Pop Culture Gadabout
Saturday, February 26, 2011
      ( 2/26/2011 09:29:00 AM ) Bill S.  


The newest entry in Shonen Jump’s boyish fantasy line, Hiroshi Shiibashi’s Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan (Viz Media) has an opening nearly as ungainly as its title. Centered on Rikuo Nura, who we first meet as a third grader, the series charts the early adventures of a lad who is one quarter demon as he tries to straddle the human and yokai world.

Raised by his full-blooded yokai grandfather, who is supreme commander of the Nura Clan, young Rikuo initially is enthralled by the idea of becoming a part of the supernatural world. His love for his grandparent blinds him to the fact that yokai -- supernatural creatures who thrive on fear -- are many times more irritating nuisances than they are all-powerful beings. Grandpa Nurarihyon’s idea of “yokai magic,” we’re shown in the opening chapter, is just as likely to involve a dine-and-dash as it is any more scarifying acts. While there are more truly fearsome yokai out in the world, the majority of them appear to be more goofily grotesque than frightening, like manga versions of a Basil Wolverton cartoon. At times, especially in the initial episodes, the crowded panels of yokai frequently threaten to distract us from our hero.

The first volume divides its focus between the yokai-crammed home where Rikuo is being raised and his time in a human school setting, though through much of the first volume, at least, the latter segments prove less focused and interesting. The two worlds collide when Gagoze, one of the nastier yokai out there, attacks a school bus in the hopes of killing Rikuo before he can take over for his grandfather. The assault rouses our hero’s one-quarter-yokai blood, transforming him into a tall, longhaired sword-wielding warrior for short bursts of time. Though his subjects by and large all look monstrous, transformed Rikuo doesn’t, perhaps because of his quarter human heritage.

Having established its central set-up, Nura skips four years ahead, showing our hero as a bespectacled seventh grader much less starry-eyed when it comes to his yokai destiny: a fairly typical tween-ager, in other words, pushing away from the life his primary parent has chosen for him. At school, he’s followed by Yuki-Onna, a yokai servant sent to watch over him, who looks like a schoolgirl but has an uncomfortable habit of calling him “master” at inconvenient times. When one of his classmates founds the Kiyojuji Paranormal Patrol, both our hero and Yuki get pressed into joining the extra-curricular club, in part to keep an eye on Keikain, a young girl exorcist specializing in banishing yokai. She has come to the small town because it’s well known for a high level of supernatural activity and she wants to banish as many yokai as possible so that she can inherit her grandfather’s legacy. While Rikuo has doubts about his place in his family, then, his potential nemesis appears much more self-assured.

The first book of Nura takes some time to find its footing -- which doesn’t seem unusual for a shonen manga serial like this (think of the first rough episodes of Naruto, for instance). But by the end of the opening volume, Shiibashi has honed in on his hero and fleshed out his classmates enough to keep our interest. There’s even a hint that transformed Rikuo will in time effect a change on his clan, though you know that there’ll be plenty of resistance from the old-liners like Gagoze (who dresses like the Vault Keeper in the old EC horror comics) in volumes to come. A promising series, which has already sparked its own anime adaptation, Nura has the potential to be either a strong coming-of-age fantasy or a visually arresting mess. Either way, it could still provide an entertaining read.

(First published on Blogcritics.)


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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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