REVIEW: Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga

***Minor Spoiler Review***

What’s up everyone! Welcome to Beyond The Panel. Coming at you today with talk about Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga! It’s been a while since the last time I watched an anime series that was about exorcisms. To be specific, the last one I could recall was Fire Force last year. So it was refreshing that I could shake things up and land on a series like Blue Exorcist. I’m not going to lie, the choice to watch this one was completely random. I was just scrolling through choices, and clicked Blue Exorcist because it looked cool. I mean I know I’m not the only one out there who chose something to watch simply for the fact that the animation looked appealing.

The story of Blue Exorcist revolves around Rin Okumura, who, along with his younger twin Yukio Okumura, was raised by Father Shiro Fujimoto, an Exorcist. One day, Rin learns that he and Yukio are the sons of Satan. Witnessing Shiro dying to protect him, Rin draws the demon-slaying sword Kurikara, which restrains his demonic powers. From that moment on, Rin not only gains demonic features like fangs and a tail, but also the power to ignite into blue flames that destroy almost anything he touches. As for the Kyoto Saga, this takes place after Rin is revealed to be the son of Satan. This reveal terrifies his friends and pushes them to distance themselves from him. Where the story takes off is when someone steals the Left Eye of the Impure King, sealed away in the deepest part of the academy, and Rin and the others find themselves embroiled in an unexpected crisis.

Now I’m also not going to lie, and admit that for those of you who probably are faithful to the Blue Exorcist series that I jumped right into this with the Kyoto Saga. I know, this was kind of bold, but at the same time I had no idea what I had done until after the first episode. For as good as the first episode was, there was a lot of confusion on my end. A lot of things just weren’t clicking because the story started off at a point where it seemed like so many things happened already. I had to pause and look up the series after that to realize that this was a second season, which wasn’t at all made clear through the description of the series. That said, getting the gist of what happened up to that point made it easier to progress.

Because of the point where I jumped into this, there was definitely some rough edges to Rin, from my perspective. Not fully grasping what he went through made it too easy to see his attitude and behavior as problematic. His need to be loud, confrontational, and be where he shouldn’t be was a lot of things which I usually am not a fan of seeing from most anime characters. Where things began to turn around for him was where they created clarity to what we were seeing from him. This was all a product of trying to take back what he had lost. It was a simple matter of asking yourself what you would do in that person’s shoes when everyone looks at you differently for something that was out of your control. Not only for something out of your control, but something which does not define you the way that they think it does. This turn of events also didn’t take long for them to progress to, which created much more room to enjoy the real Rin throughout the season. I liked being able to see that part of him who knew how to connect with people and say the right thing when it mattered most. Though of course this isn’t to say he didn’t have some things to overcome along the way. Much of this season was Rin finding comfort in what he now is, and being confident that this did not make him a danger to everyone he cared about.

The same could be said for his brother, Yukio. At first there wasn’t a whole lot to like about him either. Given what I didn’t know before, it was easy to look at Yukio and assume that he was just another cookie-cutter character who thought that he was better than the protagonist. Where things got compelling was following Yukio as he came to terms with his brotherly bond to Rin. His story didn’t stop at thinking he knew better than Rin, that he could do the job better, or thinking that Rin had no business anywhere near exorcists. This was a journey into his mind to understand how far he was willing to go to protect his brother. It was one of those cases where the sibling was cold in order to deter said person from their present course.

When it came to the rest of the cast, they were no different either for me. Where this story picks up, none of Rin’s friends are speaking to him anymore, neither are they acknowledging him either. All I really had to go off of was small flashbacks to the event which caused the rift between them. Even then it didn’t feel like enough to convince me that things should have been the way they were between them. Now with each passing episode, there was added depth which continued to clear things up for me. If there is one thing they did not shy away from, it was giving every character a meaningful arc to work through. It wasn’t just because Rin was the son of the devil, or a demon. It was the fact that so much has gone on in this world thanks to demons, and it is easy to simply find that one target and dump all their frustration on. Unfortunately, that was Rin. At the same time, this rift in their friendship could have gotten old very fast. Luckily the writer understood that this could not be the driving force for these characters. Getting over that issue with Rin was only one obstacle they had to overcome when there was other more pressing matters to take their attention. Family duties, personal development as exorcists, finding the strength to answer the call to action. Everyone in time had their part to play, instead of being hurdles themselves.

That said, this leaves us with the action and animation. Both impressed me. The action definitely did because I was not expecting too much from an exorcism series. I was taken back that it would be much more than what normally comes to mind when you think of exorcising demons. There was actual fighting, real hand-to-hand combat, and on top of that excellent swordplay. All of it was choreographed very well too. A-1 Pictures is the studio which animated the series, and to be honest they had my attention from the very first episode. I loved the way they draw these characters. They don’t go for that simple and generic style that most settle with. The faces look distinct, the skin colors are natural and flushed, even the hair styles aren’t too wild. Worlds like that are much more appealing to me because there’s creative, and then there’s just doing too much for the sake of standing out.

UPDATE: Given the time between when I watched Kyoto Saga and when I was ready to publish this, I found the time to actually go back and watch the first season. That is when everything became clear to me. Kyoto Saga isn’t just a sequel, it is an overwriting of things which happened already. To be specific, the first season was twenty-five episodes, but Kyoto Saga overlaps everything which happens between episode seventeen and twenty-five. I found it strange that they would do this, but I did enjoy the option of being able to choose which ending and set of events I preferred. While I would like to say that now, it’s a harder decision than you would think. Both endings involve characters making decisions they didn’t in the other, characters going through things they didn’t in the other, facing two very different threats to the world.  It was no easy task when both stories did things good and bad.

The benefit in watching the first season is obviously that you get a full understanding of Rin and Yukio’s story. You walk away with a grasp of where they came from, who raised them, and where they fit into a world where demons do not mix with humans. Through more backstory I felt more of a connection to Rin and Yukio as well. There was a bond between them that went deeper than just being twins or one promising to take care of the other. The Kyoto Saga made all of that feel a bit hollow, and that was the one big mistake they made. This included the tension which Rin faced when his powers were exposed.

I’d like to call myself an exception, but Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga at the end of the day is an anime series you want to jump into if you have seen the first season. You aren’t guaranteed to piece together things the same way I did, and that might make it a wasted effort on your part. If that doesn’t bother you? Give this one a shot! An excellent story, engaging cast of character, excitable action scenes, backed with visual appeal. Quality work went into this one, and it left me wanting more.

Jideobi Odunze Author

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