Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Mar 9th 2014
Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan: Demon Capital
Blu-Ray - Set 1
Now that the Nura clan has defeated the Shikoku yokai, things ought to be returning to normal. Rikuo quickly learns that there's no such thing, however, when rumors of horrors in Kyoto reach his family, perpetrated by none other than the vicious kitsune Hagoromo-Gitsune, a liver-eating fiend defeated by his grandfather 400 years ago. When Yura's family comes to bring her home to Kyoto to combat the ayakashi, Rikuo decides that he needs to go and help his friend. But will she accept aid from yokai? Rikuo is about to undergo some serious training in order to make sure that she does – and that he really can provide it.
Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan has the distinction of being one of the slower-paced shounen action series, a story that takes its time getting where it wants to go despite the anxious quality of the plot and the determination of the hero. That largely worked in the first season. In the second, Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan: Demon Capital, however, that slower forward trajectory stumbles, and when combined with hopping around between the distant past, the recent past, and the present, it is rather less enjoyable than its predecessor.
The story opens with a flashback to when Rikuo was eight years old. We see him spend some quality time with grandpa before witnessing the murder of his father, something presumably intended to show us just why he is so carefully guarded by the other yokai of his clan. (This becomes a talking point when Rikuo befriends yokai from a different group.) We then return to the present to see Yura the onmyoji, very shaken by her encounter with the Shikoku yokai, training like mad. She's unsettled by Night Rikuo's role in defeating the villains, unsure of her own strength, and just generally feeling conflicted. The sudden appearance of her brother Ryūji demanding her return to Kyoto doesn't help – especially when it comes with a couple of unwanted revelations about her friend. No sooner are we settling into this new storyline, however, than the show moves us back 400 years to learn about the initial appearance of the bad guy Yura's going home to fight – the malicious kitsune woman Hagoromo-Gitsune, who powers up by consuming human livers. This journey to the past makes a pre-baldness and osteoporosis Grandpa the protagonist. This only lasts for a few episodes before we're blasting back to the present for some training scenes before we finally reach the titular Demon (infested) Capital in the final episodes of the set.
On the plus side, the 400 year flashback is some of the most interesting and compelling material on these two discs. Grandpa in his youth was a fascinating character, full of firm convictions and a will to do what he wants, even if that means going against what is expected. There's a sort of fairy tale romance quality to his relationship with Yo-hime, and Hagoromo-Gitsune is a terrific villain – both in that she makes for an excellent bad guy and in the etymological sense of the word that “terror” is definitely involved. We also get to see some of Rikuo's detractors, such as the cyclops Hitotsume, in a different light, making them more interesting characters. This segment may only be preparation for Rikuo's own fight against Hagoromo-Gitsune, but it still easily makes up some of the tightest episodes of the thirteen presented here.
Apart from the pacing, one of the greatest flaws here is the introduction of too many new characters. Nura has always had a lot of named players with special powers; that's almost necessary in a show that boasts a “Night Parade of 100 Demons” or two. But with the back-and-forth set up of this season, the addition of the Tono yokai, the Kyoto yokai, and some of the past players, to say nothing of Yura's large family and its retainers, gets to be overwhelming, and viewers can find themselves floundering as they try to remember who goes where and with whom. There is an attempt to help us remember all of this by writing characters' names on the screen as they appear, but this is only useful in the subtitled version, as the English dub track excludes all written text.
The overall theme of these episodes is that Rikuo needs to come into his own. To this end we have him learning more about his yokai heritage, how to use his powers, and thinking about the past. This also means that we see very little of human Rikuo, which is kind of too bad, as the contrast between Day and Night added some worry to the story – what if the bad guys attack during the day? How will he defend himself? That concern is shifted onto Rikuo's school friends, which unfortunately makes most of them seem very, very stupid. Perhaps that isn't a new development, but it certainly feels more pressing in this arc, possibly because the villain is particularly vicious. We don't see much of them, however, and Yura seems to have taken over as the main female character, leaving Tsurara and Kana on the sidelines.
This is a much darker, grimmer story than we saw in the previous season, with more blood spraying around and closer attention given to acts of violence. There is also an increase in the sexual content, with Hagoromo-Gitsune sucking livers out through her victims' mouths and her generally sexual being in the past. The art also takes on more picture-scroll attributes, outlining characters with brush pen strokes at important moments and using some monsters that could have crept into the show from one of the Hell Scrolls. There are some other nice details, like how the Nura clan's sky ship moves, and Rikuo's use of his “fear.” Dub and sub feel roughly equivalent, with the only truly annoying voice being Sam Regal's Kiyotsugu. To be fair, Kishô Taniyama makes him pretty irritating too; it really is just the character. There's one discordant background song, something plinky and inappropriate when Yura and her brother are facing off for the first time, but otherwise the show maintains its atmosphere very nicely.
With its awkward pacing and flood of new characters, Demon Capital isn't quite as enjoyable as the first season of Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan. Given that all of its ducks are in a row now, and that Rikuo has finally gotten where he's going, it looks like the second half may deliver on what the first so laboriously set up. Until that day comes, however, we have only these twelve content episodes and one clip show, and while there's still enjoyment to be had, it feels like we've gone a little bit backwards from the fun of season one.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B-
+ 400 years ago makes for a good story, some interesting artistic details. Hagoromo-Gitsune is a very good villain.
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