Nura – Rise Of The Yokai Clan Season 1 Part 1 (Episodes 1-13) (Cert 15)
3 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment/Kaze UK) Running time: 304 minutes approx.
Thirteen is an awkward age for most kids – the first step of the teenage years, puberty makes its first appearance, the opposite gender start to become more attractive, and of course, the preparation for your life as an adult begins in earnest. It is at this point when one’s idea of what they want to do with their life often contrasts with the direction a lot of parents have in mind for their children.
Take Rikuo Nura for example. As one quarter Yokai (demon) and grandson of Nurarihyon, the Supreme Commander of the Nura Clan, Rikuo is expected to take over as the Third Head of the Yokai Clan but the youngster just wants to live like any other twelve year and go to school, hangout with friends and have fun. While his grandfather respects this, other members of the clan and rival factions aren’t so happy with Rikuo’s decision and plan to upset the balance of the Yokai world for their own gain.
If you can count on the Japanese for anything it is finding more and more inventive ways of redefining the “coming of age” tale and this creation of mangaka Hiroshi Shiibashi is the latest to subvert this genre, brought to life by Studio DEEN. Yokai are a staple of Japanese folklore and this series in many ways attempts to bring them up to date, integrating them into modern day Japan while keeping them true to their roots.
Our protagonist Rikuo isn’t shunning his Yokai heritage but clearly finds the burden of leading the clan at such a young age a less immediate concern than leading the life of a “normal” teenager. Unfortunately, Rikuo has a slight side effect of possessing Yokai blood – when the night comes and Rikuo finds himself in a post of danger, his Yokai side takes over and he transforms into the Master Yokai his clan want him to be, a superhuman being whose mere presence scares the bejesus out of other Yokai.
So, how does Rikuo reconcile the two sides of his life? With great difficulty. At school he has a group of close friends who make up the Kiyojuji Paranormal Patrol, created to seek out Yokai activity in the area. Rikuo tries to persuade them there is no such thing but the persistence of the group overrules him. One night during a planned investigation Rikuo senses Yokai in the area but recognises them as being from another clan – and guess who their target is?
Thankfully Rikuo has a few loyal clan members on hand to save the day, including ice queen Tsurara Oikawa aka Yuki Onna and the monstrous priest Aotabo, who are forced to enrol at the school to act as Nura’s bodyguards – discreetly of course. And if their bumbling presence and the rival Yokai wasn’t enough, transfer student (you knew there had to be one) Yura Keikain also shows a keen interest in Yokai, quickly revealing herself to be a talented onmyoji along the way!
Unfortunately for Rikuo, keeping his Yokai family hidden while his friends come round for tea is a bit of problem, and a wealthy source of farcical humour. A running joke of the show is how the Kiyojuji Paranormal Patrol leader Kiyotsugu keeps missing the appearance of the Yokai while everyone else gets caught in the middle of al the excitement. In a subplot that threatens Rikuo’s secrecy, his childhood friend Kana Ienaga is saved by night time Rikuo during one incident and becomes smitten by him, naturally wanting to find out more about her hunky saviour so who does she turn to for answers? You guessed it.
Despite tapping into an age old fear of Japanese culture, there is plenty of levity and silly humour to be found in this show as Shiibashi attempts to make the Yokai Clan under Rikuo’s potential aegis a fun and colourful bunch of characters. Yuki Onna will no doubt be a future cosplay favourite while her fellow demons literally come in all shapes and sizes, staying true to the many depictions seen in historical artwork.
One eyed monsters, a man with no neck whose head floats above his shoulders, goblins, bird creatures, cat creatures, rate creatures, even one with a head made of straw – there is a wealth of creativity gone into designing this supernatural support cast. No surprises then that the visual are a strong factor in keeping the viewer engaged in this series, bolstered by some fluid animation for the supernatural battle scenes.
There is quite a lot happening in this first volume so one needs to pay attention. Indeed much of the material in this first set follows the “villain of the week” pattern albeit sometimes stretched over two or three episodes. Of the thirteen episodes presented here, the last is a recap of the aforementioned flashback arc which, originally a TV broadcast obligation, seems superfluous for DVD release, seeing as it comes just as the story is getting exciting with the arrival of a vicious clan of dog Yokai.
But, as night time Rikuo is a practically invincible superhero, I guess we can safely predict the outcome when the inevitable climactic showdown arrives. Incidentally, Rikuo’s night time version resembles his grandfather in his prime as we learn during a flashback arc that appears in the early episodes, while young Rikuo look a lot like the protagonist of Negima! but don’t let that put you off – the two shows are worlds apart.
With Yokai usually depicted as violent monsters (see Claymore for example), Nura – Rise Of The Yokai Clan is closer to the likes of Bleach and Blue Exorcist than the horrific blood and guts extravaganza some might expect. A heady mixture of fun, thrills and monsters this opening volume delivers a solid dose of shonen supernatural action to appeal to wide cross section of anime fans.
Ratings – ****
Man In Black