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Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan Set 1 Anime DVD Review

9 min read
Nura Rise Of The Yokai Clan
Nura Rise Of The Yokai Clan

Nearing his thirteenth birthday, Rikuo Nura must decide whether to live a life of peace as a human or accept the mantle and all the blood-inherited responsibilities that come along with being Supreme Commander of the Nura Clan – a pack of yōkai dedicated to instilling fear in the hearts of humanity.

What They Say:
Rikuo Nura is an average middle school student by day and yōkai by night. He’s not just any yōkai—he is the grandson of Nurarihyon, the Supreme Commander of the Nura Clan!

Rikuo wants to live a normal life. However, his grandfather wants him to succeed as the rightful heir. When an inter-clan conflict threatens the stability within their organization, Rikuo must decide whether he will live his life as a human or accept his yōkai heritage.

Contains episodes 1-13 on 2 DVDs.

The Review:
Audio:
Both discs solely feature English and Japanese stereo 2.0 audio (with English subtitles). There are some soft versus loud issues concerning, respectively, dialog- and action-heavy scenes, but this is nothing drastic. If you’re trying to keep noise down for the sake of those in your home, this might cause a balancing act with the +/- volume button, but if you’re listening while alone, on headphones, or without regard to the effects of sound on others, it’s really not anything that affects the quality of the show.

Video:
This series, originally broadcast in Japan from July 6 through December 21, 2010, is comprised 26 episodes. The two discs in this collection respectively feature episodes 1-7 and 8-13. Whether it was via the Xbox or BD player, the video on this DVD seemed just fine. There were no grading or similar issues. Colors were bold and crisp. In all, the viewing experience is flawless and allows viewers to sink directly into the show.

Packaging:
This two-disc DVD edition comes in a standard, black plastic keep case with flipping hub for the first disc and a hub in the rear for the second disc. The non-reversible graphic insert features a front cover with Night Rikuo in signature blue and purple kimono, contrasted by a deep red background, holding a sheathed sword. The back cover features Yuki-Onna in a white kimono, offset by the same deep red background; several screenshots; and the usual lists of included goodies and credits.

Menu:
When the main menu appears after a rather lengthy and dramatically scored ad for Neon Alley, the first noticeable aspects are utter silence and a still of a more brightly rendered Night Rikuo holding a sheathed sword in front of a full moon-lit sky. The complete lack of music while cherry blossom petals drift across the screen lends to a potent combination of eerie and beautiful. The menu for Set Up, with all the language and subtitle options, is backed by a lovely still of a silhouetted duel strike. A forest scene backs the Episodes menu, which, in a smaller translucent back box, features a still from each episode, the full episode title, and the usual skip-to options: Opening, Part A, Part B, and Closing. The options in each menu are well distinguished via underline and contrasting colors, making navigation clear and intuitive.

Extras:
The most noteworthy extra is, of course, the production art: 20 stills of character boards and setting sketches framed within a candle-illuminated interior scene. Beyond that, the bonus content includes a somewhat laughably over-dramatized, English-dubbed trailer for Nura… and the same ad for Neon Alley that precedes the main menu on each disc. All of the extras are only accessible on disc two.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the Hiroshi Shiibashi manga serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump, Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan tells the timeless coming of age story about a boy being groomed to take over the family business. In this case, the family crest of fear, adopted proudly by all his fellow yōkai (demons/monsters/things that go “argh” in the night), disagrees with 12-year old Rikuo, who would rather live a life of peace according to his ¾ human blood rather than instill fear as his ¼ yōkai blood would dictate. Having heard rumors of this, members of the clan start to question the heir apparent’s abilities. Some even start plotting against Rikuo and his retainers, which forces him to grow up by taking action and making a decision (in that order, of course, because this is shonen).

Although the will he-won’t he issue is the basis for the majority of the 12 episodes in this set (the completely unnecessary recap doesn’t count), the events spanning the breadth of Rikuo’s indecision do not feel labored, nor does his character come off as a whiny waffler. To pull this off, the battle for Rikuo’s destiny is fought between his blood components as manifested in two distinct forms: day Rikuo and Night Rikuo. It is the glasses-wearing, school-attending, distinctly 12-year old-looking day version that desires peace and has no yōkai powers, while Night Rikuo, who is depicted as a much taller, slightly older teen with white, wild hair, has unrestricted access to the powers which boil in the blood of his yōkai heritage.

