DVD Review: Blue Exorcist Part 1 Episodes 1-13
An anime that’s equally at home with hi-octane fight scenes, fast-paced comedy and even a dash of romance!
The first half of the first season of hot new anime “Blue Exorcist” or “Ao No Exorcist” has arrived on UK DVD. Produced by A-1 Pictures, the series is based on the popular manga “Ao No Ekusoshisuto” and tells the story of Rin Okumura, a teenage boy who discovers that his priest father isn’t his real father… that honour goes to Satan. In learning to deal with this stunning revelation, and the death of his adoptive father, Rin learns about exorcists and demons, and decides to fight his fate as the son of Satan, instead choosing to enrol at the exorcist school and master his Satanic powers. In this quest he is joined by his twin (but non-Satanic) brother Yukio (who is an exorcist prodigy), an ensemble of likeable exorcist student friends, a coterie of unusual tutors, some helpful demons & familiars, a bizarre school director with a love of dressing up, and a whole heap of exorcists, demons and worse out to take him down. Can Rin rise through the exorcist ranks and finally face-down his true father, or will his secret be discovered by his friends who will then choose to hunt him down and destroy him?
Blue Exorcist is an exciting series and while not original (it is based on a Grimm Brothers story) it approaches the subject matter in a refreshing manner. There have been several animes that have touched on the subject of the son of Satan (or son of Death, or a reincarnation of a past evil being) choosing to fight against his nature and strive to be a force for good, but where Blue Exorcist shines is in its balance of the serious with the silly. Too often such series come across as poe-faced and intense, or they weigh too far towards the goofier end of things. In such cases the viewer is often jarred from intense action to over-the-top comedy and back again, causing anime-whiplash in the process. A-1 Pictures has taken care to ensure there is a fluidity to both styles and a meshing that allows the viewer to feel confident they know what is going on and how they are supposed to react to it. The comedy scenes are signposted and allow for the absurdity of this world to be enjoyed, while the action and contemplative scenes are also clearly delineated which means far less disruption from chibi-esque asides and sudden animation-style transitions.
Of course, as you would expect from a mainstream anime series, Blue Exorcist still includes all those non-Western touches anime fans know and love. The animation will jump suddenly from beautiful, textured and vibrant to simplistic, single-layered and cute. Our lead character, Rin, is only too happy to jump-cut from handsome self-assured hero to shocked, blubbering clueless fool. We have the short skirts and big boobs, the magical school environment, the teenage metaphors and raging hormones. Blue Exorcist has all these tropes, yet it never feels like these are being used in a lazy or repetitive way. There is no recycling of animation here, no titillation for the sheer hell of it. Everything feels like it has a well thought out purpose, and the world into which it fits is all the better for it. Much therefore could and should be said about A-1 Picture’s attention to detail, cleverness of plot and intricate world-building, but what shines through is that this anime is built upon the extraordinarily firm and fabulous foundations laid by Kazue Kato’s superb manga. She has been writing and drawing the manga since April 2009, where it appears in Jump Square (the 7th volume of which sold over 1 million copies in Japan!). Having such a strong base to work from, and sticking to the character designs and underlying plots of Kato’s manga has allowed A-1 to produce a superior series in all ways.
This is a terrific series to watch, pulling you in and becoming more addictive with every passing episode. It doesn’t rush things, slowly introducing the main characters and locations, unravelling the multiple plots carefully to hold your interest. Each character gets a decent introduction and backstory, and the interleaving threads come together in a pleasing manner. The demon designs (both evil and friendly) are highly original while at times maintaining a very recognisable Japanese/Miyazaki look. The world itself is beautifully constructed, using modern Japanese architecture and neo-classical European elements, as well as some typical fantasy themes. It is a joy to look at, and the animation never scrimps on the time or effort that is put in to show you these delights.
Usually in these reviews I aim to remain objective, but I need to break that rule here and tell you that Blue Exorcist has rocketed in to my top 5 anime series. Even though I have the review DVDs, I am buying the full release, it has impressed me so much. This is a series that mixes Japanese pop culture, school days, Western Christian mythology and beautiful animation with superior characterisation and compelling storytelling. Having watched the initial 13 episodes in one highly enjoyable sitting, I have found only two things to say that are negative:
 The opening and closing theme music & animations change after episode 12 (in part to reflect the maturing and changing nature of the story). However, the music that accompanies eps 1-12 (“Core Pride” by UVERworld and “Take Off” by 2PM) and the animations themselves, fit the series so perfectly, and set up & close each episode so well that the sudden change at episode 13 came as a real let-down. I realise this is an incredibly minor complaint in the wider context of the series, but it is rare for me to enjoy an opening/closing and this time around I felt somewhat cheated!
 The subtitles… always a bone of contention in anime circles (red pill/blue pill – official subs/fan subs?). But my complaint here isn’t to do with the accuracy and quality of the translation, but the way the subs appear on-screen. Just who is it that chooses the font used, and why is it so low-resolution, blocky and poorly placed? It’s not the worst I have seen, but when the animators do such sterling work on the series, why can’t the subs look just a little nicer?
All in all Blue Exorcist is highly recommended to everyone. It has some intense action/fight sequences, but which have a purpose and which help drive the plot. It also features some great comedy, some original characters and a lot of innovative imagery. True, the underlying conceit is an old one, but the delivery of the tale is one of depth that will hold your attention and deliver a demon-sized DVD of entertainment.
As well as the first 13 episodes split across two DVDs, you also get an extra episode, a heap of additional short anime adventures plus some web adverts. And don’t forget to watch to the end of each episode for a sneaky extra bit of fun!
Label: Manga Entertainment
Release date: 20th Aug 2012
Running time: 325 mins
Director: Tensai Okamura
Review written by Neil Gardner