This post was originally published at my account on Steemit.com.
It’s no secret that there’s a lot of good anime to be found on Netflix. And, since Toonami is probably never going to get its own channel (thank you very much, Turner corporation), Netflix is quickly becoming the go-to platform for North American anime fans (I don’t count Crunchyroll, for obvious reasons).
But one anime you might have not yet tried on Netflix is Blue Exorcist.
This show is often overlooked, but entirely enjoyable as a rip-roaring adventure featuring a group of students who are studying to become exorcists.
Not content to just stand over a possessed person’s bed and recite prayers, these exorcists hunt down and destroy their demon quarries with blessed weapons, as well as tame demons who serve as knights and protectors, and also grit, determination, and…um…special prayers that they recite.
Okay, so in some respects they follow the traditional route. But blue exorcist offers up a lot of stuff you won’t get from Hollywood or even other anime.
Let’s examine its many aspects:
Rin and Yukio are twin brothers being raised by monks in a Japanese monastery. Yukio is smart and gifted, and has been accepted to attend the highly prestigious True Cross Academy—a monolithic, Catholic-owned institution that secretly trains some of its students as exorcists.
Rin, on the other hand, is a klutz and a screwup. Unable to get accepted at any school, his only hope is to find menial work, which he inevitably fails to do. The monks all love him, but they’ve all given up on the idea that he will have a successful life. The only one who can comfort him is his brother, who shows great compassion, but Rin knows he is living in Yukio’s shadow.
Until one fateful day when Rin starts seeing strange monsters slinking through the streets. Discovering that these are literal demons, Rin is unprepared to learn, from the priest that raised him, a shocking revelation.
Rin is the son of Satan.
With his demonic powers finally starting to manifest, a war between Earth and Gehenna is about to culminate. The only way to avert crisis is for Rin to attend True Cross Academy and learn the ways of the exorcists. But Yukio is not too keen on the idea, since he has secretly been training as an exorcist for years already.
The Central Conflict
While Blue Exorcist features an ensemble cast, the focus remains entirely on the twin brothers and the agony of their relationship. Yukio is the perfect exorcist: brave, knowledgeable, and unwavering in his commitment. In the beginning, he is the perfect brother as well, showing love and support to Rin when everyone else doubts. This illusion is quickly shattered, however, when Yukio reveals that he has always known about Rin’s true origin and has always hated him for it, and once Rin learns the truth, Yukio decides to drop the act.
Through all the demon hunting and the war-of-the-worlds-style finale, the only real question is this: will Rin get his brother back, or will he lose the one person who even pretended to believe in him? Rin may boast and crow about how he wants to become an exorcist and murder Satan himself, but that’s just a backdrop. This show is actually a family drama about winning back someone you’ve lost forever.
Which may be impossible for our heroes, because Yukio is constantly distracted by all the accolades and responsibilities heaped upon him, as well as the attentions of so many, many girls, leaving his brother to wallow in his failures.
Basically, this is a show about what would happen if Heinz Doofenshmirtz found out he was the antichrist.
The Supporting Cast
As far as ensemble casts go, Blue Exorcist is neither the best nor the worst. Each supporting character is interesting, well-rounded, and given delicious back stories, but precious little time is dedicated to any of them. The show’s narrative always comes back to the twin brothers, which is perhaps a good thing because it keeps the show from being fattened up with filler. Still, it leaves us wanting to know more about some of the other players.
The only supporting character that deserves a personal mention is Johan Faust V
Headmaster of True Cross Academy, he is an accomplished exorcist who quickly reveals himself to be the demon Mephisto. Having supposedly turned his back on the forces of Gehenna long ago, he now works for the church, though perhaps not exclusively. With supernatural powers and a flair for the theatrical, this walking comic relief is only too happy to play both sides of this war, while his true intentions are shrouded in mystery.
The Breath of Fresh Air
The thing that first attracted me to Blue Exorcist was the fact that it did not shy away from or try to water down its Christian themes.
Which is not to say that it is dogmatically correct. It plays fast and loose with the theological source material (much like Black Butler and a host of other anime), and it portrays the Catholic church as a kind of monolithic world power, akin to what it was in, say, the Middle Ages. But, beyond all that, this is a show that is not ashamed to put its theological source out there. The characters literally believe in God and literally fight Satan. They go to church. They recite Bible passages—real-world Bible passages—in the show as part of their training. They are not afraid to “go there”.
So often, in American television, the shows avoid mentioning religion altogether. They dance around the subject, sometimes to comically extreme effect. Blue Exorcist is not an endorsement of Christianity. It’s not even very forgiving in its portrayal of Christianity (though not antagonistic towards it, either). But above all else the show is not afraid to portray religion, and it does not apologize for bringing it up, and it does not try to hedge itself against offending anyone.
Honestly, it was refreshing. And I loved it for that most of all.
Blue Exorcist is a hybrid of your typical “Magical School” anime, with a pinch of “Fighting Brothers” drama but with a deep theological twist. I highly recommend it.
The violence levels are comparable to any of the Shonen Jump anime. I would say it’s okay for all teenagers, as well as some of the more intelligent pre-teens.
Though the manga was quite popular in Japan, only one season of the anime was ever made. That season is on Netflix (and yes, also on Crunchyroll), so you can start watching it now.
Plans are being made for a sequel series that will air in 2017. I can tell you that I will be watching that with great interest.