Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train – All Aboard

In 2020, and what I believe to be the first time ever, the highest grossing film of the year wasn’t American. It wasn’t Chinese, either, which one could reasonably expect to be the first non-American film to take the crown. No, it was Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train. That’s an achievement that may never be matched. It also broke the record for home box office gross, now reigning over both Spirited Away and Your Name.

$500 million gross is a lot of cash to rake in, especially during a global pandemic. But after finally getting around to watch Mugen Train, which is essentially “Season 1.5” of the series, I totally understand why: it is an absolute crowd pleaser stuffed with action, comedy, and drama. I laughed; I cried; I may have pumped my fist and shouted “Fuck yeah!” once or twice.

But! Mugen Train is merely a very good movie. It is certainly a very good movie watching experience. What it is definitely not is a great film, and falls far short of the masterpiece status of the anime films whose records it broke. There is no single big reason for that, but several smaller ones which become evident throughout its prestigious 117-minute runtime.

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First, as we know from the end of the first season (yes, you really should watch it), a Kasugai crow ordered Tanjirou (with Nezuko on his back), Zenitsu, and Inosuke to join Flame Hashira Rengoku Kyoujurou aboard the titular Mugen Train, which has a demon problem. Rengoku is, as most high-ranking warriors in these kinds of shows, a bit of an eccentric, but has heard about Tanjirou and Nezuko and is even willing to train him.

Their demon opponent is Enmu, a member of the Lower Six and the group’s resident “gross body horror” expert, a niche occupied by the likes of Bleach’s 12th Captain, Kurotsuchi Mayuri (or more recently, Jujutsu Kaisen’s Mahito). Enmu spends much of the movie standing atop the front of the train, talking about how much he’s looking forward to devouring its 200 passengers but never actually doing so despite having ample opportunity. Ya know, typical big bad behavior.

Enmu’s preferred way of rendering his prey helpless is by putting them to sleep. He has made four regular human passengers plus the conductor into his minions: the tickets the conductor punches contain a bit of his blood which is used to put the slayers to sleep along with everyone else. In exchange, the minions are promised wonderful dreams in which to lose themselves.

With all the demon slayers asleep, we take a look into the dreams they’re having, none of which come as much of a surprise. Tanjirou’s is a very happy dream in which he’s reunited with his family, who act like they were never slaughtered by a demon. Suffice it to say, it’s an easy dream to get lost in.

Zenitsu’s dream involves frolicking through forests and fields with Nezuko, which would be touching were his relationship with her in the show not so easily boiled down to “one-sided obsession” or simply “toxic.” Inosuke’s dream is aggressively weird and surreal, like him, but like Zenitsu and Tanjirou’s doesn’t offer any further insight into the character.

Rengoku’s does, but only because aside from a couple of brief scenes last season, we don’t really know who the guy is. What we do get is pure hero boilerplate: following in the footsteps of a former Hashira father who gave up the life and doesn’t care anymore, while having to be both big brother and father figure to his younger brother to keep him from falling into despair. Also, their sainted mom is dead.

Ultimately the dreams aren’t supposed to be particularly enlightening to us, as long as they keep the dreamers occupied and distracted. The minions then go in, find the edges of their dreams, tear them open with what look like icepicks provided by Enmu, and pass into the subconscious where their spiritual cores lie. Obviously, none of the minions succeeds.

Tanjirou already has an inkling he’s in a world of illusion, since his default thoughts are that his family is dead and Nezuko is a demon, so his senses must be wrong. His subconscious actually reaches out to him through a reflection in the water, telling him he needs to wake up, even if it’s being made very difficult to do so because it means running away from his confused and upset family.

His minion, by the way, sought relief in his dreams because in the waking world he was wasting away from Tuberculosis. When he reaches Tanjirou’s gorgeous (and very Spirited Away-esque!) subconscious, he doesn’t have the heart to go through with destroying his core. Tanjirou ends up waking up by slashing his neck with his own sword—call it the equivalent of the “kicks” in Inception that wake you up from dreams (or dreams within dreams).

Tanjirou is the first to wake up. Rengoku’s survival instinct kicks in and he chokes his minion before she can destroy his core (a very graphic depiction of violence against a woman that’s very oddly scored as triumphant) but he remains asleep. Tanjirou sees that Nezuko burned away the rope connecting him to his minion, and asks her to burn away the others’ ropes while he goes topside to meet the boss.

After exchanging some standard big-bad/hero dialogue, Tanjirou manages to behead Enmu, but of course his head isn’t really his head, nor his body his real body. Turns out he’s merged with the train, meaning the entire train his his body, with his head hidden…somewhere (the head of the train).

Enmu then continues to put Tanjirou to sleep, taking the same route as the Farscape masterpiece “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, turning the dreams into increasingly disturbing nightmares to throw the hero off his game. Tanjirou counters this by continuously slashing his neck as soon as he enters his dream.

With every surface of the train suddenly erupting with reddish-purple goo, suddenly all 200 passengers have to be protected at once. Fortunately, thanks to Nezuko burning their ropes the others start waking up, starting with Inousuke, who is ready to rumble. Nezuko slashes at the tentacles attacking passengers, but is quickly overwhelmed and restrained.

