I first heard about Blue Exorcist from Katherin Dacey’s quick look at the manga, and then from the preview printed in Shonen Jump. Shortly afterward I found out that not only was an anime adaptation of the series in the works, but that it was being simulcasted on Hulu and Crunchyroll. It took me a moment to get around to watching it, but my intention was to give it a shot. What I knew so far told me it should be worth a look, but it wasn’t until I read the full review of the first volume that I decided to go ahead and make this one a priority.
When it comes to anime there are a certain number of things that are most important to me. And they aren’t the things most people would consider, such as an original setting, or original characters. Originality isn’t overrated, but I do believe far too many people are obsessed with it. As far as I’m concerned, I’m more interested in how a familiar concept is portrayed in an interesting way. Several things go into this, art style, animation quality, voice acting, and background music. Now that we have our thesis, sorry, but I’m not out of paper writing mode, let us examine the first episode of Blue Exorcist.
Already by the opening I have to admit I’m impressed. The setting is a candle light church, where a crowd of monks (what’s the word for a group of monks? Gaggle?) are chanting, along with some impressive background music. It’s a mixture of strings (I love strings, so this soundtrack is in my good books), and pseudo religious chanting. One of the monks goes up in blue flames, as the head priest urges them to keep chanting. They keep chanting, but it does no good as the priest also goes up in flames. This scene is very well put together, and comes across as all the more dramatic thanks to the music, which I confess gave me chills while watching this opening. So far Blue Exorcist is promising to be a musical treat, if nothing else.
Cut to the main character, Rin Okimura, punching a guy. Later he is in confessional (am I saying that right? I really don’t know anything about Catholicism, or Japanese pseudo-catholicism) with his adoptive father, Father Fujimoto. What follows is several minutes of painful Maid and Butler dialogue.
Maid and Butler dialogue is when characters discuss things they already know and normally would not be talking about, if it weren’t for the fact that the audience needs to be informed. Such as how Yukio is the studious one, and Rin is the one who always gets into trouble, and how Yukio wants to be a doctor, etc. Dialogue like this is not only unrealistic, but tiresome and clumsy. It’s the kind of thing a beginner storyteller indulges in. For some it’s enough to drive them away, but not I! For I still have an entire review to write, and I’m still hoping for more music like that in the opening.
Rin goes to get a job at a grocery store, and this scene I like a lot better. Rather than continuing to tell the viewers how Rin can’t hold a job, the anime instead lets us see exactly why he can’t hold a job. He’s clumsy, and messes things up, and I think that he exhibits supernatural strength, which becomes a bit more of a hindrance. In the end however he shows he can make crappy, cheap noodles taste better, and he gets the job.
Following an encounter with a monkey like imp, a little girl gets hurt and circumstances make it look like Rin is at fault. The next day he wakes up and sees swarms of little insect like demons floating around the air. He is confronted by the bully he was in a fight with at the beginning of the episode. As little hints are dropped that something is not right with this guy, such as the demons swarming around him, and then his growing horns, fangs and a tail, Rin finds himself covered in blue flames. The same blue flames that we saw in the beginning of the episode. The demon possessing the bully reveals himself to be Astaroth, a demon from several middle-eastern as well as Hebraic mythologies.
It is then that Rin discovers he is the son of Satan, and Father Fujimoto makes his badass entrance. Sadly he forgot his bayonets.
After a small info-dump about the world of Assiah (subtle), and Gehenna, Fujimoto reveals that Rin is the son of Satan. Huh, can’t help but feel like that was mentioned before. Must not have been paying attention.
And with that the first episode ends. The voice acting is solid, with Nobuhiko Okamoto (who plays Niizuma Eiji in Bakuman) playing Rin, and well versed seiyu Jun Fukuyama playing Yukio, and Kenji Fujiwara playing Father Fujimoto. So there is nothing to complain about there.
The animation is done by A-1 Pictures, the folks behind Fairy Tail, Black Butler, and Fractale. The director is Tensai Okamura, who has worked on several big anime series, and has actually directed Wolf’s Rain, and Darker Than Black (for which he also did the manga), as well as episode direction for several other series. So I have no complaints with the animation. I can’t really comment on the quality all that much, as there’s only so much I can do watching it off crunchyroll on my computer. I’m sure it will look even better once I watch the DVDs on my tv.
The art style is unfortunately somewhat generic. Instead of striking out in bold new directions, the focus is on tried and true art, which I can’t blame them for. Sometimes something is good the way it is, and this is one of those cases. The art makes it look like a lot of other anime out there. But if I were the type of person to complain about that, then I wouldn’t be watching anime in the first place.
While there are no complaints on the technical aspect, Blue Exorcist is one of those series that retreads familiar ground. In this case it’s really a matter of how overwhelmed a viewer is with shows like YuYu Hakusho and Bleach. In my personal case I don’t think it’s an issue, since presentation is everything, and I think Blue Exorcist succeeded splendidly at presentation. It takes the same concept and basic setting as the two shows I mentioned, and adds Judeo-Christian mythologies to them. And since I’m a big fan of Judeo-Christian mythology, I’m definitely sold on the concept.
All things considered, I think the biggest selling point for this series is the music. I crave great background music, and when there is demon killing to be done, it better be done along with some amazing religious-ish background singers! And that’s what I got. I would recommend this series based entirely on the fact that they know exactly what kind of music a show like Blue Exorcist needs. With good taste like that, I feel confident recommending this show to anyone. I’m definitely going to be keeping my eye on this.