When the Monster is the Hero: Blue Exorcist

It’s impressive how the majority of shounen heroes are misfits. They’re the loud, unruly, irrepressible — nothing like the stereotypical image of the Japanese people that has pervaded Western thinking. They’re usually the kids who are the class clowns, disrupting the teacher’s lessons with their raucous behavior. Or, they’re the shortest or the skinniest or the weakest and their goal in life is to be the best in their sport. It’s usually the one who’s the most unlikely to succeed who becomes the series’ focus of attention.

The title character of Blue Exorcist, Rin OKUMURA, is another gem in the long line of shounen misfit heroes. He’s the older sibling of twin brothers, and for better or worse, he received a greater share of brawn than brains than his brother, Yukio. In the beginning of the series (both manga and anime, though for this post, I will be referring to primarily events that happened in the anime), he was sent out to look for a part-time job when he was attacked by a group of bullies; in the progress of the fight, Rin found out that his fighting powers were better than an ordinary human’s. It was through this fight that Rin finally learned the truth that he was, in fact, a demon, one of the sons of Satan.

Rin’s situation is definitely reminscent of another well-known Weekly Jump hero, Naruto. Because of the circumstances of their birth, they were orphaned early on and needed to be raised by a compassionate elder aware of their condition. Naruto, as the vessel of the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox, was generally ostracized and marginalized in the same manner as Rin. Both boys were essentially considered “monsters” by the majority of their respective communities. They weren’t just clowns, they were actually dangerous and treated accordingly.

Rin’s advantage over Naruto is a stronger familial network. As a twin, Rin has always had  his brother for companionship. Where Rin may have had a difficult time growing up– being called a “demon” certainly doesn’t help an already damaged child heal — he also was able to share and experience memorable times with Yukio and their adoptive father, Father Shiro Fujimoto. If I were Rin, I would feel maybe a little uncomfortable that the two closest individuals in my life would also be the first people to restrain or kill me when the situation calls for it.

In typical shounen hero fashion, Rin vows that he’ll “kick Satan’s ass,” even though his powers are a result of being the son of the monster he wishes to defeat. His strength, his control over the blue flames of Satan, even his ability to communicate and command  lower-class demons — these are available for Rin to tap and to use because he is half-demon, so I’m curious if this conflict will become a point of self-loathing for him later, especially when it seems to me that he is battling a crucial part of his identity in order to achieve his heroic goal.

Like Naruto, and yet another fictional hero, Harry Potter, it appears that the best measure to avoid future conflict between the dueling nature of Rin’s identity is to ensure that he gets trained in the right path. Even before his passing, Father Shiro knew that he needed to entrust Rin’s guardianship to someone who would ensure that Rin would not go astray. Of course, it is the biggest of (anime) ironies that the next guardian should be a demon himself, another son of Satan, that is, Mephisto Pheles.  (I also am amused to no end that I just ended up comparing Mephisto Pheles to Professor Dumbledore.)  If Satan had gotten to Rin first, he could’ve ended up his strongest weapon against humanity. If Voldemort had been able to get Harry to join the Death Eaters, that book series might have ended up a lot bleaker. Without the proper guidance and training, our heroes might have ended up being the heinous monsters that everyone feared they would be.

Keeping true to its shounen roots, Blue Exorcist utilizes a familiar hero trope yet still manages to engage and entertain, proving once again that just because it’s a trope doesn’t mean it has to be bad.

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