Title: Blue Exorcist
Author: Kazue Kato
Publisher: Viz Media (Shonen Jump Advanced)
Volume: Volume 3 (ongoing), $9.99
Vintage: 2009 by Shueisha, August 2011 by Viz Media
Genre: Supernatural, action, comedy
As volume 3 opens, Father Fujimoto’s death continues to have wide spread effects. His familiar, a cat sídhe named Kuro, who has been diligently waiting for his master’s return, overhears the school’s guards mention Fujimoto’s death. Distraught at this news, and unwilling to believe the truth, Kuro goes berserk and grows to his full size, then begins to terrorize people at the south gate. Yukio is called in to deal with the problem, and armed with a secret weapon given to him by Fujimoto for just such an occasion, he fully intends to kill Kuro. Rin, however, hears Kuro’s inner voice inside his head, and realizes that the demon is overcome with grief. Rin walks right up to Kuro and knocks some sense into him, salvaging the situation miraculously, and making a new friend in the process. It’s time for some Esquire training next, as the gang gathers at the local amusement park to investigate reports of a mischievous ghost. Shiemi and Rin are paired off, and quickly track down the ghost. However, while the ghost plays pranks on Shiemi, a demon king named Amaimon appears and steals Rin’s Koma Sword. Wanting to see what Rin is really made of, Amaimon unsheathes the sword to release Rin’s powers, then tries to antagonize him into a fight. Before things get too out of hand, Rin’s mysterious hooded classmate arrives on scene and chases Amaimon off. When the smoke clears, the hoodie is stripped off to reveal some fan service…er, I mean, Senior Exorcist First Class Shura Kirigakure, who had been dispatched by the Vatican to keep an eye on Rin. Grabbing Rin, she takes him to the Order’s Japanese base for some answers. Shura asks Mephisto straight out why he’s harboring the son of Satan, to which Mephisto all too quickly replies that he’s raising Rin as a weapon for the Order. Shura drags Rin off to a holding cell for some one on one time, takes the Koma Sword away from him, and begins to tell him about her mentor and master, Father Fujimoto. When Father Fujimoto, whom she trusted and admired above all others, revealed his intentions for Rin, she immediately felt betrayed. Shura now has orders to destroy Rin, so she lashes out at him with her emotions running high, but she is stopped when Rin exclaims that he’ll prove Fujimoto wasn’t wrong about him by becoming the Paladin (the highest ranking exorcist or the Order). Temporarily satisfied by his passionate response, Shura decides to let him go, but keeps his sword as motivation and gives him a wooden sword instead. Summer break sneaks up on the gang, but instead of a vacation like the normal students, they are to attend a forest camp, where they will train for three days in the Academy’s forest. At night, the forest fills with low level demons, and the group is ordered to locate three lanterns hidden in the forest, light them, and return them to camp. The three who find and return with lit lanterns will earn the chance to go on an official mission. Rin, who has spent most of his life shunned by those around him, is particularly excited to get to spend this time with friends who are not scared of him. Unfortunately, the forest training is no cake walk, and though Rin intends to stop relying on his demon powers, things aren’t so easy when his friends are in trouble.
This volume focuses mostly on loneliness and friendship. With Kuro, in the beginning of the volume, we have a demon who is just as heartbroken over Fujimoto’s death as Rin was, and Rin recognizes this and reaches out his hand to the demon in friendship…mirroring what Fujimoto had done years before. To both Kuro and Rin, but specifically, Kuro sees something of Fujimoto in Rin, and quickly attaches himself to him. The cat demon follows Rin around the dorm, and even plays with him…if your version of “play” involves a sparring match with a giant demon. Kuro and Fujimoto were more than master and familiar; they were good friends, and I can see Kuro and Rin developing a similar relationship. There’s also some entertaining brother bickering in the early chapters, showing that despite how mature Yukio tends to act, around Rin he’s just another kid trying to deal with an annoying brother. Despite what has passed between them, they have a good relationship, although Yukio is beginning to show a little jealousy over the attention Shiemi is giving to Rin. There are some really good flashbacks with Father Fujimoto in this volume, showing how attached he was to Rin. That this tough, powerful, high ranking (well, TOP ranking, really) exorcist has a soft spot for a certain young boy…well, it’s just about the most adorable weakness a man like that could have. But it is a weakness, and Shura sees that most of all, and I think she’s crushed that he never had that level of affection toward her. Getting back to Rin…. We’re treated to a touching scene where Rin goes crazy at his school, unleashing his rage on students and teachers alike, and even on Father Fujimoto when he arrives to smooth things over. Fujimoto gently scolds him and encourages him to find way to use his power for “better purposes,” like protecting the friends he hopes Rin will make some day. Rin, ostracized from his classmates, can’t believe such a future is possible, but Fujimoto tells him that if he becomes a better person, he is sure to make many friends. Now, at the forest camp, he finds himself surrounded by friends, by classmates who don’t judge him and aren’t afraid of him. He can be relaxed and enjoy the little things, like cooking dinner and putting up tents, laughing and having fun. However, that may only last as long as the secret of his birth remains undiscovered.
