ANIME & MANGA - Review
12:10 - 27th June 2013, by Amanda Young

Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan

If there's one thing that's universal, it's being embarrassed by your family. Whether it's your dad's embarrassing hip sway dance-moves, your aunt Beryl's home-knitted scarves in magenta and yellow, or your older brother's continual life-fails, we're betting that everyone's had pause to reflect on that most famous of sayings 'you can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family'.

Rikuo Nura is about to find all this out the hard way, when he discovers that the yokai he's grown up with aren't the good guys after all, but are feared and loathed by the human population. You see, Rikuo is actually a descendant of Nurarihyon, the supreme commander of the entire Nura clan, a sprawling mass of interconnected families that comprise of over 100 demons.

Brought up in a spooky house by his grandfather, Rikuo doesn't realise how different he is. None of his classmates start the morning with a team of helpful yet bumbling yokai trying to get him ready for school. It isn't until one of his classmates does an informative talk on the scourge of the yokai that Rikuo even realises the fearsome reputation the demons have - which is sort of odd, considering that the Nura clan pledge goes along the lines of, "We yokai must be strong. We must make humans know the fear."

Rikuo is further humiliated by some home truths about his grandfather, who raised him instead of his father. Turns out that he's pretty much known as the pettiest yokai ever, constantly playing tricks on people and stealing their food right out of their homes. Well, that explains the dine and dash episode earlier - although Rikuo's grandfather maintained that the technique was more like a 'spell'.

So, with a crisis of faith in his family, Rikuo is thrown into turmoil - already tough for any kid, but made worse in this instance by the fact that Rikuo's grandfather has ordered up a meeting of clan leaders in order to name Rikuo as 'The Third', the supreme leader of the entire clan. Rikuo, still smarting from the revelations about his family, refuses the offer, and his arch-rival for the position, the yokai chairman Gagoze, senses an opportunity. In order to grab the title for himself, Gagoze hatches a plan that sees Rikuo's school bus buried under an avalanche of rocks, where Gagoze and his supporters can destroy the survivors and Rikuo along with them.

Unfortunately for Gagoze, Rikuo misses his bus - but his school friends don't, and find themselves inadvertently caught in the clutches of the clan's most evil yokai. It's when Rikuo discovers the plot that Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan steps into higher gear. The young boy transforms himself into a fully-fledged yokai, complete with long flowing, two-tone hair and a snazzy, traditional costume to match, and commands his troops into action.

Once Rikuo takes command of the situation, saves the day and deals with Gagoze, it seems as though his grandfather's dreams of retirement are about to be fulfilled - until Rikuo transforms back into his human self, seemingly refusing to transform again for several years. It's this situation that then becomes the norm for the rest of the volume, as Rikuo is caught between the demands of his yokai family and his desire to remain a 'normal' human child.

The Nura clan is stuck in a kind of limbo, waiting for Rikuo to step up and take control, but meanwhile, Rikuo has his own problems as a group of his school chums constantly try to seek out yokai in abandoned buildings - putting themselves in grave danger. Not only does Rikuo find himself constantly trying to save their necks, but he also has to deal with political wrangling as various yokai factions make a bid for leadership of the clan - most of them with less than desirable intentions towards the human population.

Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan does well with its theme of Japanese ghosts and demons, although we were disappointed that there wasn't a primer for those not familiar with the rich and vibrant variety of these monsters. A little explanation may have gone a long way here, as some of the personality traits and background stories of these characters are never spelled out - Japanese readers would be very familiar with these spirits already, but westerners who have stumbled across yokai for the first time would benefit from even a small glossary of information.
That said, Nura manages to utilise its spooky cast for a few atmospheric moments that are genuinely creepy - a case in point is when Rikuo's classmates go on a tour of a haunted school. Rikuo seeks out the spirits before his friends spot them, constantly turning them away from various areas infested with the monsters, and although it's a brief episode in the volume as a whole, it effectively balances comedy with some spooky panels, making for a hugely entertaining interlude.

The art style here is a typical example of the shonen genre, with heavy lines that also work very well with the spooky atmosphere created by the yokai. The yokai are also depicted in faithful detail in many of the background scenes, and if you're partial to a bit of demon action you'll love playing spot the spirit. As is usual with shonen stories, the female characters very much take a back seat, but it's nice to see that a few were included as minor characters, particularly Yuki-Onna, Rikuo's main side-kick.

With a rich history of yokai to draw upon, and a wealth of potential political problems to fuel future volumes, Nura seems poised to provide plenty of comedic adventures for shonen fans.
©Hiroshi Shiibashi/SHUEISHA Inc.

Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan treads the fine lines between comedy, adventure and spooky scares, and is a treasure trove for anyone who has an interest in traditional Japanese folktales. If you want to learn more about yokai, or just fancy a shonen series with a difference, this is for you.
SCORE: 4/5
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