As I wade deeper into Nurarihyon and the mythology that surrounds it, it’s becoming more clear to me every week just how different this season is – and just what an impact director Nishimura Junji had on the first season.
It’s an odd thing. Nishimura is a talented and accomplished director, with an impressive creative peak in having directed True Tears. Sennen Makyo director Fukuda Michio is much less accomplished, having a track record almost entirely as an animator. Yet it appears that Nishimura radically altered the material in both tone and content, focusing heavily on human Rikuo, the Supernatural Squad generally and Kana specifically. Not knowing the manga well I had no idea at the time how different this was from the source material, but Fukuda appears to be much the better fit as director. This season has a much darker, more focused and weighty feel to it and the material seems an order of magnitude more substantial.
Human Rikuo and Kana have been almost entirely absent for the first six episodes, and it doesn’t appear that’s going to be changing anytime soon. With the focus on Kyoto and the Hagoromo-Gitsune arc, Yura has emerged from the shadows as the most significant girl in Rikuo’s harem, and when we haven’t been flashing back 400 years we’ve seen much more of Rikuo’s youkai form than his human one. Anxious to go to Kyoto and deal with Hagoromo-Gitsune, Rikuo has no idea just how inadequate his skills are. He’s gained confidence in his defeat of the Shokoku Gang, but as Grandpa Nurarihyon is only too willing to show him, they – and he – are no match for world-class ayakashi like Gitsune and her inner circle. After thoroughly kicking Rikuo’s butt in combat, he has the boy abducted by the Tono Clan, from Tohaku (a region much in the news this year, sadly) there to be shown in even more detail just how much he has to learn.
This season has been all about Grandpa so far. Thanks to yet another flashback we’ve seen how he lost his son, and Rikuo’s father, to an ambush by a (very important and familiar-looking) sword. He treasures Rikuo and has always tried to protect him, but the time has clearly come from Rikuo to step out of the old man’s shadow and to do that, Nurarihyon realizes he has to be humbled and start his training from the apprentice level. Thus the abduction to Tono, where Rikuo seems to perpetually stay in youkai form due to the demon aura that clings to the village and the surrounding wilds. There his master is to be Itaku (Kishio Daisuke), though he’s spending most of his time washing clothes and chopping wood, for now.
We’re in pretty familiar shounen territory here, with the sidetracking of the hero to learn new skills at the feet of an abusive yet ultimately caring master so that he can go off to Kyoto and deal with the real villain of the piece. No genre is more given to a set structure than shounen, but I have no problem whatsoever with genre material if it’s done well – and it appears to be done very well here. This arc is clearly going to be a very big story (as was the Kyoto arc of that other shounen manga) and eventually, the other familiar characters will work their way back into the story. The Kiyo Squad is on their way to Kyoto to check on Yura, and I’ve no doubt that Rikuo’s own second-generation Night Parade will eventually join him in Kyoto for the final battle. It should be a good ride, if the first six eps are any indication.