Anime Breakdown: Blue Exorcist (Ao No Exorcist) (2011) Series Review

Important to note:

I’m no expert on manga or its animated form so when it comes to regarding it’s position of quality I have no idea how high or high low this would rank. Honestly though this isn’t the first anime I’ve ever seen, although I doubt anyone who sees and read this stuff would take someone who only anime he has seen are Angel Beats!, Persona 4: The Animation, Tokyo Ravens, Attack On Titan, Noragmi, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and WataMote would take my criticism to heart. At the time this was posted I got confirmation from the official Blue Exorcist fan page that there is no plan for another season.

Lets get started into why I decided to check out the series in the first place. Looking through the animation section of my video store I was looking for something new to see. In the past I pretty much establish myself as a person whose sees the current state of animation in a negative light. Looking back at my reviews on animated movies most of them begin with me bashing current animation in some way. So with this incentives I chose to check out one of the more recent animated films. The one I chose just so happened to be Blue Exorcist and once I discover it was based on a manga that has a anime I chose to do my review of the film differently. Unlike in the past I didn’t just want to go into the film for just newcomers, but be able to tell fans if the film does justice to the series or not. Plus I had plenty of time to kill so there was no harm to be done if I checked out the series. This being a review of a television series and not the film I’ve chosen to adapt the wing-it style I originally developed for TV shows (which I haven’t decided to start or ignore) for this series review of  Blue Exorcist.

Premise:

The world of Blue Exorcist consists of two dimensions joined as one, like a mirror. The first is the world in which the humans live, Assiah. The other is the world of Demons, Gehenna. Ordinarily, travel between the two, and indeed any kind of contact between the two, is impossible. However, the demons can pass over into this world by possessing anything that exists within it. Satan is the god of demons, but there’s one thing that he doesn’t have and that’s a container in the human world that is powerful enough to hold him! For that purpose, he created Okumura Rin, his son from a human woman, but will his son agree to his plans, or will he become something else…? After killing Rin’s guardian, Father Fujimoto, in an attempt to bring Rin back to the Demon world, it led to Rin’s journey of becoming an Exorcist in order to become powerful enough to defeat Satan and also face the consequences of being the son of Satan.

Good: Accessible, Easy To Define Characters

If there’s one thing Blue Exorcist does correctly, it’s its characters. Each of them have an easy to define trait and backstories. Motivations become much more about the characters personal goals over simply being a battle of good vs. evil. Facing their own weaknesses even overcoming preconceived notions when facing each other. Taking time to do something with it sides character albeit be an entire episode or a moment where they specifically shine. Despite a being a series about orphans, devils, and demonic creatures it finds time to have a little fun with itself thanks to its balance of varied personalities. They have the right balance of comedy and genuine emotion that sells you on whatever the characters are currently going through their situations.

Rin Okumura, the protagonist of the series exemplifies the series contrast of the typical cycles we assume of good and evil. He’s the son of Satan, contains his powers, but ultimately decides to go on a different path from what’s society expects from him. Okumura goes against the norm of how to perceive a demon even if the series itself plays it pretty safe with it story. What makes Blue Exorcist easily accessible is the relationship between brothers Rin and Yukio. From first impressions, it came across as if Yukio’s accepting his brother’s status a demon would be a central arc, but gets resolved rather quickly. However, the key to maintaining the brother dynamic interesting is them seeking their parents past all the while facing several issues together. It’s this kind of brotherly love that makes it worth getting involved behind the protagonists.

The series best character moments are with Shiro Fujimoto who raised the spawns of Satan. Early on in the series his character bites the dust, a shame too since it leaves as little impact as you would expect, though that is to blame more on poor plotting than the character himself. Fujimoto slowly becomes more developed through the course of the series from the words of either the children he raised or those who knew him from the past. This father is a certified badass because of how strongly he sticks to his beliefs. Not only does he retain the good word, but always searches for a non violent solution if possible. He’s a pacifist if he sees other ways of resolving an issues, but not to the point he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty. It’s just unfortunate Shiro Fujimoto takes a back seat to his sons given how his backstory has a better setup for three act stories than the direction the series went in.

