Satan’s Son and His Blue Flaming Sword: Should You Be Reading ‘Blue Exorcist’?
When you look at the sheer range and number of original stories being told in comics form today, it’s hard to imagine a better time to be a comics reader. Online and in print, from all around the world, artists and writers are telling stories with their own voices and styles, and there’s so much to choose from that it’s sometimes difficult to know what to read next. With Should I Be Reading… ?, ComicsAlliance hopes to offer you a guide to some of the best original ongoing comics being published today.
From Hellstrom to Hellboy, comics has no shortage of demon heroes who transcend their evil nature to battle the forces of darkness. One of the most popular current versions of this concept is a manga series that’s as dense and rich in character as it is in story: Kazue Kato’s Blue Exorcist.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
In Tokyo, teenaged delinquent Rin Okumura gets in and out of fights and can’t hold a job. A constant headache to his foster father, Father Shiro Fujimoto, Rin is the polar opposite of his younger twin brother Yukio, who is studious and dreams of being a doctor. After a failed job at a grocery store, Rin has an encounter with a possessed bully who tries to kill him, but he's saved by Father Fujimoto.
Dragging him back to their monastery home, Fujimoto explains that Rin & Yukio are the bastard half-human children of Satan, but only Rin received his father’s unholy power. After showing him a katana named the Koma Sword that’s the key to unlocking Rin’s demonic nature, Fujimoto is possessed by Satan himself, who opens a gate to the demon realm Gehenna to drag Rin there to fulfill his destiny.
Luckily, Fujimoto regains control and kills himself in order to stop Satan and Rin, unleashing the sword --- along with unholy blue flame, pointed ears and a tail --- and destroys the gate. Beset with grief, Rin dials a number on a special cell phone Fujimoto gave him, which turns out to be the number of Sir Mephisto Pheles, an eccentric figure who’s the headmaster of the True Cross Academy, which is both a regular high school and, in secret, a training ground for Exorcists (known as Knights of the True Cross), who fight demons in a variety of ways.
Using an inter-dimensional key, Rin accesses the school only to be shocked when it turns out his teacher is none other than Yukio, who’s already an exorcist of senior rank. Together with Rin’s classmates, which include the girl-crazy Renzo, the stuck-up shrine maiden Izumo, stubborn Ryuji and wide-eyed Shiemi, the Okumara brothers face down demons and hone their skills while Rin strives towards his goal of “beat[ing] the s--- out of Satan.”
WHO'S IT BY?
Kazue Kato, born in Shunjuku, Tokyo, is the mangaka who both writes and draws the series. A recipient of the prestigious Osamu Tezuka Award for her work Robot to Usakichi, she published several one-shot works starting in her teens before beginning Exorcist in 2011. Her previous works, including both Robot and The Miyama-Uguisu Mansion Incident, a proof-of-concept for Blue Exorcist, were collected in 2014 in Time Killers. Kato also writes the Blue Exorcist spinoff Salaryman Exorcist: The Sorrows of Yukio Okumara, which is drawn by Minoru Sakaki.
WHAT MAKES IT SPECIAL?
While most manga in the shonen (boys' manga) category is published weekly (think Naruto), Blue Exorcist is published monthly. Not having enormous deadline pressure allows Kato and her team of assistants to come up with longer chapters (typically 30-40 pages) that allow for greater exploration of character, more interaction, or splashier fight scenes. This is a rare shonen manga in that its characters have much more weight and depth to them than beyond “punch all the things.” Like all shonen, there’s a deft blend of comedy and action to this that Kato executes with aplomb.
Said weight and depth also applies to Kato’s artwork which is absolutely stunning. Every character, human and not, is breathtakingly rendered with unique visuals and body language that make them stand out. The backgrounds are sumptuous, with a frankly eye-popping level of detail that recalls Walter Simonson and Katsuhiro Otomo at the height of their powers.
The series’ core concepts are also fascinating to delve into from a religious standpoint. A Christian pastor friend of mine is utterly captivated by the unique blend of Catholicism and Shintoism and, as someone of a religious nature myself, I find myself equally drawn in. Like the spirit world of series like Bleach and Ghost Hunt, this is a fictional world that offers a lot more than it appears to at first glance.
WHO SHOULD READ IT?
Anyone who wants to see an intriguing non-Western view of Christianity. Fans of Fullmetal Alchemist and Hellsing who wants something that combines the energy of the former with the atmospherics of the latter. Mignola-verse diehards and the curious who want something without such a heavy backlog. Anyone who watched YuYu Hakusho on Toonami back in the day. Indeed, anyone who watched the Blue Exorcist anime from A-1 Pictures that ran on Toonami last year. Running 25 episodes and a film, the anime diverged from the manga after covering the fourth volume, so anyone who wants to know what happens in the comics should seek it out.
WHERE CAN I READ IT?
New chapters of Blue Exorcist run monthly in Viz Media’s Weekly Shonen Jump, a digital manga magazine that drops Mondays and can be purchased for $0.99 per issue from Comixology, Viz.com, iBooks and Google Play. Subscriptions are also available.
The first 13 volumes of Blue Exorcist are also available from Viz digitally and in print. The 14th volume will be released January 5th 2015.