Twin Star Exorcists
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Twin Star Exorcists ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
Twin Star Exorcists ?
Twin Star Exorcists is Studio Pierrot's shonen offering for this season, an adaptation of Yoshiaki Sukano's manga that's been running in Jump SQ. for a few years now. The setup is fairly traditional stuff. Rokuro Enmado and Benio Adashino are two young teenagers who have spent their lives training to be Exorcists, powerful warriors can travel to the otherworld of Magano and rid the world of the demonic Kegare. Both Rokuro and Benio have personally vowed to rid the world of Kegare singlehandedly, but along the way their paths diverged. While Benio has become single-minded in her pursuit of strength and power, a terrible tragedy caused Rokuro to retreat from the path of the Exorcists altogether. However, a chance meeting unites these two in battle, and once they are drawn together into the fray, Rokuro and Benio discover that even though they couldn't be more different, the intertwining of their destinies will be the key to ending the Exorcists' war on the Kegare once and for all.
On the surface, this show runs like a checklist for a fairly typical action-adventure anime. A secret(ish) academy of warriors who combat the forces of darkness? Check. A mix of broad slapstick humor and kinetic, grandiose action scenes? Check. The reluctant young protagonist with a tragic backstory who is also The Most Powerful Person in their field? Double check, in this show's case.
None of this is by any means a bad thing! These tropes are popular for a reason, after all; they make for fun, familiar stories that can be set up quickly, to make with the action and adventure sooner. So I was pleasantly surprised by Twin Star Exorcists's premiere episodes. When you get a few of these shows every year, even the fun and comfortably familiar can get a little tiring. What Twin Star Exorcists gives us in these first two episodes is a familiar story being presented with such genuine enthusiasm that you can't help but want to go along for the ride. It also doesn't hurt that the show is pretty easy on the eyes.
I mean, don't get me wrong, this isn't this season's One-Punch Man or anything. It's obvious that the studio is working to conserve their budget for just the right moments. Most of the scenes outside each episode's action centerpieces feel a little on the stiff side, and there is a liberal use of still impact frames and flashback shots throughout. All of this is par for the course, though; the show manages to compensate for its lack of raw technical achievement with a visual style that's immediately eye-catching and engaging. The colors are deep and lush in a way that reminds me a little of No Game, No Life; except where that show tended to go loud and sometimes garish, Twin Star Exorcists strikes just the right balance of stylized and accessible. Everything manages to pop just enough without trying too hard.
The character designs also work in the show's favor. There's a certain roundness to everyone's features that feels like it's just skirting the line between younger and older teen demographics, contrasting really nicely when our heroes come face to face with their demonic enemies, the Kegare. The YA feel to the human designs helps them feel like they're actually fourteen, which emphases the horror-movie-lite atmosphere of the demon realm they invade. So even when the battles aren't as elegant as they could be, or the animation doesn't quite nail the frenetic pace the action's aiming for, the show's visual panache keeps the viewer engaged.
But what really makes the show click is the success of its two leads. They work as individual protagonists, and they work as as a Soon-To-Be-Dynamic-Duo. Rokuro goes from being adorably gung-ho one minute and expressing the angst of his ambiguously tragic past the next; in a lesser show, this might have come across as off-putting or tired. But here, it's executed in such a way that never threatens Rokuro's overall likability. Likewise, Benio's Stone-Faced Tsundere Warrior shtick could easily have fallen flat, but the show goes out of its way to give her just enough moments of warmth and humor to make her seem more like a real person, not just a vehicle for cool action sequences and light fanservice.
It also helps that our two leads have honest-to-god chemistry. Episode two ends with a reveal that sets the stage for the rest of Rokuro and Benio's partnership as Kegare slayers. They're not only the two most powerful Exorcists in Japan, but they are fated to marry, and their child will be the legendary figure to bring an end to the Kegare once and for all. It's an interesting spin on the traditional Chosen One trope, and one of the few things I knew about the show's basic premise going into it. I was a little nervous about it, since these kinds of Forced Romance/Arranged Marriage plots are tricky to do right, at the cost of literally forcing a romantic rapport between two characters that just doesn't work.
Thankfully, at least for now, there's enough genuine personality between these two that I think the show might be able to make it work. Even though Rokuro edges out Benio in focus due to being the young male protagonist in an anime targeted at young males, the show allows them to share a lot of the stage in both development and action. Little moments, like Benio waking Rokuro up in the middle of the night by plugging his nose and taping his mouth shut, or Rokuro tripping over a cat in an awkward attempt at heroism, make these two feel like actual people.
In fact, if I have any real complaints about the show, it's that the general storytelling isn't living up to the appeal of its protagonists, at least not yet. The show opts to dole out information about the battle against the Kegare in a piecemeal fashion, and while I get the gist of the conflict between Exorcists and Kegare after two episodes, I have very little understanding of what exactly the Kegare are, how the Exorcists as an organization work, and how much of the world at large even knows about these two forces doing battle. I'm invested enough in Rokuro and Benio for now to just roll with it, but the show will have to step up its world-building game to hold onto my attention for the long haul.
The side characters are also fairly forgettable. Outside of Rokuro's maybe-kind-of-crush and a guy who is possibly-sort-of-his-friend, I have no idea what anyone else is doing other than providing exposition. The one exception is Arima Tsuchimikado, the leader of all the exorcists in Japan. He's also playing a familiar type, the lackadaisical mentor figure with a hidden agenda, but he's executed in a way that's just plain fun. More characters like him, please.
Overall, I had a lot of fun with Twin Star Exorcists's first two episodes. The show isn't really doing anything new so far, but it's put together with just enough care and attention that it doesn't matter. I don't know whether or not it can sustain that level of energy and enthusiasm for an entire season, but I'm eager to check in each week to find out.
Twin Star Exorcists is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
James is an English teacher who has loved anime his entire life, and he spends way too much time on Twitter.
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