Rin and Yukio Okamura are the twin sons of Satan but only Rin has inherited their father’s tail and ability to wield lethal blue fire. Both young men are training to be exorcists at the Academy of the True Cross but while Yukio is already working out in the field, Rin is under threat of execution unless he can learn to control his Satanic blue flames.
However, when the Left Eye of the Impure King is stolen, the twins and their fellow students are sent to Kyoto to ensure the thief doesn’t steal the Right Eye as well and revive the ancient sealed demon. Outgoing, impulsive Rin, shunned by his classmates, is still hurting and eager to regain their trust. But there seems to be a traitor in the Kyoto temple community and fellow trainee exorcist Ryuji’s father, Tatsuma Suguro the master of the Myoda sect who’s rather too fond of his liquor, is a prime suspect.
The real matter of Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga is all to do with family. Whether it’s a falling-out between brothers (Rin and Yukio), or father and son (Ryuji and Tatsuma), the human drama and cost are grippingly depicted and help to make this tale of the supernatural convincing. Equally well depicted are the confused feelings in Rin’s classmates. The shattering revelation about Rin’s true origins have broken apart the little group and it’s affecting to see the way each member of the class struggles to come to terms with the knowledge. Now they have to try to work together – but nobody dares to trust Rin. Whether the group dynamics can be restored in time to hold back the demonic forces threatening to break loose or the suspicions and lack of trust go too deep to ever be overcome remains to be seen. Even sweet-natured Shiemi – who undoubtedly has feelings for Rin – is keeping her distance.
Picking up the story after the dramatic revelations about Rin’s true father in the first Blue Exorcist anime series, the Kyoto Saga has a new director in Koichi Hatsumi (Gangsta., Deadman Wonderland). For all the supernatural battles, the real interest lies in the human drama and unravelling the complicated motivations of the characters created by original mangaka Kazue Katō and brought vividly to life in the anime. There’s the complex feelings underlying the uneasy relationship between the chalk-and-cheese twins Rin and Yukio, for a start. Then there’s Ryuji (Bon) whose stormy relationship with his father Tatsuma underpins these first six episodes. And the twins’ adoptive father, the wild-card Exorcist Fujimoto, may no longer be alive, but his influence is still very much present – and in more ways than the boys could have imagined. Misunderstood Rin makes a sympathetic protagonist even though Ryuji’s escalating feud with his father pushes the rebellious young man to the fore as well. It’s not long before the two trainee exorcists clash – and it’s all about their relationships with their fathers. This new series may only be 12 episodes in length but it’s tautly and expertly plotted, delivering one surprise after another as the hidden secrets of the Myoda sect are revealed.
The soundtrack has been composed (as before) by Hiroyuki Sawano (Attack on Titan) joined this time by Kohta Yamamoto (DIVE!!) and delivers the right blend of dynamic orchestral sound for battles and thoughtful, even plaintive, solo piano numbers for the quieter moments.
Both original Japanese cast and US dub cast are good. Particularly noteworthy this time are both Michael McConnohie and Jin Urayama as Ryuji’s father, Tatsuma, and the ever-excellent Wendee Lee as Shura, Rin’s scantily clad mentor, and Mona Marshall as young and conflicted Konekomaru, Rin’s classmate.
However, the dirge-like OP “Itteki no Eikyō” by UVERworld, is not up to the standard of their earlier songs for Blue Exorcist, creating a downbeat and lacklustre atmosphere when the opening of a shounen show needs to be energizing and dramatic. The ED “Kono Te de” (With This Hand) by Rin Akatsuki is a little better but doesn’t really stand out.
The Blu-ray picture and sound quality are good on this release from Manga (DVDs not seen) but there are no extras apart from the textless OP and ED. It’s a little disappointing to only have six episodes and to have to wait for the final six to be released; almost a return to the ‘old days’ when we had to collect anime series in c. six DVD box sets.
Tightly plotted, well animated and filled with an intriguing mixture of Christian symbolism and mythological beings from Shinto-Buddhist traditions, Blue Exorcist Kyoto Saga delivers an engaging and riveting watch. But be warned: Part 1 ends on a nail-biting cliffhanger; we have to wait until the end of May before Manga release Part 2 to find out what happens next!