Enter Zenitsu, who gets to have a seriously badass moment with his thunder breathing assault, rescuing her from her doom. Let it be said this film does nothing to make Nezuko more than the bit character/mascot she devolved into in the anime, and outside of Tanjirou and Zenitsu’s dreams, she never speaks, which remains odd as there are plenty of demons who can talk.

All the commotion caused by Zenitsu’s thunder and lightning finally wakes up Rengoku, who has does his whole “how have I been sleeping through all this” line, and fills the cars with tentacle-burning flames (which naturally don’t affect the passengers). He orders Tanjirou and Inousuke to find Enmu’s head while he protects the passengers in five of the eight cars and Zenitsu and Nezuko handles the remaining three.

When his best water breathing technique can only tear away the flesh of Enmu’s “neck” to reveal the bone, Tanjirou employs his dad’s Hinokami Kagura breathing, which does the trick. Enmu’s real head is separated from his body (the train) and in his death throes, the train is derailed and crashes…which really should kill a lot of the passengers, yet doesn’t.

During his struggle with Enmu the minion conductor stabbed Tanjirou in the abdomen, but Rengoku quickly teaches Tanjirou how to use Total Concentration, Constant to staunch his broken blood vessel. Even so, Tanjirou is in no condition to fight anymore, with more than forty minutes left in the film. Enmu slowly disintegrates after lots of whining, including about how he was never able to enjoy his meal (which was all his fault) or rise to the ranks of the Upper Ten.

Right on cue, one of the members of that Upper Ten shows up completely out of the blue: the Upper Three, Akaza, covered in tatts and slightly resembling an evil Tanjirou with his short-cropped red hair. And while the ensuing duel between Akaza and Rengoku is pretty cool, the combat animation isn’t appreciably better than that of the TV show. More importantly, Akaza and the battle feel tacked on rather than a natural escalation of the conflict.

It also begs the question of if an even bigger demon big bad could show up willy-nilly, why couldn’t the same be true of other Hashira? The answer is, because the movie needs Rengoku to die, even though he was being set up as Tanjirou’s new mentor and big brother figure. At the end of the day, Akaza can regenerate almost instantly, while Rengoku is a mortal human of flesh and blood, and the wounds he suffers prove fatal.

The climax of the film also plays with the timing of the rising of the sun, which begins to light Akaza’s face as Rengoku tries to hold him in place so he’ll disintegrate. Instead, he flees into the forest to fight another day and provide Tanjirou with a future opponent with whom to avenge Rengoku. Like Demon Slayer reinforcements, the sun doesn’t show up when you’d think it should.

The final act consists of Rengoku providing Tanjirou the same encouragement as his little brother in his dream (and presumably in real life), as well as meeting his force ghost sainted mother, who tells him she’s proud of him (he did reject Akaza’s repeated offers to turn him into a demon, after all). Tanjirou is naturally very upset over losing another important person in his life.

As for the impact it had on me…the film just didn’t do the adequate legwork to make Rengoku anything more than a passing guest star. He had a few goofy moments, a few badass moments, and a very long and melodramatic death scene, and then he was suddenly gone, seemingly as soon as he arrived.

So as much of a funny, thrilling and sometimes genuinely moving crowd-pleaser as Mugen Train was, as a sequel to the series it fulfilled a merely utilitarian role, establishing how tough the Hashira can be, while establishing that the most powerful demons are even tougher, on the biggest screen possible. There’s not much else that’s new here.

It also gave Tanjirou both further motivation to fight the demons, though considering what he’s lost so far, I’d say he already had plenty, as well as the direction to the next nugget of info about his pop’s Kagura, which he’ll surely pursue in the second season. Mugen Train had no shortage of faults to go with its merits, but one thing at which it unassailably succeeded was making me excited for the second season, for which my ticket is already punched.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 26 (Fin) – Catching the Evening Train

After semi-binging this series to the tune of 26 episodes in 30 days, I can’t help but feeling now that I’ve arrived at the end that this first season was nothing but a prologue for the real story to come.  Heck, It wasn’t until last week that Tanjirou was able to use Constant Total Concentration—an absolute necessity when fighting elite demons.

Mind you, I am not complaining. If this is a prologue, it’s one of the best I’ve seen, and instantly makes any future adventures with Tanjirou, Nezuko & Co. more meaningful because we know how hard everyone’s worked to get this far—and how far we have yet to go.

The end of this epic beginning starts with a meeting similar to that held by the Demon Slayer Corps commander with the Hashira, only it’s Kibutsuji Muzan and the five surviving Lower Six of the Twelve Kizuki. The meeting takes place in a gorgeous, trippy, Relativity-style space of his own making. Unlike the Corps commander, Muzan doesn’t lead with a serene, considered manner, he rules by absolute fear.

With the loss of Rui, he’s decided the Lower Six aren’t even worth his effort anymore, and he executes them all except for one: the Lower One. Unlike the others, this one tells Muzan what he wants to hear, and is rewarded not only with his life, but Muzan’s blood, and a mission: defeat a Hashira and Kamado Tanjirou.

