Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Sep 17th 2012
The church where Rin and Yukio were raised has been attacked by a masked, web-spitting menace bent on killing everyone precious to Rin. At first it appears ex-teacher Neuhaus is behind it, and certainly he's involved, but the truth is more complicated than that. In the meantime Yukio meets his and Rin's grandfather, who has a plan for the twins. A plan to destroy Gehenna itself. In the ensuing upheaval Yukio and Rin learn the truth of their birth and their grandfather learns the true terror of Satan, father of the demon realm. As do Rin and Yukio, and pretty much everyone else in the world. After all, it isn't Gehenna that will burn; it's Earth.
By most objective standards this isn't a great ending. There's hardly a whiff of originality in it and it doesn't fully utilize the series' strengths. And yet still it manages to work, purely on the power of its execution. Which makes it perfectly appropriate in its own way. That's how the series has always gotten by after all.
There's some doubt going in that the show would even manage that. The Neuhaus episodes lack a lot of what makes the series enjoyable, and that includes its usually reliable action instincts. Its emotional appeal is shaky, mainly because it's built around one character who is killed nearly as quickly as she's introduced and another who is so peripheral to the show that he hardly qualifies as a supporting character. It also gives Rin little to do besides wig out and yell and reduces the likeable secondary cast to monster-bait. And given its emotional bent, it confines Tensai Okamura's estimable action skills to tiny, unsatisfying bursts of violence. Add in the fact that it leaves no room for the series' sometimes off-the-wall humor, and that mops up pretty much all of the show's potential charms.
It's not horrible, awful, painful bad though. Shaky though they are, the villain's last few scenes do bring to bear some semblance of the moving power that the show occasionally musters. And it maintains a sharp enough look that it's always easy on the eyes. That said, the characters don't move or emote with the detail or conviction that they do elsewhere—sometimes they even seem kind of sloppy and off-model—and Okamura's heart is clearly not in the action, which is as close to perfunctory as action gets in the series. The villain's fighting style is uninteresting, and underpowered enough that no one really gets to strut their stuff before he goes scurrying in retreat. The animation is barely above average, the choreography unimaginative and quality control questionable. So, not bad; but all told not particularly fun or exciting either.
So it's with a measure of trepidation that we head into the finale. And in some ways the trepidation is justified. A lot of what mars the Neuhaus episodes continues right to the end. Some of it is unavoidable—no one expects goofy humor in a finale that pits the evils of humanity against Satan himself—but a lot of it isn't. There's no reason why Rin can't display more than his righteous rage, but that's pretty much the only emotion he's allowed. Why, after spending a goodly part of its middle run getting them to grow on us, does the series sideline the engaging likes of Bon and Izumo? And why—why, oh why—did it build the final arc around Yukio? Yukio is even worse than Neuhaus; he's always been the least interesting of the major characters, and placing him at the center of the finale's machinations takes a lot of the oomph out of them. It's hard to care that the evil grandfather's plots turn someone to the dark side when that someone is Yukio. Ditto when Satan pulls the same trick. It really hurts a final battle when its goal is to save someone who you kind of wish would just die off.
Blue Exorcist never lets its shortcomings get the upper hand for long though, and true to form it ultimately beats its flaws into submission with a combination of directorial flash and interesting tweaks on tried-and-true formulas. Despite the predictable path the finale takes (anyone want to wager against friends and foes uniting for a last great battle against Satan?), there are moments when it can surprise you. The history between Grandpa Egin and Papa Satan is probably the biggest of them, as it not only casts the events that shaped the series—the twins' birth and Satan's attack on the world's exorcists—in a whole new light, but also twists the tired demon vs. human conflict into a kind of cosmic father-in-law/son-in-law conflict while simultaneously humanizing Satan and demonizing Egin. It's a neat bit of narrative maneuvering for a steaming pile of anime clichés. Villain becomes hero, victimizer becomes victim, and a narrative convenience becomes an honest-to-goodness character. Who'd ever have guessed that Satan would emerge as the climax's most sympathetic character?
Maybe it's because of those surprises, or maybe just because the series is ending, but the apathy of the Neuhaus episodes vanishes without a trace. Okamura moves with blinding speed through the finale's predictable twists and turns, efficiently ratcheting up the tension before bleeding it off in calculated cathartic busts. We may know that Egin will get his comeuppance when he tries to take on Satan with his petty human evil, or that Yukio will learn the error of his ways in a most painful manner, but Okamura handles his clichés so expertly that they're immensely satisfying nonetheless. In the meantime the animation rises straight to its previous heights: possessed Yukio bleeds manic, Satanic power as he chews through the cast one at time; Rin wigs out and writhes in agony most convincingly; and the twins' mother radiates such kindness and strength and spunk that it's a cinch to see why the devil fell for her.
And then, of course, there's the action. Action is Blue Exorcist's reason for being, and here at the end it once again shows. Gouts of blue flame, pits of burbling demon-flesh, and swarms of insectile beasts are pitted against flashing swords, flying cats and screaming demon-boys. Cities crumble, skies darken, and doomed super-weapons drop their destructive cargoes into the depths of hell. Okamura orchestrates a final battle of such magnificent scale and energy that you can't help but be swept up in it. All of the issues with character and clichés, all of the episodes that failed—everything burns away and all that's left is pure, visceral exhilaration. As it should be.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Fantastic final battle; satisfying fates for the main villains; surprisingly effective back-story for Satan.
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