Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, Vol. 25

By Hiroshi Shiibashi. Released in Japan as “Nurarihyon No Mago” by Shueisha, serialized in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz.

We’ve come to the final volume of this Shonen Jump series, and as it turns out I had not done a full review of it since the very first. That first review is sort of retroactively hilarious, talking about what was mostly a high school comedy about Rikuo trying to hide his yokai heritage from his friends while dealing with a minor love triangle. Now here we are at the end, and I don’t think we’ve had a volume that wasn’t basically either a giant battle or preparations for a giant battle since around the early teens. When you have a hero that can transform into a handsome badass, and a large cast filled with eccentric but fascinating supernatural creatures, no one cares about your human childhood friend. Sorry, Kana.

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But of course the tradeoff is that, while I’ve basically enjoyed myself throughout the series, there’s been very little to talk about with each individual volume, hence why I’ve kept my comments to the Bookshelf Briefs. Even here, the first half of the book is basically the climax of the final battle, which is as you’d expect – the villain is convinced he’s won, but with the help of all his yokai companion, as well as a reformed villain or two, our hero pulls it out despite risking death (as does his grandfather, who actually meets his wife in “heaven” before returning as his time is not yet over). With everything won, we return to the (somewhat beat up) clan house, where a giant party proceeds to end the volume. Well, except for several side-stories to pad it out to a proper length – by the end of the series, Nura was running in ‘Jump Next’, a side-magazine, which allowed it to have its 80-page finales but also hinted it was being put out to pasture.

And it’s for the best, really, as I’m not sure how much more Nura had to give. It’s always been one of those series that was good but not great, and you can’t see the ‘Final Volume!’ at the back cover without thinking “Oh good”. As ever with Jump series, we’d had an escalating scale of villains, but with the last one basically being a creation of absolute evil, there’s nowhere else to go after that. As for the romance, it was the typical non-romance you get in Jump titles like these. There’s enough tease to keep Tsurara fans happy, and it’s implied Rikuo returns her feelings, but nothing really happens. In a world where we recently saw Naruto trying to pair people up and fail so miserably (I actually do like Naruto/Hinata, but there’s no denying that rushed ‘epilogue’ was pretty miserable), and where Bleach fans await the end of their series with dread and prepared outrage, this seems quite satisfying.

The cover shows us three generations of Nuras, which is good as honestly in black and white I can’t tell them apart, and they’re all smiling and showing off their badass poses. It’s a good cover for a series that has never been amazing or addictive, but more solid and dependable. I enjoyed reading you, Nura. Now… GET OUT!

Alice in the Country of Joker: Circus and Liar’s Game, Vol. 7

By Quin Rose and Mamenosuke Fujimaru, based on the game by Quin Rose. Released in Japan as “Joker no Kuni no Alice – Circus to Usotsuki Game” by Ichijinsha, serialized in the magazine Comic Zero-Sum. Released in North America by Seven Seas.

This review contains spoilers for the “Bad End” of the visual novels.

Of all the Alice spinoffs, this one is clearly my favorite, and I’ve said why in previous reviews I did for Bookshelf Briefs. The romance between Alice and Blood doesn’t overwhelm the story. There isn’t as much painful filler the way some of the lower-tier Alice spinoffs have, where you can find yourself in Crimson Empire at the drop of a Hatter subplot. But mostly I think I like it as the main plot is very much dedicated to psychological trauma, Alice’s in particular but also everyone else. Time after time in Circus and Liar’s Game we see her back in the prison, with her sister Lorina sitting in a cell that only Alice can open. Joker is taunting her, trying to get her to face up to the memories of her past that she avoids. And the entire rest of the cast tries to stop her, and get her to stay there and not remember.

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We’re never going to get a ‘bad end’ in these spinoffs, and I think it’s a shame, because the more I read of this series the more I think I really want to see it. Alice remembers that her sister is dead, and wakes up back in the real world, clearly older than the franchise has been portraying her, and having apparently been completely devastated by the loss. Thus staying in Wonderland – kept in that “Sunday Afternoon” that Peter White represents – is denial of reality, and the inability to grieve and move on with her life. And it’s clear that the series, in almost all its endings, really wants you to pick ‘denial’. Throughout Circus and Liar’s Game, Alice is tempted by Joker, and we do cheer when Blood confronts Joker and even takes a wound in order to stop her giving in. In the end, she even marries Blood. But is it really a “happy ending”?