In both forms, the Third Head of the Naru Clan faces situations where his compassion (read: humanity) must save the day – whether it’s protecting his classmates from his clan, his clan from his clan, or his clan from other yōkai factions. It would be nice if there were an actual divide required by the personality split, say forcing Rikuo to remember by day the atrocities and mischief he causes by night, but all is forgotten at daybreak until it’s convenient for him not to. That said, having Rikuo learn about the compassion within his clan for the members of the clan as a powerless human is also an acceptable means of growing the character. It is, after all, day Rikuo who must ultimately make the decision of whether or not to accept the mantle of Nurarihyon (Supreme Commander) and all the responsibilities that come along with it. While compassion is an important theme, the series composition doesn’t make it feel so.

The rather perfect mix of action, bloody battles, and dramatic dialogs (with a welcome touch of romantic comedy for comedic relief) makes each episode fluid. Early on, everything action takes place at night. If you consider the nature of ghost stories and monsters, this is actually a crafty decision, but it also makes the series messy and convenient given the bridging of human and yōkai worlds. Rules are broken as to when and how day Rikuo can transform, and he’s remarkably good with a sword for a child about whom viewers know nothing of except for his school days and family status. And yet it’s Rikuo’s attempts at physical adequacy in the face of danger which are also endearing as contrast to the helpless sentimentality of heroes in other series.

The action would not be as captivating as it is without the animation from Studio DEEN. But what sets the stage for most action sequences is a slow turn from ambient to ambient. The two worlds experienced by Rikuo, day and night and all of which that is implied thereby, are expressed respectively by blindingly bright colors and a rich, dark pallet. The transition from the former to the latter is usually so gradual that watching it happen is like watching the minute hand of a clock: sun-dappled surfaces slowly burn and turn blood red with dusk, the lush surrounding greenery slowly withers into dark blue silhouette, lighting reflects off only the brightest surfaces of skin and steel. This sets the stage perfectly for everything from clashing swords to disemboweling monsters.

Not all monsters are monstrous. Yōkai, a general term with many implications, covers many types of creatures of myth and lore, and a good diversity is represented by the members of the Nura Clan (as well as those they encounter). There are beasts, there are ghouls, there are anthropomorphized daily objects, and each has a unique design (if not personality) that lends to the feeling of a diverse family. That none of these creatures feel the least bit frightening is a fault of this series. Even the bad guys, who are usually dispatched within an episode, seem … not goofy, but unthreatening. Actually the darkest and most vicious character in this series is a demon who was once a man, which is an excellent foil to the possible outcome regarding Rikuo’s destined decision.

This plays to a rather sadly undeveloped theme that arises early on: the potency of folklore. The life-purpose of yōkai is to instill fear into humans. The yōkai explaining this, in the same monolog, cites “difficult times” for its kind. And although the forming member of the Kiyojuji Paranormal Patrol (a school club), is meant to exemplify this societal state, nothing of any pertinence is ever made of his yōkai enthusiasm. In terms of tone, more harm is done to the degradation of yōkai potency by how warmly the Naru Clan members are shown as being with each other; it would be much more effective to see the monsters bonded by cruel actions and vicious attitudes.

There’s no sub versus dub debate here: the dub is pure poison. Direction seems to have forced some noticeably broken performances through either sloppy script adaptation or just paying too close attention to lip flap movements and not enough about fluidity or tone. Most of the male leads are either overly gruff, completely flat, or over-dramatic, while the majority of female characters come off as too cutesy. Supporting characters are more on key, but the Japanese cast nails every nuance and puts to shame every effort of their American counterparts. The OP is also disappointing and for a similar editorial reason: the song, Fast Forward, by Monkey Majik is quick and catchy but unfortunately just trails off as if whoever was responsible for fitting it to the allotted time didn’t even bother and just cut it when it needed to be cut. Same goes for the first ED, which features SparkyStart by Karate Size. Both leave the ear rather unfulfilled.

In Summary:
Directed by Junji Nishimura, Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan is a straightforward shonen title with a great sense of balance in storytelling. Viewers will not find a single instance of multi-episode dialogs between combatants preceding a one-minute fight, and there are actually some pleasantly inserted subtleties – they do not develop in these first 12 episodes, but I’ll hold out hope that they’re explored more deeply in the next set. The character designs and integrated mythology are a treat on their own, let alone the use of lighting and scenery, and the flow of action makes this series a very quick watch. While this isn’t anything I’d re-watch, it is something I enjoyed watching and will recommend to friends who are more into Japanese monster myth and shonen series than myself. There are more sets/seasons, but where this volume leaves off is completely satisfying as a stopping point.

Features:
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Production Art, Trailer (Audio may vary), VIZ Media trailers.

Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B-
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B-

Released By: VIZ Media
Release Date: April 2nd, 2013
MSRP: $44.82
Running Time: 305 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Toshiba 40” LED 1080P HDTV, Xbox 360S DVD player and Panasonic Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Sony 5.1 home theater system.

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