There is no way Shonen Onmyouji is supposed to be this good. After all, we're talking about a teenage boy who discovers his amazing spirit powers and learns valuable life lessons by fighting increasingly tough opponents. There's absolutely nothing original about this, the title is the most generic thing ever (it could also be titled Demon Hunting Adventure), and the opening credits are completely interchangeable with any other action-fantasy anime. Yet after just a few episodes, we find ourselves rooting for the characters, wishing the best for Masahiro, and getting hooked on a generations-spanning tale of mystical intrigue. How does Shonen Onmyouji do it?
The answer is something often forgotten: Just tell a good story.
Sure, there are a couple of episodes at the start where it looks like Masahiro is headed down the path of another magic-blasting hack-and-slash snoozefest. But that's where the mediocrity stops, and the quality of storytelling quickly ramps up: each event connects logically to the next, isolated incidents turn out to be major clues and plot points, and each monster-of-the-week showdown is smartly woven into a grander tale. In fact, the entire first half of the series - which basically centers around a powerful demon trying to capture Princess Akiko - is so well-constructed, with layer upon layer of story, that following the plot is almost more fun than watching the sparks fly in the inevitable final battle.
After such dazzling theatrics, the middle episodes can't help but fall a little short, with Masahiro taking on less exciting missions (including, believe it or not, babysitting his older brother's kids). Yet even during this lull in the action, the seeds of the grand finale are being sown, so when things finally kick into gear - a rival from Seimei's past begins to move; the Emperor's entire family falls under attack - it's a perfectly timed, much-anticipated run-up to the big finish.
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