Friday, August 16, 2013

Blue Exorcist: the Movie

True Cross Academy is sort of like Hogwarts, but with guns.  That is definitely an improvement.  While some of the senior exorcists wield ancient magical weapons, an automatic still has its uses against rampaging demons.  Young exorcist-in-training Rin Okumura will face a rather different sort of supernatural troublemaker as well as the traditional city-leveling variety in Atsushi Takahashi’s Blue Exorcist: the Movie (trailer here), which screens this Saturday and Sunday at select cities nationwide.

Marvel fans who remember Daimon Hellstrom, the Son of Satan, will be able to relate to Okumura. They both have the same father, but have renounced his infernal ways. As fans of Kazue Katō’s manga and the subsequent anime series already know, Okumura and his brother Yukio are the half-human half-demonic offspring of Old Scratch.  However, only Rin inherited the old man’s powers (and some of his features).  Rin enrolls in True Cross to become an exorcist in order to avenge Father Shiro Fujimoto, the kindly priest who raised the two boys.  Much to his surprise, he found Yukio had a head start on him.  Already a full-fledged exorcist, his brother even teaches courses at the elite exorcist school.

Taking place sometime in between episodes, the staff of the academy is gearing up for the eagerly anticipated festival their town celebrates every eleven years.  This fateful night, Yukio Okumura will be leading an operation to exorcise a haunted train traveling between our world, Assiah, and Gehenna, the demon plane.  It does not go according to plan.  As a result, a lot of oozing monsters start lumbering through the city—and it is mostly Rin’s fault.  Suspended from exorcisms, the teen with a tail is forced to babysit Usamaro, an impish demon who resembles a young boy.  When Okumura and the young scamp start to bond, it leads to all kinds of complications.

Although the manga and anime series are known for their religious symbolism, the movie downplays the allegorical for the sake of narrative compactness and Usamaro’s comic relief.  Frankly, it gives us more than enough of the latter.  Still, the stand alone feature quickly brings new viewers up to speed on its well developed fantasy world and offers some entertaining supernatural mayhem.  The background cityscapes are unusually lush and detailed, while the big festival looks like an awful lot of fun.

When Blue Exorcist gets down to action, it nicely blends elements of the kaiju and martial arts genres.  The scope and stakes of the film are rather large, even if it does not advance the overall series mythology.  The way it incorporates an old children’s book into the narrative is also quite clever and visually stylish.  In fact, the whole film looks quite impressive.  There is just a little too much demon cuteness and the self-contained resolution is somewhat unsatisfying for reasons that would be spoilery to explain.

Those familiar with the series might be disappointed to hear there is no service involving Shura Kirigakure, aside from her regular wardrobe.  At least she gets a fair amount of screen time fighting.  The fans it is intended for should enjoy this new adventure, while receptive new folks ought to find the world-building detail intriguing.  Recommended for older teens who dig manga and anime, Blue Exorcist: the Movie screens tomorrow (8/17) and Sunday (8/18) in New York at the Big Cinema Manhattan and in San Francisco at the 4 Star Theatre.