Andrew Osmond has a devil of a time explaining this one
Mouthy, shouty Rin Okamura is the blue exorcist of the title. He’s so-called because he burns with blue fire when he unleashes his powers… because he’s Satan’s son! Luckily he’s had a sound upbringing, raised by a kindly priest-cum-exorcist warrior. Traumatised to learn he’s a real demon child, Rin angrily spurns his human “father,” and inadvertently… Well, we won’t give it away, but it’s not good. Horrified by what he’s done, Rin barges into the mountain-sized True Cross Academy to learn exorcism and “Kick Satan’s ass!” His teacher, he’s amazed to find, is his studious, gifted and non-demonic twin brother Yukio. We meet Rin’s fellow students, all ignorant of his nature, and he and we start getting to know them.
Blue Exorcist has quite a pedigree. Its director, oddly enough, is the hero’s namesake – Tensai Okamura, whose previous TV director credits include Darker than Black and Wolf’s Rain. Anime movie buffs, though, may know him for “Stink Bomb,” the blackly comic middle episode of the dazzling anthology Memories, about a hapless salaryman who becomes a civilization-destroying bio-weapon. Meanwhile, Blue Exorcist’s production studio is A-1 Pictures, the busy chaps behind Fairy Tail, Birdy the Mighty Decode, Fractale and the movie Welcome to the Space Show. As you’d expect, Blue Exorcist’s colourful drawings and designs are solid and engaging, and at the show’s peaks – for example, a spectacular battle in Part 2 – they become truly cinematic.
Blue Exorcist also has one of anime’s stranger fascinations, shared with Neon Genesis Evangelion. It lets us see Jewish and Christian texts being blithely borrowed by a country which sees them as exotic, alien and definitely not sacred. Priests draw occult circles and summon animal and animist familiars. In one story, a character gabbles John’s Gospel, trying to find the phrase to fry a monster. In an interview with Anime News Network, the original manga writer, Kazue Kato, confessed to being nervous about how his work goes down in Western countries. (Actually, Westerners should find the Satan’s-spawn-as-hero premise familiar enough – it worked in Hellboy.)
Like comparable action-adventure-supernatural anime, Blue Exorcist intermingles high adventure with broad comedy. The first episodes, especially, are piled with cheese – wait for the debut of the headmaster character in a top hat and stripy tights, calling himself Mephisto Pheles (!!). Eventually, the show settles into a magic-school drama in his massive, rather Ghibli-esque, True Cross Academy. There are pleasing ideas – look, we know not everyone likes the demon-chef tale, but it’s very witty. Fans of cute critters will adore the “orphaned” cat familiar that turns up later. There are also broad but honest portrayals of the teen students’ resentments and rivalries; and of course there’s the suspense of what happens if Rin’s secret gets out…
The final episodes are a slambang humdinger of an ending; they go big and then bigger, chucking in tributes to Princess Mononoke, plus a crucifixion and a blasphemous superbomb called “the Messiah.” It’s an action feast for the eyes and ears, and even manages some heart-rending on the side. If you feel withdrawal symptoms afterward, then console yourself. A Blue Exorcist movie opened in Japan last December, and Kato’s original manga is at ten volumes and still running.
Blue Exorcist, the definitive edition, part one, is out now on UK Blu-ray and DVD from Manga Entertainment.