I’ll confess a certain reluctance at wading into the debate over the direction this series is taking, but I guess that’s sort of the point of being an anime blogger, isn’t it? I think this episode did a pretty good job encapsulating all the challenges the produces of AoEx are facing, what they’re doing well, and what they’re struggling with.
The extended pre-opening sequence (over 7 minutes if you’re counting) still felt a bit rushed to me, despite the length. Seeing all of Rin’s classmates show up and engineer victory by playing keepaway with the demon blade felt more clichéd than almost anything else this series has done, and Amaimon’s presence seemed like a premeditated excuse to get the Vatican debate over quickly so the rest of the story could be gotten on with. I’m not making any predictions, but it would certainly surprise me if Amaimon were just gone that quickly. No question Rin has his number and it seems as though he could easily have killed him, but it would be a huge anticlimax for the character. And would Mephisto have just stood by and done nothing as it happened? Maybe he would, who knows – he was certainly the best part of that scene with his “always one step ahead” grin.
Things did get a lot better after that, though it illustrated a problem with the direction A-1 has decided to take. It was necessary for Rin’s classmates to forgive and forget quickly to set up the repair of the Kurikara, and for them to prove his saviors in the courtroom. But the scene in the classroom afterwards should have come first – the questioning of Rin, their doubt about him, they felt much more natural than their easy acceptance. But this was undercut by the fact that they’d already basically given him a free pass. It’s always an issue when character is subverted for the convenience of plot, but it does tend to happen when one story is being forcefully reshaped into another.
The thing is, the scenes at the school were very good I thought – right in the sweet spot of what this series does well. Absent the developments that preceded it I thought the classroom scene did an excellent job illustrating how conflicted Bon and Konekomaru felt about Rin and what he was, and it felt very true to me that Izumo – being a natural outsider herself – would be the least judgmental of the group. I enjoyed the interaction between Rin, Yukio and Shura in the “batting cage”, and Shura’s treatment of Rin felt very true to her character. Rin has a very real problem, and the training Shura devised makes sense, though I suspect no one has any real idea of just exactly what control Rin has over his powers. His “cleansing” of Shiemi (not to mention the interesting results with Shura and Yukio) being a perfect example – Konekomaru and Bon being horrified based on the Blue Night, but Shiemi was completely unharmed and didn’t even feel warm. Just how, exactly, do these flames interact with Rin’s emotional state? No doubt Shura is correct that it’s his fear that prevents Rin from controlling himself, but even when he was afraid for Shiemi he still expressed control over the flames.
There’s lots on interesting toys for the anime staff to play with here. I like the notion of pursuing the “otherness” of Yukio, which has largely been glossed over thus far. We’ve got the cliffhanger ending of whatever the red-eyed (bird?) demon that attacked Konemomaru and came after Rin is, and the Vatican Spy on premesis. Largely ignored of late is the prospect of romance between Rin and Shiemi, with the added zest of seeing how the fact that he’s Satan’s son will affect her view of him as boyfriend material.
But this is where things get really sticky. The evidence points to the fact that the staff here know what they’re doing, but they’re in a minefield now with a manga that’s nowhere close to finishing and an anime that’s over in less than two months. I suspect things are going to depart from the manga more and more now, and that’s going to be harder and harder for the manga readers to accept. For me, the only important question is whether or not director Okamura-sensei (heh, I just noticed that) and the writers can craft a satisfying and coherent last arc for the anime. My experience has been that trying to be faithful to the manga while doing an anime-original ending is a fruitless task – it only leads to awkward and disjointed results. If the plan isn’t simply to follow the manga and stop to wait for two years or so for the manga to progress– and we’ve no evidence it is – Okamura is better off disregarding manga continuity altogether and giving us the best original ending he can come up with.