青の祓魔師 （エクソシスト） (Ao no Exorcist)
Shounen – Action, adventure, supernatural, comedy, drama
14 Volumes (ongoing)
Rin is a school dropout who is always getting into fights. His twin brother, Yukio, and their guardian Father Fujimoto constantly worry about Rin’s future. One day, Rin starts noticing some strange bugs swarming about and a human with horns threatening him. In danger, he suddenly releases fire from his body. Now Rin’s life will never be the same.
Blue Exorcist is good. Unfortunately, with “good” meaning anything from “decent” to “amazing”, how good this series is will likely vary from person to person. It’s definitely on the upper end of the “good” spectrum though.
That opening statement may make it seem like I’m going to be very hard on Blue Exorcist. Not at all. I can greatly see its appeal. Aspects of the series draw inspiration from recent hits like Naruto to 90s series like Yu Yu Hakusho and even further back. And unlike those two manga, Blue Exorcist quickly establishes what kind of manga it is.
The best way I can think of to describe this manga is that it is a Shonen Jump manga without the filler. It’s very streamlined, as by volume 13, Rin has been introduced to his powers, went to school, undergone heavy training, bonded with his classmates (in both schools), had a mental setback, and fought in several large-scale battles. It’s a very fast-paced manga, and I think that is the main reason I’m kind of torn on Blue Exorcist. Everyone seems to hate fillers, but I do think both characters and plot points should be explained and developed in the main story.
Demons, for instance, all serve or are related to one of the great demons (or demon kings or something). They also have weaknesses according to the five elements. I don’t think the five elements are ever explained in the manga. And the higher-ranked demons? Well, some are mentioned, but most of the data on the demons is found in the back of the volumes. And stuff about being “kin of xxx, kind of blah-blah” is meaningless if I don’t know the hierarchy of the demon world. It’s like Kato knows her world of Blue Exorcist so well but forgot to inform the readers how it works until much later. Even Rin’s regular school takes a back seat until the series hits double digits.
I will say the last couple volumes I read are the strongest of the series. The story includes more technological influences, a surprising character plays a key role, and there’s a couple of twists. If I had stopped a few volumes earlier, I wouldn’t be so eager to continue it. I hope Blue Exorcist keeps up the intrigue. I imagine the conclusion of this arc and into the next will determine how I really view this series, as a good series or a good good one.
Rin also starts off as a stubborn, rebellious teenager…for like one chapter. He quickly starts longing for friends, develops a crush on a girl, and becomes an optimistic idiot. I like his personality, but I wish we could have seen Rin struggle to be more outgoing. Even when he works on controlling his flame, it feels like most of the attempts are done off-screen, and Rin just suddenly is able to wield his powers better. I know Blue Exorcist is serialized in a monthly magazine unlike the “typical” Shonen Jump stories, so not having a battle in a chapter is much more significant than not having a battle in a weekly series. But it feels like the series is trying to pack too much per chapter. I mean, Rin enrolls in an exorcist school! What better place would there be to establish all the “rules” of the world and show Rin’s bad attempts at making friends?
So I think you get the idea: I wish the story would move a bit slower. But how is the actual story? It’s pretty good, but I wouldn’t say it’s revolutionary or anything. But not all manga need to reinvent the genre; it just needs to do its genre well. And Blue Exorcist does just that. We have the high-goal-setting protagonist, an eccentric mentor, the best friend/rival, the legendary hero, the love interest, and lots of mysteries. Despite being exorcists, the Knights of the True Cross aren’t limited to spells. Since Rin’s schoolmates specialize in different abilities, the manga has a bit of a JRPG feel. The manga opens with a dramatic twist, and Rin’s Final Boss is already established. Just because I know where the journey is going to end doesn’t make the path less enjoyable. Good company, good battles, and good twists all help engage readers in Rin’s story.
