Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga ?
After stumbling a little bit with some uneven pacing, I was very much looking forward to whether or not this episode could bring things back up to speed. I'm happy to report that by the time this week's Blue Exorcist ended, I was more than satisfied. Not only were the pacing issues I had with the last episode addressed, but this entry had some of the most tightly written and visceral storytelling of the season so far.
Starting off with the extended flashback was a smart choice, because last week's encounter between the young Fujimoto and Ryuji's father felt a bit undercooked. This time, we get to spend half the episode learning of Tatsuma Suguro's fateful encounter with the wily priest, and the details were quite illuminating. Up until now, we'd only gotten to know Father Fujimori as he was just before death, a loving if somewhat eccentric father who was cut down in his prime by the Devil's machinations. This week, we get to see a man who's sharper and more arrogant, his rough edges not yet sanded down by the burdens of age and fatherhood. Seeing him so clearly announce his plans to ransack the temple so that he can steal the Koma Sword, or how easily he discusses the possibility that he might need to murder a child with the blade, shows just how little of his father Rin actually knew. Of course, we know just how this story ends, and as Tatsuma rightly points out, Fujimoto wasn't actually going to go through with the murder. Still, the fact that we would even momentarily believe that this version of Fujimoto could go through with it is a sign of strong character writing.
The character writing was pretty good all around this week, as we also get to see the genesis of Tatsuma Suguro's current predicament. It seems that he was once just as willing to fall in line with tradition and structure as any of the other Myoda monks, but his encounter with Fujimoto showed him the value of acting on one's own strengths and intuitions. It's interesting how a show so entrenched in religious ceremony and history would equate Tatsuma's initial dedication to prayer and ritual as a form of passivity, while Fujimoto's self-serving action is the more heroic option in the end. It speaks to the series' shonen twist on religiosity, where faith and knowledge are all well and good, but sometimes there are foes that simply have to be cut down.
The spiritual and religious trappings of the series have always served primarily as mystical window-dressing to serve the more pressing character beats (and badass fights), but every now and then, the show touches on ideas like this that I find fascinating. It isn't spectacularly deep or thought-provoking, but it is enough to give Tatsuma the change of heart he needs to ally with Fujimoto and deliver him the Koma Sword. Getting this kind of growth from a character we've only known for a few episodes is another example of just how confident Blue Exorcist has become in its own storytelling skills.
None of this is to say that the episode was entirely expositional, though. There's actually quite a bit of movement in the present day, even if our protagonist remains stuck in a jail cell. I was actually surprised that Todo and Mamushi reached the Impure King so quickly, and everything happens equally fast from there. Mamushi realizes her grave error in trusting Todo with the other Eye of the Impure King, and while Tatsuma does his best to fend him off, Todo manages to reunite the Eyes with their owner with little effort. I appreciate the swiftness of these developments, since it means that the conflict between Todo/The Impure King and the Exorcists will finally ratchet up beyond an investigatory stage. Tatsuma's use of the flame demon Karura was very cool, and although his battle with Todo was characteristically brief, it contained a level of tension and drama that we haven't quite seen from the other battles this season.
It's what happened after the fight that really got to me, with Todo's one-two punch of devouring Karura and stabbing Tatsuma in the neck. Maybe I should have seen this coming, what with the episode spending so much time developing Tatsuma's backstory, but I'll admit that it completely surprised me. It was stark and brutal and quick, standing all the more effective in a series that's so willing to draw out its action and drama beats as long as possible. More importantly, it finally manages to give Todo the air of menace and villainy I've felt he's lacked up until this point. His character design is intentionally subdued, and he hasn't had a whole lot to say since his initial introduction, so the only way for him to come across as a threat right now is through his actions. Manipulating Mamushi and stealing the Eyes of the Impure King have been pretty stock Bad Guy Plans up to this point, but the way he dispatches Tatsuma is much more effectively brutal. His consuming of Karura goes a long way in making him seem alien and inhuman, communicating his Otherness in a way that a creepy grin and some demon ears haven't been able to so far.
I wasn't intimidated by Todo before, but I am now, and I think Rin and Yukio would do well to feel the same way. This is a threat unlike anything they've faced up to now, and the losses are already beginning to pile up. Hopefully, the Exwires can finally get over their reservations and begin working as a team again. If they can't, I have a feeling that Ryuji's father won't be the only casualty in their battle against the Impure King.
Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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