Just before dawn a Kasugai Crow wakes Tanjirou, Zenitsu and Inosuke, informing them of their new mission to join the Flame Hashira Rengoku Kyoujurou on the Mugen Train, a crisis that has already claimed forty lives. The balance of the episode consists of Tanjirou preparing to depart and saying his goodbyes.

Tanjirou’s sweet nature and pure heart reassure Aoi, who feels like she’s a coward for not fighting on the front lines, that he’ll carry her emotions on the battlefield in her place, and should he hurt himself again, he’ll be relying on her care once more. Say what you want about his idealism, but our boy possesses emotional intelligence in spades.

But the true highlight of the episode is his parting interaction with Tsuyuri Kanao, who flips a coin to decide whether to talk to him, and then does. Tanjirou asks her about the coin, and when he learn she basically takes orders from chance, he suspects it’s because the voice in her heart is soft.

He asks her to make a deal with him: He’ll flip the coin, and if it comes up Heads, she’ll try listening to her heart more, even if she has to strain to hear its whispering. She watches carefully as he flips it and notes he does not cheat, and it comes up Heads. He returns the coin to her and takes hands in his as a sign of heartfelt optimism, promising they’ll see each other again.

As he runs off, she raises her voice in asking why it landed on Heads, to which he replies that it was only chance, but had it been Tails he would have kept flipping it until he got Heads. If Tanjirou, who bears his heart on his sleeve, and Kanao, whose heart was buried deep in her chest by her past, eventually become a romantic couple, I will be 100% and fully Here for it. They are surpassingly adorable.

Tanjirou, Zenitsu, and Inousuke pass Naho, Kiyo, and Sumi’s Giant Gourd Test, meaning they now possess the breathing to fight some serious demons. Giyuu stops buy for a quick, stoic goodbye, telling Tanjirou he can thank him for vouching for Nezuko by “doing good work.”

With that, the trio set off West to the train station, and we realize that neither Tanjirou nor Inosuke have ever seen a train. Inosuke believes it’s some great sleeping god; Tanjirou speculates it may be an benign deity. It’s here where Zenitsu’s city smarts shine as he castigates his “country bumpkin” comrades for making a scene.

We also learn that Demon Slayers are not officially recognized by the Japanese government, and so they’re not legally allowed to carry swords in public. They hide their swords—well, Inosuke tries but also insists on going shirtless, so it doesn’t go well—and wait for nightfall to board the train while avoiding the police.

As they leap onto the departing train and it begins to steam into the night, we get a great closing shot of the three slayers on the caboose, ready and excited for their new mission, while Tanjirou tells Zenitsu that the safest place for Nezuko is together with him, in the box on his back.

We spot Rengoku Kyoujurou in one of the passenger cars, as well as the Lower One Kizuki standing atop the engine. The stage is now set for the Mugen Train arc, which is covered in the film that premiered in Japan October 2020, which surpassed Spirited Away as Japan’s all-time highest grossing film. I look forward to watching it as soon as it’s available in the states, as well as the second season that will air at some point in 2021.

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 25 – Chestnut Flower Drop

Tanjirou intensifies his Constant Concentration Breathing, asking the three little girls (named Naho, Kiyo, and Sumi) to slap him with carpet beaters if he breaks the breathing in his sleep. I love how the girls are rooting for him all the way, and will gladly do what appears to Zenitsu and Inosuke to be straight-up torture.

It may be torturous, but it goes a long way toward Tanjirou making progress. He’s definitely getting closer and closer to tagging Tsuyuri Kanao, who we can be quite sure isn’t going easy on him, while he’s eventually able to break the Lv. 1 Gourd with his breath.

Soon Inosuke and Zenitsu grow weary of falling too far behind. Also, Shinobu knows exactly how to motivate each of them: in Inosuke’s case, talking down to him and saying it’s okay to be weak; in Zenitsu’s case, batting her lovely eyelashes and saying she believes in him.

Shinobu also asks Kanao to get more involved in the boys’ intensifying training, but seems weary of approaching them, leading to her taking out a coin to flip. We learn how she came to rely on that coin for most of her decisions, but first we learn where she came from: nothing. She was dirt-poor and horribly abused by her parents until she one day just snapped and couldn’t feel pain—or anything—anymore.

One day her parents sold her off, and her buyer is preparing to sell her into slavery when they cross paths with Shinobu and her big sister Kanae (Kayano Ai). Disturbed by the sight of the young girl bound by rope, Shinobu tosses all of the cash she’s carrying up in the air and runs off with the unnamed girl.

Eventually Shinobu learns that Kanao was so horrifically traumatized by her life so far that she’s unable to do anything without being told to do it, even eat, resulting in her stomach grumbling far longer than it should. Kanae gives the newly-named Kanao a coin so she can make decisions for herself. Kanae also hopes that one day she’ll fall in love with someone, which will further help her understand her own agency and will. Back in the present, she gets tails, and doesn’t join the boys.

However, as a result of Tanjirou’s intensive training, one day he’s finally able to not only grab Kanao’s hand during tag, but win the cup game, all without splashing tea on her. It’s a stunning victory, and while Kanao never actually speaks to Tanjirou, you can tell she’s impressed by his progress.

