Reviewby Carlo Santos,
Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan
Rikuo Nura is the young heir to the Nura clan, an ancient tribe of yokai—the spirits and demons of Japanese folklore. Because of his bloodline, Rikuo can only wield his full powers a quarter of the time, but his grandfather, the yokai overlord Nurarihyon, still believes in Rikuo's potential as a leader. His greatest challenge yet comes in the form of Tamazuki, a yokai from the Shikoku region who has summoned an entire army to defeat the Nura clan. Do Tamazuki's devious lieutenants and a yokai-slaying sword spell doom for Rikuo, or will the Nura faction prevail? A different problem awaits Rikuo when his high-school occult club is called in to help exorcise a mansion haunted by a grudge-holding spirit named Jyami. While supernatural forces are indeed at work, it seems that Jyami's motives are not what Rikuo and company expected ...
If you were waiting for "the part where Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan gets good," well, it doesn't get much better than this. Volume 6 hits the climax of the Shikoku arc, pitting Rikuo and his allies against an equally sized fighting force. In other words, everyone fights everyone else (until new characters and new worlds are introduced), which is pretty much the action-manga equivalent of turning up the volume dial all the way. And that's not all; the second half of the book features a smaller-scale story to help everyone cool down from the big fight. This exorcist tale reveals the more laid-back side of Nura: light humor, some mystery-solving, and a twist ending. Put it all together, and this volume makes for a balanced dose of Japanese folklore and supernatural battle.
However, it might seem like an overdose of supernatural battle at first, if one only looks through the early chapters. Rikuo and Tamazuki's showdown is a carry-over from the events of Volume 5, so everyone's best super-powered moves are already on full display: a deadly attack that blinds opponents, an uncanny illusion on Rikuo's part, and a cursed sword with abilities that go far beyond merely striking down yokai. Yes, it all sounds wondrous and epic, but it also overloads the front end of this volume with too much bombast. A couple of flashbacks about the characters and their motives add some depth to the plot, but in the end they are just minor speed bumps in a fight that hurtles toward its noisy (and, in the epilogue, bittersweet) finish. So take it for what it is—a well-executed crowd-pleaser, where swords and supernatural powers collide, friendship triumphs over greed, and Rikuo takes another step toward maturity.
The second half of this volume, although not as grand in scale, is more carefully planned out: it's a ghost story and whodunit rolled into one, with a surprise twist at the end (although not terribly suprising for veteran readers of the genre). The multi-layered plot, which involves several characters created just for this arc, proves that manga-ka Hiroshi Shiibashi has more range as an author than simply coming up with new monsters and new fight scenarios all the time. He even injects some humor into the story, playing up the contrast between Rikuo's "real" world of yokai and his goofy, mortal classmates who think dabbling in the occult is just for fun. But some folks are definitely catching on to Rikuo, and in the final chapter we get a hint that fellow spiritualist and onmyouji Yura will be the subject of the next story arc. So don't start thinking that the storyline has run out of steam just because one big battle is over.
As expected, Shiibashi's skill as an artist is most evident in the Rikuo-Tamazuki fight, where all the monsters come out to play. Previous yokai encounters in the series had revealed flashes of a traditional brush-and-ink style, but it is here where those elegant curves and bold brushstrokes emerge in full force. Of course, typical shonen manga conventions still dominate—crisp speedlines, spiky hairstyles, and dramatic closeups—but the influences of Japanese folklore, especially in illustrating non-human creatures, give Nura a stylistic flavor that no other series can copy. However, crowded layouts can sometimes detract from the beauty of this style; there's so much going on in the climactic showdown that the real battle is in trying to understand each panel. The second half of the volume, which is far less action-heavy, doesn't suffer from this problem. In fact, the change of tone reveals another side to Shiibashi's artistic talents, as he makes use of blacks and greys to create a more subdued, chilling mood for Rikuo's ghost-hunting adventures.
Surprisingly, the fight scenes in this volume carry a fair amount of dialogue, with combatants having to explain their motives or how their special attacks work. Still, the language is simple enough that these conversations don't slow down the pacing; even the turns of plot in the haunted-mansion story are easy to understand for those who are following attentively. Where the translators do get to have a bit of fun is in lending a folk-tale voice to the flashbacks; these mini-narratives are a pleasure to read simply because the language is a step up from the usual, conversational tone. The numerous sound effects—all of which are edited from Japanese into English—provide another challenge, and the solution, it seems, is to keep the text out of the artwork's way but still visible. However, things get ugly when the heroes announce the names of their most powerful attacks, as these end up being presented in a heavy, awkward font that clashes with everything.
Volume 6, then, is probably the best of what Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan has to offer—at least until the storyline expands in a major way. Our young hero faces the supreme test of everyone having to fight everyone else, and comes out of it with a satisfying (if predictable) victory and plenty of thrilling battles between creatively designed monsters. In the back half of the book, a ghostly mystery dials things down a bit, but also proves that this series can handle other genres just fine. There aren't any huge, eye-popping revelations lurking around the corner, and the artwork, while skillful, doesn't delve into any daring experiments. But for a solid 190 pages of entertainment, this volume is a good bet.
Overall : B-
Story : C+
Art : B
+ A rousing battle, an intriguing ghost story, and elegant artwork provide many variations on supernatural themes.
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