I can hardly wait to see the response on this one. An almost purely anime-original episode – and based on the preview another one next week, and a slice-of-lifer about Shima to boot – will surely set the masses to grumbling. Yet this was a really good effort, I thought, and did a nice job tightening up some of the loose ends surrounding the issue of acceptance between Rin and his little playmates.
Yes, it was a bird demon who attacked Konekomaru last week – something like a crow or raven youkai, by the name of Gale. He makes an abortive attack on Rin himself, but it’s apparent that he needs to possess a human to express his real power – and Konekomaru is the best candidate. Poor Glasses-boy is the best candidate by far – angry and sad over the murder of his parents, envious that his friends are physically stronger and spiritually more powerful, the most severely injured in the recent trauma surrounding Rin. He’s weak in all the right places – and Gale exploits this weakness by obsessively offering his powers if only Konekomaru will submit to his control. In a bit of clichéd misunderstanding, this leads to Rin being accused of attacking Konekomaru when he was actually attacking Gale – and to me wondering why Rin didn’t just try a little harder to explain to Bon and the others what was really happening.
But eventually Gale reveals himself and the truth comes out, and naturally it’s Rin who saves Konekomaru from Gale’s control (just a bit too easily). This was all played rather broadly, but it was effective. This is a shounen after all, and we can’t always expect our life’s lessons to be as subtle. And after the last two episodes it was vital that some real attention be given to Rin’s nature and how the others felt about it. Again, I would question the order – things might have made more sense if this had happened before they all went to save Rin’s bacon at the Vatican trial. But better late than never, and I’m glad this was confronted. And confronted effectively, if sentimentally. Point made, and Rin and the rest of the class can get beyond it now and deal with bigger issues.
Less obvious but equally important – the questions of how Gale got into the Academy, and the meaning of the lab that Shura discovered on the other side of the portal. On the former, it’s strongly implied that
Severus Snape Professor Igor Nehaus is the one who invited Gale in – we catch a glimpse of him when Shura discovers the gate inside the van, and Pheles pretty much states that the whole thing was an inside job. His motive was established way back in episode 7, so he’s clearly the prime suspect at this point. What about the “Kunstliches Leben Lab” Shura found in the middle of the arctic forest on the other side of the gate? An artificial life lab banned by the Vatican 300 years earlier? That certainly comes out of left field at this late stage of the game. Also interesting was the little hamster on Mephisto’s desk. A little green hamster. A little green hamster with a horn. Remind you of anyone? Hamster-kun gets not one, but two close-ups, too.
If anything, it feels as if we know even less about the fate of the anime after this episode. With only six eps left now – and next week’s seemingly not concerned primarily with canon events and wrapping them up – A-1 isn’t acting as if they’re in any hurry to give us an anime-only ending. That could imply that we’re headed towards the placeholder option, with the ratings and sales for the series strong enough to give the studio confidence they can wait a year or longer and then pick up the series again. But the studio certainly could come up with some sort of original ending in five episodes, if they chose. I think that’s less likely after this week, but not impossible. Ao no Exorcist has given us very good filler so far generally speaking, so if we do go down that route I’m not convinced it’d be a disaster.