Review for Blue Exorcist: Part 1
Talk about bad timing! Blue Exorcist is something of an experiment for Manga Entertainment. For a company whose policy up till now has been to ensure that English audio at least has been on all of their anime releases, they are finally dipping their toes into the possibilities of subtitle only releases. The whole point was that Blue Exorcist is apparently so good, that Manga wanted to release it regardless of its dub status. They announced the license back in March, after several months of talking about its potential, and they even mentioned that they would upgrade it to a dub release should it eventually be dubbed. To be honest that didn’t seem likely, as Blue Exorcist was licensed and released in the US on four DVDs between October 2011 and June just gone, by Aniplex of America. They’re a speciality label that is known for exclusive limited edition releases, high prices, and a reluctance to export outside North America. Fortunately for the rest of us, Manga picked up the license, as did Australia’s Madman Entertainment from where we are getting the PAL transfers. We both get our Blue Exorcist in two, reasonably priced halves, as opposed to the Aniplex LEs (No double sided posters for us) and while Australia gets their Part 2 this month, we’re only a couple of months behind, as we get Part 1 now, Part 2 in October.
Here’s the bad timing. Six weeks before the release of this collection, Viz in the US only go and announce a dub for Blue Exorcist, causing quite a few Blue Exorcist fans to pause and scratch their heads, concerned by shades of Durarara!!, a BEEZ sub only release that suffered when Aniplex US released a dub version at the same time. Quite understandably fans were asking if Manga would now wait for the Viz dub of Blue Exorcist, and became a little hesitant when Manga said that they wouldn’t. Now the reason why you are going to buy this sub only version of Blue Exorcist is that this isn’t Durarara, and more importantly Viz aren’t Aniplex. Aniplex US has the rights to distribute Blue Exorcist on DVD and Blu-ray. Viz are only dubbing it for their new Neon Alley digital streaming service. Whether that dub eventually gets onto DVD or Blu-ray will be up to Aniplex US, and they are notoriously patient when it comes to decisions like that. They will want to eke as much profit from their existing Blue Exorcist releases before committing to upgrading its audio, and that will have a knock on effect on releases around the world. You can either enjoy Blue Exorcist now on sub only release, while it’s still a hot anime ticket, or you can wait for 12 to 18 months in my opinion, before a dub disc release becomes available, if at all.
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 smackdown 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. There are further unsettling truths to be revealed though, including first of all just who his teacher will be...
The first thirteen episodes of Blue Exorcist are presented across two discs from Manga Entertainment.
1. The Devil Resides in Human Souls
2. Gehenna Gate
4. The Garden of Amahara
5. A Boy From the Cursed Temple
6. The Phantom Chef
7. A Flock of Plovers
8. Now a Certain Man Was Sick
10. Black Cat
11. Demon of the Deep Seas
12. A Game of Tag
Blue Exorcist gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer here, which courtesy of Madman Entertainment is a native PAL conversion. It’s a high quality animation for the most part, great character designs, clean and crisp colours, and detailed backgrounds. True Cross Academy looks like something from a Ghibli movie, while the character animations are energetic, detailed and vibrant. This is a splendid looking anime generally speaking, although there are occasions where you can see the consistency begin to waver, especially in the filler material. The only flaw in the transfer is probably at the limits of the DVD format, slight aliasing on fine detail.
You have the choice between... Damn! I’ve been writing that for Manga titles for so long now that it’s become a habit. No choice, except to turn subtitles on and off. The audio comes in DD 2.0 Stereo Japanese only, and it’s clear and without flaw throughout. The action sequences come across well, the cast is memorable, including the inimitable Kana Hanazawa and Kazuya Nakai, and the show’s symphonic soundtrack gives it a big budget feel. The show’s pop music opening and end themes also add a bit of class, especially the boy-band closing.
The problem comes in the subtitles, which needed a lot of QA before being finalised for the discs. Annoying format errors are common, erroneous punctuation and missing spaces. More of a problem is the missing subtitles. There’s one line missing in each of episodes 5, 8, 11, and 12, two lines missing in episode 9, and one line missing in the preview for episode 14. The first you can just about get away with, as it’s the anime cliché of a character repeating what was just said to him in the form of an incredulous question, but the others are genuinely missing information, and you’re left with only the context to guess at what was just said. It goes without saying that in a subtitle only release, you need the subtitles to be there.
The discs get static menus with jacket pictures to look at when the discs aren’t spinning.
All of the extra features in this collection are on disc 2, and to make up for the lack of a dub, it seems we get spoilt with extras.
First up we get a full, Unaired Special Episode, which lasts 23 minutes. It’s one of those DVD exclusives in Japan and we get it too, a nice comedic and reflective piece that sees Rin’s adopted familiar Kuro, the cat demon, get annoyed at the way that his new master and his brother treat him, and he runs away from home, looking for someone that will treat him with respect.
The Ura-Ex (Bonus Short Movies) last 6 minutes and are those special omake that also wind up as Japanese DVD exclusives. These are more comedic and daft in tone, and aren’t part of the story. There are five of them in total here.
There are 3 minutes of web previews for the episodes.
Finally there are the textless credit sequences for the first half of the series.
