There's a lot to like about the fantasy world that has been created for the Blue Exorcist series, or at least there was up until it all went a bit Full-Metal Alchemist in the closing episodes. The less than convincing and rushed conclusion is however pushed to the side in the follow-up feature-length movie, which benefits from returning to the basic premise of the story and the strength of its imaginative visual creation. The basic underlying premise is certainly that of the familiar demon-hunting anime, and there doesn't appear to be any real originality in its Harry Potter-like 'school for exorcists', but Blue Exorcist at least demonstrates a little bit of invention and ingenuity in situations with some fine animation. Those are brought out well here in the movie sequel.
It's still not clear how much of a division there is between the Assiah (the real world as we know it) and Gehenna (Hell) on an everyday basis for the city's regular inhabitants going about their normal business, but for the Knights of the True Cross and those promising young students learning the ropes of exorcism, magic and seals to keep the hoards of demons from overwhelming the world, the crisis is still very much a daily battle. The Blue Exorcist movie gives us a couple of exciting examples of that in its opening sequence, where apprentice exorcists Rin and Shiemi accompany Rin's more experienced twin brother Yukio on a mission to exorcise a human soul-eating Phantom Train on its way to Gehenna with a cargo of ghost passengers. On a more advanced level, Shura is working with other Knights to rebuild the 28 barriers that protect the city from being overrun by demons from Gehenna.
The two missions at the start here strike a better kind of balance than the Blue Exorcist series managed to achieve over the course of its 25 episodes. There was always an element of darkness to the series that threatened to be unleashed, but too much of the actual series was instead spent on the fun but lightweight student training exercises that made up most of the first 18 episodes, only belatedly remembering that it had a lot of things to wrap in the rushed conclusion. It's probably for the best then that Rin's classmates are largely kept out of the picture, only really appearing as comic relief getting drenched in slimy gunk in their efforts to dispel MOLBs (Monster of Liquid Balloon). The two opening missions on the other hand manage to suggest darker and more serious from a seemingly light perspective as well as showing the danger on the much more threatening global scale.
On the lighter side of things, Rin's almost disastrous Phantom Train episode has led to hm letting loose and having to take responsibility for looking after a seemingly harmless minor kiddie demon who he calls Usamaro. While you might be hoping for a little more grown-up approach in the movie with Rin starting to take on some real demon-hunting, the movie unfortunately seems to lapse into cuteness again as Rin and his friends try to teach the kid how to play baseball. There is however a more sinister undercurrent here, and it's connected to a 1,000 year old legend that was related in flashback by Rin and Yukio's father. The story cleverly uses this device not only as foreshadowing and a way of neatly tying together later developments, but it's an effective means of expanding on the personalities of Rin and Yukio, and it has meaningful things to say about the value of memories - even painful ones - at the same time.
It also neatly ties into the other thread, linking successfully and impressively into the more epic content of the larger demonic storyline. One of the greatest strengths of the original series was the quality of the A-1 Pictures studio's animation and its imaginative designs for the various ghouls, demons and monsters that Rin and his companions had to face during training. That's taken to another level here in the movie, both in those major demon-battling sequences and in just visualising in more detail a world that looks like a gothic old-world European metropolis Chinatown. When it brings battle and location together the effect is quite stunning, but the fact that it's also heading down a well-paced and meaningful direction makes this simply great viewing.
Blue Exorcist - The Movie is released by Manga Entertainment on DVD and Blu-ray. DVD is a DVD-9 dual-layer disc in PAL format and encoded for Region 2.
The Blu-ray version wasn't seen for review, but the Standard Definition DVD version is impressive on its own terms and will be more than sufficient on regular-sized screens. The image is clean and darkly colourful, with strong contrasts and excellent levels of detail. No significance instances of colourbanding are evident, the animation moving along smoothly. Audio tracks are provided in Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 and English Dolby Digital 5.1. Both are fine, though there's not a great amount of dynamic or punch here, or at least nothing that jumps out at you through the surrounds. English subtitles are unfortunately yellow, which is certainly readable, but kind of plays havoc with the colour schemes.
Extra features are entitled, News, Trailers, Promotional Video, CM and US Trailer, but essentially they are all just variations of teasers and trailers. Nothing of great interest there.
The first Blue Exorcist movie doesn't really expand on the continuity established in the first series, and it's probably all the better for it. That means that we don't get much more student exorcists in training mishaps and we don't get much more of the belatedly introduced hierarchy of the Knights of the True Cross and their part in the apocalyptic events that threaten the world. Instead we get a well-paced dark fantasy adventure, with some good characterisation, a well-measured dose of comedy and cuteness, and a lot of demonic action. With some stunning animation, that's about the best you can hope to get from a movie spin-off of this particular series.