I hate sounding like a broken record just as much as you do, but I’m forced to reiterate that if there’s anything I cannot tolerate, it’s a film so narrow in vision that it was obviously made with only a dedicated fanbase in mind rather than a general audience. Blue Exorcist the Movie is easily one of the most shameless examples recent examples of such a film. It’s based on both a serialized manga and an anime TV series, both of which have been immensely popular in their native Japan. Unfortunately, I wasn’t made aware of this until after seeing the film, at which point I frantically logged onto Wikipedia in a desperate search for information. The more results I got, the angrier I became, for it was clear that anything I could have gleaned narratively, characteristically, and thematically was dependent on my being intimately familiar with the source material. The film wasn’t allowed to stand on its own.
The gall with which director Atsushi Takahashi and screenwriter Reiko Yoshida made Blue Exorcist the Movie was unmitigated. Filmmakers should never, ever automatically assume that general audiences will respond to an adaptation of a cultish franchise in the same way that fans will, if at all. There are only two options available for a movie like this: (1) It should never have been made in the first place, since its theatrical release will be ignored, if not completely missed, by all but the most devoted; (2) it should bypass theaters altogether and be released directly to DVD. In this particular case, (2) would been the better option. Not only would people like me not have to endure something they couldn’t possibly comprehend, it would also allow the film to be marketed more directly to the right audience.
The experience of watching this movie was not too far removed from being forced to play a game without knowing what the rules are, or even what the game is. Characters populate the film, and yet I never knew who they were, presumably because I was expected to have gotten that information from the mangas and each episode of the TV series beforehand. A discernable reason for what they’re doing and why is never given. More information I needed to gather beforehand, no doubt. The action plays out with no real explanations for how or why it occurred, and the subtitles, which typically help to clarify things for English-speaking audiences, all read as if they were written in code. At no point did anyone even try to make the plot accessible to those unfamiliar with the source material; a layman will be so utterly confused by what’s going on that he or she might as well be dreaming.
The lead character is a teenage boy in a crumpled schoolboy suit named Rin (voiced by Nobuhiko Okamoto), who has fangs and a curly black tail. He will occasionally unsheath a sword, at which point he will glow blue and sprout elfin-like ears. The only hint we get as to why he’s this way is when another character says to him, “So you’re the spawn of Satan.” And yet flashback sequences reveal that his father was a priest. For all I know, his father was Satan disguised as a priest. Anyway, he and his brother (voiced by Jun Fukuyama) are exorcists, which in this case means they travel through a vague urban landscape and slay otherworldly monstrosities that came from God knows where and are here for God knows what reason. An early scene shows a subway train that’s actually not a train at all, but a gelatinous pink blob covered with eyeballs. The exorcisms involve not the Bible, holy water, or crucifixes, but rather a lot of gunfire and soulless displays of martial arts.
Other characters with no apparent significance are featured. There’s a demure schoolgirl whose constant companion is a tiny green entity that sits on her shoulder and sprouts bouquets of flowers from its arms. There’s a pink-haired young woman that looks like a cross between a warrior princess and a hooker; she wears fishnet stockings, daisy dukes, a bikini top seen in countless Girls Gone Wild videos, and a black trench coat. There’s a demon boy befriended by Rin, who has the magical ability to “eat” bad memories in a sudden burst of pencil squiggles. His presence is somehow connected to a legend Rin and his brother had read to them as children by their father. Oh, and there’s also a cat creature with two tails, a white-haired warrior on an ornate sailing ship passing through for a festival, and a Willy Wonka-esque man sitting in a contraption that hovers high above the city river. For the love of Pete, what does any of this mean?
I’ve made known my dislike of the anime style – the rigid facial expressions, the glassy eyes, the exaggerated emotions, etc. – and true to form, the animation in Blue Exorcist the Movie is downright atrocious. There are specific shots that harken back to the cartoons of Hanna-Barbera, in which a piece of action is looped over and over again in an attempt to achieve the illusion of motion. The backgrounds are an awkward, dirt-coated mashup of contemporary and ancient; one minute you’re looking at an urban skyscraper, the next you’re looking at a medieval cathedral a la Notre Dame. The characters perform so stiffly that one wonders if the animators were asked to imagine them as robots. I have no doubt this movie will mean something to the fans who have been following along right from the start. For the rest of us, it will feel like wandering aimlessly through a maze that has no entrance or exit.
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