Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan
By Hiroshi Shiibashi
Okay, it's been a long week but I'm not letting that stop the review. So I know it's Veteran's Day but...well....a friend has really been wanting me to take a look at this for a while. Also, I'm a vet and want to do a short review so I can go play on veteran's day. So, let's hit it. Nura was released in Japan in 2007 as a one shot and started running as a comic in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump in march 2008, it ran for until 2012. Weekly Shonen Jump is not only the most successful and longest running (48 years as of 2016!) magazine in Japan but the birthplace of many manga and animes that have been popular here in North America. Such as One Piece, Rurouni Kenshin and Dragonball Z (admit it you know at least one of these series). The writer and creator of the series, Hiroshi Shiibashi was born in Osaka Japan in 1980, before creating Nura he was an assistant on Steel Cannonball run, an arc of the series Jo-Jo's Bizarre Adventure (not going to discuss that series, because then I'll have to write a novel). Having gotten all of that out of the way... Let's look into the book itself.
The book centers around young Rikuo Nuru, a young man who has been born into power and wealth... of a sort. The Yokai are type of supernatural creature from Japanese folklore who usually exist to scare the crap out of humans. Now some of them were actually fairly benevolent (tengu for example were credited with teaching humans swordsmanship) but on the whole they were at least very fond of pranking people. You see Rikuo is the grandson of the leader of the Nuru clan, the Lord of Night, the Supreme Commander of the Yokai. This wouldn't be a problem except that Rikuo is 3/4ths human, due to having a human mother (dead) and a human grandmother (dead) along with having a dead father (all parental deaths are unexplained but let's be honest Japanese stories tend to require absent parental figures). So he's raised by his grandfather and his Yokai retainers, who are visually interesting and written in a fun way. Since he's in line for the throne so to speak his human heritage is an issue. Rikuo starts being very pro-Yokai and wanting to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps but as his exposure to humans and human culture change his mind to where he wants to be a human being and starts turning his back on Yokai culture in favor of embracing his humanity.
Now brace yourselves because frigid is going to read waaaayyy too much into this. As I've noted before my parents are deaf, so I kinda know what it's like to have one culture at home and have to deal with another one at school and otherwise. So I kinda get where Rikuo is going through, he is having to make a choice between two cultures and most of his peers are members of another culture. Rikuo starts off as totally gung-ho for Yokai but faced with the problem of dealing with his peers who don't believe in Yokai or think they're nasty monsters... His enthusiasm wanes and he starts hiding his home culture and situation in an effort to blend in. I kinda dealt with this, where I went from thinking sign language and associated habits were normal, to trying to hide my deaf connections, to growing up and just learning to deal. In this case confronted with the fact that the Yokai might not be shining heroes like he thinks, Rikuo decides he isn't gonna have anything to do with this to the point of rejecting his ambition to take over from his grandfather. This becomes a problem, as his grandfather really wants to retire but there is no one else that the clans that look to him for leadership will accept and a good number of them won't accept someone with not just a human mother but a human grandmother to boot. Sensing weakness, the plotting begins and Rikuo's struggle to balance the twin cultures he's a member of threatens to spill over onto his human friends in the form of good old fashioned violence!
This is complicated by the fact that a number of his human friends have formed into a club specifically to find Yokai (hilariously this is kind of his fault). Included in this club is a young lady who is an exorcist who specializes in finding and destroying Yokai. So of course the family retainers find her terrifying. Rikuo has joined the club for a couple of reasons: first to keep the club from finding Yokai; second to keep any Yokai they find from actually hurting them; third to keep the exorcist from destroying any of his family retainers. Although that one pops up later. To be honest outside of Kuna (his oldest friend from school) who is a nice young lady none of the other human characters really stand out to me. I enjoy their interactions however and get a chuckle from Rikuo's constant efforts to keep them from, you know, dying.
Lucky for our boy, he does have a card he can play and it's an ace. Turns out through some quirk of magic genetics (because seriously he's 1/4th spirit being, this shit gets weird) he can switch over to the power and bearing of a full blooded Yokai... in the dark... with no memory of what happens afterwards. Basically we have two people in his body. One of them is a boy who identifies as human and wants a normal human life. The other is a young Yokai noble with ambitions of uniting the Yokai of Japan under his rule and murdering any Yokai who tries to fuck with him and his buddies. Interestingly enough his Yokai side acts and speaks like a full grown adult and has a completely different personality from our all-too-human protagonist. It's almost as if his twin cultural allegiances have split off into different personalities. That said they both agree that they will not stand for Yokai harming human beings and if need be that rule is getting enforced via stabby death. I can't say much more about the Yokai personality because he only appears briefly and doesn't really speak much, so while I know he wants to protect humans and rule Yokai... That's about it. I do find it interesting that the Yokai shows up as an adult to Rikuo's child, as if showing a possibility of what Rikuo could grow into if he learns to mesh his human side and his Yokai into a single whole.
I'm not sure other readers would enjoy Nura for the same reasons I do. For that matter I'm pretty sure that I'm engaging in what we call Death of the Author, where I project meanings and subtext into a story that the writer never stuck in. But what the hell, if college professors can be paid to do such things, I can surely do so for free! Without the interesting conflict the protagonist is experiencing though, you get a pretty bog standard manga for boys. Character must master hidden inner power and confront bad guys and and then kick the crap out of them. It does at least avoid the sin of Dragonball Z by having fights be frankly unnecessarily long in length (to be fair this shows up in animes more than mangas but still...). But because of the subtext and the fun of the Yokai characters who are honestly at this point more interesting than the human characters (who frankly aren't standing out that much from each other yet), I can give Nura: Rise of the Yokai a B-. I'm interested to see if Rikuo comes to term with his identity or continues trying to life as a split personality forever being pulled in two ways and if the writer will actually confront this issue.