Unless you’re an Attack on Titan fan, there usually isn’t too significant of a wait between anime seasons (sick burn, right?). Sure, there are some outliers, but Blue Exorcist is in rare company. Not counting 2012’s anime film, we went from 2011 to 2017 without a regular televised dose of manga creator Kazue Kato’s demon bros., and man is it nice to have them back.
Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga isn’t your typical anime sequel. Fans of the manga will be familiar with its source material, the Kyoto Impure King arc, but anime-only viewers might find themselves a little confused as the first episode begins. You’ll want to go ahead and forget most of what happened after Episode 17 or so of the original run, because the events that followed strayed from the story of the manga for the purposes of crafting a proper ending.
That means you’ll need to cope with a few mental resets, especially when it comes to protagonist Rin Okumura and the rest of the True Cross Academy students. Outside of the more faithful adherence to the manga, though, this A-1 Pictures production is as solid as ever. There are new staff members running the ship, and a lot has happened in the anime industry in the past six years, but these brothers still know how to light up the screen. Beyond the action and demonic intrigue, what’s really kept Blue Exorcist in the conversation are its characters, and that carries over to Kyoto Saga in a major way.
The original Blue Exorcist anime moved at a pretty breakneck pace at times, especially in its final third. Due to the limited nature of its narrative and the move away from directly adapting the manga, characters were forced to quickly adjust and move on after learning about Rin’s demonic powers. Kyoto Saga, however, gives its creators an opportunity to turn the clock back a bit and linger on those crucial doubtful moments. We essentially pick up as Rin is assigned his time-sensitive motivation: To pass the exorcist exam in six months or face the consequences. Those consequences aren’t light, either. If he doesn’t learn to control his flames he’ll be put on an exorcist hunt list, lined up for execution like the son of Satan he is.
The start of Kyoto Saga has Rin joining in on a special mission to retrieve a demon relic known as the Left Eye of the Impure King. This mission quickly goes south, and a new threat makes itself known to Rin, Shura, and Yukio in the process. Before they even have time to fret about failing to recover the relic, they learn that an attempt has been made on the other demon relic, the Right Eye of the Impure King, which resides in Kyoto. A meeting is held between exorcists of all levels to discuss the attempted theft, and they come to a logical but damning conclusion: Someone among them is a traitor. Everyone’s a suspect, including Ryuji “Bon” Suguro’s father, Tatsuma, so it’s time to let the narrow-eyed suspicions flow!
As a result of this and other key story beats, the first part of the new season is mostly a slow build that takes its time to continue some of the first season’s character development. Bon, Konekomaru, Renzo, and the other students are having a particularly difficult time coping with the revelation that Rin is the son of Satan. Most of them don’t even want to be near him, much less talk to him, which is a welcome change from the way it was neatly brushed aside in the original anime. These characters are all crucial to the story, and more importantly they’re crucial to Rin. Like all classic shonen heroes, Rin eventually realized he couldn’t beat Satan alone, even if that was his initial proclamation. If he’s going to fulfill his ultimate objective, he’s going to need all the help he can get.
Kyoto Saga represents an extension of that growth. The real benefit of following the manga more closely is the fact that it lets us soak in all of the important character moments along the way. Even the seemingly eternal candle test—one of the first obstacles Rin must overcome to put the reins on his powerful blue flame—carries more weight in the new season. It isn’t a frustration that’s solved when the narrative demands it; it’s a part of Rin’s training we watch him struggle with, figure out, and complete in a plausible period of time.
All this talk of characters and tests brings us back to Blue Exorcist’s pacing, which probably sounds downright sluggish by shonen standards. That couldn’t be further from the truth, though. Blue Exorcist is as exciting as ever, it simply happens to be particularly good at making the moments in between just as entertaining.
The Souls Still Burn
As previously mentioned, there were a few changes made to the Blue Exorcist staff over at A-1 Pictures for the new season. The first was directed by Tensai Okamura, who is known for series like Darker than Black, Wolf’s Rain—which he worked on over at BONES in 2003—The Seven Deadly Sins (the adaptation of Nakaba Suzuki’s manga, not the tie-in to Hobby Japan and OrchidSeed’s cheeky bishojo figures), and, most recently, Kuromukuro.
This time around the director’s chair is occupied by Koichi Hatsumi, who previously helmed Deadman Wonderland as director and Gangsta. as series director, among many other projects. Toshiya Ono (Gatchaman Crowds, The Perfect Insider, tsuritama) steps in for Ryota Yamaguchi (Dokidoki! Precure, Cutey Honey Flash) on series composition, which seems like a better fit given the change of focus this time around.
The team’s efforts with Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga really paid off in the end, and in a perfect world they would continue beyond the planned 12-episode arc at hand. As fun as the series is, it’s not a good jumping off point for new folks, and the first 17 episodes of Season 1 are required viewing at the very least. When the price you have to pay is “watch more Blue Exorcist,” though, it’s tough to complain too much.
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