A great chef does not create a masterpiece cuisine by following the directions printed on a box, or following someone else’s instructions. It takes their own ingenuity and innovation to cultivate a serving that when served to a patron, will be something they may not soon forget, perhaps earning worldwide recognition. The road to making something unique and out of the ordinary is not an easy trek. You would have to hope that everyone is willing to open their minds and try something completely new. Or if blazing a new path is a bit risky, then perhaps adding a spice to something people have already been served will wake up the old taste buds. How does this overly-drawn out culinary analogy apply to Blue Exorcist? Well, shounen action titles over the last 10 years have become boxes of cake mix, and writers have been following the instructions by the books, creating a subgenre that is as stale as Thanksgiving pound cake.
Shounen anime is probably the easiest and most accessible anime you can get your hands on, whether it’s Yu Gi Oh!, InuYasha, or Dragonball Z. Their simplistic plotlines and straightforward focus on action is easily digestible to a mainstream U.S. audience. The downside is once the development team has their base and their demographic, what becomes the problem is parity by themes. In the 80’s and throughout the early 90’s, it was the sentai-styled team anime (usually involving giant robots), like Saint Seya (robot free, for the most part), Voltron, and Gatchaman.
In the mid 90’s and early 2000’s, it was melee combat and martial arts all over the place, be it Dragonball Z, Rurouni Kenshin, Samurai Deeper Kyo, Inuyasha, not to mention a good deal of fighting game stinkers like Tekken The Motion Picture (stay away from ANY game-based anime with the words “The Motion Picture” printed on it), Street Fighter II Victory, Art of Fighting, and the shitty Virtua Fighter anime. That show wounded me for a great number of years and if my parents had shelled out the finances for the years of psychiatric therapy it would’ve taken to scrape the image of stoic, focused, Bājíquán expert Akira Yuki (and one of my all time favorite fighting game characters)
shoveling ramen into his face like he was Monkey D. Luffy and plastering that goddamned dopey, mid 90’s anime grin on his face, I might’ve turned out to be a pretty decent human being. Maybe gotten a business degree, settled down, started a family and have two boys that I would’ve named Bertholamew MacVanderheiser and The Force. Well, it wouldn’t have mattered. The cold, icy grip of Gonzo’s shitty productions would get me at some point, incinerating everything I used to love about anime (whimsy, life, and charm) into ashes.
The parity bug that has bitten anime since about 2002 has been themes of the occult and demon busting, and I got sick of it pretty damn quick. Bleach started the endless wave of mainstream, mediocre spirit busting action long after Yu Yu Hakusho gave up on that concept in the first story arc and became a tournament brawler for the remainder of its run. From there, you get Kekkaishi, D. Gray Man, Soul Eater, Claymore, Witchblade, Shikabane Hime, Beelzebub (which I didn’t even bother looking into) and the Blue Exorcist, the latest series I tried. Perhaps if any of those series did some actual paranormal investigating, mood setting, underplay, and tense situations to break up the monotony of the obnoxiously loud and over-produced action sequences, I wouldn’t be so harsh on them. Does Blue Exorcist do anything particularly different from those aforementioned titles? Well, since I went out of my way to set up the rhetorical literary device, OF COURSE NOT!!!!
I’ll be a fair man and talk about some of the things Blue Exorcist does reasonably well.
1. Establishing our protagonist
A lot of time is spent on making you feel for and understand Rin and Yukio Okumura from the first episode all the way until the end. I thought at times they were a tad bit flaky as to whom is supposed to have the real inner conflict or primary focus and that gets foggier by the final handful of episodes. A series could’ve easily have been written about Yukio, as I think he’s the stronger character with the most inner struggle. Rin is simply another Yusuke Uremeshi knockoff in my eyes, albeit not as abrasive, but manages to kill the mood every time there should be a moment. Like blurting out “You’re such a dork,” only to follow that up with something like “You were the one who taught me to trust, ya know”. Rin’s character archetype isn’t my cup of tea, but he’s at least two dimensional.
2. Beautiful Production
This is an amazing-looking show. The action scenes are pretty fluid and the monster designs are horrific and creative, unlike the silly hollows in Bleach or the Yoma from Claymore (Yeah, just scribble some generic templates and add a frownie face, that will be your central monster for this series!) There’s scenes in the first two episodes where there are little spirits floating around once Rin is able to see them and I thought that looked amazing, perhaps overstating such an insignificant detail, but I thought it was impressive. The blend of computer animation and some hand drawn cels creates a pretty stunning visual appeal.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t really much else outside of that I found, and the shortcomings become much more apparent as a result.
