The Spring 2016 Anime Preview Guide
Twin Star Exorcists
How would you rate episode 1 of
Twin Star Exorcists ?
What is this?
Until two years ago, Rokuro Enmado wanted nothing more than to be the greatest exorcist in Japan and wipe out all of the kegare (sin-fueled monsters). Then he became the sole survivor of a terrible massacre, and he decided that he never wanted to have anything to do with exorcists again. Benio Adashino, on the other hand, is a gentle-bred prodigy exorcist raised to believe she is the best of the best. When she is summoned to Tokyo, she assumes that it's just because of her skills. The two meet up by chance when she gets lost after fighting a kegare on her train ride, and despite not hitting it off at all – she spends all of his money on snacks and refuses to talk to him – they end up in the kegare world, the Magano, fighting together to save two little kids. As they struggle between mutual annoyance and being impressed with each other, they have no idea that their fates are already linked together as the future so-called “Twin Star Exorcists”! Twin Star Exorcists is based on a manga and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll Wednesdays at 7:00 am EST.
How was the first episode?
Review: Twin Star Exorcist is one of the season's new shonen action series. As such fare goes it's actually not half-bad.
To be sure, very little of its basic premise does anything fresh or new: the main protagonist was a prodigy exorcist in a setting where demonic monsters can strike at any time, but thanks to a calamity two years earlier he's lost his nerve. He only snaps out of it when a girl he's just met gets in trouble against said demonic monsters. That the girl is also herself an exorcist – and a quite skilled one at that – isn't that big a twist; Kekkaishi used a similar gimmick, down even to the same apparent dynamic where the girl seems to be more skilled and dedicated while the boy is more powerful but also more reluctant. (Admittedly, though, the motivations in play are quite different.) The girl even has a diminutive grandmother behind her, too. There are two key differences, though: the tone here is a whole lot darker and the two are apparently destined to be a married couple, as that it is what it means to be labeled Twin Star Exorcists. (The first episode does not quite get to the “destined to be married” part, though that can be found quite readily in promo material and blurbs so I don't consider it a spoiler.)
And boy, that darker tone needs to be emphasized! To get a more intense opening shot you'd have to fall back to something like Elfen Lied or When They Cry, and the black-and-red alternate-world landscape that the exorcists go into when fighting the Kegare practically radiates gloom and evil. The Kegare are themselves suitably monstrous horrors, and their first appearance during a train scene is a moment straight out of a horror movie. The action scenes in that alternate world also satisfyingly capture that intensity. Regular-world scenes are sunnier and more typical, but if the series is trying to establish itself as having a bit of an edge, I found that it did that successfully.
The character dynamic so far seems like it might also work. Rokuro is a pretty normal shonen hero, a guy who has no luck with the ladies despite considerable efforts because his best trait – a noble heart which compels him to help those in trouble – isn't readily apparently to anyone except a sister-like figure. He's also haunted by a past calamity where several friends (?) died messily either because of him or because he couldn't prevent it. Benio, contrarily, is not a gregarious person. She talks minimally and can be possessive when it comes to food (I couldn't help thinking of Akame from Akame ga KILL! here), but doesn't seem immediately hostile. The first episode lets her show off quite a bit, too; she definitely knows what she's doing but just doesn't quite have the punch needed against the toughest opponents. Both are also impressed by the other's ability, which lends hope that they might actually be a cooperative team from the outset rather than having to spend a whole season learning how to work together. Now that would be a fresher twist, though I kinda doubt it will be that easy.
The visuals are a collection of plusses and minuses. On the negative side, who actually thought that drawing Rokuro's teeth that way would be a good thing? He looks more like a villain with those jagged teeth. The fox mask Benio dons when she goes into action mode is a plus, though, as is the way both look when they are fully powered-up. It does suffer typical animation limitations in its action scenes – once again I'm reminded of Akame ga KILL! on this – but still manages to make them seem dynamic enough. Overall, the first episode does enough right, and lays a solid enough foundation, that I am willing to give it a cautious thumbs-up at this point.
Twin Star Exorcists is our companion shonen series to My Hero Academia. While MHA has the colorful feel-good action that comes with rooting for an underdog, Twin Star Exorcists is the opposite side of that coin, establishing its lead Rokuro as “destined for greatness,” whose only hang-up is being marred by a tragic backstory. His female counterpart Benio is also super-great at everything but undoubtedly won't be as great as he is, since this is a story targeting early teen boys.
