Reviewby Carlo Santos, Mar 19th 2012
Rin Okumura was born with the power of Satan's blue flame, but he has chosen to fight on the side of good and is now training to be an exorcist. However, Rin and his fellow exorcists—the Knights of the True Cross—have been betrayed by one of their own, who is trying to awaken a demon called the Impure King. If that should happen, there is one last option: channel Rin's innate powers through the legendary Koma sword and slay the demon! There are just a few problems with that: Rin has been imprisoned after another blue-flame outburst, he's lost all his confidence, and most of the other exorcists don't even realize the truth about the Impure King's existence. In this precarious state, can they gather enough firepower to stop the demon before it wipes out an entire city?
It began as a simple out-of-town mission in Volume 5, took a serious turn in Volume 6, and now arrives at Volume 7 as a grand battle waiting to happen. The current story arc in Blue Exorcist keeps getting more and more ambitious, and reaches its most exciting point so far now that good and evil are confronting each other head-on. But these chapters are more than just a display of supernatural pyrotechnics—they also add new wrinkles to the back-story about Rin, his family, and his comrades, as well as exploring their personal relationships. It's a tricky juggling act, but this series pulls it off.
At its best, this volume is even able to tie different modes of storytelling together. The first chapter, for example, is a flashback revealing the origin of the sword Rin inherited from his father—but also includes a fair dose of action. Soon enough, that action goes from "fair" to "impressive" as the Impure King is unleashed and the first of several battles ensues. To keep the story compelling, each successive fight raises the stakes: it goes from one man trying to contain the beast, to having the rank-and-file troops try to defeat it, to finally putting Rin and his friends' lives on the line. For an ordinary action series, this escalator of greater and greater challenges would be enough. But Blue Exorcist is far from ordinary.
What goes on in the characters' hearts, rather than out on the battlefield, is where Blue Exorcist beats the competition. Rin's sudden imprisonment and loss of confidence are an entirely different sort of challenge—one that is only overcome when his friends rush to his aid. No doubt, the exhilaration from winning that particular battle is a different feeling from simply vanquishing a demon. Another emotional turning point comes in the final chapter, where warrior priest Tatsuma Suguro and his son Ryūji ("Bon") have a heart-to-heart about the sacrifices they must make for each other. Once again, a brief flashback also helps to emphasize the point. Other aspects of the story are less effective, though. As with any epic battle, a lot of characters are on the move, and the pacing is slowed down by having to show exactly what all the other exorcists are up to. Long monologues that explain how the Koma sword works, or how to defeat the Impure King, also hamper the action.
When the time does come for action, though, the artwork is another factor that makes the series so enjoyable. Even big, highly involved fight scenes are easy to follow, thanks to panel layouts that clearly differentiate between backgrounds, characters, and their special attacks. These battles are also an opportunity for all-out visual spectacle, as seen in the variety of gods, spirits, and mythical beasts fighting on both sides of the conflict. Out of all this sorcery, however, nothing beats the Impure King himself, a terrifying Japanese-folklore-meets-Lovecraft creation big enough to occupy the side of a mountain. There are plenty of subtler details to appreciate as well; the carefully sketched backgrounds give life to the old temples and forests of Kyoto, while the character designs for the main cast (which readers have probably gotten used to by now) always deserve recognition for being so distinct from each other. Moments of personal reflection and friendship also set themselves apart by letting the backgrounds drop away, leaving the characters firmly in the spotlight.
Not quite as accomplished as the art, but still good enough to get the job done, is the dialogue. Rin and his friends maintain a natural, teenage tone of voice, while the grown-up exorcists and priests have a more formal (sometimes even poetic) manner of speaking that befits their character. Even the long-winded explanations about the importance of Rin's sword, or how to defeat the Impure King, are easy enough to understand—this is a translation that emphasizes clarity, while still giving the characters a personality. The frequent action scenes also mean plenty of sound effects, which as usual have been edited and replaced with English equivalents. Although these edits don't interfere with the artwork too much, the lettering could use more variety, as almost every translated sound effect is simply a transformation of the same base font. (On the other hand, a couple of summoned spirits in the story use a fancy font to indicate their "supernatural voice," which is a clever touch.)
The Impure King story arc in Blue Exorcist has now extended into its third volume, but even with so many characters and storylines coming into play, it never feels like a chore to keep up with. Every flashback comes with a reason, every personal revelation has a purpose, and every battle, of course, raises the stakes between good and evil. Even when the story slogs through explanations of what all the supporting characters are doing, or showing how something works, it isn't long before more action and drama show up around the corner. The artwork, often detailed but still clearly laid out, adds another dimension for readers to enjoy. Put it all together, and Blue Exorcist spells out the secret to great action-adventure: you've got to have something more to offer than just action and adventure.
Overall : B+
Story : B
Art : A-
+ Impressive supernatural battles, shades of character drama, and polished art add up to a great, multi-faceted story.
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