Our cover story in the latest issue of Anime USA is none other than Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga, which recently wrapped its 12-episode return to directly adapting Kazue Kato’s manga. At the time the article was written the series wasn’t quite finished yet, but now that the dust has settled we can look back fondly at the Okumura brothers’ triumphant return to television.
For those looking to get an experience as close to the manga as possible, I can’t imagine a more ideal scenario than quitting the first series around episode 17 and picking Kyoto Saga up immediately after. It’s not that the original anime had a disappointing conclusion, it’s just such a far cry from what we’ve seen in this followup, and at this point it can be a little confusing. Rather than building to a critical, world-threatening climax, Kyoto Saga sticks to its guns, focusing on characters while leading us toward a final battle with a more immediate area of effect.
The battle in question comes when both eyes of the Impure King have been returned, allowing the monstrous creature a complete rampaging resurrection. I won’t get too into that because it results in a few action-packed episodes that are worth experiencing with fresh eyes. On the way to this showdown we’re treated to equal measures of betrayal, important backstory revelations—particularly the one concerning a younger Father Fujimoto—and a series of natural character turns as each principal cast member must find their own way to accept the truth about Rin.
The sharp focus on the strained relationship between the students of True Cross Academy remains the highlight of Kyoto Saga. It’s not just the strong resentment and distrust between characters like Ryuji “Bon” Suguro and Rin; there are other interpersonal relationships going through their own unique struggles, as well. Izumo and Shiemi have their own little arc to work through, and then there’s Yukio. Rin’s brother might just be the most troubled of the bunch in this season, and we can see shades of what ended up happening to him after the first series started veering further away from where the manga was at the time.
With that in mind, I’ve only read a bit of the manga myself. I can only go off the confirmation of more experienced fans and take them at their word that Kyoto Saga adheres to the source material. I don’t know what, if any, future adaptation plans may be in store for Blue Exorcist, but I would love to see more of this one-condensed-arc-at-a-time approach in the future. A-1 Pictures did a fantastic job putting this together, and the direction by Koichi Hatsumi is a nice fit that doesn’t stray too far from the style Tensai Okamura and his staff established back in 2011.
The final note of Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga is a hopeful one. There are obviously more story threads to unravel moving forward, but it works perfectly fine as a standalone saga.
Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga is currently available to stream on Crunchyroll and Daisuki.
© Kazue Kato/SHUEISHA, Blue Exorcist Committee, MBS