With the upcoming release of Blue Exorcist’s thirteenth volume, I think it is only fair that before we look at and review it, that we step back and look at the very first volume of the series. You know, for people who haven’t read the series and to see what exactly makes this such a memorable and remarkable Shonen Jump series. Let’s jump in:
Blue Exorcist Vol. 1 (Viz Media)
Written and drawn by: Kazue Kato
Translated by: John Werry
In True Cross Academy Town, two orphan twin brothers by the name of Rin and Yukio live in a little monastery with their guardian, Father Shiro Fujimoto. While Yukio is pretty much an upstanding citizen, Rin is a bit a punk in some ways (not particularly pleasant, gets into fights, and has little motivation in life). However, Rin’s life is forever changed when he starts seeing things of an otherworldly nature and discovers his true heritage: he is the bastard son of Satan himself. This revelation is costly and it eventually leads him to enroll in the True Cross Academy, where he plans on becoming an Exorcist and taking down Satan.
To explain the first volume of Blue Exorcist simply: it’s a great introduction to the series with some minor flaws. It’s primarily just setting things up in its first outing (like with Rin, Yukio, and this whole school) but it does it pretty well when it comes to the execution. There are only three chapters in the book though. The first chapter introduces the brothers, what they are/were like, establishes Rin’s motivation, and even lays down a little bit of world building. The second chapter introduces what will be the focus of the series for a while with the exorcism school, while also establishing the status quo for now. The third and final chapter introduces the female lead, Shiemi Moriyama, and provides some backstory for her.
While all of this is happening, the manga lays down foundations for this world in by introducing concepts, demons, and ideas for future themes and subplots to be explored (sometimes even subtly). With so many things happening at once, you might think that the pacing suffers or that the manga tries to do too much. However, Kazue Kato never lets that happen. She’s very capable of keeping the story always on the move and progressing, but never stopping or slowing down to deal out some exposition or backstory. The world building, concepts, and character development introduced move along with the story, entering in at moments when appropriate or when they fit the situation (like the concept of Temptaint and any new demons). Also, the creator doesn’t throw too much at us all at once either, so you have time to digest the tidbits you do get and not have the story crawl to a stop in order to explain many things. This leads to a breezy, but still satisfying and filling read (unlike something like Seraph of the End).
Touching on the characters briefly, let’s start with Rin, the main character. While he has some unpleasant and negative qualities to him early on, he genuinely comes across as a nice individual and seems to move past these traits as this and the proceeding volumes go on. He’s very protective of his brother and others—most of the fights he actually gets into are in defense of someone or when he sees an injustice happening. He shows concern and care for others (like seen in the third chapter with Shiemi), and even his reason for being Exorcist isn’t really about revenge as it turns out. As time goes on, his more positive traits shine through and he develops into a very likeable and enjoyable protagonist.
The other important characters would be Yukio, Shiemi, and Mephisto Pheles. Yukio is pretty much the opposite of Rin: far smarter, more mature, and insightful, all of which become very evident in the second chapter when you discover he’s actually one of the instructors at the school. The majority of the character’s development comes in the second chapter after that discovery and when he and Rin actually talk about what happened. While interlaced with quite bit of action, you can really feel the anger and frustration in Yukio as he explains what he’s feeling toward his brother. Shiemi, while becoming an important character later on, really doesn’t do much in her introduction outside of learning her backstory and deciding to become an Exorcist herself. Mephisto is sort of similar in a way, but he has a much more interesting and mysterious air to him. He’s the president the True Cross Academy and head of the Exorcist Cram School, but his behavior and the decisions he makes definitely give the impression that he is planning something or that he has his own goals. Having read most of the series, I can say that is certainly true, but not anymore than that. Regardless, the small cast of characters do show potential and depth to them all early on.
Turning to the writing now, this area of the manga fares very well. Like mentioned earlier, the pacing is very good at keeping the story and developments always on the move so that the experience never feels slow. The story structure is solid, with every scene flowing naturally from one to another and every bit of information is put in the right location without it coming across as unnatural (for instance, the first chapter drops a lot bombshells and information in the middle of it, but it feels appropriate since the characters are in a hurry and need to rush some points). The characterization is handled pretty well and I do like that creator addressed and resolved a big plot point between Rin and Yukio in a fairly decent manner. The dialogue is quite enjoyable and the sense of humor is very well-done and pretty funny a lot of the time. Overall, not much happens in the story beyond the setup, but the writing and execution do a good job at keeping you invested.
Finally there is Kato’s artwork, which looks downright amazing. Her characters are wonderfully designed and easily distinguishable from one another (even 13 volumes in and with plenty of more characters introduced, the manga still features a very diverse and unique looking cast). The facial expressions are great too, really helping sell a lot of the emotion and humor on display between the exaggerated and subtle looks people have. The layouts are excellent and allow the scenes to move very well. There are, however, often a lot of blank white backgrounds, but when there are backgrounds or scenery, it’s impressive. She really knows how to do details and make an area really come to life.
However, the best part of her art is her creativity when it comes to the supernatural. The monsters, demons, and our otherworldly creatures are just as distinct and wonderfully detailed as the rest of the characters. From the markings on the hobgoblins to the way a person who is possessed by a demon looks, the artwork makes everything really come to life and visually striking in some fashion. Of course, the action is striking as well, leaving some nice brief moments that will serve as a small taste for what the series will be producing later on. This is a great looking book and having read the rest of the series, it only gets better from here.
Blue Exorcist Vol. 1 is a good start to a great series. While primarily dealing with setup for the story and characters, the execution and pacing is very strong and well-handled. The characters introduced so far are very likable, while the writing and artwork are both solid themselves. Even if you know what comes next, I could see fans of Shonen style series still enjoying this and I could even recommend this manga to young teens who wanted to start getting into manga.