Reviewby Carlo Santos, Apr 22nd 2013
Rin Okumura was born the spawn of Satan, yet he fights on the side of good as an aspiring exorcist and student at True Cross Academy. During a school trip to Kyoto, Rin and his classmates run into an unexpected crisis: a powerful demon known as the Impure King has awakened! Worse yet, only Rin's latent power—the Satanic blue flame—is strong enough to neutralize the Impure King. It's up to Rin to take control of his flame and wipe out the demon while protecting his allies. After the battle, everyone heads to the beach ... to battle a rampaging Kraken. Of course, Rin charges in right away, but his protective twin brother Yukio is still concerned about the dangers of the blue flame. Can the students of True Cross defeat this sea monster if their most powerful weapon is forced to hold himself back?
In the end, Rin Okumura accomplishes exactly what everyone was expecting. The boy hero gains the confidence and self-control he needs, a fire god awakens from within his blade, and the Impure King goes down with a single killing blow. Just like in any adventure story, fighting spirit and heartfelt teamwork go hand in hand, and readers can walk way with a sense of satisfaction.
But that's just the first chapter. Out of five.
Due to a quirk of serialization, Volume 9 of Blue Exorcist begins with an ending—the finale to the Kyoto story arc. After such a dramatic display, anything else that follows is anticlimactic: the next chapter, where loose ends are tied up and everyone pats each other on the back, really doesn't have much to say. A brief scene between Rin's tutor Shura and school director Mephisto Pheles suggests that there is a more sinister purpose to everything that's going on, but this is obviously a plot point for another time.
Since there's no way to top Rin's accomplishments in Kyoto (at least for now), Kazue Kato does the smart thing and scales back the story for the next few chapters. In fact, the next arc starts out as a humorous trick: look everyone, here comes the obligatory beach episode, with swimsuits galore! But Blue Exorcist is not the type to throw about filler chapters, and this seaside escapade turns into an intense battle against a rogue sea monster. It's a pleasant throwback to simpler times, when Rin and friends were assigned to one-off missions to hone their skills. Unfortunately, the supporting cast doesn't get much time in the spotlight, owing to the fact that this battle is designed for compactness—over and out within three chapters.
Instead, brothers Rin and Yukio are the focus here, as the two boys (along with herbalist and much-needed peacemaker Shiemi) find themselves isolated from the others. The trio wanders into an offshore cave, which adds exploration to the adventure, and a couple of deities lurking within expands the series' spiritual world. But these discoveries are simply a complement to the storyline's true purpose, which is to air out the brothers' conflicting feelings. It's not exactly a complex debate, as the same point has already been repeated before: Rin is raring to fight, but Yukio sees him as a disaster waiting to happen. The imperfect resolution after the battle is intriguing, though—Rin may have saved the day, but Yukio still has his doubts, and this uncertainty could play into future storylines.
Although the storyline shifts from earth-shattering climax all the way down to seaside frolic, and then back up to a sea-monster showdown, the artwork stays consistently polished. Rin's defeat of the Impure King is the supreme showpiece, with detailed linework capturing the glow of his blue flame, and expansive page layouts that emphasize the sense of scale. The battle with the Kraken is less extreme, but still enjoyable—the team's various fighting tactics (Yukio with a sniper rifle, Shiemi summoning plant spirits) keep the visuals interesting. Rin delivering the final blow with his all-conquering sword makes for a predictable sight, but few can complain when he does it with such flair. Character designs are another strong point, with a wide range of appearances and outfits among the main cast of exorcists. This action-oriented visual style is less effective during dialogue scenes, however—ordinary conversations sometimes get too messy for their own good, the result of trying to make every moment a jam-packed battle when it would be perfectly okay to lay back and space out the art a little.
Then again, it's not like dialogue is the highlight of Blue Exorcist anyway. Aside from Rin and Yukio's pitched arguments, and the regal proclamations of the gods they meet, the script is pretty bland—people are typically engaged in casual chatter or issuing tactical commands. The translation avoids making this any more complex than it needs to be, with most characters speaking in a straightforward manner. If anything, the sound effects show more personality—any action series comes with a lot of noisy moments, and while it's tiring work to edit each occurrence of Japanese text into English, the effort pays off in this volume, with creative lettering and placement that suits the artwork. Even the ornamented font that represents how the gods speak is a clever touch.
After the sheer magnitude of the battle for Kyoto, it would be understandable if Volume 9 of Blue Exorcist were just a casual transition to the next story arc. But a monster-slaying seaside mission proves that even apparent filler and fanservice can lead to a legitimate, if smaller-scale, adventure. This does have its downsides, though: Rin and Yukio's disagreements fail to reveal anything new, and at least one chapter before that is wasted on just milling about and having fun. Even without any plot-altering twists, though, this volume offers enough entertainment value, whether it's through flashy spirit-powered battles or the personal struggles of the main characters. As for Rin's ultimate destiny?—well, he'll get plenty more time to figure that out.
Overall : B-
Story : C+
Art : B+
+ Puts the final touch to the series' most ambitious arc yet, and still manages to spin out another, smaller-scale adventure with lots of visual thrills.
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