After Haganezuka and Kanamori arrive at the mansion with Tanjirou and Inosuke’s reforged swords (and Inosuke re-chips his up with a rock, enraging the swordsmiths), Shinobu declares Tanjirou’s jaw healed and training complete. All that’s left is actual combat, and she tells him she’s expecting great things. As we saw back when she rescued Kanao to how she’s guided Tanjirou, it’s clear by now that Shinobu is definitely one of the good ones.

Interesting, she doesn’t know anything about the “fire breathing” Tanjirou brings up, only the distinct flame breathing in which Master Rengoku specializes, though he’s away on a mission, so more info on that will have to wait. Meanwhile, we see a Twelve Kizuki demon aboard a train eating its occupants—an apparent preview of the hugely popular October 2020 feature film Mugen Train.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 24 – Getting Back in the Game

While rest and recovery are the order of most days at the Butterfly Mansion, relaxation is most certainly not. That’s not just because of Zenitsu’s constant bellyaching, but the fact that Shinobu wants to begin their rehabilitation training ASAP, starting with Tanjirou and Inosuke. The training is handled by Kanzaki Aoi, Tsuyuri Kanao, and three pint-sized masseuses.

Zenitsu is perturbed when he sees the two returning from their first session as if they had just been beaten to a pulp, but Zenitsu soon finds out the score for himself, and he’s very disappointed in his companions. Why, he raves like a madman after taking them aside, are the complaining about getting massages, playing cup games, and light sparring, all with cute girls?

Zenitsu has no trouble with the massages or with beating Aoi at cups or tag, but Kanao is another story. She beats them at everything, and handily, as befits Shinobu’s apprentice. Zentisu and Inosuke are so frustrated that they stop showing up, but Tanjirou is determined to become strong enough to beat her.

The three little lady masseuses, who have really taken a shine to the sweet, wholesome Tanjirou (let’s be honest, Zenitsu’s a creep and Inosuke’s a forlorn beast) offer him some key advice. Kanao, along with Shinobu and all the other Hashira, are practicing Total Concentration Breathing … continuously. That is, every breath, morning, noon, and night.

The girls present him with a small, extra-hard beginners gourd he’s expected to break with nothing but his breath; Kanao can break a gourd over ten times its size. But while he clearly has a lot of grueling work to do (even short bursts of breathing wear him down), Tanjirou knows he can’t save Nezuko unless he’s stronger, so he puts the work in.

His efforts don’t go unnoticed by the lady of the mansion, Shinobu, who visits him on a rooftop while he’s practicing and even getting him to blush due to her close proximity and striking beauty. Shinobu is rooting for him because she too would like to live in a world where humans and demons got along.

It’s just, unlike him, she’s growing tired of believing that will ever be possible, having been ground down by battle after battle with lying, deceiving demon opponents. Tanjirou can smell anger behind her smile, which surprises Shinobu, causing that smile to briefly fade.

She tells him how her older sister, pure of heart like him, fought for peace with demons even when they ended up killing her. Due to her love and admiration of her sister, Shinobu promised to always carry the smile her sister loved, no matter how much she might want to frown or cry.

Knowing how much it sucks to lose a sister, she implores Tanjirou to keep Nezuko safe with everything he’s got—and there’s no reason to think he won’t. While I enjoyed this episode and the added depth given to Shinobu, Nezuko’s total absence is both conspicuous and disappointing—especially with only two episodes remaining.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 23 – On the Mend

Now that’s more like it. After Shinazugawa Sanemi stabs her three times, cuts his own arm and lets the blood tempt her, Nezuko doesn’t take the bait. Memories of the past and her family flash through her mind. She turns away in disgust, Sanemi’s gambit fails, and the Master puts the matter to rest once and for all: Nezuko won’t hurt humans.

That said, Master understands that it won’t be easy for Tanjirou to convince everyone he encounters, so he’d better hurry up and prove he and Nezuko can slay demons by defeating a Twelve Kizuki. When Tanjirou goes one further and says he’ll kill Kibutsuji Muzan, the Master tells him not to aim so high so soon. When Tanjirou turns beet red, Kanroji Mitsuri has to hold back laughter. Also, like Tanjirou, the Master knows Tamayo, which is instructive.

With Tanjirou and Nezuko’s trial and business with the Hashira at an end, Shinobu summons two kakushi to escort the two to her family’s Butterfly Mansion for rehab. There, he meets Tsuyuri Kanao, who he first met at the Selection. Turns out she’s not Shinobu’s sister but her Tsuguko, or sword apprentice. Kanao notably doesn’t say a word to Tanjirou or the kakushi.

Instead, they’re led to the infirmary by another girl, where Zenitsu is already causing problems with his constant whining and screaming, while Inosuke is uncharacteristically quiet and depressed, recovering from a crushed throat. Tanjirou thanks them both, and later in Nezuko’s room he resolves to become stronger.

The episode ends by giving us a look at the evening Hashira meeting, where the Master tells them they’re the strongest unit of demon slayers ever assembled, and they’ll get Kibutsuji Muzan come hell or high water. It’s clear the master considers Kibutsuji a personal nemesis; I wonder if we’ll ever get any history about the two. Maybe his horrible facial scarring is Kibutsuji’s doing?

