Home > Episode Reviews, First Impressions > Nurarihyon no Mago Episode 1 – Spirit of Mediocrity

Nurarihyon no Mago Episode 1 – Spirit of Mediocrity

Nurarihyon no Mago, literary translated Nurarihyon’s Grandchild and licensed in America by Viz Media as Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, is one of many supernatural horror-tinged shows being offered this season. Unlike the others, this one is clearly aimed for the younger crowd, which means any horror elements take a back seat to the standard antics which characterize the vast majority of action shows aimed at junior high and high school boys.

Yokai (more properly Youkai, as the o is long) is sort of a catch-all term for supernatural spirits, which are numerous in local Japanese folk-lore, ranging from ogres to fox spirits to legendary creatures of all types. They are often depicted as malevolent, or at least remarkably indifferent to human life. They are also depicted as very social, at least among themselves, often with a clear hierarchy. It’s from that expectation that the show forms its premise.

For powerful supernatural beings, most youkai depicted seem a bit too happy to be taking orders from a half-breed child

The basic idea is that many youkai have been united under the Nurarihyon, who runs his followers sort of like a Yakuza family. While he is fully youkai, he’s intermarried with ordinary humans for some unexplained reason, and his quarter youkai grandson, Rikou Nura, is the designated heir. The problem is that he doesn’t want the job, preferring instead to live the life of a normal seventh grader. He’s only awakened in his youkai form once, and apparently seeks to avoid it whenever possible.

This of course leads to a considerable amount of politicking by other forces within the clan, as other forces try to maneuver to take it over. We only get hints of that in the first episode, however, as the main character is as yet completely uninterested in any of this; he’s more concerned with keeping his friends from discovering about the existence of youkai in the first place. Which is unfortunate, as most of his friends are obsessed with spirits and resolve to visit an abandoned and reputedly haunted building to find some.

Rikou's desire to be a normal human might have something to do with his friend Kana, who is cute but, like the rest of the cast, rather bland

Rikou orders the youkai of his clan to avoid the building, but that doesn’t keep it from being filled with unaligned spirits of a very hostile nature. Rikou spends most of his time beating them down while trying to keep his friends from figuring out what is going on. This works up to a point, until he faces off against a really powerful spirit.

He’s about to awaken into his youkai self when two other youkai, who introduce themselves as his bodyguards and reveal they’ve been following him in human form since he started coming to school. They are eager for him to take up his position as the clan heir, and they will keep protecting him until he is ready to accept that mantle. (Either because of loyalty, or because the author decided he needed youkai sidekicks as well as human ones.) Presumably, working through that decision will occupy the shows initial arc, but I won’t stick around to find out.

Rikou's youkai form is older and seems to have a distinct (and more aggressive) personality. Not that this is wish fulfillment or anything

There are a variety of strikes against the show. The first is that it’s another of those never-ending action series that tend to dominate the sales of the younger male age demographic, which means that we can expect a show spanning hundreds of episodes with plenty of pointless filler to bridge the gaps in between what qualifies for the regular plot. Frankly, even if this were a great show, antiotaku probably wouldn’t cover it long-term just for that reason.

The second is that, of endless action shows, this one doesn’t have anything to distinguish it; neither animation nor plot nor characters are at all particularly interesting. The protagonist isn’t that sympathetic or engaging, and both clever humor (or humor at all) and great action are completely lacking. The only draw is the bizarre-looking youkai that populate the world, and they seem to live and act just like humans. More than the lack of horror, there’s a lack of mystery: In this world, the spiritual is made mundane.

Youkai take all different forms. Despite their appearance, this still feels more like a meeting of mobsters than sinister supernatural beings

Third, even were it an above average show, it’s still one aimed at junior highers (hence the age of the protagonist), and there’s little concession made to inspire the interest of an older audience. The horror elements are toned down to make them acceptable to a younger crowd, and nothing within the plot reveals themes that would resonate with anyone not being forced to take over a family business.

Given it’s general mediocrity, I’m not certain why this show would be popular even among its target demographic. The manga series on which this show is based is supposedly one of the top rated in Japan, which explains why it got an anime adaption, but if there is a reason for that popularity it isn’t included in here. There isn’t any sort of passion or spark to indicate that this is more than a paint-by-numbers attempt to cash in on successful trends. That the attempt worked doesn’t make it a good show.

I think most of the animation budget went into cherry blossom shots, as those scenes are the only impressive ones

For those who really, really like shows like Bleach and One Piece, you might like this as well, although if my reservations are correct you won’t enjoy it nearly as much. Viz is streaming the show for free on its own website and on Hulu (at a measly 288p resolution, but given the lackluster animation it’s not hurt that much by that), so it’s not like there’s a high cost of entry. But if you are really interested in youkai or Japanese folk lore, I’d recommend Mushishi or Natsume Yujincho instead.

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