Friday, February 11, 2011

Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan Volume 1

By Hiroshi Shiibashi. Released in Japan as "Nurarihyon No Mago" by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz.

It often strikes me as I follow the many Shonen Jump series that I follow how many of them get off to a slow start. One Piece, Bleach, Kenshin... none of them had first volumes that were totally amazing and made me demand more. As a result, I am always tempted to be patient with a series that has potential, even when the first volume proves to be a mixed bag. Which Nura's first volume certainly is.

Having had a mild success with Natsume's Book of Friends, Viz is now headed back to the yokai well for a shonen series, licensing this tale about a boy who's descended from yokai and the battles he faces among the various clans. (One day someone will simply go right to the source and license Gegege no Kitaro, but sadly that day is not today). Unlike Natsume's passive titular heroine, Rikuo is outwardly very outgoing and likeable, the perfect 'normal' shonen sidekick type. Of course, he's not a sidekick. So we find that, right from Chapter 1, he has an ass-kicking other form that he takes on... somewhat unwillingly at times.

The concept of the reluctant hero is not a new one to manga, or indeed literature and mythology. But it seems to grate a bit more than I like here, mostly as the world that Rikuo wants to live in is so dull, and the one that's calling out to him is comparatively interesting. Even the two female leads in the series have the same dichotomy - Kana, the normal girl he's friends with, is a fairly nice, steady, boring friend, while Yuki-Onna, aka Tsurara, has magic powers and seems altogether more interesting. (Cute scarf, too.)

Since obviously a story is supposed to be interesting, we know that at some point Rikuo will decide to stop trying to be normal and embrace his quarter-yokai nature. That doesn't happen here, though, so we're left with a lot of scenes of supernatural things going on and Rikuo tottering along worrying about them getting out of hand. The best parts of the manga, naturally, are the two times we see him 'transform' into his alternate yokai self, which is quite badass and commands respect. (It's also quite bishie, and it amuses me how the normal, glasses-wearing geek transforms into a long-haired prettyboy. Remember folks, Shonen Jump is still *technically* for boys!)

So things are episodic right now, though that may change soon with one of the villains kidnapping Kana and another girl in order to force Rikuo into action. While I don't wish either girl ill, I do hope they succeed. Seeing a yokai leader trying to control the machinations of a scattered clan with badassery and intelligence strikes me as a far more interesting manga than a young boy fighting to try to be normal and disavowing his supernatural roots (as he goes home to them every day.) That said, the first volume wasn't bad by any means, and I'll see if Volume 2 can drag me further into the story.

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