I’m beginning to wonder if their isn’t some sort of contractual requirement for Kana Hanazawa to play a major role in at least half of all anime airing at any given moment. Seriously – I don’t keep statistics on such things, but she must surely be the hottest seiyuu in the business right now. I’m not complaining – at her best (Kuroneko, Tsukimi, Mayuri) she has a certain something that really elevates a good role to greatness. Overexposure is a real concern, though, especially as some of her roles (Nessa, Shiro) seem to fall awfully close together on the vocal scale.
Her role in Ao no Exorcist is
Nessa Shiro Kuroneko Shiemi Charlotte Noir Mayuri Shiori Yuki Nanako Shiemi. She’s a cute girl (shocking) who looks after her grandma’s garden, partly out of a sense of guilt for her death. In her time tending the garden she’s unwittingly contracted with a minor demon who’s sucking her life force out through her legs. Rin, who seems to have a thing for little girls in need, stumbles on her while tagging along with Yuki and ends up helping Yuki exorcise the demon and free Shiemi.
At first this looked like a decent-enough stand-alone episode – which would make it the first of the series – but as soon as I heard KanaHana I suspected otherwise. And indeed, Shiemi is a recurring character – freed from the curse she signs up for Yuki’s class. She has a major crush on the older brother while the younger seems to be developing a bit of a thing for her, so clearly there’s love triangle potential here. Shiemi’s a good character – a nice introduction with a good backstory.
From here, I suspect we’re going to turn towards more of a focus on the exorcism students and the general classroom goings-on. It’s been hard to get a handle on just where this show is going, because the tone has changed quite a bit in each of the first four eps – but the thing is, they’ve all been very entertaining. If each ep has been distinct from the others none has broken any new ground – they’ve all covered pretty familiar shounen territory.
But rarely do you see conventional shounen done this well. You’ve got a rock-solid director in Tensai Okamura, for starters. And I can only assume Kazue Kato’s manga is well above the standard for the genre. But perhaps most of all I’m about ready to place A-1 Pictures in the top tier of animation studios in Japan right now, along with the likes of BONES, Gainax and Production I.G.. They’ve had a tremendous couple of years, with pretty much every show being at least solid and some achieving greatness. For a studio to have AnoHana and Ao no Exorcist running concurrently is a pretty admirable achievement. All of A-1’s series seem to achieve a high standard of execution – animation, character design, pacing – that other highly regarded studios can only aspire to at the moment. Unlike, say, SHAFT there’s no immediate “signature” to an A-1 show – only that it’s going to be well-produced, well-directed and thoroughly competent from top to bottom.
The themes here – lost father, the “bad son” struggling to live up to the good son, the supernatural-tinged school setting – have been done to death. It’s Shounen 101. But everything here is so well-executed that it feels fresh, and it’s always entertaining – at least so far. This might not be the most challenging series of the season, but it’s certainly one of the best.