Speaking of twists, Rin’s twin, Yukio, has an unique role in the manga. Classmate Ryuji takes on the more traditional rival-turned-ally position, but Yukio also acts as perfect foil to Rin. While Rin is impulsive, Yukio is analytic. I actually find him more interesting as a character than his brother. I feel more of Yukio’s mental struggle as he tries to figure out what’s best for his brother while also dealing with his own insecurities. Fujimoto, their adoptive father, is also awesome, but his moments are generally limited to flashbacks. The other characters are likely types you’ve seen before in other manga, but at least the other classmates generally enter with their own friends instead of being of the “leave-me-alone-I-don’t-need-friends” category. Even mentor Shura is much like drunk, lazy teachers found in other series, but at least she pairs perfectly with Yukio for some funny scenes.
The art is one of the most impressive I’ve ever seen. Kato employs several assistants, and the final product pays off. It’s hard not to be astounded right from the very first volume when the True Cross area is displayed as an intricate multi-level metropolis with pagoda inspirations. One demon effectively builds a castle and labyrinth, and I can only imagine the work it was to design the backgrounds as the demon builds himself. Large demons and gods tower over the characters and are awe-inspiring in their monstrosity. But there’s also small- to medium-sized demons like birds and dogs to add variety. Even the sightseeing tour of Kyoto is almost photo-like. The character designs are also nice, but the backgrounds and demons are just simply more impressive. (I thought Kamiki’s eyebrows were miko-like birthmarks before Rin mentioned they were eyebrows.) Most of the characters wear battle suits or Japanese outfits; they fit the theme of a Japanese exorcist society but are not really exciting to see. The humans have tattoos and seals, details which are often hard to draw. This really helps considering Blue Exorcist has quite a few characters from different locals. I personally love Mephisto’s eccentric clown design the best. The mix of physical and magical attacks adds variety to the action scenes. Several battles often go on at the same time, and the action is still relatively easy to follow along with. All in all, artistically, this is one of the most impressive shounen manga I’ve ever seen.
I really only compared the first chapter for this section.
No honorifics are used. The school and city names are translated literally to “True Cross” despite “Seijyuji” being written in romaji. Yukio calls Rin “Nii-san” in Japanese but “Rin” in Viz Media’s version. “Mashou” is adapted as “temptaint”. Some terms like Myodha’s name are kept, and some chanting is left untouched. With a lot of foreign terms, there are some nuances missed when the kanji is no longer attached to the reading. For instance, the sword is nicknamed the “Koma Sword”, but the fact that is means “demon destroying” is lost. Another instance is when Fujimoto tells the girl to come to him when the “me” he uses actually uses the kanji for “exorcist”. Of course, when spoken, all of these would be missed, but it’s just interesting.
Other things, however, are definite changes. For instance, when Fujimoto tells Yukio to look at Rin’s injuries, in Japanese, Yukio hesitates before replying. In English, it’s instant, the “….” omitted. In Japanese, Yukio address Fujimoto as “tou-san” (“Dad”), but this is changed to “Father Fujimoto” in English. This makes it seem like Yukio is respectful toward Fujimoto as a priest, not as a male parent. The same issue arises later when Rin also uses “tou-san” but Viz Media’s “Father” makes this less powerful. This is especially true since Rin has been calling him “Father Fujimoto” in English, so it just seems like Rin couldn’t get the full phrase out in English. (In Japanese, Rin has been calling him something like “Old Man”, a rude term.) Another example is when Rin uses his power for the first time, the Japanese text says, “W-what is this?” while the English changes this to, “F-Fire?” One line I didn’t like was the change from, “He (Rin) is my son!” to “Rin is like a son to me!” in Viz Media’s version. Finally, while Satan’s speech is given a different font, the first demon’s and Fujimoto’s incantation are not, unlike the Japanese version. I mean, there’s nothing completely changed or any eye-rolling lines here, but I wanted to note some of the altered nuances.
Blue Exorcist is not a groundbreaking manga, but it’s hard not to enjoy this series. It has all the elements of a good (there’s that word again) manga, and the story never veers off track. I borrowed Blue Exorcist from my local library. I’ll definitely be reading future volumes, but I don’t think the series moved me enough to buy it… yet.
Viz Media has also released Time Killers: Kazue Kato Short Story Collection.
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