Noragami on Ice

Searching for moments of bliss in the face of doubt and anxiety

Published by Diane Zhou and Sabina Chen in October 2021


In the grind of everyday life, expectations and uncertainty weigh us down. Sometimes they overwhelm us so much that we can't enjoy life for fear of disappointing ourselves and the people we care about. Diane and Sabina find moments of bliss in the face of doubt and anxiety by learning to appreciate the present despite worries for the future.



WARNING: Spoilers for Noragami and Noragami Aragoto ahead!

Pursuit of Happiness

In Noragami, Hiyori Iki is a human who accidentally becomes a half-phantom, risking death whenever her spirit unexpectedly disconnects from her body. Yato is a minor god on the brink of becoming obsolete due to a lack of worshippers. Both in dire situations, Hiyori and Yato decide to team up: Hiyori can become Yato’s follower and Yato can help Hiyori turn back to normal.

Hiyori and Yato develop a trusting and caring friendship that unfortunately seems doomed to end because they belong to different realms. Although they could both just go back to how life was before they met, they feel that their connection is too meaningful to give up on and choose to stay involved in each other’s lives, continuing to help each other through challenges as they come. Our program to “Nirvana” is inspired by Hiyori and Yato’s spirit of striving for what makes them feel happy and fulfilled, living in the moment and not letting regrets about the past or worries for the future overshadow the value of the present.

“If your past makes your present, then your present can and will make your future. When you think about it that way, you absolutely have the potential to be anything you want to be.” ~ Yato

Creative Process

Living in the moment. Our approach to creating this program was guided by mindset shifts that we considered in our own pursuits of happiness. In particular, we sought ways to respect the unique circumstances surrounding where we are in the present moment, as they are nuanced and too often overshadowed by unrealistic ideals and cultural expectations.

Music

Confronting social stigma. In our previous programs, we chose to skate to songs that were not obviously in the “anime” genre. Our justification was that we did not want to alienate the audience, but the other half of the truth is that we did not want the audience to alienate us based on preconceived notions about anime. As a result, we had used instrumental renditions for “Friend A” and “Unravel” while “History Makers” featured a song in English. But for this program to the song “Nirvana” by Tia, we decided to use the original version in Japanese. We would no longer allow the social stigma surrounding anime, and hopefully social stigmas in general, limit what we enjoy and how we express ourselves.

Choreography

Valuing the little things. One of our favorite scenes in Noragami Aragoto is when Hiyori gifts a cute mini shrine to Yato. Although the handmade shrine looks cheap compared to the shrines that have been built for other gods, it means the world to Yato (episode 7). By recalling a subtle detail about the spelling of Yato’s name on the shrine, Hiyori also figures out Yato’s real name, which saves Yato’s life later on (episode 12). These moments show significance and appreciation in the little things we often overlook: gifts do not have to be expensive or elaborate to be meaningful, and noticing small details such as the pronunciation of a name can go a long way.

Shrine Hiyori built for Yato Yato's reaction to shrine

Screenshots from Noragami Aragoto episode 7

After performing our first two duets, we had difficulty coming up with another meaningful anime-inspired story that we felt we could portray effectively on the ice. So in the spirit of Hiyori crafting a small shrine for Yato rather than waiting to be able to build a life-sized one, we started off small, choosing a song we liked and fitting in choreography here and there, even though we did not yet have a clear direction of the whole program. We experimented with interactive pair moves and ice dance steps, trying to value the learning experience over our anxiety about whether it would look good or be meaningful. In the end, we focused on building off of the energy of the music to create a positive vibe for both ourselves and the audience to enjoy, as opposed to delivering a well-packaged story as we did in our past duets.

Nirvana performance photo 1 Nirvana performance photo 2 Nirvana performance photo 3

Photographs from our performance by Rachel Wu

Setting

Getting through rock bottom. The setting of our program is modeled on the “umbrella scene” from Noragami Aragoto which begins with Yato sitting outside under the pouring rain, sulking about the possibility that Hiyori will lose her memories of him because humans tend to forget about gods when their interactions become less frequent (episode 3). Hiyori addresses the situation by shielding Yato from the rain with her umbrella and offering to see him everyday so that she will not be able to forget him. Although the umbrella doesn’t stop the rain and Hiyori’s proposed arrangement is unsustainable, they still provide some temporary solace and opportunity to search for more long-term solutions.

Noragami Aragoto umbrella scene Nirvana umbrella scene

Screenshots from Noragami Aragoto episode 3 and our program to "Nirvana"

We skated with an umbrella as a clear reference to this scene, and chose to wear the same type of dress in different colors based on the characters that we loosely represented in the program. Diane wore blue which is the color of Yato’s eyes and scarf, while Sabina wore purple which is the color of Hiyori’s eyes and school uniform. We swapped the colors of the waistbands (Diane with a purple waistband on a blue dress and Sabina with a blue waistband on a purple dress) to show a connection between the two characters, and we each wore a bow in our hair for an overall “kawaii” look.

Nirvana costume

All smiles for show day!

Reflection

Fake it till you make it. In the overarching story of Anime on Ice, the pursuit of happiness in this duet to “Nirvana” represents a next step we could take toward self-acceptance after facing the uncomfortable sides of ourselves in the previous duet to “Unravel.” During the time between completing “Unravel” and brainstorming for “Nirvana,” we crossed the halfway point of our undergraduate studies and faced an overwhelming mix of doubt about whether we were doing college correctly so far and pressure to secure a certain type of future after college. The mindsets incorporated into this program — living in the moment, confronting social stigma, valuing the little things, and getting through rock bottom — did not come easily to us when we were used to planning ahead, achieving success as defined by society, dreaming big, and blaming ourselves for unfortunate situations.

During practices for this program, there were many times when we felt that we were faking the energetic nature of the choreography and forcing smiles on our faces. We made it a goal to feel and express some genuine happiness about where we were in life by the time we would be performing “Nirvana.” Somehow, on show day, between the adrenaline rush of performing and the enthusiastic energy of the audience, we truly had a lot of fun skating this program and came out of it believing a little bit more in the pursuit of happiness.

Over the past four years since that performance, the concepts behind “Nirvana” have grown on us tremendously. We attribute a lot of our creative growth to our experience choreographing this program because it made us open to different approaches and more possibilities for our artistic endeavors. And as we continue exploring our own pursuits of happiness, we hope to share more of our evolving perspectives through Anime on Ice!