’t something WE would be able to see, but none the less, might exist along side us anyway.
Today, we’ll be exploring that world in detail, as well as the various ways we could use these details in our own writing.
In the world of Noragami, there are approximately four types of spirits. Gods known as Kami, Humans from the Near Shore, which are just regular people like you and me, Spirits which can be either human shaped or corrupted into Ayakashi, and Regalia (or Shinki) which are used by gods to cleanse and purify Ayakashi.
Of the various classes, Kami are perhaps the oddly vulnerable powerhouses of the series. One of the major arc-words of the series is “A god can do no wrong.” An article by Martin Wisse explains why this might not be such a good thing. Gods are unchangeable, eternal beings. So much so in fact that when one dies, if they have followers, they are immediately reborn, sans memories and in a childlike form. If they do not have followers… Well.
To that end, Gods are tasked with removing Ayakashi from existence, cleansing them sometimes, or destroying them others. Ayakashi are what happens when a soul stays too long on the Near Side (I.E. Our world) and gets corrupted by negative emotion, fear, doubt, or by other Ayakashi. These spirits turn into giant monstrous beasts that cause misfortune, unrest, and negative emotions in humans. If one were strong enough, it might even cause a human to fall into such deep depression that they could decide to kill themselves, thus feeding the Ayakashi following them.
Before an Ayakashi forms, however, it is most likely a Near Side Soul, or basically, a ghost. These are spirits that linger, and these are the spirits that can be turned into Shinki, or Regalia. Regalia are the most important thing for a god to have, when dealing with Ayakashi. As gods will become corrupted and suffer blight if they touch or get near an Ayakashi for too long, Shinki allow the gods to combat and purify the phantoms. Shinki act as weapons, or sometimes objects, that are intermediaries between the gods and the world around them. In fact, Regalia are so important that THEY themselves choose what their god can strike at.
If a god can get to a Near-Side Soul before it turns into Ayakashi, they can choose to send it on to the next life, or take it on as a Regalia. Shinki, however, are not easy to maintain. They are essentially human, and so each negative emotion they have affects their God. Lying, stealing, cheating, all of it physically HURTS the god they are tied to. In fact, if it goes on long enough and the human doesn’t repent, it can actually cause the god so much illness that the god has to die to be set arights. But again, a god with followers has nothing to fear from being killed, except that they would lose their current selves and start over as a child.
What we, as writers, can take from this is that magic systems are sometimes extremely complex. If your magic system is as complex as this, it MUST impact not just the plot, but the characters entirely! Yato is entirely absorbed in his role as a God. In fact, it’s what DRIVES him as the main character, and what drives him to change. The problem is, as a Kami, Yato CANNOT change on his own. He requires external forces to enact change in him. There comes in Yukine and Hiyori. But it is the Magic System that requires such measures.
To enact this sort of magic system, however, you have to think of it as a sort of ecosystem. If there is one section of the ecosystem, it must serve another, as the Kami serve the humans to get prayers and worship, and the shinki serve the Kami as a way to gain a second life. Generally, however, your story won’t work unless this ecosystem IS the central plot, when tied into the characters. A few tips for implementing it:
- Have one character from each section of the ecosystem, so as to show how they interact.
- Make sure that each section has drawbacks as well as gains from the other sections.
- Clearly delineate how this ecosystem would fall apart if one part were removed.
- For example, if the Kami are removed, the Ayakashi overrun humanity, and if the Shinki are removed, the Gods would fall to blight.
- Show how the ecosystem works even when one or more of the pieces is missing. Don’t just leave it to chance, work it into your plot.
- Make it a part of the characters. Don’t SAY the character is in this part of the ecosystem, SHOW it in their actions.
If you were to adapt this to another culture, say, norse gods, it could still work on the fundamental basis. Change ‘Shinki’ to Valkyries. Change gods to Aesir. Change Ayakashi to Giants, or Aelfs, or any other number of norse nasties. You could easily tell the story of Noragami with Loki instead of Yato. Just be careful, because that could be copyright infringement.