Okay it occurred to me now that the second season of this show has started that I hadn’t review season 1.
Rin Okumura and his twin brother Yukio have been raised by Shiro Fujimoto, an eminent priest, so it comes as a shock when Rin discovers their biological father is actually Satan.
– From AnimeLab
I remember this was huge when it came out. Not quite Attack On Titan huge but still it was a pretty big deal. And when you watch the first episode which is wonderfully dramatic and Rin learns the truth about his parentage and his actions get Shiro, who has acted as his father, killed and all of the other things that happen in that action packed introduction, it is pretty amazing.
Then there’s most of the rest of the series.
Not that Blue Exorcist is actually bad at any point. It’s quite well animated, there’s a series of zany characters who are learning about the world of exorcists and gaining powers while facing a diverse range of challenges. Probably the biggest issue is rather than just have a training group learning exorcism is that they decide to base it in a school with all the usual school setting tropes and to be honest the classroom scenes really drag the pace and serve no purpose in any of the story. Okay, Rin is bad at book studying. We get it. It was funny for about three seconds. Can we please move on and see an exorcist fight a demon now?
And this is probably why I’ve never reviewed this show even though its been sitting on my list of reviews to write. For every moment of amazing over-the-top action/adventure with its mish-mash of religious tropes and ideas, there’s the sitting in the classroom, studying for an exam, inner-class rivalry, friendship games and all sorts of other things that just aren’t as interesting.
Shiemi is a good example of this. When she’s first introduced she’ a ridiculously shy character but Rin, being Rin, brings her out of her shell and after Rin and Yukio save her from a demon she ends up enrolling in the class. What follows is some of the lamest attempts at bullying and friendship making I’ve ever seen in a school based anime and that’s probably because Blue Exorcist is good at fighting things, cutting things down, strong emotional moments when facing more or less unbeatable odds. It isn’t good at being nuanced in social interactions. The fact that this sub-plot with Shiemi goes on for far too long before it is finally resolved in a ‘you helped us defend ourselves from a demon so you must be kind of cool so just forget all the mean things we did prior’ kind of way, only makes it worse. And after this, Shiemi pretty much ceases to be anything other than someone in the class. That close connection with Rin, the playful is she just a fan because he helped or does she have feelings for him moments just disappear and she literally becomes just another one of the group.
And all of the students suffer more or less the same fate. They get a moment to shine, they get a moment that makes you want to roll your eyes and then they fade back into the crowd. It’s a shame because some of these characters actually have interesting stories (or seem like they might) to tell but ultimately they are there so that Rin has someone to bounce off.
What this leaves is a reliance on Yukio and Rin to carry the characterisation of the story and that is definitely a mistake. These characters are good at what they do. They have opposite approaches to pretty much everything, they both have an inferiority complex toward the other, but they both lost their ‘father’ and they have both had to deal with keeping Rin’s secret. They should be interesting characters and yet Yukio is insufferable in his ‘woe-is-me’ attitude holding the fate of the world on his shoulders and refusing to actually talk about what is on his mind. His weak personality is actually exploited which is how we get to the finale so at least it served some narrative purpose but still wasn’t particularly compelling. Rin is just a charge in and hit everything kind of guy. That can work and when the show focusses on action it does work in this, but unfortunately watching this kind of character go about the day to day isn’t very fun. Trying to contrast his rough and ready attitude with a sickly sweet side doesn’t do much to balance him as a character and merely makes the tone of the show even less consistent.
Okay, now it sounds like I hate the show which isn’t true. It actually is a fun ride with some great visual spectacles. I love the ending of this series (though I know a lot of people will disagree with that) and to be honest I’d have been happy with the show ending there but then there’s the movie and now a second season.
So, should you watch Blue Exorcist (assuming you haven’t)? If you like action with a bit of silly visual comedy, then you will probably enjoy most of what’s on offer here. Plus, Kuro, once he comes into the story, is the one of my favourite anime pets or mascots so he’s a lot of fun. If you are looking for something with a bit more character depth and a narrative that goes beyond ‘beat Satan’ then maybe you should look elsewhere.