Ao no Exorcist: Kyoto Impure King Saga.
So, I did come into this series expecting to be pretty confused for a while -- I've never read the manga, nor did I see the anime six years ago, so I was aware that I'd be coming into the story part way through and would be missing out on the exposition necessary to understand some of it. But I was pleasantly surprised, because very early on -- in the first two episodes or so, even -- this story takes time to introduce all the characters, and the state of the world as it stands at that point, without dumping exposition on the viewer. By episode three, I had a good grasp on who all the characters were, what their key motivations were (even though the story never stops to have them explain said motivations), and roughly how the story had panned out up to that point, and how that would affect events going forward.
That's some pretty elegant storytelling, if you ask me, and not necessarily something I expected out of a lolzy demon-fighting anime.
Set shortly after the end of manga's second arc (and episode seventeen of the first anime, or thereabouts), Ao no Exorcist: Kyoto Impure King Saga follows Rin Okumura, the son of Satan, as he and his friends -- now fearful of him after learning of his parentage -- are called to Kyoto, where Todo, an exorcist who has become host to a demon, seeks to resurrect the Impure King, a demon of fungus and disease. As Rin finds that he can't control his powers (or even draw his sword), fellow exorcist Bon comes into conflict with his father. Meanwhile, Yukio, Rin's twin brother, is targeted by Todo, who sees himself reflected in Yukio's envy and bitterness.
|Watermelons are a delicious snack.|
We'll start by talking quickly about the animation: It's A-1 Pictures, which usually means 'slapdash, colourful but obviously rushed and kind of generic animation.' Ao no Exorcist is certainly better than most of A-1 Pictures' fare, with visibly more effort going into it than they put into most of their shows, and while it is very definitely in A-1's kind of generic, middle-of-the-road style, it doesn't suffer too much for that, actually. It's still plenty nice to look at, and even manages to have moments of genuinely well-staged and well-animated spectacle.
(It's noteworthy that while all the action scenes are all a lot of fun, they're few and far between -- this isn't a one-battle-per-episode type of story. In fact, I think there's only about five battles in the entire twelve episode series. I'm fine with that, to be honest -- I don't think it needed any more, especially as the battles really aren't the main draw of the series.)
Meanwhile, the story really shouldn't be as engaging as it is. It's a plotline that shows up everywhere in anime: Someone wants to resurrect a big, ancient threat, the good guys are out to stop them, but the protagonist is struggling with [insert issue here] that makes using their full power difficult. Tensions mount among the good guys, before everything eventually gets resolved. It's practically a bloody formula at this point.
|Bon. Also, Bon's hair, which may qualify as its own character.|
What sells it in this case is the characters. They're all engaging, interesting, and mostly relatable, and the show is quick to give them deeply human flaws, and to show those flaws causing them to clash with each other. By a few episodes in, I not only felt like I understood where all these characters stood in relation to each other, I was also engaged with finding out what would happen to them, and hoping for their success. That was true of minor characters just as much as it was true of major ones: There's a tiny subplot about Juzo, a monk at the temple, and Mamushi, a snake-wielding exorcist, and despite the fact that it took me a moment just now to even remember their names, I was still invested in their wellbeing.
|A sad Rin.|
(It also definitely helps that Rin is just adorable. He's not a huge deviation from the Standard Naruto-Luffy-oid Shounen Hero Mould, but he's just enough of one to push him out of 'grating' and into 'just really, really cute.')
The series suffers from a few pacing problems, with a slow middle before we finally get to the big, several-episodes-long final confrontation, but they never ruined my enjoyment (as pacing problems often can), so I'm willing to let those pass.
|I do wish there was a little more work put into making Rin's blue fire look really striking.|
Overall, this was a solid, enjoyable series, and I'm glad I decided to watch it. There's no word yet on a third series, which means it's going to be at least a year, maybe two, before we see this show back on our screens -- and potentially even longer, since there was a whole six year gap between the first series and this one, but hopefully this one was popular enough that there's at least a little bit of a sense of urgency for A-1 Pictures to make another series.
Better that than them doing more Sword Art Online, at least. Ugh.