Thursday, May 10, 2012

Blue Exorcist vol. 1-6

Blue Exorcist, by Kazue Kato, tells the story of Rin Okumura, a rowdy teenage boy who along with his more reserved and studious twin brother Yukio, are raised by by priest, Father Shiro Fujimoto. One day, after a fateful encounter with a demon that Father Fujimoto rescues him from, Rin discovers that he himself is half demon and the son of Satan. Soon, Satan pays a visit to Rin and tries to drag him to the demon realm. Father Fujimoto intervenes, allowing Rin to escape, but dies in the process. Rin vows to use his new found demon powers to defeat Satan and the forces of evil. Off to True Cross Academy, Rin finds friends and enemies alike on his path to become an exorcist.

I'm noticing my opinion on this manga is quite different from most other reviews I have read. Particularly, my opinion on the art. I often read that the art is one of the strongest points of this manga. I have to disagree on that. I personally think the art is pretty drab and just barely acceptable. The character designs are fine, but the style itself is quite ordinary. Not that every art style has to be new and different. It just doesn't excite me. I suppose it does it's job to convey the story, but I wholeheartedly disagree that the art is a strong point. The backgrounds, while drawn well enough, are just there. They don't add anything to the art experience for me. And that's really my main problem. As a visual medium, the art should be a big part of the experience, but it is "just there" for me. I'd also expect a little more art wise from a monthly manga. Sure, there is more pages per chapter, but not as many as an average weekly manga puts out a month. I guess I just think more time to draw should mean higher quality drawings. I suppose that could be a big part as to why I find Kazue Kato's average/passable art as unimpressive. One thing that I think could have raised my opinion of the art is seeing the color spreads in actual color. In the volume releases, the color spreads are rendered in black, white and grey, I assume to conserve printing costs. Even in black and white, I can still tell that a lot of effort and creativity was put into them. It's a shame there was no way to preserve that. My opinion seems to differ greatly though, and art is subjective, so don't take my word for it. You can check out a free preview of chapter 1 at VizManga and see for yourself whether you like the art or not.

While it is still early in this manga's life, the combat has so far been pretty uninspired and the little action that I have seen is sometimes poorly choreographed and hard to tell what is actually happening. And the established systems of combat aren't terribly exciting to look at either. Chanting sutras to defeat a demon? Yeah, as you can guess, talking a demon to death doesn't look cool. Even the characters with traditional weapons aren't especially entertaining in there fights. Spamming enchanted bullets to mow down fodder was entertaining for about one page, and the main character just fights in a demon rage mode with enhanced strength and healing. To be fair, he has yet to finish his sword training, so maybe things will get better with him later. But like I said, a lot of it has to do with poor fight choreography. You could make these things look cool if you were a good enough artist. And as I said, in the six volumes I have read, there really hasn't been that much action beyond a few minor skirmishes and some training. I could excuse the lack of exciting action due to the lack of action in general, but then I would have to fault the manga for not having enough excitement for it's 6 volumes of content. I'm not an action fiend by any means, but this is a manga where the sword wielding main character's goal is to fight and defeat Satan, so I do expect there to be some level of excitement when it comes to combat.

This manga's saving grace is the likeable cast of characters. And while I wasn't impressed with the art in general, the character designs are diverse and fun. As I said, the characters are quite likeable for the most part. They have good interaction with each other, and are easy to care about. This is important if I am going to be following this group through a possible, long running story. They also develop nicely enough for the amount of time we are with them. It is generic development, like "I'm useless so I want to get stronger", and learning to accept/make friends, etc., but development it is. The main character Rin, is a pretty typical shonen main character, but I happen to like typical shonen main characters and I think there is a reason they are so prominent in modern shonen manga. They work for this type of story. There's no great reason to break the mold in this situation. Anyway, I like this group of characters and don't mind following them throughout the story. I just wish there was more of a story to follow them through. I suppose I will have to keep reading to get that, but if the manga doesn't amp up the pace and level of excitement through the next six volumes, we will still just have a good cast of characters in a relatively uneventful manga.

To be honest, I expected a lot more to happen over the course of six volumes. The events that set the story in motion happen, Rin goes to school, does some training, meets a few friends, has a few minor conflicts, and that's really it. Not until the end of volume 6 is a more significant conflict introduced. Yeah, I'm oversimplifying a bit, but no kidding. Nothing big or memorable happened. It is very possible that this manga just needed one or two more volumes to catch it's stride and get it's hooks in me(one of my favorite mangas, One Piece, didn't really get especially exciting until around volume 8), but all I have to go on right now is six volumes, so that's what I'm going to make judgements upon. If my library gets future volumes in, I may check it out, but this isn't a manga I am dying to know what happens next.

Rather than recommend this passable at best manga, I'd like to point you in the direction of Blue Exorcist's Jump Square counterpart, and fellow supernatural manga, D. Gray-man. D. Gray-man, with 21 volumes vs. Blue Exorcist's 8, obviously has much more content, and all the development that comes with it.

In short, this manga is slow to develop an exciting plot, has average to mediocre art, lackluster and confusing action, but a nice cast of main characters. I recommend checking this series out at the library like I did, or purchasing it digitally at VizManga for about half the price. Shelling out $10 per volume of the first six, uneventful volumes is just not worth it in my opinion.

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