ANIME & MANGA - Review
11:00 - 28th June 2014, by David West

Blue Exorcist: The Movie

Every 11 years, the Exorcists of True Cross Academy hold a festival to renew the magical barriers that protect their town from demon intruders. In the run up to the big day, Rin Okumura, the Son of Satan and a trainee Exorcist, is assigned to help his brother Yukio and classmate Shiemi exorcise a Phantom Train that devours unwary commuters. When Rin disobeys orders during the mission, the result is chaos, mass destruction and a Phantom Train on the loose in the bowels of the city. In the rubble left in the train's wake, Rin finds a small boy lying unconscious who appears to be a rabbit demon. Assigned to watch the wee lad, Rin dubs him Usamaro and the two slowly become friends. However, something is amiss in the town as everyone seems to be experiencing memory problems just as the magical barriers are about to be renewed. If they should fall, it will be a field day for the demons who want to destroy True Cross Academy.

The first feature length adventure for the Blue Exorcist franchise sees Atsushi Takahashi in the director's chair in place of Tensai Okamura, who handled the main series. The success of Blue Exorcist is evident in the high production values A-1 Pictures have lavished upon the film. The True Cross Academy and the town around it always had a funky design in the series, but in the film, the environment is brought to life in meticulous and eye-popping style. The floats in the festival are stunning in conception, and every background is rich in detail. The design work is a smorgasbord of Japanese and western influences - there is a tower bridge that looks unmistakeably European, one building looks like the Empire State in New York, while other structures have Japanese tiled roofs, and the uniforms of the Academy students are distinctly Japanese, particularly for the girls.

The supporting cast from the series all pop up here, although Rin's classmates Ryuji, Izumo, Konekomaru and Nemu are very much limited to providing comic relief. Fanservice favourite Shura Kirigakure makes a contribution to the plot, but many other characters - like the ridiculously busty Exorcist Miss Lena - are strictly eye-candy. The movie introduces another new Exorcist to the roster in the form of Cheng-Long Liu, but while he proves handy in battle, he makes little dramatic impact, and his screen time is too limited to reveal much sense of his personality.

The heart of the story is the development of the friendship between Rin and Usamaro. This follows a predictable pattern, but is handled with a dash of warmth by director Takahashi. Usamaro is cute, childlike, and in need of someone to take on the role of big brother, which gives Rin a chance to try to be the mature one in a relationship for a change. However, Usamaro's storyline reveals one of the essential failings of spin-off movies, one common to the many Naruto movies (to name but one example). There is an unspoken rule with these films that they can't disrupt or alter continuity, meaning that at the end of the movie, the main characters - and their world - must all remain fundamentally the same as they were at the start. This may help explain why even though two new Exorcists join the cast in the forms of Liu and Lena, very little time is devoted to their characterisation. Should any fan of the series not see the movie, they won't have missed any meaningful revelations about these characters when they join the show's ongoing plotlines. While some of Naruto's movie adventures are entertaining, they never resolve any of the many open plot threads from the series itself. Those are only tied up during the TV episodes. The movies are a side dish, not the main course, which is the case here, too. Rin and Usamaro have a fun adventure, the ending is bittersweet and tugs on the heartstrings, but the fundamentals of the series are left undisturbed. It's not really clear at what point along the fictional timeline of the Blue Exorcist universe that the events in the film take place. Clearly it is after Shura has revealed her identity to Rin, but other than that, you could watch it at any point alongside season one without fear of spoilers or plot contradictions. Given the superb production values of the movie, it is somewhat of a shame that such beautiful animation wasn't put to some greater purpose in the grand scheme of Rin's life.

The movie uses spectacular action set pieces as bookends. The battle with the Phantom Train kicks the plot off with a bang, but then action takes a backseat to comedy and relationship building through the second act, as the focus shifts to Rin and Usamaro. Then it all kicks off again for the grand finale in act three, with demonic destruction on a large scale. The resolution feels too convenient, relying on a previously unseen application of one character's powers that was never set up in advance. As impressive as the scenes of mass mayhem are visually, the plot mechanics don't bear too much scrutiny.

The English dub is a strong one, with several sharp lines of dialogue unique to the dub courtesy of the script by Alex Von David. "Sorry about Captain Exposition," is a cheeky highlight. The music is generally good, although the rap song that plays during the start of the Phantom Train mission is very distracting as it interferes with the dialogue.

The first Blue Exorcist feature looks amazing but the self-contained and ultimately inconsequential nature of the story means that it doesn't provide a knockout emotional punch to match the powerful visual impact. Hopefully, the introduction of new characters means that a second series is on the cards. Until that arrives, this will help fans to keep the hellfires burning.
SCORE: 3.5/5
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