Rikuo Nura just wants to be like everyone else. Which is hard for him because he’s a quarter yokai and next in line to be their Supreme Commander. For all of the western readers, yokai are monsters or demons of Japan. Almost anything can be a yokai, beasts, humans, plants, animals, and even objects — if you let them sit for a century — might transform into yokai. Some are sinister and quite dangerous, but often yokai just love to cause mischief. Nura’s clan believes that it is the yokai’s responsibility to keep fear alive in humans.
This is a problem for Nura since he has decided he won’t become the leader of the yokai, and will just lead a normal human life. This isn’t a task as easy as it sounds. Tens maybe hundreds of yokai live with Nura and his grandfather in their home. They still acknowledge Nura as the heir even when he doesn’t. At the house there are meetings of the heads of the various yokai branches throughout Japan. Now that the heir is in question, there is a great power vacuum. Some clans feel that they should be in charge and have begun actively harming humans.
Which brings the entire problems back full circle to Nura. Even as he tries to ignore his responsibilities, he finds himself and his friends the victims of yokai attacks. These attacks spark interest in yokai that Nura had been fighting so hard to avoid. Even when faced with evidence of yokai activity, he still tries to quell any rumors. Nura is finding it hard to convince anyone that yokai don’t exist, especially himself.
Despite trying to hide, when the threat gets too close, Nura will give into his yokai blood and transform. In his place appears a level headed, sword wielding man, who efficiently takes out all enemies, and renews his promise to lead the yokai as the Lord of Pandemonium.
Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan is one of the more thought-out shonen comics that I have ever read. Shonen can sometimes read too simplistic, or formulaic, but Nura provides a lot of conflicting motivations that keeps the read interesting. Nura wants to hold on to his humanity, but at that cost ignores the yokai. The yokai, having no consequences act out, which then require Nura to come to action. There are more politics involved, which makes the subterfuge that much more fun to read. It is possible that at any meeting of the clans those that swear fidelity are lying.
Another big component of the tale is Nura living with a secret identity. He strives so hard in school to blend in and be a good, non-monster kid, but at any moment he could be exposed. There are also smacks of how unfair the double standard is when some kids in school praise yokai, but Nura can’t say anything.
The art in Nura has a great challenge. There are hundreds of different yokai, and this book has to show them in all of their varieties, and have them look natural next to their human counterparts. It actually works out really well. Often, the more innocent the character, the more cartoony they appear. So the mischievous small yokai are little more than simple contour lines, after them Nura and his peers are all rendered with a slightly more detail. The last characters to consider would be the monstrous yokai or summons, and all of them receive intricate detail. It is an attention that serves the characters well, because every taut hair or sharp tooth helps to bring the menace of the enemy alive. Even in yokai that appear human, the danger is palpable.
The story flows perfectly from one volume to the next. There is a great pacing to the narrative that actively leaves you wondering what could possibly become of this boy in the middle of yokai wars while holding onto his humanity.
Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, vol. 1-2
by Hiroshi Shiibashi
Viz Media, 2011
Publisher Age Rating: T (13+)