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I kind of wanted to do this one earlier when Thor in the Marvel Movieverse was in vogue, but ah well. It’s no secret nowadays that anime/manga doesn’t confine itself exclusively to Japanese mythology. For years they’ve drawn on other elements of mythology from around the world for the purpose of crafting tales. And a favorite target for both Americans as well as the Japanese is Norse mythology. Probably the most famous of these in the USA is the Marvel treatment of it, in which the god of thunder, Thor, is one of the Avengers and Earth’s mightiest heroes, while Loki is his arch-nemesis and one of the big antagonists of the entire universe. It takes quite a few liberties with its source material while staying closer to others, but it overall does keep with many of the ideas of Norse mythology as a whole.

So, what did Japan end up doing with it in this treatment? Let’s just say they picked something of a different direction.

“Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok”

“Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok” is a one-season anime in the genre of occult detective, only, in general, far more kid friendly and drawing a lot of inspiration from stories that are more “villain of the week”. It’s set in the modern-day era and centers around two main characters.

The first is a teenage girl named Mayura who is obsessed with superstitions, fantasies, and mythology. She has a never-ending obsession to try and discover evidence of the supernatural in the modern age. Shortly after the series begins, she ends up falling in with a child named Loki, who bills himself out as an occult detective due at first to her mutual interest in supernatural mysteries and, later, due to her attraction to him as an individual.

The catch is Loki is, in fact, the same Loki, god of mischief, darkness, and chaos, from Norse mythology. It turns out he was banished from Valhalla to Earth into the body of a child by Odin and, in order to return, he has to collect “evil energy” (yeah, that’s what it’s called in the dub) to power himself back up. Hence he started the detective energy to find sources of it to harvest.

As it turns out, Odin apparently wants Loki more than banished but dead to boot, and so the series is pretty much one instance after another of a Norse god or monster being sent after Loki to assassinate him. And that’s pretty much how the series plays out more or less. Although the overarching plot is for Loki to return to Valhalla, it centers so much on the individual problem or opponent he has to tackle in every episode that the focus is usually from episode to episode rather than keeping that goal in mind.

The big gimmick of this series is that the various gods and monsters that get sent after Loki are also not in their original forms. For example, one of the series regulars is Narugami, a teenage boy with a bokken who continuously is working every part time job he can get in order to make ends meet. As it turns out, Narugami is actually Thor, also in a different form, and the bokken is Mjolnir likewise disguised. Loki himself has a polite, mild-mannered, and dutiful servant/assistant named Yamino, who, it eventually turns out, is actually Jormungand. Later in the series he gets a small black puppy who is innocent and sweet to him but crude and crass to everyone else, who it turns out is actually Fenrir. Heimdall, god of light, who for much of the series is his arch-nemesis, is likewise a serious little boy named Kazumi who constantly ends up being the butt of jokes and is miserably tethered to his roommate Freyr…who himself has taken the form of a ridiculously stereotypical “dashing rogue”.

As a result, a great deal of this series is seeing classic characters from Norse mythology in very bizarre and unusual circumstances and bodies. It gives it a bit of its own unique quirk, though I think I’d only classify it as a charm some of the time. In addition to a bit of magical action, there’s a lot of humor in it too; mostly from the absurd situations the gods find themselves in and their reactions to them. Another big highlight of the series is its romantic aspects. Loki, apparently, has quite the slew of lovers, including in one of the Norn sisters and Freyja, who herself has become incarnate not by taking a human form but by resurrecting and “borrowing” the body of a deceased girl. Debateably, Mayara would also be one of his lovers, although, considering the fact that through the entire series Mayara remains oblivious to his true nature or any of the supernatural things happening around her, that would be kind of creepy as she would be attracted to a child.

The plot adheres to some true parts of Norse mythology even more closely than Marvel (Thor was, in fact, often Loki’s “partner in crime” in mythology rather than his opponent, so it makes sense that Narugami helps him often; Heimdall is in fact that one destined to kill Loki in Ragnarok, giving basis for their animosity; the characters of Jormungand, Fenrir, and Hel are all the children of Loki just as they are in the Norse mythology), but it also departs in some rather big ways. The biggest is that Loki, in spite of his titles and collection of “evil energy”, is actually quite benign. He’s not even much of a trickster. Whereas in the Norse mythology there is good reason for Loki to have been banished from Valhalla, here he seems to just be an innocent victim. He doesn’t even know why he was banished. Odin, on the other hand, is characterized as the main villain as it’s revealed almost everyone has been manipulated or tricked by him into going after Loki to kill him.

As for how I would rate or recommend this anime, I would classify it mostly as “fluff”. Action, magic, comedy, and romance “fluff”. The plot fails to really give a sense of urgency or purpose, and that’s one of the major failing points to me. We never even see or hear Odin himself on screen, or find out why he wants Loki dead so badly and, if he does, why he banished him first. Some of the antagonists and opponents seem to practically flip a coin off screen to decide whether for a given episode they’ll try to kill Loki or assist him.

There is a subtext to the series as a whole that the one crime Loki was genuinely guilty of was not paying enough attention to those who loved him and cared about him, and that he eventually learns he wronged them by not even acknowledging them. To that end, Mayura’s character can be viewed as someone who opens him up to thinking about caring about others besides himself. However, even that doesn’t seem consistent. Yamino and Fenrir, after all, obviously still care about Loki, and most of the people who want to kill him aren’t doing so out of vengeance or hurt but because they were manipulated. While the series does end with Loki deciding to make a personal sacrifice so he can avoid hurting someone who cares about him and who he in turn cares about, that he has indeed come to a greater understanding that’s changed him, it wasn’t played up enough throughout the series as a whole to really see it as that monumental of a moment but more like a character flaw that was “slipped into the background”. And since this theme isn’t emphasized that strongly, Mayura feels like a glorified MacGuffin: simply there to provide plot devices to get Loki where he needs to go from time to time.

Because you don’t get a sense of an overall plot and it focuses more on “villain of the week” type episodic deals, the series ends up not having much of a satisfying resolution or even a thought of having truly made progress at the conclusion. And since things are so episodic, you know that things are going to go back to the way they were more or less after every episode.

However, the series does have good “tidbits” and “nibbles”. The funny parts are usually pretty amusing (this was the first anime I ever saw that parodied “Ringu”/”The Ring”), and the last storyline, which takes place over a few episodes, is engaging enough to keep the viewer engrossed. And it’s kind of fun watching and waiting for what figure or object from Norse mythology will pop up in the next episode. Yet ultimately, this series just isn’t that fun or entertaining, which is kind of sad considering how much it had to work with.

If you’re big on Norse mythology or even Marvel’s Thor and you want to see an alternate take done on it, then you might want to give “Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok” a look just for curiosity’s sake. Otherwise, it’s really not worth the money.

Rating 2.5 out of 5

The only “strange mystery” about this set is how so many things from Norse mythology ended up being so “meh”.

Watch You Should Do with This DVD:

Use it as Wikipedia bait for people who are anal-retentive about mythology, then put it up on eBay and sell it to dutiful housekeepers who constantly order things online they don’t need.