Twin Star Exorcists
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 30 of
Twin Star Exorcists ?
For a while there, I was worried that this show wasn't going to get me to cry.
That isn't to say that this was a bad episode at any point. For its first two-thirds, the action was well done, the animation was fairly consistent, and everything was careening toward a bittersweet but inevitable end. After last week's reveal of Sae being a conscious piece of the mystical tree that protects our world from Magano, there was only one way this episode was going to end. No matter how hard the show tried to fake us out and convince us that Sae was going to be sticking around for the long run, anyone could clearly see what Sae's eventual decision would be. No matter how powerful the ritual of the Twelve Guardians was, no matter how hard Benio and Rokuro fought against the Magano horde, there was no way this episode was going to conclude without Sae rejoining the tree and leaving the Twin Star Exorcists behind.
This is a big part of what had me concerned. As much as I've enjoyed Sae's addition to the story, the outcome of her time on the show has always been obvious, and now that everything was coming to a head, I was starting to feel blasé about the whole thing. I nodded along as Subaru made her case to the Twin Stars that Sae should return to her proper home, and I continued nodding as Benio and Rokuro stepped out to defiantly confront the Kegare, unwilling to sacrifice their adoptive daughter. I coolly observed our heroes push themselves to the limit to preserve Sae's place in their world, and I was hardly surprised when Sae remembered her duty and chose to return home in the end. They were effective story beats, but their predictability robbed a lot of the emotional impact from the proceedings.
Up until this point, Twin Star Exorcists has always been able to rise above the constraints of its familiar storytelling with the power of unfiltered earnestness and gusto. However, as the episode wound down into its final third, I was a little worried. This was a good episode, but after almost a dozen prior episodes of buildup, I was expecting to be more moved, especially considering my investment in Benio and Rokuro's little DIY family unit. If you asked my wife, my friends, or anyone who has sat with me through a binge of Kino's Journey, they could tell you that I'm a notorious crybaby. Given how susceptible I am to waterworks, I was genuinely shocked to find my eyes so perfectly dry for so long.
The final goodbye is what finally did it. The direction of the final exchange between the Twin Stars and the daughter they could never keep was one of gentle, necessary grief. The colors were lush but not overbearing, the animation bumped up just enough so that the viewer can make out the contortions of sadness on Benio and Rokuro's faces. Even the show's familiar “Sad Things Are Happening" theme played strongly here, enhancing Sae's bittersweet sacrifice. Thanks to this scene, the episode finally worked for me, providing a strong finale to an arc that was as entertaining and moving as it was inconsistent and somewhat aimless. The show wasn't done with me yet, though.
I could handle the weeks of buildup to Sae's inevitable departure. I could handle her leaving just as Benio was beginning to open up as a mother figure. I could even handle watching just how hard it was for our heroes to let their little girl go. But having Sae leave behind the most adorable picture book imaginable? Having her reminisce on the adventures she shared with Rokuro and Benio? Having Sae gift Benio with her very own Ohagi-man manga, where she finally calls Benio “Mama"?
It turned me into teary-eyed a mess. It was kind of a maudlin cheap shot, but the whole scene was just too damned heartbreaking not to hit home. The show used Ohagi-man against me this week. The hero of hungry Japanese children everywhere conspired with a grinning little green-haired tree branch to make me feel an unreasonable amount of feelings. I don't even know what to do, other than be glad that the show was indeed able to stick the landing to this arc.
As for where Twin Star Exorcists is headed next? Apparently, it's an episode focusing on Kinako, everyone's favorite mascot character! After this though, I'm totally fine with that. I'll need a week of silly nonsense to recover from Ohagi-man's betrayal.
Twin Star Exorcists is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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