‘Kamgami no Asobi’: an example of Norse gods in Japanese pop culture

I recently watched Kamigami no Asobi (2014) and was intrigued by its interpretation of Norse mythology. Kamigami no Asobi is a Japanese anime series based on an otome game of the same name (see a thorough game review here). Otome is a female-oriented genre in which romance is a major element, where the player character chooses one (usually male) character to pursue a relationship with. The nature of this game genre influences both the story of the anime series, the choice of characters and how they are portrayed.

The protagonist, Yui Kusanagi, is a human girl who has been transported to a world where Zeus has brought together (read: kidnapped) a group of Greek, Norse and Japanese gods to learn about humanity and love. Zeus tells Yui that she must help the gods learn or else be trapped forever. The Norse gods include Baldr, Loki, and Thor – though Thor’s character bears little relation to Norse mythology. While I am by no means an expert in either mythology or popular culture analysis, I thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at how this series represents two Norse gods, Baldr and Loki, and their relationship in comparison to their myths told in the Eddas.*

Balder

Yes, all the gods were given random surnames. Image from the official Kamigami no Asobi website. http://kamiaso-anime.com/character/

In Kamigami no Asobi each Norse god is associated with an element; Loki is god of fire, Thor is god of thunder, and Baldr is god of both light and destruction. Baldr’s godly aspects affect his characterisation; his personality traits associated with his identity as god of light is closely related to his depiction in the Eddas: in the Gylfaginning he is described as the ‘best of men’, he is beautiful, wise, and beloved by all. Similarily in the anime not only is Baldr physically beautiful, kind and good-natured, but the power of light means that all people and things in the world are drawn to and charmed by him. The changes made to Baldr’s character in the anime, in comparison to myth, are to make him more human and less perfect – he is very clumsy and not wise. The most interesting change is his dual personality, as he has a dark side which is a result of his aspect as god of destruction.

The negative aspects of Baldr’s personality and his identity as the god of destruction is only revealed later in the series. His dark side is revealed through his growing obsession with Yui, the protagonist, whom he love has fallen in love with because of she is impervious to his godly charm. As Baldr realises that he loves Yui he becomes possessive, very creepy and rapey – I understand the rapey part is even more pronounced. This aspect of Baldr’s personality fits the trope of a yandere character: someone who seems sweet and lovely on the outside but who acts irrationally and violently because of their love. Interestingly Baldr is not aware of his being god of destruction, or his actions when he attacks Yui and we learn that one of the reasons that Zeus has set up this school is because Baldr, though ignorant, is destined to be consumed by his powers and to destroy the world.

The myth of Baldr’s immortality and death is central to the anime plot and his relationship with Loki. The reason for Baldr’s (almost) immortality is the same in both Kamigami no Asobi and the Eddas. His mother Frigg asked all things in creation, except mistletoe which she deems too young and weak, vow not to harm him. Baldr’s only weakness, therefore, is mistletoe; although in the anime he can also die from an accident. Where the story drastically diverges from myth is in Baldr’s death. In the anime Loki has promised himself and Thor that he would kill Baldr to prevent him from destroying the world using a mistletoe knife, whereas in myth Loki is responsible for Baldr’s death and even prevents his resurrection seemingly out of maliciousness and spite.

Loki

Isn’t Loki adorable?? Image from official Kamigami no Asobi website. http://kamiaso-anime.com/character/

Loki’s representation in Kamigami no Asobi is vastly different from his origins in myth. In myth Loki is an ambiguous god who sometimes helps the gods and at other times acts as an antagonist, such as when he engineers Baldr’s death, whereas in the anime he is a mischievous and fun-loving trickster without any real malicious intent.

Loki’s representation in Kamigami no Asobi is vastly different from his origins in myth. In myth Loki is an ambiguous god who sometimes helps the gods and at other times acts as an antagonist, such as when he engineers Baldr’s death, whereas in the anime he is a mischievous and fun-loving trickster without any real malicious intent, though he is initially very cold and a little unkind to Yui. Loki is humanised by giving his character more depth and a sympathetic back story.

Another major difference is his relationship with Baldr; they (and Thor) have been close friends since childhood. This may be a result of  a common anime trope which is childhood friendship and promises made as children. Loki and Baldr became friends because of mutual loneliness; Loki was shunned by the other gods as a child because they were sick of his tricks, and Baldr while beloved by all was actually acutely lonely because everyone was simply charmed by his power as the god of light. When they met they each recognised their own loneliness in the other and promised to ‘always be together.’ Loki takes this promise very seriously, he becomes possessive and jealous over Baldr and hostile to Yui when Baldr’s feelings for her become apparent in a way that has yaoi connotations. As the series goes on Loki learns to trust and care for Yui, so we see a kinder, softer side of him. In this way he is the opposite of Baldr, and an example of a tsundere character: he begins as aloof and hostile but over time is revealed to be vulnerable and emotional when he opens up to Yui.

Baldr and Loki’s inclusion in Kamigami no Asobi is evidence of the richness of Norse mythology and the myths potential to be reimagined. Both gods are written to conform to the otome/reverse-harem anime genre; Baldr as a yandere character and Loki as a tsundere who have an almost yaoi relationship. So their stories diverge from the myths to fit these tropes, to humanise these gods and to create a relationship between them.

*For this post I have used the Project Gutenberg edition which can be found here – of course it’s not the best translation, but it is sufficient for these purposes.

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