This episode was everything last week’s should have been, both introducing and resolving the trial in short order. Sure, last week introduced each of the Hashira we hadn’t met yet, but in the worst possible light, as only Giyuu, Shinobu, and Mitsuri didn’t come off as assholes. I’m glad they fell in line once Nezuko proved she’s harmless to humans, and it was good to see them in a more positive light here, united against their enemy.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 21 – Tragic Creatures

It’s always best to know about an enemy before they do bad shit and get killed for it, so Demon Slayer’s penchant for having the lives of demons flash before their eyes as their heads turn to ash isn’t the best approach for engendering sympathy.

Don’t get me wrong, Rui’s origin story is a sad one, especially how he misunderstood his parents’ intentions and how Muzan manipulated him, and I like how Tanjirou doesn’t apologize for sympathizing with demons who feel guilt and regret in their final moments, which Rui clearly does.

It’s less a matter of the content of Rui’s backstory and more a matter of timing. Call it Mount Nagatumo fatigue, but when Giyuu hacked Rui’s head off, I was ready to move on to other things. The episode, however wasn’t, and quite a bit of melodrama ensues.

Once Rui is gone, it’s basically cleanup time on the mountain, which is where the Kakushi come in. The unsung heroes of the Demon Slayer Corps, they provide a support role, treating injured frontline slayers like Zenitsu and Inosuke (who may now be facing a crisis of confidence) as well as the near-victims of the demons.

No sooner does Rui burn away than Shinobu swoop in to kill the only other demon in play: Nezuko. Of course, she’s not aware that Nezuko is different, and has been conditioned not to harm humans. She’s simply following her edict to slay demons, and when Giyuu stops her, she sites both the rules and repeatedly tells Giyuu that no one likes him.

Tanjirou and Nezuko makes a run for it, but they’re soon caught by Shinobu’s sister, who was part of the Final Selection and sports a very sweet boot-and-cape ensemble. Nezuko is able to get away and shrink herself to make for a smaller target, while Giyuu catches Shinobu and the pair prepare to fight each other seriously.

Thankfully, Crows from HQ provide fresh orders: they are to take both Tanjirou and Nezuko into custody and deliver them to HQ. That means for the time being, Nezuko lives. When Tanjirou wakes up, he finds himself surrounded by the Hashira (i.e. elite slayers).

Looking at these guys I couldn’t help but think of Soul Society’s Gotei 13 from Bleach, whose captains were a similarly eclectic, eccentric bunch who heavily personalized their shinigami uniforms. I look forward to meeting these weirdos and learning more about the Corps, while sincerely hoping the higher-ups don’t push for Nezuko’s execution or separation from her brother…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 19 – The Unseverable Fire

Shinobu praises Zenitsu for holding out administers the antidote to the spider’s poison, Giyuu ties the injured Inosuku up for his own good, and that’s literally it for those four characters. The remaining runtime is spent exclusively on Tanjirou, Rui, and Nezuko, resulting in Demon Slayer’s finest episode to date.

After getting his head cut by Rui’s threads, Tanjirou tries to get close once again, refusing to take back what he said about Rui’s familial bonds being false. Rui reveals he is one of the Twelve Kizuki and unleashes a web of threads, forcing Nezuko to leap out of her box to shield her brother from wounds that would surely kill him.

This changes the entire complexion of the battle, as Tanjirou is no longer on his own, and now that Rui knows that Tanjirou actually does have such an unassailable bond with his sister, he carries her with him even though she’s now a demon. Naturally, Rui wants that kind of bond, but knows no way of attaining it except by stealing Nezuko.

When both Tanjirou and Nezuko protest and fight back, Rui suspends Nezuko in a web of threads that squeeze her limbs so tightly they threaten to slice her into bits, pulling tighter when she won’t settle down until she passes out.

Of course, Tanjirou can’t bear to see his sister so viciously treated—especially under the guise of Rui asserting his newly-established familial “bond” with her. Tanjirou digs deep into his Water Breathing and manages to unleash the Final Form, which is just enough to slice through Rui’s threads.

The only problem is that the threads are not at their maximum strength, and even if they were, they’re not as tough as Rui’s skin. Tanjirou simply cannot spin the water fast enough to be a considerable threat to Rui; worse, the attempt only makes Rui grow tired of the battle, and he strengthens his threads with his own blood to ensure Tanjirou will get sliced.

With Nezuko out cold and those deadly threads about to close around Tanjirou, his life flashes before his eyes, something Shinobu told Zenitsu earlier could be a person’s way of trying to find some way, any way, of delaying death by looking back on one’s life.

In Tanjirou’s case, he looks back to when he and Nezuko were happy little kids, both watching and imitating their father’s Hinokami (fire god) Kagura dance. Despite being frail, their dad was able to dance beautifully in the freezing cold thanks to a specific type of breathing which, along with his distinctive earrings, he vowed to pass to his eldest son.

Tanjirou only remembers that he has inherited Hinokami Kagura Breathing now because he has to; because otherwise death is imminent. Blue water turns to red fire which Tanjirou uses to slash away Rui’s reinforced threads on his way to the demon’s neck. However, he needs one more push, courtesy of a familial bond Rui doesn’t have, and thus could never truly defeat the Kamados.