The story is a well-worn one. What helps Twin Star Exorcists stand apart is interesting art direction and not letting itself get too bogged down in the details. Rokuro certainly doesn't look like most shonen male leads. His shark teeth and rounded out face looks more like something from a Jhonen Vasquez comic than Jump. The Maguro world and its evil Kegare inhabitants are given an interesting, otherworldly feel that separates them from the living. All the creatures have a soft-lined, almost fuzzy coloring to them that starkly contrasts with the sharp, thick lines used for Rokuro and Benio. The Kegare are pretty creepy looking, but the expected red-and-black color scheme keep them from being genuinely scary.
Character attacks take cues from video games, as when the action freeze frames and inverts the colors to blues and blacks. The text appears with the attack name onscreen before a cutaway of Benio performing it is shown. It's reminiscent of fighting game cutaways and finishing moves, adding a neat touch to the action.
I recommend Twin Star Exorcists more for spectacle than clever writing, nuanced characters, or an intricately woven plot. Thus far, it's more style over substance. It's a flashy train riding along well-worn tracks to a destination you've already been before, but the view is pleasant and you've got decent company.
Jacob Hope Chapman
I suspect that Twin Star Exorcists may be blowing its load a little early.
Plot-wise, it starts about as humbly as it possibly can. The story is purestrain shonen convention, but it's more like a B-list shonen premise than My Hero Academia's A-list foundation. (Think a little less One Piece and a little more Black Cat, if you know what I mean.) This genki teen boy and kuudere teen girl will no doubt form an odd couple to fight demons with their awesome exorcist powers, meet a bunch of new friends and enemies along the way, and even though it's hard and there are brutal sacrifices, they'll ultimately pledge to protect the world together. It's not going to set the world on fire, but it's a tried and true basis for engaging comic book action. This first episode is extremely easy to watch, with just enough unique visual ideas and reliable gags to get you anticipating episode two. I'd definitely give it a shot if you're thirsting for a supernatural action series that embraces fun convention instead of being too weird or complicated for its own good. It's just the episode's unbalanced focus on action above all else that leaves me pretty suspicious.
Usually, premiere episodes for this breed of more-edgy (but not too edgy) shonen fare will focus a little more on character backstories, worldbuilding, or monologued plot details. To some extent, Twin Star Exorcists is much more engaging for tossing most of that out the window, in favor of colorful blood-splosions galore. On the other hand, there's so much demon battling for its own sake going on that it feels like the show can't possibly sustain this level of spectacle week to week. Sure, it doesn't need to be a constant spectacle to be engaging; that's what the story and characters are for. But Twin Star Exorcists is so reluctant to get into the meat of the story, aside from introducing us to a passel of familiar shonen clichés, that it's hard to tell how much fun the show will be when it's not just a girl in a fox mask kicking metric tons of ass with twenty different flavors of talisman superpowers.
Anyway, this first episode is lots of time-honored monster-battling fun, and it's hard to gauge much more than that thanks to its front-loaded execution. If I had to guess, I'd say the story will be as paint-by-numbers as you can imagine, but that also means it's not likely to devolve into incomprehensible garbage like lesser grimdark yokai battle stories are wont to do. If its production values remain as glossy and impressive as the foot they start out on (and if you're not full up on supernatural action from this season's superior return of Ushio & Tora from Studio MAPPA), Twin Star Exorcists could be a pleasant way to start your Wednesday.
Color me surprised! Twin Star Exorcists wasn't on my radar at all at the start of the season; based on premise alone, it just looked like one more textbook shounen manga adaptation. But this first episode is essentially one long tribute to the power of great execution. The story here won't surprise you at all - it's typical teens with powers in a world with a dark secret stuff, and even ends with the male protagonist Rokuro complaining that “his power is nothing but a curse.” But in spite of that, I had a great time all through this first episode.
The show opens with one of its many standard narrative touches, revealing the grim past of protagonist Rokuro. But as soon as we shift to co-protagonist Benio, the show demonstrates it has something many of its competitors lack - a strong director with an actual sense of vision. Shots framing Benio and her teacher through tatami doors and hallways offer both visually arresting compositions and a strong sense of atmosphere, and the show's use of color and shadow is excellent. Things only get more compelling as the show introduces its monsters, Kegare, whose shambling designs mirror the zombies-slash-Mesopotamian gods look often associated with Lovecraft's monsters. With their glowing eyes and misshapen limbs, they seem more designed for horror appeal than action practicality, and the show's consistently evocative framing makes great use of them throughout.
