Featured Columns

April 18, 2011

Bento Bako Weekly: March Story 2, Blue Exorcist 1

Title: March Story
Author: Kim Hyung-Min, with art by Yang Kyung-Il
Publisher: Viz Media (Viz Signature)
Volume: Volume 2 (ongoing), $12.99
Vintage: 2008 by Shogakukan in Japan, April 19, 2011 by Viz Media
Genre: Supernatural, drama, horror

[Volume 1 review here.]

Ciste Vihad March travels the land exorcising Ill from people and objects. Unlike most Ciste Vihad, March prefers exorcising Ill rather than destroying them (though it helps that she is the only Ciste Vihad capable of doing so), and is able to exorcise and Ill from a person if they have not yet drawn blood. March prefers to save rather than destroy. Ills are demonic-like spirits that are drawn to strong human emotions like anger, despair, and jealousy. Though some don’t mean any harm, many can become extremely violent, and even the ones that seem harmless can do great damage. Giving March her power is an Ill that resides inside her. The Ill made a pact with March and the Ciste Vihad Jake to remain dormant inside of March until she falls in love; but the moment March gives in to feelings of love, the Ill will devour her. For this reason, March pretends to be a boy.

The first volume focused heavily on themes of morality, but this volume is less structured, though no less enjoyable. In the first story, Jake sends March to track down an Ill that has taken possession of an old maid servant. The soon-to-be-retired elderly butler has come to ask for help, driven to despair by the change in the woman he loves. Unfortunately, March is not the only Ill hunter on the case, as the Ciste Vihad Belma has come to destroy the Ill. While making her way to the manor, March encounters Belma’s weapon and is overwhelmed by the illusion it creates to trap Ill. Thinking March is an Ill, the two get into a fight, until Belma is swept away by March’s beauty and ability to restore an Ill-possessed human. The next story is a tragic tale of Rodin when he was a child, and his encounter with a dangerous Ill that has returned in the present, to be attacked by March. It’s a lovely glimpse into the mysterious Rodin’s past. As a child, Rodin had befriended an Ill named Heuller, but a violent misunderstanding destroyed their fragile friendship. Another side to the Ills is shown, proving that they can be gentle and friendly even in their blood lust state of mind. The following story also shows a strangely protective side to the Ills, as March is asked to protect a woman who has been growing an Ill inside her womb. Her life is turned around and her outlook changes drastically as she carries around the creature inside her, a creature of surprising benevolence. In “Nellon’s Black Bell,” March and Belma are sent together to investigate the killing of aristocrats in Valen. In yet another strange instance, an Ill and a young girl work together to destroy that which made them into what they are. When March realizes the truth, she loses all reason, and only Rodin is able to call her back. In a humorous bonus story, Belma, Rodin, and Jake attempt to give love advice to a loitering, shy young nobleman.

I love March Story. There, I said it. I think the art is gorgeous, the characters are fascinating, and Rodin is super sexy (which is obviously the most important thing). I enjoy the chapter by chapter Ill morality tales and tragic stories, and I didn’t at all mind the change in focus, though I do wish it was more balanced instead of separated out by volume. I’m also very much enjoying the small glimpses into everyone’s pasts, and learning how they are all connected (like Jake having rescued both March and Rodin in the past). And, I must confess, I’m enjoying the romantic hints here and there (though I should note that everyone but Jake believes March to be a boy). Belma is struck by March’s beauty, even when she is fierce and deadly. Rodin cares incredibly deeply for her, and is willing to do anything to protect March both physically and mentally. You don’t want to hurt March with Rodin’s knowledge, or you might wind up dead shortly. If you make March cry, prepare to have a little something extra slipped into your tea. Also of note is how Rodin, with just an embrace and a few words, is able to instantly calm a rampaging March, proving that March harbors some sort of feelings for him, as well. Now, this series is not a romance; I’m just getting stuck on a few glimpses slipped into the narrative here and there, because I like that sort of thing (and I read too much shoujo). However, given March’s circumstances, it’s not something to ignore, either, as it will lead to March’s downfall. All in all, it’s another lovely, and tragic, collection of stories once again.

