Twin Star Exorcists
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 28 of
Twin Star Exorcists ?
The end of the anime-only Dragon Spot Arc is in sight, and Benio and Rokuro return to the spotlight this week as they face off against a new Basara while en route to Kyoto, per Sae's request. There's been a lot to enjoy about this arc and a lot to be frustrated by as well, and this episode contains the best and worst of what the arc has to offer.
We begin with what the show has always been good at, endearing character moments and the ever-reliable chemistry between Rokuro, Benio, and Sae. Their silly bathhouse chatter was charming and fun, easy in a way that feels earned after over two dozen episodes of getting to know our characters. TSE has always been a romance disguised as an action show, and the first third of this episode highlights how comfortable the show is just hanging out and letting its leads play off one another.
It's a testament to the show's writing that this isn't simply one-off humor for the sake of humor; it plays into how Rokuro and Benio are growing together in their time with Sae. Rokuro even points it out himself when he remarks that Benio is starting to make jokes (puns even!). She's come a long way from the nervous, self-doubting caretaker she was only a handful of episodes ago, and both Benio and Rokuro see that. It's a small but tender moment that feels like a nice, subtle capstone to all the interactions Benio and Sae have had throughout the entire Dragon Spot Arc.
Not everything comes up roses this week though, as our now routine introduction to a new Basara fails to leave much of an impression, only highlighting the weak spots in the formula this arc has been sticking with. The bespectacled hunter that stalks Rokuro and Benio through the forest is suitably threatening, but his motives remain as vague as any of the other Basara up to this point, and his overwhelming strength comes off as cheap rather than threatening. When yet another of the Twelve Guardians shows up to dispatch him (in a single mountain-rending blow, naturally), it's less impressive than it is irritatingly convenient. Unomiya Tenma is introduced to us as “The Strongest of the Twelve Guardians”, but the other guardians have been given so little time in the spotlight that the description doesn't actually mean anything. He's simply another powerful exorcist with weird hair that shows up to bail the Twin Stars out of a bind. It seems like he will have more to do next week, so hopefully we get a bit more character out of him. As it stands, his brisk defeat of the Basara leaves the episode on an uneven, anticlimactic note. It was by no means a bad episode, but it could have been much stronger.
I've seen a lot of people call the past few episodes a “filler arc”, and given the wheel-spinning nature of the last few episodes, I can understand the use of the label, though I don't quite agree with it myself. Twin Star Exorcists the anime has always shown a willingness to diverge from its source material, for better and for worse. The time spent setting up Sae, the Basara, and the Twelve Guardians could very well be integral to how the rest of the show's back half will play out. Especially given the emotional impact that Sae, an anime original character, has had on our protagonists, I don't think it's fair to write off this entire story as time-killing fluff. Even if Sae ends up leaving the show when this arc ends (which the previews for next week strongly imply will be the case), the effect she has had on Rokuro and Benio's development will be significant and long-standing.
At least, it had better be. For the show to actually treat Sae simply as a mere distraction in the overall narrative would be an absolutely disastrous storytelling choice, dishonest and self-sabotaging in the worst kind of way. I've been a staunch defender of this series from the get-go, but I don't know if I could defend so callous and cynical a choice, at least not as I can imagine it in this moment. I hope that series director Tomohisa Taguchi knows that you can't just give Benio and Rokuro a daughter figure and then write her out willy-nilly once you've caught back up with the manga. Obviously, it's far too early to be making snap judgments about how this story is going to pan out in the long run, and things could very well turn out splendidly for Sae and the Twin Stars. This episode seems to mark the beginning of the end of the Twin Star's road trip, and it remains to be seen how things will pan out. How well the show handles its transition back into manga material could set the bar for many weeks to come.
Twin Star Exorcists is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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