Other visual embellishments do smart work in elevating this episode's classic “boy meets girl and they fight horrifying netherworld demons” premise. Characters and attacks are announced with stylish but unobtrusive freeze-frames, and Benio's charges are accompanied with great monochrome cutouts. And beyond outright style shifts, the direction works very hard to sell the cool of its protagonists, giving them both plenty of visual fist-pump moments in this episode's various fights. The visual style doesn't just help the fight scenes, though; the show's expression work is precise enough to get a lot of comedic leverage out of Benio's initial refusal to communicate with Rokuro, selling their chemistry through silly faces and body language alone.
In fact, looking back, I have virtually no complaints about this episode. The writing is pretty standard shounen manga fare, meaning “not great,” and the early moments between Rokuro and his childhood friend Mayura were pretty hackneyed, but stuff like this is so rarely visually inspired that it's nice to see what the base genre beats can do. It's possible this was a misdirection, but fundamental visual inspiration is rarely something you can fake; it seems reasonable to hope this will be a better class of shounen adaptation from start to finish. Count Twin Star Exorcists as a very nice surprise.
If you're looking for a somewhat more by-the-numbers shounen action series this season, welcome to Twin Star Exorcists. Based on the manga of the same name, this first episode introduces us to ojou-sama type Benio and rebellious (but kind!) Rokuro, two fourteen-year-old exorcists with ridiculous amounts of power who are clearly destined to be together, albeit not quite for the reasons you think. That last bit will get explained in a later episode – like My Hero Academia, Twin Star Exorcists is taking its time getting to the major plot reveal. In this case, that's not really a major issue, however, because this first episode is pretty packed in terms of set up and action both. The opening flashback, and the comment about Rokuro being the sole survivor of it, both indicate a fairly vicious world, and if the imagery of bloody handprints, children's clothes, and flames are a little overdone, they also do a decent job of starting the story off quickly.
At this point Rokuro is the more interesting of the two main characters – not only has he survived the Incident, but it's also made him decide to give up on his former goal of being an exorcist, something he was phenomenally good at. Because of his talent, he hasn't been kicked out of the exorcists’ enclave, somewhat to the annoyance of people who don't know his history. While the “everyone I love was viciously and senselessly killed” backstory is a fairly typical one, particularly for an action hero, as is the decision to eschew all power in its wake, Rokuro's a normal enough teenager that it works for him as a character. He's obsessed with finding love to the point where he's become a joke and he's got the teenage temper tantrum down pat, which gives him a solid reality from which to explore the idea of exorcists fighting stitchling-style monsters known as kegare. Benio, on the other hand, plays much more to type, refusing to speak to Rokuro because he's annoying (as is conversation), spending all his money when he basically tells her not to, and generally acting like she's better than everyone else. It does look like she comes by this honestly – when her grandmother sends her to Tokyo and she hears that there might be someone as if not more powerful than herself, she definitely gets the glint of competition in her eye. Benio is clearly used to being the best and being treated as such, so if she has an overinflated sense of her own worth, it's because she's been made to. That doesn't make her less irritating, of course, even though she's very good at what she does; seriously, how do you justify spending all of someone's money on candy when he's helping you find where you're going?
As I said before, this is a much more by-the-numbers shounen action piece so far. Both Benio and Rokuro impress each other with their special powers while simultaneously annoying each other (looks like love!), and the preview reveals that next they'll have to fight each other, because that always happens. After a little humor and fanservice (the camera loves Benio's thighs), the show jumps right into a series of fight scenes in the reddish-hued Magano, the space beside reality where kegare exist and characters are outlined in red rather than black, and naturally it's a little girl calling her brother “onii-chan” that piques Benio's interest and sparks the big fight of the episode. While this will make more sense later on, right now it feels like the usual brother/sister mechanics at play. That may be one of the bigger issues with Twin Star Exorcists’ decision to take its time getting to the meat of the story – there isn't much that makes it particularly unique in its genre in its introduction. That's not inherently a bad thing, and if supernatural action is your thing, this absolutely lets you know that it plans to deliver. It just isn't particularly compelling, risking turning away viewers who aren't sold on premise alone. In a first episode, that can be an issue, and this one treads very close to that precarious line.
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