Nura - Rise Of The Yokai Clan: Season 1 Part 1 Review

The title doesn't really tell you much, does it? Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan sounds like it could be a period samurai drama, but while there are some elements that relate to codes of honour to a clan, disputes and concerns over a change of leadership and battles between warring factions, this anime series is set in the present day. As with most anime series, you're better off assuming that it doesn't fit strictly into any one genre and Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan has elements of horror, comedy, high-school drama and romance. The real question is how well it balances each of those elements and plays them off each other, and whether that amounts to something original enough or at least entertaining enough to rise above the crowd. As far as originality goes, there's nothing particularly new here in Nura, but it's certainly well-balanced enough to be pleasantly entertaining.

It's the horror element that is the probably the primary defining characteristic of Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan. Initially, it's horror in a kind of cute and cuddly form that's not terribly threatening but, as you might expect, it gets rather darker as the storyline progresses. This is a good sign as it means there is a consistent thread that is developed throughout the series. The source of the horror comes from the fact that the Nura clan are monsters - and I don't mean monsters in the figurative sense. The Nura are yokai - terrifying inhuman creatures and demons whose very aspect makes them formidable. Which is why it's somewhat unfortunate then that Rikuo, the Third Heir and next in line to the position of Supreme Commander of all the various yokai organisations that look to the Nura Clan for leadership, has the ordinary appearance of a normal 12 year-old human schoolboy.

That's where the high-school comedy and romance come into play. Rikuo is not exactly devoted to evil, eating humans or even just scaring the wits out of them, much less being the leader of the 10,000 yokai of Japan and leading the Night Parade of a Hundred Demons. He just wants to be an ordinary schoolboy. This is not as easy as it seems. Not only does Rikuo have to keep his yokai nature hidden from his classmates - something that is not easy when he has two devoted bodyguards keeping an eye out for their Master - but he has somehow gotten involved with a group of students with a fascination for yokai who have even formed a field patrol complete with a genuine onmyoji yokai hunter to draw them out. Should be fun when his colleagues call by his mansion, the headquarters of yokai activity and, inevitably, that's exactly what they do. Just to keep some additional tension, there are some mild romantic complications around the fact that Kana, the girl who likes Rikuo, is rather upset by the attention shown to him by his ghostly female yuki-onna minder.

All this is fairly standard plotting and characterisation, but what gives the drama rather more of an edge is indeed the on-going situation regarding Rikuo's hidden yokai nature and the struggle for power over the leadership of the Nura Clan. Rikuo does indeed have the potential to be a true leader but at the moment, due to his only being one-quarter yokai, his transformations are temporary, unpredictable and seemingly outside his control, Rikuo unable to even remember what happens when it takes place. There are other organisations and factions who have more traditional ideas about the nature of yokai and their evil activities, for what use is a yokai if it can't inspire true fear in others?

The first four episodes then set up this dilemma, and they do so in a pleasantly entertaining manner and in that respect, it's not so different from the likes of Fairy Tail or Blue Exorcist. The real test of those series comes with how the overarching story is developed in the extended multi-episode adventures. Fairy Tail fared very well in that respect growing in gravity and substance the further the series progressed, the similarly horror-themed Blue Exorcist less so. Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan at this stage shows considerable promise but not originality. As the various other yokai factions come to light, it's apparent that they relate to various folktale horror creatures that have aspects of snakes, rats, spiders, cats, crows and so on, which brings to mind a similar treatment in Stan Sakai's Japanese folktale inspired comic creation 'Yusagi Yojimbo'. If not original they at least have good personalities and strong character designs.

Without getting too dark however, Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan does develop well in its first proper extended 5-part episode (episode 5 through 9) that takes Rikuo and his yokai-hunting schoolfriends to Mt. Nejireme. The characters, the themes, the drama and the romance are developed, but more importantly the mythological underpinning of the overall storyline is extended to show the strengths and the weaknesses of creatures that, after all, tend to hide in the shadows. Some are no longer content to remain there in this modern age, and that conflict between tradition and modernity lies at the heart of the conflict that develops into a horror version of samurai ethics. Yes, even monsters have codes of honour and rules of behaviour.

The Disc
Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan is produced by Kazé and released in the UK by Manga Entertainment on DVD only as a 3-disc DVD set containing 13 episodes. The DVDs are all dual-layer DVD9 discs, with five episodes on the first disc and four on the remaining two. The disc is encoded for Region 2.

The specifications for the DVD set are basic but good. Generally the video quality is fine, with bold colours and reasonable sharpness and clarity. For the most part this is as good as you'd expect, but there are conversion artefacts evident in the form of a slight snagging or jerkiness that is quite noticeable in vertical and horizontal pans. There's enough of this in the series for it to be somewhat distracting.

Both the original Japanese audio track and the English dub are Dolby Digital 2.0. Neither are particularly outstanding. Again the basic sound is more than adequate, but it doesn't have the strength or the dynamic you would expect during action sequences or even during the music of the opening and closing credits. For some reason - presumably to give the impression of a surround track - the DVD sends a signal to my amplifier attempt to convert the 2-channel audio to a wider range, which only has the effect of pushing part of the sound through the centre channel and dampening the overall effect. If you have the option to convert to 2-channel direct, it might improve the audio.

English subtitles are in a proper white font. None of this bright yellow nonsense. Subtitles are mandatory with the Japanese audio and not available with the English dub. These choices are selected from the main menu and cannot be switched via remote.

There are no extra features on the set, not even textless openings or closings, although that is hardly a loss.

At this stage there's nothing particularly fresh or original about Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan's blend of high-school hi-jinks combined with monster horror, but the series is attractively animated, with strong character designs and a plot that entertains and offers plenty of potential for future development. The specifications of the DVD set by Kazé/Manga Entertainment are fairly basic and not quite up to the usual high standards, but there's nothing here either that causes any major concerns.

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