Thursday, June 12, 2014

Now Screaming: "Blue Exorcist" (Anime Review)

If you are part of my generation of clinging-to-our-last-twenty-somethings, you probably grew up when anime consumption meant staying up to watch Cartoon Network at 4am or catching that weird 6:30am slot when Dragon Ball Z was syndicated. The highly privileged had older siblings that could grab physical media from a really hip video shop, but most of us were left with no convenient option to watch every episode of these highly serialized shows.  Further, we had very little control of what Anime we watched, always at the mercy of network programming and sibling politics.

Experiencing this niche medium back then had a perk we didn't realize: curation.  Any time we managed to watch Anime, it was something a passionate executive fought to get on a network.  Any time we watched a VHS or DVD, it was something that someone had hunted down and invested in.  It was pretty rare that we watched something that disappointed us.

Now, the game has changed.  With almost every streaming service flooded with this programming, not to mention one service (Crunchy Roll) entirely dedicated to it, there is an embarrassment of riches.  I imagine I'm not alone in feeling intimidated by the selection.  As a husband, father, and worst of all, an adult that has to do grown up things like show up to work every day, time has become the most precious currency.

Most occasions I've tried to cue up the random anime, I've been left wanting.  When my buddy said I should give Blue Exorcist a try, I probably shot him my famous look of snobbish condescension (my wife is pretty positive this is my resting state).  However, he couldn't have been more right.  This show kicks more ass than Juan Valdez's boot.

The show follows Rin Okumura, a teenage boy that is pretty normal except for that tiny detail that he is the son of Satan.  Raised to think he is a normal human in a non-supernatural world, he is suddenly forced to deal with unrefined lethal powers, vicious demon attacks, and hiding his identity in a world extremely prejudiced to anything Satan related.

Tonally, this show is all over the place in a great way, the amazing sort of genre anarchy you can only find in anime.  When it's horror, it is balls-to-the-freaking-walls horror.  The blood and gore in the first handful of episodes is enough to satisfy the most macabre palates. The story then shifts when Rin finds himself in a Hogwarts of sorts, a magical school to train young demon fighters, while hiding the fact that he is the cultural equivalent of Voldemort's offspring.

Some episodes focus on teenage social issues.  Some focus on demon and church political intrigue. One features one of the most absurd but amazing kaiju fights I have ever seen between a giant squid and a giant pet cat. One is structured almost entirely on meta humor, poking fun at the entire swath of monster-of-the-week television. The entire stretch is only 25 episodes, but each one is entertaining and unique, closing with a handful dedicated to an epic, it-ends-here battle between the forces of light and darkness.

Even better, there isn't a character in this thing that doesn't feel round, intriguing, captivating, and endearing. Most are given their chance to shine, whether it be in an epic magical fight or a social event.  All are charmingly flawed, with there own specific wants and desires.  Seriously, few things do characters this right.

My wife and I blew through these episodes in under a week and I can't recommend it enough.  Even though it's short, it has the sort of fulfilling end that leaves you wanting more but not just feeling cheated.  Honestly, I just can't wait to share it with another friend so that I have the excuse to watch it again.

Grade: A
Currently Streaming on: Netflix, Crunchy Roll

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