Good: Interesting World With Religious Elements

Admittedly I never once really thought much on the hierarchy of a church. I bring this up because religion is one of the series main elements. To an extent it does establish the rules in which the priests should do business. They are pretty clear using what the average person associates when it comes to exorcism and priests. It’s not an shoehorned element as its usage of religion ideas is solid. Baring some similar element to its inspiration is easy to compare, but free enough to explore the concepts with modern updates. For example, there’s five ways a Meister (an exorcist specific combat style) ranges from; Dragoon (guns), Knight (swords and what not), Aria (reads holy text scripture), Tamer (summon Demons), and Doctor (self explanatory). We get a good picture of how everything functions and works in the system.

Using religion as a starting point it yet again makes a number of contrast from established concepts. For starter the lord of evil Satan has far more characteristic than just a demonic being. His one trait of punishing is kept, but it’s the idea of what makes Satan who he is that we are given a glimpse off. Understanding why a human would fall in love with Satan and understanding Satan as a person not just as a mere demon. This exploration comes pretty late in the series although very much appreciated putting a different spin on a legendary figure. Further supporting the against type the series highlights with the demonic protagonist. Knowing it limits the religion elements never become overbearing to the series.

Mixed: Production Values

From a technical standpoint there’s nothing about Blue Exorcist that stands out from animation, visuals, music, or anything for that matter. It simply does its job adequately which isn’t enough to leave a permanent impression like the series so desperately wants to achieve.

When it comes to sound the only thing that comes close to registering on radar is it music. The series only has two notable tracks which are the opening themes; “Core Pride” by the (can’t believe I actually recognized this) band UVERworld for the first 12 episodes and “In My World” by Rookiez Is Punk’d for the remaining 13. UVERworld is a good band, but “Core Pride” isn’t a good representation of the shows first season. Opening with an uproaring saxophone accompanied by fast drum beats within seconds “Core Pride” goes from Jazz to a rock song in seconds. I definitely like the song “Core Pride” and how it expresses its subject matter, but that same notion can’t be applied vice versa. “Core Pride” transforms into another genre in seconds something the typical opening does not do; title appears with flashy fire effects, protagonist is running late to something, protagonist head facing down while walking alone with hands in his pockets, protagonist laying out in the rain holding his weapon, protagonist gets picked up and runs again, and ending with the protagonist holding out his sword just to look cool. Man I spend allot on a single track which honestly defeats the point of watching 12 episodes. Sure you’ll get more context if you see the first twelve episodes, but those moments are pretty insignificant when compared to the big picture “Core Pride” gets across a lot more efficiently in four minutes.

The second opening track “In My World” by Rookiez Is Punk’D is more in line with the series quality as the opening is even less inspired. However, “In My World” should basically be labeled “Core Pride 2” as both songs are pretty much the same thing lyrically. “Core Pride” talks about a person considered to be an outsider in his community having big dreams he knows are unobtainable. Over the course of his life he never loses the passion to obtain them knowing that if his future is never bound to change like people have told him throughout his life he knows himself he can change. Long summarization I know. It’s just the way the song presents that life experience is a lot classier because the person going on the journey is facing it head on with no excuses even if everyone is trying to put him down. “In My World” is the griefing version of “Core Pride”. Literally opening with “Dark side in my heart is a black box” it mopes around with an unenlightened outlook. Lyrically the song’s attitude is “F**k all to the world” for the majority of it until by the end the person embraces life and all bad things it throws. Notice a problem with the two? If not, “Core Pride” is a life experience where as “In My World” is a temper tantrum. “In My World” is a bad opening because it’s drastically smaller in scope compare to “Core Pride” and going against the big scope the show is aiming for. Worst of all “In My World” doesn’t in any way build upon anything that’s been established simply restating facts viewers at this point would have already known about the series.

Now with that off my chest how’s everything else that actually matters for longer than a minute and half. Well the sound effects are dull. Gunfire sounds are similar and at times when a bullet hits an object the effect can be missing. Things such as fire burning, swords clashing, broken gate falling, or any various series of action sound stock. There’s literally editing programs with same level of quality sound effect. Visually the animation is smooth, but there’s nothing notable about it. Feeling very restrictives it attempts to make up for it with a more stylized approach to make its battles appear big. Granted this works to make battle look cool, but the restrictive animation prevents from the action scenes from being elaborate. Art design is generally mixed. Demonic creatures for the most part are based around animals and unfortunately the creators don’t stray too far off from the animals anatomy. Everything from the color to the body structure, nothing about the demons look visually demonic. Take a look below.

Character designs are thankfully varied minus the protagonist Rin Okumura. While researching images I did not expect to find a character so similar to Rin’s design. So while the protagonist isn’t entirely original, the rest of the cast established their own identity. Although the animators did get carried away with the design of a particular characters breasts. I kid you not when I say there were times when the only things on my screen were animated breasts.

