One of the things that I have learnt over the last few months is that managing people is hard work. I only have a few people who I have to “command” and to be honest, its bloody tough. These people are at least semi-normal and human (at least I think they are), so when I am presented with the thought of a clan of yokai, over a hundred strong, all commanded by a young chap with almost complete authority I have nothing but, well, envy that he is able to cope. What is more impressive is that he manages to remember all of their names, their species and their special abilities. A truly impressive feat.
Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan is the anime adaptation of the long-running and on-going Shonen Jump manga which is available in the UK via Viz Media. This first half of the first series covers the introductory and the first story arc of this manga.
The story surrounds the life of Rikuo Nura, who just happens to be the forthcoming third successor to the head position of the Nura Clan, a notorious family of yokai who haunt and torment humanity throughout the central parts of Japan. Thankfully for Rikuo, he is not wholly evil and his yokai soul only forms one quarter of his whole. Rikuo, unlike the rest of his clan, wants to help humanity and embrace them, and he performs good deeds and lives out his life as a good little high school student. At least, he does until the evening comes along. Once his human self sleeps, his true yokai spirit emerges and he becomes the true master of all yokai.
The problem with Rikuo is, other than him being a bit of a hormonal fourteen year old, that he doesn’t actually want to be this Master of all yokai. He wants to be normal, have friends, go to school and date pretty girls who are either afraid of yokai or fight them in demonic combat... at least as first. As potentially the most powerful yokai, when he isn’t a do-goody human anyway, Rikuo may in the end not have a choice as to which direction his life will take. Like it, or loathe it, he will become the head of the clan and the management of the clan’s armies, their dealings with their enemies to the south and with the humans, and the responsibility for the future of the Nura clan, will rest on his shoulders. Consider my envy vanquished.
Rikuo doesn’t travel alone of course - as the head of the clan who is vulnerable 75% of the time, he is constantly accompanied by his clan-appointed body guards, the beast of a former-man Aotabo and the cold and cute Tsurara. These two are both Rikuo’s closest friends within the clan (as in they are actually friends, rather than just servants) and follow him around school in human form.
Without naming yet more names from my notebook (I am on the second page of key characters), the final character introduced is that of Rikuo’s grandfather, the current leader and supreme commander of the Nura clan. This graceful gentleman, whose endearing feature is his enormous head, has the unique ability to sneak and steal candy from humans by turning invisible; an ability he later uses to help defeat enemies. (It isn’t strictly invisibility, more of a manipulation of fear, but that requires a long explanation which we won’t get into)
Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan is a linear story, with all of the episodes except for the inescapable recap episodes following on from another in order of the manga. The first arc within these first thirteen episodes follows Rikuo as he faces his internal conflict about his choice as to whether to become the leader of the clan, and serves as an introductory series of episodes bringing in all of the major characters and the other subservient aspects of the Nura clan. The first major story arc, the Gyuki Arc, where an ally family within the Nura clan turns against Rikuo is covered in full within these first thirteen episodes, with the final non-recap episode consisting of the opening chapter of the Shikoku Arc.
For those familiar with the Nura manga (I personally only partially fit into this category, having recently picked up the first few volumes), you will find that the series is quite faithful to the source material in both story and art form, with only some re-sequencing of certain minor events. For those uninitiated with Rikuo and his co-habitants, the series does not give you much of a chance to get into the universe and the characters before you are thrust into the world of yokai loyalty and territorial in-fighting. This is not a series you can half-heartedly play Sim City to, I will assure you that!
Story-wise, these first thirteen episodes are a little slow at times and quite disconnected, but this too is as per the original source material. Through the next story arc the story progresses quite quickly, so there is a lot to look forward to as Rikuo has to prove himself a worthy leader of the Nura clan.
One of the more difficult aspects to grapple with is the highly complex universe and relationships between the characters. In these first few episodes alone I counted a few dozen separate characters, most of which are pivotal to the flow of the story and the events taking place. That is not easy to keep track of, so having your wits about you is worthwhile. One of my minor issues with the series is the unfortunate cast for the English dub who, I found, don’t fit the voices of their characters at all. Of particular annoyance was the chap playing the leader of the Kiyojuji Paranormal Patrol (consisting of several of Rikuo’s school friends, including Tsurara). Kiyotsugu, whose voice actor is Sam Riegel I think, completely ruins every scene by over-reacting and acting like an utter prat. I don’t often have the urge to strangle actors. That said, the other performances were quite passable and if you can ignore Kiyotsugu’s voice, the English dub is enjoyable. Another minor issue I had is the quite lazy art style of the series, whose low budget unfortunately becomes obvious when it comes to dialogue and action heavy scenes when lips stop moving, pauses ensue, and the backgrounds become progressively darker to hide the lack of animation. The overall animation is not brilliant and it feels quite similar to Yu Yu Hakusho a lot of the time, for some reason, while the overall visual appeal isn't helped by a poor NTSC to PAL transfer that makes any pans within scenes incredibly jerky and juddery. That said, the source material isn’t exactly an artistic masterpiece either.
Nura is set to be a longer running series, with both the first and second series dubbed into English, and the first series licensed in the UK with part two of this twenty-six episode series is available later this year. Nura: Rise of the Yokai is a quite difficult series for the un-initiated, but with repeated viewings of the first six episodes, the universe and the characters become more accessible and the universe becomes a lot deeper as a whole. The series itself is a quite intriguing look into the life and politics of the monster world and a fine, if very heavy, addition to any collection.