That bond is expressed when Tanjirou and Nezuko’s mom urges the unconscious Nezuko to wake up, because she has to save her brother. In another first, Nezuko unleashes her own Blood Demon Art, “Exploding Blood”, which is exactly that. Her blood travels along the threads until it reaches Rui just as Tanjirou makes contact with his neck.

The combined powers of true loving brother and sister successfully decapitate Rui, who never knew what hit him. ufotable pulls out all of the visual and musical stops, from dad’s fluid Kagura dance to the climactic decisive strike. It all plays out like the crescendo of a full-length feature film, complete with epic orchestral score, and transitions into a unique credit sequence with images of the Kamado family united as one.

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 18 – Big Bad Spider Daddy

Puppet Mama and Spider Boy were only a warm-up for two of the three remaining members of the Spider Demon Family: Father and Rui. Needless to say they are much tougher customers, which is as it should be; why would the difficulty level go down in a demon gauntlet?

Even with Water Breathing, Tanjirou isn’t able to slice through one of Papa’s arms, and Inosuke inarguably saves his life by parrying the counterattack. Even dropping a huge tree on Papa doesn’t kill him, it only seems to make him mad. As Tanjirou goes flying, he begs Inosuke not to die, but wait for him to make his way back to him.

Zenitsu defeated Spider Boy definitively, but continues to pay the price as the poison starts shutting down his limbs. He’s all but ready to step into the light when a series of butterflies appear before him, followed by Shinobu, one of the two elite Demon Slayers sent to salvage the mission.

Tanjirou manages to cushion his fall with water breathing, but he’s only thrown from the frying pan to the freezer. Due to his strong sense of family and morality, he objects to the Spider Brother Rui apparently punishing his sister by cutting her face with his threads as she cries out in pain. Demon or no, that’s not cool. The Brother doesn’t take well to being told his familial bond with his sister is nothing but a sham.

Rui threatens to carve Tanjirou up, but is momentarily distracted by another Demon Slayer who comes out of nowhere. While claiming to be taking the easiest path to higher ranks (and higher paydays), he doesn’t practice what he preaches. He rushes in without knowing a thing about Rui, who dices him into cubic chunks with his threads.

Finally, we have Inosuke, trying to hold out against Papa Spider. While he briefly starts “using his head” like Tanjirou, he shakes that off and follows his own primal instinct to charge the enemy without fear. He keeps hacking at the arm until he manages to slice through, and Papa flees…but only to molt his own skin, revealing a bigger, tougher, meaner skin beneath it.

Inosuke’s chipped blades shatter when he attempts Beast Breathing, and Papa grabs him by the head and squeezes. Inosuke’s life flashes before his eyes, including when his bloodied mother sent him away to avoid being killed, and the interactions with Tanjirou and Zenitsu which seems to value.

Just before his skull pops (and the foley is pretty ripe) Inosuke is rescued by Giyuu, who cuts off Papa’s arm with one slash and defeats him with a single elegant Water Breathing Form. It’s a pretty convincing and awesome demonstration of just how much more powerful Giyuu is than Tanjirou, Zenitsu, or Inosuke.

Inosuke is safe, and so too is Zenitsu, but Tanjirou is still out there on his own against Rui, and we get a cliffhanger of Rui’s vicious thread cutting straight through Tanjirou’s sword on a collision course with his face. It’s a big forest, so it could take a while for help to arrive. Could the sister demon be an unlikely ally to Tanjirou? And what about his own sister—when will she pop out of her box?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 17 – Lightning in a Bottle

Zenitsu would rather be anywhere than Mount Natagumo. He is literally shaking in his sandals, and that crushing fear is only compounded when he spots a shack and numerous bodies suspended from threads, the latter in various stages of gruesome transformation. It feels like a nightmare, and Zenitsu just wants to wake from it. Unfortunately, he’s already wide awake, and since he didn’t follow Tanjirou, he’s on his own.

It gets worse: the Spider Demon Brother’s lesser spider minions bit Zenitsu earlier, which means he’s currently doomed to transform into one of the hundreds of grotesque spiders with human heads that are currently chasing him. The Brother doesn’t see Zenitsu as much of a threat, mocking his cowardice. When Zenitsu notices his hair start to fall out, he faints in a tree.

If there’s anything we know about Zenitsu, it’s that he’s at his most effective when he’s unconscious. He recalls the day he was struck by lightning while hiding in a tree, turning his hair yellow. During his ensuing training he was only ever able to pull off the first of six Lightning Breathing Forms.

His master urged him not to be discouraged. If he could only unleash one form, then he needed to perfect that one form, just as a swordsmith hones steel into the hardest, strongest blade. Brother doesn’t expect and isn’t able to deal the fruits of Zenitsu’s rigorous training, and as a result, is beheaded.

While brother’s pocket watch breaks upon his death, his poison is still coursing through Zenitsu’s blood. Zenitsu attempts to slow his breathing and blood flow, the better to hold out if and when someone finds him.

While this episode spent a lot of time fleshing out Zenitsu’s character, it also continues the development of Inosuke as someone who detests being coddled or seen as weak. He laughs off his clearly serious bleeding wounds, and refuses to leave the mountain until the job’s done.

