The anime film industry has spent the last few years searching for the “next Miyazaki”, with candidates coming and going in quick succession. In the same way, a certain space in the television market also underwent its own period of transition. Bleach had ended, Naruto was fast approaching its conclusion, and the still-fresh My Hero Academia had yet to take the world by storm. Two years ago, another candidate for the title of the next big shonen anime revealed itself to the world: Twin Star Exorcists.
Based on a long-running manga by Yoshiaki Sukeno, the series tells the story of Rokuro Enmado and Benio Adashino, two trainee exorcists prophesied to one day give birth to a child capable of ending humanity’s millennia-old war against corrupted spirits called “Kegare”.
When we first meet the Twin Star Exorcists however, they couldn’t be any further from playing happy families – they outright hate each other! Rokuro is loud and headstrong, while Benio carries an air of pampered snobbery, so the two are quickly at odds with each other. However, they both bear the scars of loss, and the two gradually growing to acknowledge one another is definitely where Twin Star Exorcists shines.
The strength of its lead characters is definitely to the series’ benefit, as while Twin Star Exorcists is quick to establish a fascinating world and mythos, it’s actually not very original under the bonnet. On paper, Twin Star Exorcists is an amalgam of genre tropes and elements of other teen action anime. For example: a secret order dedicated to fighting otherworldly monsters that prey on humans sounds pretty similar to the Soul Reapers of Bleach; the red-hued and closed-off spaces where they’re fought brings back memories of Shakugan no Shana’s seals and a loud-mouthed teen whose powers go berserk is reminiscent of Naruto. While the ingredients of Twin Star Exorcists aren’t exactly original however, I can’t deny that the resulting dish is enjoyable!
Despite this being billed as an action series, I actually found far more enjoyment in the episodes spent focusing on Rokuro and Benio not as exorcists, but as teenagers. One episode for example, has a renowned exorcist agree to train them, but the tasks essentially add up to going on a date. Personally, seeing them adorably freeze up when instructed to hold hands, or freak out over having to feed each other pancakes, is far more fun than watching the two kick the crap out of evil spirits.
Even saying that is a huge testament to the development of not just Rokuro and Benio’s relationship, but also their characters, that is woven in so gradually throughout these thirteen episodes. I actually found Benio rather unlikeable at first, yet I can’t pinpoint a specific moment where I not only stopped disliking her but she grew into my favourite character.
My enjoyment of the more slice-of-life focused episodes came with mixed feelings however, considering the aspects of Twin Star Exorcists that I take issue with. Let’s be honest, the series’ premise revolving around the future “marital activities” of two fourteen-year-olds is weird. Most of the exorcist community seems interest in the budding romance of children, but none more so than the head honcho himself, Arima.
“Eccentric” doesn’t really begin to describe a man who summons one of his powerful men simply to look at a model’s swimsuit photo collection, or sets up a home for Rokuro and Benio, complete with a heart-shaped double bed. His appearances in this set are largely played for laughs and he is given the moniker “Pervy Underwear Man”, but the reminder that the series’ fate hinges on two minors getting together is… unsettling.
Speaking of unbearable characters, while a lot of anime feel the need to establish a cute, marketable mascot character, I would prefer it if some just didn’t. A cat-like familiar of Benio, Kinako is a little brown-nosing imp who pretty much exists solely to remind us of how great Benio is, while deriding Rokuro at every opportunity.
However, Twin Star Exorcists has issues beyond my personal distaste of its set-up and mascot. The unwritten rule of “Show, Don’t Tell” is casually thrown aside in favour of exposition, that is sometimes even aimed at people who should already know! In an early example, Rokuro’s past is discussed by fellow exorcists as if they were learning it for the first time, despite them already being established as residents of the same dorm. The subject would no doubt have come up at some point earlier, so it being mentioned then just felt like it was entirely for the viewer’s benefit.
While the draw of most action anime is the visual spectacle, Twin Star Exorcists’ battle sequences are sadly more style over substance. Studio Pierrot (Naruto Shippuden, Bleach) have a reputation for simply “serviceable” quality, but their work on this series is disappointing. For example, there’s even a scene where a cat is meant to be eating food from its bowl, yet it simply chews the air above it!
Benio is a fast attacker, and animating her speeding through Kegare hordes would be a challenge, but the only thing impressive here, is the lengths Studio Pierrot will go to to avoid animating direct combat. In such scenes, Benio is simply represented by a line that races around the enemies, before a pentagram appearing on their bodies marks an impending explosion. Screen real estate is also occupied by cutaways of special move announces, similar to those seem in video games like Fire Emblem Awakening. While they do admittedly look cool, I think I’d prefer to see more actual action.
If you’d like to see an example of the above, here’s a clip released for Funimation’s US release of the series:
In addition to the original Japanese audio track, Anime Limited’s release of Twin Star Exorcists Part 1 includes an English-language dub produced by Crunchyroll. Cassandra Lee Morris (Sword Art Online’s Leafa) delivers a standout performance as Benio, while Bryce Papenbrook (Sword Art Online’s Kirito) can channel Rokuro’s anger, but sounds wooden with more nuanced emotions. Overall, the English dub isn’t that bad – there’s some clunky English here and there (I do not envy writers having to match lip-flaps), and honorifics like “–sama” are left untranslated, but there’s definitely worse out there.
Regarding the release in particular however, it’s disappointing to see major spoilers for future volumes in the DVD menu! Speaking as vaguely as possible to avoid spoiling it myself, the menu for Disc 2 features artwork of a key character in a manner we have yet to be introduced to, which would have actually made for a surprising reveal later on. This isn’t present on the Blu-ray version, however. So, if you’re watching Twin Star Exorcists for the first time with this release, stay away from the DVD if you can.
While the use of foreign masters is normal with British anime releases, one side effect of Anime Limited using those produced for Funimation’s North American release, is seeing adverts of products we can’t legally buy. Usually these are hidden in menus, but when loading up Disc 1, I was met with an autoplaying advert for D.Gray-man Season 4 Part 2, which hasn’t been released in the United Kingdom (Manga Entertainment’s release ended with Season 2). I’d prefer it if Funimation abandoned this relic of the VHS era as a whole, but if they knew their masters would be used for the UK release, could they not have at least advertised titles also available here?
While it certainly has more than its fair share of issues however, I just can’t bring myself to dislike Twin Star Exorcists. The story isn’t original and the animation is acceptable at best, but the characters have enough charm to keep me wanting to watch more. This first volume of episodes is hardly groundbreaking, but fun nonetheless.