This is such a great ask! I don’t feel like I’m going to be able to give this ask the full amount of time it deserves because I’m so busy currently, but I’ll try to say something worth reading for right now and hopefully I can come back to this topic later too.
Answer’s under a read more:
So I guess the first thing is: “She’s newly reincarnated”–whoa! Is she really? Did I miss something? Unfortunately my copies of the volumes are at home and I can’t remember the exact chapters of certain events, but did this get mentioned somewhere and I totally missed it? It certainly makes sense, and I’ve definitely missed things in Noragami before, but now I’m feeling like I haven’t been reading closely enough or something because I hadn’t made the connection between Amaterasu being small and possibly being newly reincarnated. If this was said somewhere, definitely let me know where so I can go re-read. @_@
If it hasn’t been confirmed, I’d be interested to know what makes you say that you think she’s recently reincarnated. Is it just her appearance as a young girl? I definitely thought it was interesting that she would appear as a young girl, but then I also feel like the way the gods appear isn’t necessarily connected to human expectations (because Bishamonten definitely does not look like the way humans view Bishamonten), so it might be that a small girl is just Amaterasu’s normal form in the world of Noragami? Kofuku recognized her immediately when she came to help Yato escape from the underworld, so I got the sense that tiny-little-thing was just Amaterasu’s normal look.
Also, she has the highlighted-lip/lipstick thing going in her recent appearance, which is something Adachitoka specifically do on their young girl characters (namely Hiiro) when they want to imply that they’re not as young/innocent as they seem…
She definitely could be newly reincarnated and that definitely could be a major plot point that was meant to appear in the future, but I’ve always believed that the form the gods in Noragami take, the way they appear to the readers at least, is an outward representation of their inner emotional states–and my perception was that Amaterasu takes the form of a tiny girl because a small child-like figures represents her utter powerlessness.
I do not believe that Amaterasu is one of the bad guys. I don’t for a second believe that she personally wanted to execute Yato and torture Yukine. But I do believe that, as a representative of Heaven itself, Amaterasu has absolutely minimal power to act on her own personal wishes. Her thoughts and feelings about the things transpiring around her have to come second to maintaining the power, virtue, and authority of Heaven. The entire establishment of the gods–and the gods power over earthly and therefore human affairs–literally rests on her. If she bows her head, if she allows her personal feelings to get in the way of what is “right,” then all of Heaven, all the gods, all humanity in turn, could crumble into chaos and ruin.
So rather than being a bad guy, I feel like Amaterasu was doing what she felt like she had to do by imprisoning Yukine and sentencing Yato to death. In the scene, she states:
To me it seems pretty clear that something in the past deeply traumatized the the gods, to the point that war and violence became so abhorrent to them that they decided Heaven needed to uphold peace at all costs. Above all else. This is why they routinely kill traitors–but then immediately allow their reincarnations back into Heaven. The goal of Heaven seems to be, at every turn, to take the course of action that most swiftly ensures a return to status quo. Order is upheld not by seeking true justice, but by maintaining the stance that because Heaven desires peace, Heaven is therefore always just.
Peace is worth more than any individual’s life or freedom.
The ends justify the means.
To individualistic human beings like us readers, we recognize how utterly insane this idea is. Peace is not automatically equal to justice, and enforcing peace by murder, torture, and what amounts to brainwashing is no true peace at all. It’s little more than a farce, a thin veneer of order under which chaos begins to boil and writhe and rise up until it can no longer be contained, bursting out as violence and betrayal and evil in the world.
Because the gods don’t stand for what is truly just or good, no matter how arrogantly they pretend to do so.
It’s exactly because of this backward definition of justice that Heaven is weak and the gods are exploitable by Yato’s father. In fact, it’s exactly because of this self-righteous sense of morality and justice that Father hates Heaven in the first place!
(Which of course leads to the uncomfortable realization that Fujisaki might be a horrible monster but he’s also not wrong about the gods.)
And yet, as easy as it to come down on Heaven for this twisted sense of justice, I also get the sensation reading the story that the gods themselves are almost prisoners in the system they have constructed–even if many individuals within Heaven, even individuals in the highest rungs of Heaven, recognize that their entire system is flawed, they have to maintain the illusion that it is functional. The gods cannot give up the conceit that Heaven is always just. Because if they did–if they began to question Heaven, to question the morality and righteous of their system, their own actions, their existence? All of Heaven would crumble instantly.