Tanjirou, obviously, isn’t going anywhere until he’s had his shot at the member of the Twelve Kizuki, whose blood could help cure Nezuko. Unfortunately his usually reliable sense of smell continues to be adversely affected by a distractingly acrid odor, such that he doesn’t even notice the presence of the Spider Demon Sister.

Sister gets Inosuke to chase after her, but she’s only posing as a lure for her Father, who looks to be the berserker (and possibly the Kizuki) of the family. Inosuke may end up learning the hard way not to leap headlong into a battle when you’re at less than 100%.

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 16 – The Webs that Bind

Tanjirou, Inosuke, and Murata continue to battle the spider thread puppets, leading me to wonder why these demon slayers don’t have individual styles like our leads. Once cut, their threads are quickly reconnected, and the Mother spider demon has no qualms about cruelly contorting their bodies until their bones break.

Murata urges the other two to head to the Mother while he handles his comrades. Tanjirou finally determines he can immobilize the puppets without harming them by tangling up their threads along branches; Inosuke follows suit. Meanwhile, Zenitsu wanders around wearily with his sparrow, calling out for Nezuko, who stays in her box this week.

The Mother spider demon was all business last week, but her demeanor changes on a dime to someone desperate to kill all of the slayers lest she face the wrath of “Father”. It seems the spider demon family dynamic is a toxic one.

Mother ends up killing all of her demon slayer dolls by snapping their necks, rendering all of Tanjirou’s efforts to protect them moot. Then she sics a giant headless demon with swords for hands on Tanjirou and Inosuke. Rather than fight on his own, Inosuke learns the value of teamwork, especially when your partner is as capable and unselfish as Tanjirou.

With her giant headless doll defeated, Tanjirou proceeds to the Mother’s location, where she’s been sitting on a rock controlling things all this time. Tanjirou descends upon her, and she immediately resigns herself to defeat, as it will mean she’ll be free of her unrelenting torment.

To her surprise, Tanjirou employs a form that separates her head from her body without any pain, feeling like nothing but a gentle, soothing rain. She expresses her gratitude for finally being given peace by telling Tanjirou that one of the Twelve Kiseki is on the mountain.

While it’s good to be presented with demons conflicted about their existence like Mother, part of me wishes she hadn’t been defeated so easily. It’s as if she had no offense or defense beyond her dolls and simply…gave up. In a way she was no more than a puppet of Father, who used threats instead of threads to control her.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 15 – Night of the Spider Demons

As soon as Zenitsu learns (off-screen) that Nezuko is Tanjirou’s sister, he starts chasing her around their room. When Tanjirou tries to stop him, Zenitsu starts chasing him around too. Then Inosuke, who is ticked off from hunger, starts chasing them, leaving Nezuko out of the loop.

A fun time is had by all, but the next day the doctor declares the three lads have fully recovered, and a crow arrives with fresh destination: Mount Natagumo, with no further explanation except that there’s bound to be demons. With Nezuko secure in her box, the slayers set off for their first mission together.

Upon reaching the foot of the mountain, Zenitsu senses something creepy and chickens out. Tanjirou prepares to press on, but Inosuke rushes ahead of him; later Tanjirou thanks him for going with him, but Inosuke either didn’t do it for him, or he did and doesn’t realize it. He’s a very enigmatic fellow who is decidedly not brushed up on the social graces.

Once on the mountain, the two encounter a third demon slayer being carried off as if by some invisible threads. Eventually learn that he’s one of ten slayers sent to the mountain to deal with a demon infestation, but they’re all too low-ranked, and end up being turned into puppets, the strings connecting them to a family of spider demons.

Tanjirou and Inosuke sever the threads from the slayers, but neither that or killing the countless tiny spiders making the threads will solve the problem. They need to find the demons behind this, and that’s when Inosuke’s Beast Breathing Form Special Awareness comes in handy. In a very cool sequence his awareness stretches out across the forest until it locates the lead spider demoness, then travels back to Inosuke.

They now have her location, but her apparent son is standing on threads suspended high above the ground, just out of Inosuke’s vertical reach. The boy declares that no one will stop his family from living a happy life together, and that made me wonder: Why exactly are the Demon Slayers bothering with these guys? They’re secluded in the mountain forest, minding their own business. Their only victims seem to be intruders who couldn’t mind theirs.

I guess demons can’t be allowed to be left unchecked, lest they expand their territory and start threatening human settlements. The Demon Slayer Commander certainly seems resolved to eliminate the threat of them. When a crow arrives to report the lower-ranked slayers’ defeat, he prepares to send two Hashira slayers: Giyuu and Shinobu.

Combined with Zenitsu realizing Tanjirou took his beloved Nezuko into danger, that will eventually make it five slayers plus Nezuko against the five spider demons. They’ve just got to hold out and wait for the cavalry.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 14 – Aurora Boarialis

Tanjirou punches the boar-man to get him off Zenitsu, breaking his ribs in the process while scolding him for raising his sword(s) to a fellow Demon Slayer. The boar-man, named Hashibira Inosuke, decides to fight Tanjirou hand-to-hand (and foot-to-foot).