There are two reasons I ask this. The first is the epilogue of this volume, where Alice ends up in the Country of Diamonds after a fight with Blood, and is horrified to find that every relationship she’s had is lost. Blood in particular is not the one she knows, even though he’s still willing to protect her if need be. The best part of this is that it’s not Joker tempting Alice to return to reality in this world, but Ace. Ace has always functioned as the most dangerous protagonist, the one who only loves Alice when she’s upset, fretting or struggling. Here she’s his ideal (and it’s worth noting that we see “adult” Ace here, not the teenage one from the Diamonds VN). That said, the epilogue can’t bring itself to destroy its happy ending, and she chooses to return to her Blood, who she wakes up with.

The other interesting thing is what Alice chooses to become, and how it ties into Blood and Vivaldi. As with the main Alice series, their relationship is a key aspect of the plot here. We get flashback hints (which I suspect I’d understand more if I played the game, but that machine translation drives me up the wall) that they aren’t just brother and sister, but were once like Alice herself. And that’s what makes the ending extra disturbing, as Alice’s ‘Outsider’ status is now considered a Role, one she willingly takes on. Does this mean that she has a clock in her chest now? It’s possible I’m reading too much into this, but I think in the end I’m like Ace. I like the Alice series best when it’s troubled, disturbing, and has nasty implications. Even if Alice is getting great sex with Blood and happy endings. This Circus and Liar’s Game has been a terrific look at the psychology of the series.

(Also, Alice looks fantastic in that Negotiator outfit. She should wear it more often.)

Haganai: I Don’t Have Many Friends, Vol. 10

By Yomi Hirasaka and Itachi. Released in Japan as “Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai” by Media Factory, serialization ongoing in the magazine Comic Alive. Released in North America by Seven Seas.

There is always a certain level of frustration in a harem comedy, which its audience tends to want resolved immediately and its parent company tends to want to have it go on indefinitely. The author is usually caught in the middle somewhere. Harem fans love the romance to a point, but after around 6 or 7 volumes the voices start creeping in, wondering why the hero doesn’t understand that all these girls are all over him, why isn’t he going after (girl who is not the lead girl), why isn’t he manning up and showing all these girls who’s boss? (I will get into the inherent sexism of much of the harem manga fans at a later date.) Haganai has always been a bit meta about such things, and here the face of that fan becomes Rika, as she has finally had enough of Kodaka’s act.

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There’s actually a nice buildup to this the entire volume. Sena’s attraction to Kodaka has been obvious, as has her frustration, but Kodaka has been very good about hiding his desires for anything to go further with anyone. Now we see that he’s starting to become more obvious – ending up shopping with Sena on what is clearly a date, at least until she presses the issue of whether he wants a girlfriend or not. Later on, when Kate and Maria (look, if I say ‘Zoro’ and ‘Ryouga’ I’m allowed to say ‘Kate’ as well) show up at his house, and we get the inevitable full frontal nudity fanservice that seems to be this titles way of driving away any readers I might lead to it, Kate observes that she’s like to go after him, but it’s no real use – after all, he has Sena. His ‘huh?’ is used as the cliffhanger here, but when it’s followed in the next chapter by ‘I knew what she was trying to say’ we know that he’s started to stop lying to himself, at least.

The Friends Club is, to a degree, inhabited by people who are socially inept and have difficulty communicating in ways that society considers ‘normal’. This manifests itself on Kodaka’s end both by his desire to have the club stay together no matter what, but also his denial that he has any friends, the purpose of the club. Staying in a comfortable place where you can quietly hate yourself and hang out with friends without risking anything. If you admit you’re friends, then why have a club? If you admit you’re falling for Sena, then won’t everything fall apart? And is this club more important to someone like Yozora than it is anyone else?

This culminates in the maid cafe scene, where the girls all do their best to show why a maid cafe is a disastrous idea. For Rika this involves acting like a stereotypical ‘tsundere’ maid, but in reality it’s a way to work off some stress about Kodaka’s dumb act. Earlier in the volume, we heard her say out loud that no one can be that oblivious, and his response was, naturally, “What’s that?’. Readers of this series should know that’s almost a catchphrase by now, and it’s not because he’s hard of hearing. So when Rika ‘serves’ Kodaka as a maid, her service turns into 15 minutes of abuse and torture, which the others observe is a way to get her frustration out of her system. Kodaka admits to himself he knows what she was trying to do. But he still doesn’t say anything.

Can a harem comedy, especially these days, go on forever without making a choice? If Kodaka admits his feelings for Sena, will the readers abandon ship the way Yozora might? It’s a high-wire act that’s really hard to achieve, but a little meta makes it enjoyable.