1. Shallow Cast of Characters
Despite having a relatively small cast of characters, Blue Exorcist barely spends more than 15 minutes focusing on anyone else outside of the Okumura brothers. Once these characters have had their initial expository flashback to explain how they got to this academy, that’s about it. I seriously had to Wiki some of their names after the final episode because they were so underdeveloped. Laying face down on a tile floor will leave more of an impression than anyone of them. Shiemi is cute and probably the most fleshed out personality of the crew, but is a sub par Orehime at best and at worst, a ditsy flower who mostly shouts the brothers’ names over and over again. A mysterious hooded student in the first couple of episodes later reveals herself to be Shura Kirigakure. And she probably has my vote as the most completely unattractive obligatory fan service female I have ever seen in ANY anime era, maybe in general!! She looks like a burned out Yoko Littner who was stung in the lip by a paper wasp. With that why-bother two-toned hair, visually distracting symbol tattoo, and squeezing those hideously drooping titties in that blatantly undersized bikini top, her sexual appeal is about as subtle as getting whacked in the face with a sledgehammer!! Characters like her set the industry back to a period where Go Nagai impaled naked teenagers on rotisseries and burned them alive after being raped by 35 foot tentacle monsters (or as they called it, foreplay) and legit beauty and sexy has been officially replaced with women like her. Slutty and trashy isn’t sexy, and popularizing it doesn’t automatically change the definition. And surprise, she brings nothing to the table other than those sweaty mammobags.
I also just have to get this outta the way before it kills me; the names in this series. I would feel silly to tell Japan to diversify their character’s names, even though it’s something that has become a pet peeve when a series has too many characters with similar-sounding names. Blue Exorcist is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. There’s Father Shiro (Okumura’s dad), then there’s Shura, his apprentice(?), then Shiemi, and the pink-haired kid Shima!!!! Da Faq here!?!? Do all of these names sound way too much alike?? I shur think so!!!! Jesus crackers, get bent!!!
2. Too Many Authority Figures
So the secondary premise behind Rin wanting to become a demon exorcist (I don’t even want to get into how stupid that makes me feel to type it) is everybody wants to keep close tabs on Rin’s demonic power and making sure that the Vatican doesn’t find out, or various reasons. First, after the events that lead to Rin and Yukio potentially getting separated again.
Mephisto agrees to look after Rin and his powers, threatening to kill him if he gets out of control. Okay, well enough. I can deal with that So then you get to the school only to immediately learn that Yukio has been transferred as a teacher in the Hogwarts dark arts protection or something.
They board together in an abandoned dorm so that Yukio can keep a close eye on Rin and his demonic powers, and threatens to kill him if he gets out of control………B, but we just…well okay, that would make sense, since nobody else knows him here. Later again, when Breast Bags shows up…..
…She says that Father Shiro asked her to look after Rin…to make sure his powers don’t go out of control, or she will have to kill him………………………So then, Mephisto’s incredibly unpleasant brother Amiamon shows up and wants to…keep his eye on Rin to see when he draws his sword, because he’s a character who lacks direction and only shows up for some forced comedy and obligatory fights scenes.
Only for time shortly later for this ass hat to show up, some Paladin guy whose running gag (and by “running” gag, I mean limping with a gunshot wound to the knee) is that he’s bald…
And he has been sent by the Vatican to (Everybody now…) “keep an eye on Rin and kill him if he gets out of controTHIS SHOW DOESN’T KNOW WHAT IT WANTS TO DO WITH ITS OWN CAST OF CHARACTERS!!!! Why are so many people keeping tabs on Rin, and why are they all bad at it?! It’s that movie/TV cliché of guys with suits coming into the office and proclaiming “This operation is now under the direct order of the C.I.A”, and then Interpol comes in, followed by Solid Snake on a motorcycle!! It gets tiresome and all it means is that you have even more useless characters sitting around and doing nothing until Rin explodes. When 30% of your characters are directionless authority figures and the other 50% is dedicated to underdeveloped teenage ghost busters, it means that the dialogue and interaction between Rin/Yukio to any other personality will just fall at the wayside, because you aren’t given a reason to care about anyone else. I liked Paku (eyebrow girl Izumo’s best friend), but the show had no particular use for her, so she disappeared.
3. I’m Done
I would’ve thought that a series where the antagonist is Satan would’ve been able to utilize that a little more effectively. The first two episodes seemed promising enough, but once they got to the academy, it crawls to a snail’s pace as you go through all the exposition/bonding/comedy clichés that every other cast filled primarily with teenagers has been going through. I didn’t care all that much for Attack on Titan, but at least things were happening on a progressive scale. Every episode of Blue Exorcist feels like filler that fell from Full-Metal Alchemist or Black Cat. I understand that the manga contains the bulk of what’s happening in further stories, but I never read the manga, had no intention to, and if the show was aimed to whet my thirst for more of it, consider me completely hydrated.