As both have cracked ribs, they fight on more or less an equal level. Inosuke has an advantage in flexibility and how damn low he can get (Tanjirou likens it to fighting a four-legged beast). Tanjirou isn’t really trying to fight, but when Inosuke won’t let up, he deploys his secret-weapon: his titanium-hard skull.

The headbutt is devastating enough to knock Inosuke’s boar mask off, revealing a beautiful, feminine face that seriously freaks out Zenitsu (though to be honest everything freaks the guy out). Inosuke passes out, then wakes up to find the others burying bodies from the mansion.

When he says he won’t help, Tanjirou chalks it up to Inosuke’s wounds hurting too much, only angering the boar-man more. A Kasugai crow arrives, gives the three rescued siblings a wisteria charm so they can return home safely, and leads the three slayers to a manor with a Wisteria crest at the gate, ordering them to rest there until fully recovered.

A comedy triad ensues at the inn-like manor, whose owners were saved by Demon Slayers and thus allow them to stay there free of charge. Tanjirou is glad for the change of clothes, food, and bedding, and even Zenitsu mostly calms down, but Inosuke is constantly trying to pick a fresh fight with Tanjirou.

Fortunately our laid-back protagonist doesn’t rise to the provocations, preferring to rest up so that he can more effectively fight the real enemy: demons. When the three lay down for the night, Inosuke tells the others how he, an orphan with no family, stole a Nichirin blade from a Demon Slayer who “trespassed” on “his mountain”, then heard about the Final Selection and basically thought it’d be cool to do that.

Zenitsu steers the conversation to the box Tanjirou has been carrying, and asks him straight up why he travels with a demon. Tanjirou thanks Zenitsu for protecting it even though he knew of its contents, and the praise goes straight to Zenitsu’s head (though he vehemently denies he’s strong). Before Tanjirou can tell him that the demon is his sister, Nezuko starts scratching at the door of her box, scaring the shit out of Zenitsu.

She crawls out and grows to her normal size. Once Zenitsu gets a good look at her, he draws his sword on Tanjirou for keeping such a “cute girl” in a box and not telling anyone, and threatens to “purge” him. Meanwhile, Inosuke can’t remember why he first picked a fight, and falls asleep instantly, missing the big Nezuko reveal. This was probably the most laid back and fun episode of Demon Slayer to date, a well-timed breather from all the recent demon battles.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

 

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 13 – Poetry in Motion

It was the previous episode combined with this one that I first started to notice Demon Slayer starting to develop some pacing issues. Yes, Kyogai’s (the name of the tsuzumi demon) ability to spin and change the rooms of the mansion Inception-style and launch fatal slashes is pretty cool…at first.

Then it simply goes on too long. Kyogai drums, Tanjirou is thrown around and gets frustrated, rinse, repeat. This episode tries to break up the repetition with a trip back to Kyogai’s past when he was still a human, and attempts to explain why he went bad: his editor/publisher thought the stories he wrote stunk. The anguish of failure curdled into hatred and Mr. Literary Critic was Kyogai’s first victim.

When psyching himself up doesn’t work, Tanjirou uses his nose and realizes that he needs to whip out a Water Breathing Form to get this guy, but first he asks him his name. There’s a lingering question of how much of Kyogai’s humanity is left, because he clearly reacts to Tanjirou not trampling on his pages as a sign the kid acknowledges his writing.

Before Tanjirou decapitates Kyogai, he also praises Kyogai’s Demon Art Form as pretty incredible, which it is, even if it’s a bit one-note. In fact, had Tanjirou not been suffering broken bones from his last battle, it feels like their stalemate would have gone on indefinitely. Instead, as Kyogai’s head slowly dissolves, he takes comfort that the opponent who defeated him finally recognized his dual passions of writing and drums.

When Tanjirou emerges from the house with two of the three kids, he finds Zenitsu shielding Nezuko’s box with his body as the boar-headed guy absolutely wails on him. It marks the second-straight episode where my opinion of the orange scaredy-cat has improved, as Zenitsu remembers Tanjirou saying the box’s contents are “more important than my life”, and protects them accordingly without hesitation, trusting in his new friend.

Zenitsu can hear things few people can, in the same way Tanjirou smells things others can’t. He could hear there was a demon in the box from the start, but could also hear such “kind” sounds emanating from Tanjirou, he felt he could trust him to explain what was in it if he asked.

Unfortunately, the scene of Tanjirou emerging from the house to find Zenitsu being beaten is repeated for no apparent reason, other than perhaps to pad out the run time. We watch Tanjirou react, then jump back to a few minutes ago when Zenitsu and the third kid ended up outside, then boar-man appears, then we watch Tanjirou react again. Finally, when Tanjirou decides to stop boar-man’s assault, his charge is almost comically drawn out, as that action ends up taking us to the credits.

Considering the promo art, OP and ED make it quite clear the boar-man will become a member of the “gang”, it seems odd to keep up the charade that he’s a “bad guy” for yet another episode. Had Kyogai’s backstory/demise and the scene with the two siblings throwing things at Tanjirou been tightened up a bit, there could have been more time at the end for Tanjirou to engage with the boar-man. Just some odd, clunky choices.