Reviewby James Beckett,
Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga
Volume 1 Blu-ray
Rin Okumura may be the literal spawn of the devil, but he's been training under the tutelage of his brother Yukio at the illustrious True Cross Academy to become the ultimate Exorcist. Rin's goal as an Exorcist-in-Training is to become strong enough to kill his own father, Satan himself. Things have become more complicated recently, however, as a recent battle with the demon called Amaimon exposed Rin's satanic origins and has everyone at True Cross Academy questioning their friendship and faith in him. Not only that, but a recent attack on Exorcist headquarters has resulted in the disappearance of the mythical Left Eye of the Impure King, a dangerous relic that could spell certain disaster if ever reunited with its counterpart, the Right Eye. Our heroes must travel to the Kyoto Exorcist Headquarters and prevent that from happening, all while Rin attempts to master his demonic powers and repair his damaged friendships before the climactic battle begins.
Anyone who followed the original anime adaptation of Kazue Kato's Blue Exorcist manga might be somewhat confused to see a sequel pop up six years after the fact, since the 2011 series ran Rin Okumura's story to its conclusion with an anime-original conclusion. Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga is a true-to-the-manga sequel that picks up exactly where the 17th episode of the first series left off (ignoring the eight or so episodes of anime-original material), continuing Rin's quest to master his powers and kill the devil in the way that the original author intended.
This more faithful take on the Blue Exorcist story will seem far less direct in its plotting compared the more apocalyptic ending of the first anime series. The Kyoto Saga is very much its own discrete arc within the larger narrative, which means Aniplex's Volume 1 release (covering its first half) functions primarily as exposition and rising action for the more explosive and exciting beats to come. The focus is primarily on setting up the new Kyoto setting, introducing the new Exorcists of the Myoda sect, and generally laying the groundwork for the threat of the Impure King. The first season of Blue Exorcist was more about smaller arcs and episodic stories that moved the action in more predictable ebbs and flows, but the Kyoto Saga consistently builds up to a larger threat that we only barely get to know before the first half ends. So not only is the Kyoto Saga not at all meant for newcomers, but these six episodes might feel a little sparse and weightless for anyone who doesn't know what's coming.
None of this is to say that Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga is disappointing or poorly executed: quite the opposite. A-1 Pictures returned to deliver the same excellently animated and well-directed shonen action that made the first series such a treat back in 2011. This is a gorgeous show, even if there aren't as many action scenes to show that off yet. Kazue Kato's world remains an affable mix of our modern world with religious imagery and mythical characters from Christian and Shinto folklore alike. It isn't as quirky as One Piece or as cartoonish as Soul Eater, but Blue Exorcist has a laid-back charm to its antics that I've always enjoyed, bolstered by a reliably strong cast.
Rin remains an excellent protagonist, equal parts likable, stubborn, and compelling, and his relationships with the other Exorcists-in-Training have all taken on interesting new wrinkles now that everyone knows he's the son of Satan. Ryuji, Renzo, and Konekomaru especially must wrestle to reconcile what they know of their friend with all of the pain and devastation caused by Rin's birth on the Blue Night. The Myoda sect of Exorcists were all impacted by Rin's arrival in one way or another, so much of the tension in these first six episodes is founded on Rin trying to prove himself while facing down the scrutiny of people who once trusted him.
This focus on the cast members most related to the Myoda sect does mean that some other characters get short shrift this season, especially the girls. Both Shiemi and Izumo get little to do, with their tiny little arc being mostly background noise to the larger conflict of the Impure King. This is a shame, because what we do get is really good, with the two girls forming an unlikely friendship after their thorny history from the first season that's mostly independent from Rin and his devilish antics; I just wish we got to see more of it. Likewise, the only new major female presence is Mamushi Hojo, a secondary antagonist who boasts a killer visual design that's tragically underutilized.
Fortunately, most of the newer cast members hold their own in these first six episodes, with the standout being Tatsuma Suguro, Ryuji's father and a priest of the Myoda Sect. Tatsuma's strained relationship with his son, as well as his connection to Rin and Yukio's adoptive father Shiro, form some of the strongest story threads in the first half of the Kyoto Saga. The new antagonist, Saburota Too, acquits himself well too. He's not the most visually interesting or overtly maniacal bad guy, but he represents a more cerebral and cunning threat than what Rin and Yukio usually deal with, which is a refreshing change of pace. Yukio's pursuit of Todo is the crux of his arc this season, and there's a tantalizing conflict being set up to pay off down the road.
The blu-ray set of Volume 1 is a quality product all around. The high-definition transfer gives clarity and pop to the show's fluid animation and pleasing character designs, and both the Japanese and English dubs sound great. The OST by Hiroyuki Sawano and Kohta Yamamoto isn't the most standout feature of the production by my estimation, but fans of the series' music will be glad to know that their presentation on these discs does them justice. There aren't any on-disc extras outside of the usual collections of trailers and textless OPs and EDs, but the packaging of the set itself can be considered a value booster all on its own. The slipcase is sturdy and features some fine original illustrations from character designer Keigo Sasaki. There are more physical goodies too, including a reversible cover for the blu-ray case, a set of illustration cards, and a 36-page booklet that contains character bios, sketches, and some concept art.
Bang Zoom! got the whole gang back together for Blue Exorcist's reprise, and they all slip back into their roles quite comfortably. Bryce Papenbrook and Johnny Yong Bosch are the standouts of the original players, playing their respective roles of Rin and Yukio to perfection. Christine Marie Cabanos doesn't get as much to do this season, but she still imbues Shiemi with the perfect amount of dorky charm. Of the new cast members, Michael McConnohie does an excellent job as the deceitfully lackadaisical Tatsuma Suguro. Ray Chase may be one element that works a little less effectively, but Todo doesn't have as much to chew on in the first half of the Kyoto Saga compared to later on. Chase isn't bad, but he doesn't quite communicate the quiet menace necessary to sell Todo as a threat.
Anybody who considers themselves a fan of Blue Exorcist would do well to seek this Kyoto Saga out. I didn't hate the anime-original ending, but the writing and execution of this new arc is much stronger in general, and it will hopefully lead to more manga-based seasons down the line. Rin and the other Exorcists of True Cross Academy have proven to be a fine cast of characters, and the world of Blue Exorcist continues to find new and surprising ways to challenge its heroes. As a fan of both the manga and the original 2011 anime, this first volume of Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga is an easy recommendation.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B+
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Faithful and handsome continuation of the manga adaptation, excellent cast and solid script, new villains are a fresh change of pace
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