 

Title: Blue Exorcist
Author: Kazue Kato
Publisher: Viz Media (Shonen Jump Advanced)
Volume: Volume 1 (ongoing), $9.99
Vintage: 2009 by Shueisha in Japan, April 2011 (out now) by Viz Media
Genre: Supernatural, comedy, drama

Rin Okumura grew up in an orphanage with his younger twin brother Yukio, raised by the exorcist Father Fujimoto. Yukio has been sickly since birth, but Rin is hot headed and constantly gets into fights. Father Fujimoto is usually at his wit’s end dealing with the boy, but he tries his best to ready him for life outside the orphanage. Despite his own short temper and bizarre sense of humor, Father Fujimoto dotes on the orphans like his own children. Currently, Rin is trying to find a job, but on his way to his interview, he starts seeing strange, tiny, bug-like specks in the air, hovering around people. Unfortunately, on his way there, he runs into a group of thugs and is attacked. For some reason, the leader of the punks suddenly takes the form of a demon, leaving Rin dumfounded. But even more surprising, is when Rin shoots blue flames out of his head and hands to protect himself. “All right, let’s go! Satan is waiting!” the punk calls out to Rin. Rin has little time to be confused, as Father Fujimoto shows up to exorcise the demon. Father Fujimoto gives Rin a crash course in the human and demon worlds, describing the mirror dimensions Assiah, the human world, and Gehenna, the demon world, and revealing that demons can come to Assiah by possessing people and objects. Suddenly, Father Fujimoto is whisking him away, revealing that Rin is in fact the son of Satan himself, and telling him that he must immediately pack up and leave town for his own safety. He gives Rin the Koma Sword, Kurikara, which has been sealing Rin’s powers away. Once Rin draws the sword, he will assume his true demonic form, and never be able to return to being human. As Fujimoto tries to explain why all of this was kept secret from Rin, Rin becomes angry and slings accusations at the man who is only trying to protect him. In the heat of the moment, Fujimoto is suddenly overwrought by an incredible power, and Satan begins speaking through him to his now awakened son. As a human with the blood of Satan running through his body, Rin can help the father of all demons bridge the gap between the two worlds so that he can rule Assiah. Desperate to save the man he regards as his true father, Rin unsheathes his sword and unleashes his power. When things return to normal (or as normal as they can be at this point), Rin is approached by the president of True Cross Academy and a member of the Knights of the True Cross (exorcists), Mephisto Pheles, who has come to destroy him. Rin surprises Mephisto by demanding that he be made an exorcist so he can fight against Satan. Rin is able to go to an exorcist training academy, which also happens to be attended by Yukio, one of the top exorcists at the school. Rin’s troubles are far from over, and Yukio now blames him for Father Fujimoto’s fate. The two brothers have to come to new compromises under their new circumstances, but it won’t be easy. Especially since Yukio has a cold side to him that Rin has never seen before, and isn’t very happy with.

Well, that was a lot better than I was expecting. Though what I’m really taken with is the art. The character designs, the costume designs (which while bizarre at times, are well done), and the facial expressions. For a shounen title, the artistic level is high. The story isn’t super original, but it’s made unique through its characters. Father Fujimoto is very memorable, even though he’s only in the book for a short time. It’s very clear that he cares deeply for Rin, as if the boy was his own son. Yet his expressions of love aren’t exactly gentle. They have a very excitable relationship, and it’s fun to watch them interacting together. The expression on Fujimoto’s face when he realizes that Rin’s powers are awakening is pure heartbreak; he’s devastated. Later in the story, there is a great scene with Rin and Yukio, and Yukio is clearing out a room filled with small demons. Yukio effortlessly takes them out, showing amazing skill and precision, as he and Rin argue with each other. In contrast, Rin’s powers are often out of control, exploding with his temper, clearly dangerous. The two brothers manage to come to an understanding, but it will certainly be interesting to see if they’ll really be able to work together, or if Yukio will continually blame Rin for everything that’s gone wrong in his life. Rin has a good heart, despite his hot-headed, violent demeanor; he has a strong desire to help others, but his methods aren’t exactly professional. Kato’s costumes designs are one of the most interesting things about the series. The school uniforms are well designed, and Yukio’s exorcist outfit in particular is a treat for the eyes. Father Fujimoto wears a pretty basic priest’s frock, but it’s dressed up with several chains and rosaries around his neck and glasses. Mephisto’s outfit is the most interesting, which is to say, the most bizarre. Ballooning pants, a patched umbrella, top hat, striped tights, and a billowing cape. He certainly stands out, and it’s a good visual cue for his eccentricity. The art is sharp, though it’s quite dark, with lots of flat blacks throughout the pages. There’s a good amount of detail, and I’ve already mentioned the strong facial expressions. This one is definitely worth checking out.

Kris
kristin@comicattack.net
@girlg33k_kris

Review copies provided by Viz Media.

 

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