In days of old, people feared yokai. The one who stood at the helm and led the night parade of a hundred demons was known as the Supreme Commander of the yokai. They had another name for him, The Lord of Pandemonium, Nurarihyon. Anime Reporter brushes up on its Japanese folklore for a look at Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan (Nurarihyon no Mago in Japanese), the complete first series. This anime is an adaptation of Hiroshi Shiibashi’s manga of the same name.
Set in modern Japan, Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan is focused on Rikuo Nura (voiced by Blue Exorcist’s Jun Fukuyama in Japanese and Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic’s Ren Hakuryu in English), a twelve year-old boy from a powerful and respected family. He also happens to be ¼ yokai on his mother’s side of the family. For anyone unfamiliar with Japanese mythology, a yokai is a type of monster dedicated to mischief at the very least, possibly going as far as slaughter and destruction as well. Rikuo, a timid and well-meaning boy, also happens to be the third heir of the Nura clan, the next line to lead one of Japan’s largest yokai families. Rikuo’s demonic form comes out under the light of the moon but the rest of the time he lives as a normal human boy and he wants only to continue life as a human. This is made something of a struggle when several of his schoolmates set up a society devoted to hunting for yokai and investigating their sightings.
The series’ main focus is in forcing Rikuo to choose between his human friends and his yokai family, though often he’ll choose somewhere in between. Many members of the Nura clan are hesitant to follow a mostly human boy, particularly one whose loyalties are so often in doubt. This pressure, expressed as the resentment of years, seems to evaporate for the most part after the first story arc. The second half of the series is focused on Rikuo leading the Nura clan against an all-out campaign from a rather more violent clan on the rise. Once again, Rikuo’s priorities are torn between protecting his clan and his classmates and it can’t help but feel that it would have been more satisfying to commit to one side or the other. Another complication arises from his new classmate Yura Keikain, (portrayed by Ai Maeda who voiced a young Cottonmouth in the anime sequence of Kill Bill Vol 1. in Japanese and Bleach’s Michelle Ruff in English). Yura has been raised her entire life to hunt and destroy yokai and has the ability to summon powerful creatures to help her fight against them. She also seems to have much more knowledge about different yokai than Rikuo himself. Some of the series’ characterisation can feel a little inconsistent, with humans and yokai both being very much agreed that yokai are basically evil but Rikuo’s grandfather, the current head of the yokai clan, ultimately doing nothing more sinister than occasionally using his powers to steal candy. Other, lesser members of the clan are portrayed as comical or harmless, with the occasional high-ranking psychopath proving to be the exception rather than the rule. Notable members of the clan are Tsurara Oikawa (voiced by Fairy Tail’s Yui Horie in Japanese and Sword Art Online’s Cassandra Morris in English), an ice-wielding yokai who accompanies Rikuo to school as his bodyguard, disguised as a student, and Kubinashi, (voiced by Naruto Shippuuden’s Takahiro Sakurai in Japanese and Fairy Tail’s Todd Stone in English), a yokai resembling a regular youth, except that his head floats independently of his body and whose character remains much of a mystery to viewers besides this information.
Another notable member is Kejoro, a curvaceous maiden who looks like a traditionally dressed woman and can manipulate her hair to attack with. Kejoro feels lamentably like a token pair of breasts and never manages to achieve more characterisation throughout the series than having romantic interest in a man. Hopefully, Kejoro and Kubinashi will benefit from some exposition in the next series. Rikuo’s night-time yokai form is a more confident warrior with red eyes and a shock of white hair sticking out for a few feet to his left. This demonic form ultimately proves to be far more interesting a character than his placid human-self, though it’s downplayed for the purpose of sympathising with his dilemma.
The animation for the series is stellar, with the Blu Ray edition in particular standing out in terms of vivid colours and stunning character detail. Many of the different forms of yokai are rendered with great imagination and originality, truly giving depth and layers to both the mythology and the hierarchy of the yokai. The voice acting overall is great, with special praise having to go to Sam Riegel (who also voiced Mephisto Pheles in Blue Exorcist) for his English portrayal of Kiyotsugu, Rikuo’s classmate who’s obsessed with investigating yokai and whose inability to discover one right under his nose is a great source of humour.
The first series of Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan does a fine job of setting the scene for future storylines and creates a nice parallel with organised crime families. The second half of the series builds the tension nicely and should leave viewers eager to see the Nura clan taking on other yokai families in the future. We’ll just have to wait for series 2 to see how they fare!
Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan is available on DVD and Blu Ray from Manga entertainment. For more info, check out the Manga UK twitter page and stay with us here at Anime Reporter as we’ll be tackling the second series: Demon Capital, very soon.
76% – “Worth a Look”- Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan is a great start to a Godfather style tale of the reluctant heir to a crime family and the responsibilities he has to face to protect the ones he loves. Plus demons and stuff!