Twin Star Exorcists
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 20 of
Twin Star Exorcists ?
There's a duality to Twin Star Exorcists I find very interesting. It's a highly imperfect series that constantly straddles the line between being mediocre and genuinely good. Never has that been more clear to me than in this episode. After last week's tightly constructed and emotionally draining climax, we get a simultaneously messier and even more affecting follow-up that's burdened by the series' inherent weaknesess while simultaneously being bolstered by everything that works. I loved every minute of it.
Well, scratch that: almost every minute. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't initially disappointed by the anticlimactic conclusion of Benio's Kegare-fuled upgrade from last week. While she did indeed get a few good hits in on her brother, Benio was taken out of the fight rather abruptly. While it makes sense that such a risky move on her part wouldn't be utterly devoid of setbacks, I couldn't help but feel underwhelmed. My frustration increased when it seemed like Benio's defeat was simply a seque into Rokuro's inevitable power-up; this kind of easy storytelling has always been part of TSE's wheelhouse, but it has yet to completely devolve into an inane recitation of well-worn tropes. I was genuinely worried that the arbitrary resolution to the fight against Yuto would ruin the ending of this arc for me.
This brings me right back to that duality TSE inhabits, able to thrive on the faults that should sink it. In spite of my reservations, I found myself genuinely moved by Rokuro and Yuto's final (for now) battle. There was an emotional resonance to it that the show has slowly built up over the course of twenty episodes, helping it overcome its own problematic setup. Even the artistic shortcomings seemed to work in the show's favor; the jagged edges around the characters and the over-reliance on panning through still-shots didn't so much detract from the fight as give it a tighter frame. Every blow against Yuto had weight and meaning, with a payoff that justified the clumsy writing leading up to it. I don't know how long it will be until we see Yuto again, but the show managed to cap off this most recent arc with surprising gusto.
That duality also exists in the show's second half, which places a spotlight on Benio and Rokuro in the battle's aftermath. Sometimes the show is so focused on fleshing out our protagonists' relationship that it neglects the storyline that relationship is supposed to be serving. Their debate with the Exorcist Council was long overdue, as the prophecy concerning Rokuro and Benio's baby is often framed too transparently as a MacGuffin. While I wish we could just take more time to deal with how that prophecy is going to factor into the story, I wouldn't trade the final scene between Rokuro and Benio for anything.
After twenty episodes with this series, I've come to a conclusion. For all of its posturing and pomp, for all the time spent on creepy monsters and training and magical power-up attacks, Twin Star Exorcists is a love story at its heart. The carefully crafted and thoughtfully developed rapport that Benio and Rokuro share is one of the most compelling anime romances I've seen in a long time. I genuinely got emotional when they finally got to sit and eat ohagi together. At this point, their bond is both unspoken and undeniable. They can discuss their prophesied marriage openly and honestly, not with the scandalized embarassment they used to share, but with genuinely earnest anticipation. They're still kids, and they have a long way to go before either of them can even start thinking about marriage, but it's plain to see that whatever their future holds, they bring out the absolute best in one another.
It's that earnestness that warmed me so much to Twin Star Exorcists, a sappy sincerity that the show wears on its sleeve. It's snuck up on me slowly over the months, but I genuinely love this show. It's never going to be the prettiest or most exciting anime. It probably won't even remain this consistent going forward. From what I understand, we've reached the point of a timeskip in the manga, though the anime will be taking its own original route to get there. We're a little less than halfway through the show's purported 50-episode run, and given its shaky track record when it comes to anime-only material, it's hard to say how this next arc will hold up.
At this point though, I'm more than willing to stick it out. I'll happily take this ride all the way to end, even if the road gets a little bumpy along the way. At the very least, this show has earned my loyalty as a fan.
Twin Star Exorcists is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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