Mixed: Promises a lot, delivers very little

Seeing how many negative things I have to say about the writing, lets get out some positives. Story arcs that have little connection with the main story bring satisfying closure. These stories could be from the celebration of a certain character birthday to a husband finally forgiving himself to what happened to his wife. The downsides to these arcs varied as some do make character development progress, but overall these stand alone episodes neither strengthen nor weaken the overall story. Now for to the long rant.

Blue Exorcist throughout its 25 episodes follows the pattern of a Stephen King novel; it has excellent build up, but the outcome is underwhelming. It has the characters and world to fulfill the epic scope it has its eyes set on, but the stories themselves suffer from mediocrity. In order for Rin Okumura to be become an exorcist he must attend True Cross Academy. This ends up making the series just another high school anime. Character archetypes are pretty typical for a high school setting from the bully, the loner, the nerd, and so forth. Like the high school setting it has some twists like the lack of any actual romantic tension. The characters are good, but unfortunately what the series decides to do with them amounts in unfulfilling transformations.

Another problem with the series is protagonist Rin Okumura never overcomes any major obstacles that doesn’t require the use of his demonic powers. It pretty much throws away the idea of the usage of his power consuming him which prevents Rin Okumura’s having a sense of growth. From the beginning of the series all the way to the end, progression is absent with Rin having learned little to nothing at all. Also the subplot about Rin Okumura learning to control his blue flames for several episodes is thrown away by the finale. Without spoiling it, simply put another character inherits a similar power and immediately knows how to control it.

Another weakness is Rin’s rival Amaimon. Amaimon is meant to come across as the snarky rival, but rather comes across as a overly powerful brat. Everytime Amaimon fought with Rin it usually resulted in expositions between attacks preventing momentum from building up. Even when something did happen in the battles between Amaimon and Rin it resorted to the same trick every time. It’s amazing that despite how short the battles are they can take a while to get to the point.

Hands down the biggest issue with Blue Exorcist is the lack of closure. When reaching closer to the finished line it all feels rushed with elements being left unexplored or underdeveloped even a mysterious character that’s hinted to be more important is left as is. Sure the big finale is wrapped up insultingly easily, but it’s not a way to end a series on a high note. It leaves unanswered questions and teases at the end that our heroes still have a lot more adventures to go on that we’ll never see unless we read the manga. As it stand the ending pretty much promotes anyone who likes the series enough to check out the manga. Coming from someone who’s not an expert on the whole anime culture it doesn’t leave much of an impression other than “it was decent I guess”.

Mixed: Action with flare, but fizzles in execution

When it comes down to the action it’s the closest the series ever comes to being visually impressive. Undermine by battles that just look cool. Just about every single action scene is heavy on the spectacles as the characters fighting styles differs from guns, to summoning creature, spouting bible verses, and weapon combat. Pretty visuals can’t hide the fact the action scenes are basic. This wouldn’t be a problem if the series actually had a fair amount of action scenes, but it is due to the fact that the heroes spout exposition in every action scene, it can’t be forgiven.

Staging on the other hand fares a little better. Making use of its characters varied combat styles leads to seeing these different techniques coming together. Rather than simply using these techniques to pad out the spectacles their strengths and weaknesses are always present. With a clear understanding of how capable each combatant is, it brings excitement not knowing how things will play out. Although this doesn’t apply to whenever Rin fights an opponent. His fights usually are won by summoning bigger blue flames or lazy writing that makes his opponent incredibly easy to defeat. Rin Okumura battles have the most visual flares, but are also the most disappointing due to how easy everything is for Rin to overcome.

Final Thoughts:

Blue Exorcist is a decent show that can’t overcome mediocrity, but neither becomes a victim of it thanks to some twists and good characters. At one point while watching Blue Exorcist you see a glimpse of a show that reaches its potential, but sadly that moment is short lived and by the time you get to that point more than half of the series is done and past that mark it removes all progress to quickly wrap things up. Unable to come close to reaching the aimed epic scope in emotional values and losing momentum when reaching its high point Blue Exorcist entertains while it lasts, but that’s about all the height it’ll amount to.

Characters: 2/2

Ideas: 2/2

Production Values: 1/2

Writing: 1/2

Action: 1/2

Rating: 7/10 – Genre fans will find a lot to like, but for the average viewer its numerous flaws prevent it from standing out to similar series.

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