Review for Blue Exorcist: The Movie
If there is one thing in anime that is as sure as death and taxes, it’s that long running shonen action shows will get feature film spin-offs. It’s the chance to step away from the manga storyline and play some more in that story universe, a chance to create a two hour hit of pure, high quality filler, as opposed to the mediocre filler that you might get in series runs hastily made by hard pressed and weary animators. Besides, when you have a show as popular as Bleach, Naruto, Dragon Ball and One Piece, or even Full Metal Alchemist, how better to capitalise on the franchise than by taking it to the big screen? But to tell the truth, I never would have expected it of Blue Exorcist. It is typical shonen action fare, and the TV adaptation got the high quality production values and animation that shows like Naruto and Bleach can only dream of. But it isn’t a long running show. Its television incarnation ran to just 25 episodes, which in the shonen anime world is a mayfly existence. Movies don’t get green-lit unless there is a three figure episode count! But here it is nevertheless, Blue Exorcist: The Movie. For those who pay attention to these kind of things, it looks as if the Blue Exorcist movie is set in the manga storyline, certainly there are a few familiar figures if you’ve read the manga, which never appeared in the TV show, and not that it needs to, but it makes no reference to the non-canonical ending that the TV series had.
How can one twin have a different father than his brother? It seems a logical impossibility, but for Rin Okamura, that is indeed the case. While his brother Yukio’s father was human, Rin’s father was none other than the Prince of Darkness himself, Satan. Yukio’s body wasn’t strong enough to handle all the demonic genes, so it was Rin alone who inherited his father’s demonic nature. Of course he knows nothing of this at the start of Blue Exorcist. All he knows is that he and his brother are orphans that have been brought up in a monastery, raised as sons by Father Fujimoto. While Yukio is the favoured son, hard-working and likely to succeed in his ambition to be a doctor, Rin is the delinquent, apt to be found brawling, when he isn’t being fired from his latest part time job.
All of that changes when Satan decides to take his corporeal offspring in hand, sending a demon or two to the world of the living to awaken Rin to his heritage. Suddenly Rin can see demons, is being hunted by demons. He also learns that his adoptive father really is an exorcist, and then he learns the truth of who his actual father really is. It’s a truth that is hard for him to handle, and he lashes out at those who care for him the most. That’s just the weakness that Satan needs, and disaster strikes. With his demonic nature wakened, it seems that there is no place in this world for Rin Okamura, but there exists a way out. Rin decides to become an exorcist himself, and deliver a smack-down to daddy dearest. That means going to the exclusive private school, True Cross Academy, where he will attend the secret cram school for would be exorcists.
When Yukio and Rin were children, their father told them a tale about a demon that came to a village, an apparently benevolent creature, which the villagers came to love and play with. They spent so much time playing with the demon that they forgot their responsibilities, and the village fell into ruin. It took an exorcist from the outside to come to the village and seal away the demon. Since then every eleven years, they hold a festival to never forget the story. This year’s festival is upon them, and it’s also that time when the seals protecting True Cross Academy from the demon world are renewed. At the same time, as part of his training, Rin, along with Shiemi and his brother Yukio are to hunt down and deal with a phantom train, which takes lost souls to hell. For Yukio, it’s a matter of taking out the phantom train, but Shiemi wants to save the lost souls as well, and so does Rin. That complicates the situation, the train escapes, leaving chaos and wreckage in its wake, and a little demon child. Rather than deal with the boy the way an exorcist is supposed to, Rin decides to take the feral Usamaro in, while he serves out a suspension for his mistake with the train. But the train is still on the loose, the seals around the city are weak, and playing with Usamaro has a strange effect on Rin and his friends.
Blue Exorcist: The Movie gets a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer at 1080p resolution. This basically being a port of the Aniplex US disc, albeit Region B’d by Madman Entertainment, turns out to be another top notch Blu-ray transfer. It’s rich in clarity and detail, and puts to shame the majority of Blu-ray releases that are sourced from Funimation and Sentai. The character designs match what came in the television series, although the animation itself goes up a couple of notches in detail and energy, but the world design for the movie is fantastic. It’s as if the True Cross Academy in the TV series (already a Ghibli-esque creation) was a rough pencil sketch in comparison to the vibrant and lived in feel that it gets here. The detail is stupendous, and the atmosphere is vivid. The festival sequences put me in mind of a similar sequence in Ghost in the Shell 2 Innocence. The recreation of the film on this disc is nigh on perfect, with the bitrate hovering in the low thirties throughout, banding wholly absent, and the only sign of compression is a smidge of aliasing that I noticed in one scene.
The images in this review are sourced from the PR, and aren’t necessarily representative of the retail release.