Blue Exorcist is another shonen action story. I mean it may be the next big thing, and it may have production values at the higher end of the anime scale, but it is just another shonen action show, sitting in the same sort of niche as Naruto and Bleach, if a lot more efficient with its storytelling. It’s a big, epic storyline, with lots of interesting developments, plenty of characters, and it’s full of the jargon and complexity that shonen action fans adore, the details that foment divisions among legions of anime aficionados, assuring that they can never unite and take over the world. That’s the manga, of which I have partaken of the first few volumes. This TV series on the other hand is just 25 episodes long, and at the time of writing, there’s been no announcement regarding another series. This show barely scratches the surface, and to that, they still add an episode or two of filler.
It begins with such promise as well. I watched the first four episodes, certain that I would be wheeling out the ‘best thing since sliced bread’ cliché. The first four episodes really set the story up, introduce the main characters, show them happy and complacent in their world, and then tear that world apart, leaving them to pick up the pieces and come to terms with what has just happened. We have a pair of orphan twins, a genius and a delinquent, raised by their adoptive father in his monastery, and things seem pretty normal for Rin Okamura. His father and the monks are exorcists, but Rin thinks that just means laying the fears of the gullible to rest. It’s not until he actually starts seeing demons himself that he learns that exorcists are for real.
But that heralds the revelation that he’s been lied to all his life. His past, his father’s world and career, his brother’s real calling, all have been hidden from him. The ultimate lie of all is the circumstances around his birth. It turns out that his father is none other than Satan himself. With all that has been hidden from him, it’s understandable that he reacts the way that he does, taking out his frustrations on his adoptive father. That’s just the moment of weakness that Satan needs to act, and disaster ensues. It’s great writing at this point, with the characters’ emotions driving the story. You really get to empathise with them, and with the orchestral score really reaching a crescendo here, you really begin to feel that you’re watching something special.
With Rin’s heritage revealed, as is his demon half, he’s left with few choices, but he has vengeance to seek, and Satan’s butt to kick, so he decides to follow his father’s line of work and become an exorcist himself. That means going to exorcist school, and this is where Blue Exorcist falls down into the pit of mediocrity. It’s another high school anime! Rin goes to the same exclusive school as his brother, True Cross Academy, but he also gets a magic key that opens the door to the Cram School, where he will actually be learning the lessons behind exorcism. Of course he has a magic sword bequeathed by his father, which reins in his demon half. He has an instinctive skill in using it to scythe through demons, but his delinquent nature makes sitting in a classroom learning almost impossible. It isn’t made easy by the reveal that his brother Yukio is actually a qualified exorcist already, and will be one of his teachers.
We’re in Harry Potter mode here, with a lot of the stories that develop set around his fellow trainee exorcists. Moe comes in the form of Shiemi, a former shut-in daughter of a shop owner that Rin rescues from a plant demon, while tsundere comes in the form of Izumo and her memorable eyebrows. There has to be a rival for Rin, and that comes in the form of the abrasive and uniquely coiffured Ryuji Suguro, although his friends Konekomaru and Shima do much to balance his tendency to rub Rin the wrong way. It’s typical high school anime antics, with demon hunting and exorcisms thrown into the mix.
Of course the whole Satan thing isn’t too far behind, and it turns out that the school’s principal, Mephisto Pheles has his own plans for Rin Okamura, which begin by testing his demonic nature, causing all sorts of havoc in the school. By the end of this half, if it wasn’t already clear from his name, it becomes clear that Mephisto isn’t exactly native to the human world, which makes it curious as to how he’s so high up in the Exorcist command structure, running one of their schools.
You’d think that this would be a lot to be going on with, and the show should be densely packed with high school hi-jinks and hellish hyperbole, but we actually have room for stories that sidetrack from the main narrative here. Episode 6 is all about a phantom cook that prepares the food for brothers Yukio and Rin, in the abandoned dormitory they have for their sole use. Rin manages to offend the ghostly chef when he cooks up his lunch there. Episode 11 has Rin, Izumo and Shima off to the beach where they have to deal with a Squid-vasion. No, not that one-geso. But there had to be a swimsuit episode here somewhere. I’m stunned at the restraint shown in not taking Shiemi along... except that descent into mediocrity hits again when the Shura Kirigakure character is introduced in episode 12. She’s an exorcist with attitude that arrives to deal with Rin, and her habitual mode of dress is a bikini top that is two sizes too small. She also has blonde hair with streaks, is accompanied by kettle-drum, booby bounce sound effect, and deals with Rin by putting him in a face-into-boob headlock that would have otaku dying by their basement loads from nasal haemorrhages. The artists so obviously want her to be Yoko from Gurren Lagann that my eyes were rolling just as much with the anime, as they were when she was introduced in the manga. Did I mention that she pulls her magic sword from the tattoo in her cleavage? Nose bleeding yet?
Having said all that, while Blue Exorcist may be nothing new, it is still told with energy, efficiency, and verve. The production values occasionally slip after the opening few episodes and the theatrical music which works so well then, becomes misplaced and overbearing when used for less potent scenes. But the characters appeal, the comedy works, and most important of all, it’s entertaining. Blue Exorcist is a run of the mill anime, but it’s a high quality, top notch, run of the mill anime. I’d be giving it a higher mark, were it not for those missing subtitles, an error which should have been picked up before release.