So, growing up an Otaku in the late 2000s to early 2010s was an educational experience. The anime of the era was dominated by the Big 3, aka Bleach, One Piece, and Naruto Shippuden. (And Death Note. Always Death Note, for some reason.) These anime were near untouchable in their fandoms, solely by how big they were on the Internet. However, there were these adjacent Shonen franchises that were pretty popular but not quite to the rank of the aforementioned Big 3. One of them happened to be a unique hybrid of fairytales and demons called Blue Exorcist.
This Dark Fantasy tale was an outlier that deserved way more hype than it got, considering it was a genuinely good anime and a fairly young franchise at the time. I mean, it only started in 2009 as a manga serialized in Jump Square. For it to go as far as it did was impressive when you compare the absolute behemoths it had to go up against. However, Kazue Kato, the mangaka, knew what she was doing because this story about demons and exorcisms is still well-received to this day.
But like I said, it’s really impressive to see how long the franchise has held out, especially considering how saturated the Shonen market got after a while. Hell, even Bleach didn’t escape being annexed as an anime in 2014, with the final arc only getting animated now, nearly 8 years later. If you look past the Big 3, you have other successful anime such as Fairytail and Hunter x Hunter. But the difference between them and Blue Exorcist? It actually held my attention for longer than 5 episodes.
After the first anime’s release in 2011, we got a movie called Blue Exorcist: The Movie in 2012. And then, six years later, we were blessed with a sequel season known as Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga in 2017. The manga itself went on hiatus and only came back recently, in March 2022. So, this is a perfect time to see if this classic but underrated Shonen is worthy of a watch. Let’s dive right into the review, shall we?
The Premise: The Son-Of-Satan Has A Bone To Pick With His Dad!
Meet Rin Okumura, a regular, carefree high schooler living with his twin brother, Yukio, in the very normal human dimension known as Assaiah. One day, they learn about the existence of a separate dimension known as Gehenna, which is made up of demons but, more importantly, that their absentee birth father? Yeah, he’s Satan.
And as his offspring, they are host to some extreme powers that were sealed off through a demon-slaying blade by their adoptive father, Shiro Fujimoto, who was an exorcist. And really, Rin and Yukio really loved Shiro, so seeing him being killed and then possessed by Satan? Yeah, that didn’t exactly lead to a warm welcome.
Since that fateful encounter, Rin swore to become an exorcist like his adoptive father, to become stronger and avenge him by killing Satan. And enrolling at the prestigious True Cross Academy, an exorcist cram school, was a start. However, he learns that not only is Yukio technically a veteran exorcist, but the Academy itself is a side branch of the True Cross Order, an international organization sworn to protect the human realm from the demonic one. Though it kind of feels weird having your younger twin be your teacher, Rin still embarks on the journey to becoming an exorcist so he can bring Satan down once and for all.
The Breakdown: Violent Premise And Fun Characters That Work?
I think one of my favorite bits of Blue Exorcist’s conception is how Kazue-san was inspired by the Brothers Grimme movie, a 2005 feature with brothers who fought monsters in a violent fantasy retelling of classic fairytales.
The phrase ‘violent fantasy’ is perfect to describe the tone of the anime. It is chaotic, bold, and dynamic, just like a good Shonen should be. However, what sets it apart from others like it is how enjoyable Rin Okumura is as the main character. He is so entertaining and engaging that you can honestly ignore most of the setting and just enjoy the show for his antics and how he interacts with his peers. Where most would try to make his personality separate from the whole ‘Satan’s Spawn’ thing, the anime here embraces it. Rin’s ‘Devil-May-Care’ attitude is what sells the show.
Of course, the animation itself is top-notch. A-1 pictures deliver a cool aesthetic that sits right at home between bold and quirky.
The Verdict: A Gritty But Fantastical Tale With A Ton Of Heart!
This is just good old-fashioned Shonen fun. There is no deeper thought process to it. Much big-name anime take themselves too seriously, and I’ve never been a fan of that. Sometimes it’s okay to just admit your strengths as strengths instead of trying to ‘break the mold.’
And hey, if you enjoy a little religious imagery with some aggressive hilarity, Blue Exorcist is right up your alley!