Reviews are subjective things. A reviewer is drawing on many things when they write their review. Besides technical things such as story structure, character development and art, a reviewers personal preferences and experiences can affect their feeling about a book. And sometimes, even their gender can make a difference as to whether a book gets a good score or bad. In the following discussions, reviewers Alex Hoffman and Lori Henderson will look at different books and examine the similarities and differences they have over each of them.
Lori Henderson: That was quite a debate we got into with Degenki Daisy. Will Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan be just as contentious?
Alex Hoffman: I don’t know Lori – I guess that depends on what you think of the series. Want me to give the rundown?
LH: Please do.
AH: Here goes nothing.
Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan is a series about a boy named Rikuo who is the descendant of one of the most powerful yokai in Japan. Being ¾ human and ¼ yokai, Rikuo gets to spend most of his time as a human. But when great emotions rise in him, or a desperate need for his yokai side occurs, he transforms into Nura, a leader of his clan and a powerful fighter. The first two volumes chronicle his first few transformations and his adventures as other yokai try to usurp his throne and rightful leadership.
This sounds all well and interesting, but I think the biggest problem I had with the series (you can read my review of the first volume here) is that, well, it’s pretty boring. Rikuo is probably the least interesting shonen action hero I think I’ve ever read. He is sort of a goody two-shoes who doesn’t like to rock the boat, and while his Nura personality likes to rock the boat, we only get to see that part of him in about 10% of the book. Rikuo is the perfect sidekick for an action manga, but he’s been cast into the lead role.
LH: I completely agree with you about Rikuo, especially in these first two volumes. I liken Rikuo to Yugi from the beginning of the original Yu-Gi-Oh! series; weak and useless. I found him to be annoying and really rather spineless. He keeps trying to run away from his yokai heritage and the issues inherit in it. At least Yugi didn’t try to run away from his problems. Yokai Rikuo was much more entertaining, and just fun to watch. He is everything Human Rikuo isn’t; confident and accepting of who he is. I also agree that there just wasn’t enough of him in these first two volumes.
While Rikuo could be a real wet blanket, his yokai companions were much more interesting. I had read Yokai Attack shortly before this title started, so it was really cool to see the yokai in that book show up in this title as well, and know who/what they were. My favorite are the Karasu Tengu. Not only are they smart, fast and strong, they are pretty hot to boot. And they don’t mind a little torture to get what they want.
AH: Yes, the yokai definitely do spice things up quite a bit, but I have another generalized complaint about them. Some of the yokai are awesome, they have fully fleshed-out personalities, and are essentially characters in the story. The rest of the yokai are just used for slapstick humor or one-shot jokes, and while I understand the key audience and what they are looking for in this kind of manga, I would have been much more impressed if the jokes were less “LOL LOOK AT THIS WEIRD GUY” and something a little more substantial.
LH: Hmmm, maybe. I don’t really recall any of those moments you’re talking about, but what we do have to remember is that yokai is a part of everyday life in Japan. While we’ve only had sporadic introductions to the monsters, in Japan they are as everyday as Universal Monsters are to us. So those scenes you mention are probably more like cameos for them. For the most part, I think the yokai are handled fairly well, but would have liked translator notes on who and/or what they are. I was able to recognize several because of my interest in yokai prior to the series. New readers won’t be as fortunate, or probably as motivated to find out more.
AH: Yes, that’s a big problem. There are a few well-introduced yokai, but for the most part, it is left to your imagination what each yokai’s abilities and back-story is.
One of the things that turned me off from the series initially was the artwork – it has a very undefined, sketchy look that sometimes works really well for the series, but oftentimes is marked by inconsistency in terms of character proportions and level of detail. I suppose that the style harkens back to the original illustrations of yokai in ancient woodblocks, but this art has a lot less grace and subtle other-worldliness to it that those original illustrations contained. There were some scenes that the style worked well in, especially the school haunting, and some of the woodland styles of the second volume, but I felt more often than not that the art distracted me from the story, rather than an worked as a positive addition.
Lori, what did you think of the art?
LH: I’m pretty much in agreement with you about the art Alex, It didn’t impress me overall, and the yokai scenes in general didn’t really have an otherworldly feel to them. The only two exceptions are the opening with young Rikuo leading the Night Parade, and the chapters in the mountains in volume 2. I honestly didn’t find it that distracting, but I didn’t pay too much attention to it either. I wrote it off as typical shonen fare.
One thing I didn’t care for that is unfortunately also typical shonen fare, is how useless most of the females are in the series. Even Yuki-Onna, who’s supposed to be a powerful yokai, is bumbling and just as much in need of Rikuo’s help as his human school mates. The only exception is Yura, the Onmyouji. She’s really got some skills, that she really shows off in volume 2. She’s the only one worth anything in the whole Kiyo Cross Supernatural Squad, as far as I’m concerned.
AH: As far as art goes, I think that the “typical shonen fare” has leveled up in the past 3 or 4 years. Look at the quality of illustration from other Shonen Jump titles – Blue Exorcist or D. Gray-Man, for instance, are extremely well illustrated, and I feel that Nura, by and large, misses the mark.
And these female characters. Oh dear. I would agree that I really dislike how girls are portrayed in this series, even the female Yuki-Onna, who, like you mentioned, has these great powers, but turns into a bumbling idiot any time things get heavy. It’s the stereotypical “only men can achieve greatness” bull crap that I have come to actively hate about some shonen manga. I would even venture to say that Yura, who is supposed to be this pro exorcist, gets handicapped far too easily by the rat yokai in the first volume, and has to fight naked against other yokai – is she a strong female lead, eye candy, or just another damsel in distress? Probably the middle and certainly the later, in my mind.
For all of the above reasons, I really have no qualms with putting Nura back on the shelf. I don’t really like anything about it. It’s not the most egregious offender, but the sum of its collected bad parts makes a thoroughly unenjoyable read.
LH: For the most part, I do agree with your summation of Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan. I think I’m more tolerate of it than you. But then again, I can read it for free thanks to my Shonen Jump subscription. I don’t think I would have gone past the first volume if I was buying the volumes. I was really hoping for more from Nura. It’s not turning out to be the battle manga I was afraid it would become, but I’m not interested in Yazuka-Yokai either. Consider this title shelved.