I think most fans of the manga have a pretty firm opinion of A-1 Pictures’ adaptation of Ao no Exorcist at this point. It was darn good for a long time, but went seriously off the rails when it diverted into anime original territory. I’m not one who ascribes to the notion that all anime-original material is bad – hell, any fan of Natsume Yuujinchou would laugh you out of the room at the very idea – but in this instance, I won’t argue that there wasn’t a pretty significant drop in quality once the anime steered away from the manga, though those eps had their moments. I think AoEx was simply a case where the anime was produced too early in the manga’s run, though there’s so much to like in the story that it’s easy to see why Shounen Jump didn’t say no.
Fortunately, as we wait for the inevitable second season of AoEx, the post-TV material has been excellent for tiding us over. The OVA, “Kuro Runs Away From Home”, was hugely entertaining, and this big-screen theatrical release was better than I frankly expected. It’s anime-original of course, but being free of the TV series’ responsibilities it’s able to deliver a self-contained stand-alone arc without worrying about consequences for any future sequels. To do so A-1 turned to Yoshida Reiko, one of the most experiences screenwriters in anime, and what they got was a thoroughly engaging story that felt consistent with the tone of the series and offered a genuine sense of scale, as a movie version of a TV show should.
That story is the chronicle of a little usagi demon who we first meet in a picture book Shirou is reading to the toddler Rin and Yukio (as usual, every scene with Shirou is a keeper). It’s the story of a village and the youkai a village boy found and cared for. The villagers become so carefree that they forgot about doing any work, and when an exorcist showed up and sealed the youkai away, the village went to seed, all but forgotten. But forgotten it wasn’t – the sealing of the demon is still celebrated in a matsuri a thousand years later in True Cross Town, which seems to have been built on the site of that village and the little shrine to the little youkai that rose up on its ruins.
There’s a whole lot more plot here of course, including a demon train that carries souls to Gehenna. In a very impressive opening sequence Rin and Shiemi are involuntarily responsible for most of the trouble that happens in the movie by loosing the demon on the town in an attempt (a successful one) to help the souls trapped inside. It’s the destruction this event causes that unseals the little usagi demon, who shows up with an attitude and the voice of Kugimiya Rie and winds up in the care of Rin, who names him Usamaro. During the course of the events that follow it becomes clear just what Usamaro’s ability is, and why it caused such havoc a thousand years earlier (and today).
This story isn’t especially profound and I don’t think it adds anything truly essential to the mythology of the series, but it’s not really intended to. It’s quite involving nonetheless, not least because it gives Rin a chance to show off his essential nature as a friend to the outcast and misunderstood. There’s a fair bit of Shiemi and Yukio, but most of the rest of the regular cast is relatively secondary – the main focus is definitely on Rin and Usamaro (and an entertaining turn from Kiuchi Hidenobu as Cheng-Long Liu, an exorcist descendant of the exorcist who sealed Usamaro). It’s also a surprisingly impressive film visually, with some really gorgeous backgrounds and a fair bit of sakuga animation. Sawano Hiroyuki’s music is an excellent fit, especially the orchestral pieces that accompany the large matsuri and battle scenes. If this is the last AoEx animation we’re going to see for a couple of years, it’s certainly an entertaining way to tide the audience over, and quite successful in its own right.
ED: “REVERSI” by UVERworld