Title: Black Bird
Author: Kanoko Sakurakouji
Publisher: Viz Media (Shojo Beat)
Volume: Volume 12 (ongoing), $9.99
Vintage: 2010 by Shogakukan in Japan, January 2012 by Viz Media
Genre: Romance, supernatural
Sho is back, and he’s determined to tear down his brother Kyo’s world. He began by attacking Kyo’s friends and the clans allied with the tengu, but now he’s changed his tactics to hit closer to home. Misao has moved to the tengu village with Kyo and his Daitengu for safety, though she is concerned that the only way to end this fight is to finally kill Sho. As the volume opens, Kyo and his men are preparing to aid the Kuzunoha who are being attacked by Sho’s forces. It’s obviously a trap, but Kyo won’t stand by while his friends suffer. They leave the still injured Hoki behind to protect Misao and Ayame, and the former clan leader agrees to put up a protective shield to keep Sho from taking advantage of Kyo’s absence. The shield sends intruders into an inescapable maze, but when a group of tengu children accidentally enter the trap, Misao insists the shield be dropped so they can be rescued. Sho, who has been waiting for just such an opportunity, attacks, but Hoki is unable to properly fight, and Ayame is injured protecting Misao. Kyo immediately tries to find a way to get Ryo back to her side, but Ryo insists upon staying beside him. As Ayame tells Misao about the day Ryo proposed to her, Ryo also tells the story, explaining to Kyo why he will not leave his side even to hurry back to the woman he loves. They have a mutual understanding that Kyo, as their leader, and by extension Misao, comes first before anything or anyone else. Due to Sho’s attack, the shield was replaced, and Misao accidentally finds herself trapped inside the maze with the children when she attempts to warn them away. Somehow, even though she is just a human, she manages to invoke Kyo, and he easily finds her and pulls her and the children back into reality. Once things calm down, Kyo is visited by someone who claims that those who attacked the compound were given what seemed to be the Senka Maiden’s (meaning, Misao’s) blood and became addicted. Kyo decides to stage a rescue mission to take the men back from Sho, and then cure their addiction to Misao’s blood. Hoki is again ordered to remain behind due to his injury, though this time Kyo takes some time to have a little heart to heart with him about how much everyone worries and cares for him. Even so, Hoki disappears from the compound that same night. A few days later, the triplets report that Sho has been absent from his mansion, meaning it’s the perfect time to launch an attack. Zenki is sent on his own to rescue the men, but finds that a trap has been laid for him. Chained in a dungeon, Zenki is surprisingly visited by Hoki…with Sho right behind him. Sho knows Zenki’s secret – that his tattoos are meant to seal in his immense power – and intends to take advantage of it. Back at Kyo’s mansion, it becomes obvious that someone informed Sho of their plan, and they know it could only have been Hoki. Kyo’s men take to this possibility all too readily, but Misao refuses to believe the accusation. So when Hoki sneaks into the compound late at night and asks Misao for some of her blood, she gives it without hesitation. Meanwhile, more and more dead bodies are being discovered, victims of Sho’s drug. As Kyo observes the bodies, he realizes that something doesn’t seem right, but he doesn’t have time to investigate, as an out of control Zenki is fast approaching. As Zenki’s rampage rages on, Kyo is pressured to make the call to take him out. Finally, Kyo takes things into his own hands and faces his crazed aide.
Volumes like this are why I stick with this series. Kyo’s not doing his weird S&M thing, the story isn’t about getting Misao into bed, and Misao gets to help support the clan in her own ways. Basically, the sort of things that make people dislike this series are absent from this volume, and really there’s been quite a bit less of that nonsense since the story shifted gears to the war against Sho and changed locations to the tengu compound. Things are much more focused on the story as a whole now, and on character development, particularly among the Daitengu. With the exception of a certain couple Daitengu who were kicked out several volumes ago, the remaining seven Daitengu are fiercely loyal to Kyo and each other, and now Misao, as well. It’s great to see their connections to Kyo (and Sho, on occasion) explored. In particular, those Daitengu who are with Kyo almost by mere chance. We’re shown this with Hoki, who really is only with Kyo by a fortunate chance. Left alone at home while his brother Ryo attended Kyo, and their parents attended to their own duties, Hoki was lonely and did not develop mentally the way normally socialized children would. He has no real sense of good or evil, and because of how desperately lonely he was, he would have taken anybody’s hand that had reached out for him. By a fortunate chance, it was Kyo who reached out to him first, but he could just as easily have become one of Sho’s followers. With his injury, he was being forced to sit on the sidelines while the others went out to fight, something the other Daitengu agree could have easily driven him to Sho’s side. Only Misao appears to believe in the kindness in his heart, and it’s rather unsettling how the others so quickly agree that Hoki has defected. As Hoki becomes more deeply involved with Sho’s plans, Sakurakouji leaves the reader questioning his loyalties as well for most of the volume. Then there’s Zenki. Incredibly powerful even when he was born, Zenki’s power has only continued to grow more and more throughout the years. It is kept in check through various seals, but without them he is an uncontrollable destructive force, with no loyalties to anyone. He grew up in an orphanage, and came to look upon the orphanage as his family, and the orphans as his brothers and sisters. He only joined up with Kyo because he felt that Sho would not create a world where the children would live in peace. Both Kyo and Sho are very powerful, but only Kyo has the humanity to temper his power and create real peace. The most loyal of the Daitengu, though (aside from the kids), is clearly Ryo, who would give his life for Kyo (and Misao) without a second thought. Ayame, even though she used to be Sho’s friend as well, would do the same. Their love for each other ranks below their loyalty to their clan leader and Senka Maiden, which is really rather sad when you think about it, but they’re incredibly happy to both have each other and fight side by side. As a Daitengu, nothing can be more important for Ryo than Kyo’s safety, and Ayame expects nothing less, because she feels the same. Misao and Kyo are actually kind of in the background this volume, which is understandable since their relationship is fairly well set now. It’s about time we got to learn about those around them.
Review copies provided by Viz Media.