A-1 steps up to the plate with some outstanding anime-original material in episode 20 of Ao no Exorcist. Rock-solid in all aspects, for my money this was the best effort the series has offered in the last month.
I’m assuming this was anime-original anyway – I’m sure someone will correct me, if not. But more so than the last couple of episodes, this anime-original story seems to set the table for a real conclusion of some sort, building on some old plot points and adding in a few new twists and ending with a major cliffhanger. There remains a bit of a “Harry Potter” vibe to some of the events, but for a magic academy series that’s like saying an epic fantasy has a Tolkien vibe – in this day and age, it’s hard to avoid.
It was nice to see the action return to the Okamura boys’ childhood home at the monastery, though it was hardly under pleasant circumstances. A mysterious attack left a message scrawled in Polish and the brothers trapped in some sort of magical spider silk. The latter was a mystery but the former certainly implicated Professor Neuhaus immediately, and indeed that’s where Yukio’s mind went as well. The monks were alive inside their wraps thanks to magical chants – for some reason Adolf Hitler was apparently in charge of the medical team – but their protection was wearing thin, leaving the brothers only 8 hours to find a way to free them.
It could be argued that the events of the episode were fairly predictable, but there were a few surprises thrown in for good measure. I thought the scenario of burning off the webs was a rather elegant way of bringing Shura’s training regimen home for Rin, first of all. The “middle candle” riddle could hardly have been applied better to RL, and it’s certainly classic shounen that it was the crisis that finally pushed Rin into the red zone and enabled him to master flame control (at least for now). Perhaps my favorite plot development of the moment is what I see as Yukio’s slow descent into a very dark place (I won’t say “the dark side” just yet). He’s been vulnerable to this for a while, clearly resentful of Rin’s power and his growing relationship with Shiemi. Add to that the fact that he’s also Satan-spawn and you have a pretty volatile situation. I’m quite looking forward to hearing Fukuyama Jun go dark with this character.
That wasn’t all, of course, in a pretty plot-intensive episode. I wasn’t expecting the masked spider-wielding assailant who attacked the monastery and the school to be Nehaus’ wife. The full extent of this conspiracy is still a mystery – is there more to the Neuhaus’ hatred of Rin than we’ve already been told? I expect that’s a yes. And then there’s the matter of Neuhas’ possible connection to the artificial life lab Shura discovered somewhere in the frozen North - and the fact that his "wife" is immune to tranquilizer darts. But that’s not all with the artificial life – what about the charge that Mephisto is involved? Prissy Paladin Arthur Auguste Angel (founder of the motor club) is back to place the shackles on Mepphy’s wrists just as he’s about to put the hurt on Nehaus’ wife. While I don’t think for a second we’ve seen the depths of his machinations I think Mephisto is right that the conspiracy of this case is coming from the Vatican, as the timing is just too convenient. Everyone has something to hide, but I think Mephisto is being set up in this specific case.
Finally, that cliffhanger. Just who is Ernst Frederick Aegin, the Bishop-y looking fellow who summons Yukio and calls him “Grandson”? There’s an undeniable facial resemblance to GAR Priest and Fujimoto Stepdad Shiro, so that’s the easy assumption to make as to his basic identity – but even if that’s the case, his role in the plot is still a mystery. I see no mention of Ernst in any wiki, so I suspect the manga readers are just as much in the dark on this guy as the rest of us…