"Blue Exorcist" Vol. 3: Devil Feud Cake
Blue Exorcist is definitely not the kind of series you want to launch into the middle of. Whether it’s the kind of series you want to launch into at all is a different question, and you’d best consult Nick Hobbs for an answer to that one. But it’s up to me to say something about Volume 3 of the series.
Blue Exorcist centers on some students at a demon-fighting academy in Japan. The lead character, Rin Okumura, is the typical kind of hero for this kind of story: hot-headed, rather boastful, and not fully in control of his powers. Nor is it a surprise that he has a secret: He is, literally, the son of Satan, but has apparently sworn to use his evil-derived powers for good. This still leaves him athwart his erstwhile schoolmates, who up to this point have been in the dark about his lineage. Things comes to a head in the present set of episodes, though, when he finally has to reveal himself.
Volume 3 at least doesn’t open totally in medias res, which means that newbies won’t be pitched directly into a maelstrom. The DVD opens with Rin and his classmates being sent onto a training mission in the woods, and it builds slowly enough that newcomers will get to acquaint themselves (and returning viewers can reacquaint themselves) with the rest of the cast: the gruff and authoritarian Ryuji “Bon” Suguro; the shy Konekomaru Miwa; the insect-terrified Renzo Shima; the cheerful Shiemi Moriyama; and the withdrawn and unfriendly Izumo Kamiki. Their job on this exercise is to light, retrieve, and protect some enormous stone lanterns, which turn out to be amusingly booby-trapped. Matters become more serious when a powerful demon, Amaimon, intervenes and tries to kill Rin. This causes our hero to burst into bright blue flames, which attracts the attention of even more powerful adversaries, and Rin, his secrets now laid bare, gets hauled before the Vatican council that’s in charge of exorcists.
The upshot is that he’s put on a kind of probation and has to return to the school under close supervision. Matters stand ill with his friends, especially the ever-fearful Konekomaru, who under the influence of another demon tries to kill Rin. But matters end happily, and the set closes with a quasi-comic episode in which Shiemi talks her friends into throwing a surprise birthday party for Izumo, with predictably anarchic results. Meanwhile, the foundations for new plot arcs are being laid: The school authorities discover that their protection spells have been penetrated by a portal that leads to the ruins of a research lab, and Rin’s twin brother, who hasn’t inherited the same kind of powers, seems to be becoming obsessed (whether from fear or desire may not even be clear to him) with testing himself to see if similar powers will begin to manifest in himself.
I haven’t seen any other episodes of this series, so I can’t say whether this batch is better or worse than what has come before, but nothing about it strikes me as being terribly out of the ordinary. The stories creep toward their various overlapping denouement at a stately but not excessively slow pace, taking time for the requisite battles and character scenes. What buoyancy it has comes courtesy of its character dynamics, though these also generally fail to surprise. The first episode on this set is enough to give you 95% of what each character is about, and most of the scenes that follow just reiterate what it’s already told us: Rin is undisciplined; Bon is a bad-ass; Konekomaru is insecure; Shiemi and Renzo are popular; Izumo is Wednesday Addams’s Nipponese equivalent. Dialogue fills out the running time without adding much interest.
The set also comes with a one-minute short.
Viewers already attached to the series may or may not be further drawn in by its additions and complications, its intimations of hidden agendas and implications of mysteries yet unrevealed. It’s easy enough to respect its professional construction: even when an episode doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, it will resolve with a rumbling dissonance and the promise of mayhem to come. But one may still wish that it modulated a bit more.