That high bitrate video might be why you feel a little short-changed with the audio. There are three tracks on this disc, a lossless PCM 2.0 Stereo Japanese track at 2.3Mb per second, but the surround audio, both English and Japanese is lossy DTS 5.1 Surround encoded at 1.5Mb per second. This is true for Aniplex US’s release as well, which isn’t ideal for the English speaking territory, but the DTS Japanese audio which I listened to isn’t to be sniffed at. It’s a decent representation of a well-designed and robust audio experience. The dialogue is clear throughout, and the action sequences certainly make an impact. The film’s music suits the story well. I gave the English dub a try, and just like the series it is a strong effort, let down only by some dubious name pronunciations. You get translated English subtitles and a signs only track, and the subtitles are accurately timed and free of typographical error.
The disc presents the film with an animated menu.
You get not one but two commentary tracks on this film with the cast appearing in shifts to comment on the movie. The first track offers Nobuhiko Okamoto (Rin), Hidenobu Kiuchi (Cheng Long Liu), director Atsushi Takahashi, and producer from A1 Pictures Kenichi Hayashi. The director returns for the second commentary track, this time with Jun Fukuyama (Yukio), Rie Kugimiya (Usamaro), and Aniplex producer Takamibu Inoue. Both commentaries are in Japanese with English subtitles.
You also get some promo pieces, two News trailers, three Theatrical trailers, a Promotional Video, an Action version commercial and an Emotional version commercial, and the English trailer for the film. There is also a page of credits for the film and the disc.
This is a great little movie, a fun, heartfelt and entertaining diversion for 90 minutes. It’s typical shonen big screen fare in that when it comes to the main story, this is just a high quality instalment of filler. Just as in the Naruto and Bleach films, it’s about the characters and this specific story, not about the overall narrative, and that is just what you’d expect. Blue Exorcist’s little bit of filler is a really good story though, one that puts me in mind of the first Bleach movie, Memories of Nobody. That was an emotional and moving story featuring the Bleach characters and a one-off guest character, but the story was well written and the performances were so engaging, that for me, it actually elevated the movie over the series. The Blue Exorcist movie does much the same thing, taking the Blue Exorcist characters and introducing a guest character, crafting a story that tugs at the heartstrings first and foremost.
It doesn’t elevate the movie over the series, but then again, that was Bleach, and this is Blue Exorcist. I also feel that this film really works best as a standalone, and that fans of the series and the manga might come away feeling a little let down when their favourite cast members have little more than a glorified cameo. But this is a short film, and it focuses on the story it wants to tell. It’s really about Rin and the little demon child that he discovers, Usamaro, and to a lesser extent Yukio and the visiting exorcist from Taiwan, Cheng Long Liu. The rest of the cast either have background supporting roles, or brief cameos. But the important thing is that the film tells its story efficiently, and without added padding to detract from the emotional intent.
You’d think that in a story about demons, engendering audience empathy would be difficult, but the initial fairy tale of a benevolent demon child sets the tone of the film, with their father wondering what Yukio and Rin would do in a similar situation. Then, when we meet Usamaro, he turns out to be the cutest demon you can imagine, which is no surprise given that he’s voiced by Rie Kugimiya in the Japanese version. It’s another shonen trope that the hero is always going against the flow, forging his own path. Blue Exorcist’s hero Rin, the son of Satan established his contrary nature when he decided to become an exorcist to kick his ‘dad’s’ butt. The story in this movie kicks off when he and Shiemi act contrarily to Exorcist principles by trying to save lost souls when they should have just dealt with the phantom train.
That error of judgement sets forth the train of events in the story when they discover Usamaro. Not only are they punished with 5 days suspension, but when Rin balks at simply sealing Usamaro away again, seeing the child as innocent and undeserving of punishment, he gets to look after him while he’s on suspension. For the exorcists, it means keeping Usamaro in a cage and occasionally feeding him. For Rin, it means letting him out, and bonding with him, and playing with him too. The initially feral and fearful Usamaro soon warms to Rin, and he also captures the hearts of Rin’s friends. The problem arises with Usamaro’s powers. He may be innocent and loveable, but he loves to play, and he wants his new friends to be happy too, and he can make all their pains and problems go away.
The trouble is that it’s how people face their problems and adversities that shape their characters. Forgetting these things means forgetting responsibilities, and while it might be fun to forget and enjoy the festival, The True Cross Academy still has problems with protecting the school city, and dealing with more malevolent demons. It also falls to Rin to teach Usamaro about what it means to be human, but by then it’s almost too late. The lump in the throat ending to the film is inevitable.
It’s a fun movie if you haven’t seen Blue Exorcist before, you don’t really need the intricate back-story to enjoy the film, and it’s the sweet and moving relationship that develops between Rin and Usamaro that holds the attention. But devoted Blue Exorcist fans might feel the lack of Ryuji, Renzo, Konekomaru and Izumi, might wish that Shura has a bigger part (fnar), although the three stooges do have an entertaining running gag about a balloon demon that keeps on bursting. The Blue Exorcist movie is a delightful way to spend 90 minutes, and this Blu-ray brings the film to home video in the best possible way.