Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Twin Star Exorcists
After a terrible tragedy two years ago, talented onmyoji Rokuro has turned his back on his monster-banishing past. His friends and mentors think that it's a shame, but they understand why he would want to move on. Then one day he meets Benio, a skilled onmyoji from Kyoto who has been summoned to Tokyo to hear an important announcement. Rokuro and Benio instantly get off on the wrong foot, so when the revelation comes that the two of them are the fabled “Twin Stars” destined to give birth to the greatest onmyoji of all time...let's just say that they aren't pleased. Will the two of them resolve their differences enough to marry one day? And can Benio help Rokuro return to the business of exorcising demons?
Raise your hand if you've heard the name “Abe no Seimei.” Chances are good that if you've ever read or watched something based in the Heian period or involving exorcists or onmyoji, you've enountered the name of the man who was supposed to have been the greatest onmyoji in Japanese history, a man who could use magic to vanquish demons and similar monsters. So far he isn't in this story, although Yoshiaki Sukeno promises that he will be, but his name is certainly invoked as young exorcists Rokuro and Benio battle their monsters who are both real and figurative in the first volume of this new shounen action offering from Viz.
The story revolves around Rokuro Enmado, a fourteen-year-old boy whose dreams of being the best onmyoji ever were crushed during a tragedy two years ago. It is the job, in the story's world, of onmyoji (used synonymously in-world with “exorcists”) to banish beings known as kegare, a particularly nasty incarnation of human sin and greed that sometimes come through to our world from one known as Magano. Two years ago a powerful kegare invaded Rokuro's dormitory, where he lived with other young onmyoji, killing everyone but him. Due to his trauma – the duel tragedies of losing his friends and being unable to fight back – Rokuro swore off exorcising for good, with the complete understanding of his friends and teachers. They didn't like it, largely because Rokuro is ridiculously gifted, but their acceptance is a very nice piece of the story that shows that Rokuro has more value to them than just his ability to fight kegare, something that doesn't necessarily ring true for the second protagonist of the story. This is Benio Adashino, another fourteen-year-old with a lot of onmyoji potential. Benio comes from Kyoto, where she is the scion of a great family of exorcists. She, too, has suffered the loss of those she cares about at the hands of kegare, but her reaction is just to get angry, and she's been working on her skills ever since. She doesn't think much of Rokuro's (valid) reaction to his tragedy, and he doesn't like that she can't understand his choice. We see her as being almost worshiped by the other, older onmyoji who also show up in the story, indicating that her value as a person is closely linked to her powers. Her reaction to her tragedy is no less valid than Rokuro's, but it has clearly been held up as the “superior” option, and that right from the start provides friction between them.
At its heart, Twin Star Exorcists is another shounen romance between two people engaged to each other against their inclinations – a soothsayer has revealed Rokuro and Benio as the eponymous Twin Stars, two powerful exorcists who will one day create the most powerful onmyoji since Abe no Seimei. The leader of the onmyoji declares that this means the two must marry and have a child (the emphasis on the fact that they can't have a kid without getting married feels rather dated, but this is middle grade literature), which quickly sets the course for their relationship as one of mutual dislike masking a growing fondness for each other. It's all very pat, so it's lucky that the onmyodo aspect of the story lends it something more. The kegare are very creepy and just as clearly not as consumed by a hunger for human flesh as we at first think they are; the end of the volume suggests that there's something else afoot in their world. The fact that their world looks very much like a garbage dump from the bad old days of just tossing trash into a pile is interesting, giving them an air of being not only evil but more rejected and unwanted. After all, the bad thoughts and actions we reject have to go somewhere, and who's to say what happens to them in that someplace?
Another small piece of world building slipped into this volume is the short life expectancy for most exorcists. Yes, we do see two very old ones, but most are young, and as Rokuro's friend says, many lack in family. Rokuro was presumably an orphan two years ago before being essentially orphaned again; it's flat out stated that Benio's parents are dead. This might explain the seeming rush to push Benio and Rokuro together – they may not have as much time as they'd like to think to have that important baby.
Sukeno, also the creator of Good Luck Girl!, has a very dark, messy art style in this series, with a lot going on in every panel. It isn't a deterrent to comprehension, but it's also worth looking at more closely than you might be inclined to. All of the characters have distinct looks, which is always helpful, and my biggest issue is that Benio's hair looks sort of like a helmet on her head rather than something more hair-like. Viz's translation is mostly very good, reading naturally, with my only nitpick being that they write “Abe no Seimei” as “Abeno Seimei,” which is contrary to how it is usually written, with the “no” functioning basically like the French “de,” indicating that Seimei belongs to the Abe family. It's probably just a more modern spelling, but it strikes me as odd, and may do the same for other readers familiar with the name.
Twin Star Exorcists' first volume spends a lot of time setting up its premise and establishing its world, but it doesn't drag. While it may be a bit slow for some readers who just want to get to the meat of the story, it generally maintains a good pace and seems invested in letting us understand where Rokuro is coming from and what's at stake for both he and Benio. We won't really know until at least volume two how the story will move and develop, but this volume is good enough that I'm curious to find out.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B-
+ Interesting set up and world, with lots of small hints dropped. Kegare are appropriately creepy, Rokuro's character makes sense.
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