We know that gods do not attract or create ayakashi, the malevolent spirits that seek to infest, destroy, and corrupt everything around them. We know that gods can take human life and feel justified doing so. We know that battles between gods can devastate the human world. The reason Yato gives as explanations for these things? “The actions of gods are always just.”
If the gods began to doubt that central premise, if they no longer believed in their own inherent righteousness, chaos would reign–gods would fight each other for power and control, with likely millions of human lives lost as collateral damage at the minimum. “Storms” and ayakashi attracted by suffering would overwhelm the human world and make their way into the torn Heavens. Humanity would probably be wiped out. The gods would fall. It would be a Ragnarok-esque level extinction event in any case. (Exactly what Father wants, really–some men really do just want to watch the world burn.)
Everything depends on the continuation of the central idea that Heaven is always just, and therefore on the idea that peace itself is justice. The moment that the majority no longer believes in the absolute prescience of Heaven, everything will fall apart.
That was a huge long way just to say: Amaterasu is the representative of Heaven and therefore her hands are tied. She has to do what is necessary to ensure Heaven’s reign. She cannot hesitate to carry out the will of Heaven, cannot refuse to take the actions necessary to protect the reputation of the Heaven as “absolute.”
In such a situation, in which Yato called her out specifically to the battlefield as a traitor who wished to parley with the formal representative of Heaven, she had to act as the representative of Heaven must. She had to enforce Heaven’s “law” and take immediate action to ensure the swiftest return to peace possible.
Even so, for all her face appears terribly cold in many recent panels, you can also see numerous panels in which she appears deeply upset by the events unfolding around her:
There’s also this page, which shows her shocked at the fact that Heaven was found to be in the wrong, suggesting she genuinely did believe that Yato and Bishamon were traitors who were trying to harm the Heavens out of evil intentions. Of course she would be cold and harsh to someone she thought was really doing evil deeds!
Furthermore, the moment that the covenant found Heaven to be in the wrong, she immediately freed Yukine and issued a full pardon to Bishamon and Yato–despite the huge crowd of gods urging her to rethink that decision and at least force them to endure some form of punishment to make up for the likely scores of gods and shinki they just killed. From the way the other gods were talking about the covenant–“a divination is no means to excuse the ruin!”–she would have been fully supported by the other gods if she had chosen to punish Bishamon and Yato anyway. But she didn’t. She’s definitely not evil.
Rather, I see Amaterasu as another example of Noragami’s truly tragic characters. There are many small details that indicate she is a deeply caring and kind-hearted person underneath. For example, the face she makes while staring at the broken form of her shinki is very telling (especially because this is the mirror, and all she sees when she looks into the mirror is sunlight):
She is her own person. But she isn’t free to be her own person because she also has to be all of Heaven itself. The actions we saw when we first encountered her were the actions of “Amaterasu” the person–while the actions of the cold-looking goddess who sentenced Yukine to torture were the actions of Heaven’s representative.
Heaven must do what Heaven must do. But even so, when she is free to act on her own will, Amaterasu has only helped.
The only that confuses me about the two appearances of Amaterasu is the issue of how much she knows or does not know Yato personally. In her first appearance, she tells Kofuku that a human being calling out Yato’s true name will summon him back from the underworld. Then we get this panel:
Which led me to believe that not only did Amaterasu know who Yato was, but that she also knew his true name–and what it would mean to him, emotionally, to have his true name revealed and accepted by Hiyori. All of this, of course, would imply some very deep personal knowledge of Yato’s background and life–or, at the very least, that Amaterasu is absolutely omniscient and literally knows everything about every god simply by virtue of being the leader of Heaven. (However, wouldn’t she then know that Bishamon and Yato were being manipulated and therefore not actually traitors against Heaven? So this doesn’t really make sense as an option…)
However, when she greets Yato face-to-face finally, all we get is:
…So does she know him? Does she not know him? Is she just pretending to not know him because she’s in front of a huge crowd of other gods?
That’s the real mystery I want answers to! Certainly, the answer to THAT particular question could reveal things that we readers have desperately been wanting to know about Yato’s past from the very beginning…
(Of course, I could always be completely wrong about her–but that’s an issue for future chapters… Which I’d just be happy to see!)