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

Yuru Camp△ – 01 (First Impressions) – So Amazing, So Tiny

I’m three years and two months late to Yuru Camp, AKA Laid-Back Camp, but Hannah taking a very worthwhile look back at Demon Slayer got me thinking, what was a series from the last couple years I never took a look at, for no reason in particular? Yuru Camp is the answer, which in hindsight is a crime, as it’s about as up my alley as an anime can be!

Its first episode really sets the tone. After a cold open involving the entire future group, we go back to an instance of Shima Rin going to the foot of Mount Fuji during the off-season to camp all by herself. She gets there by bike, and I have to agree with the campsite reservations guy and his friend: she’s small, but tough!

One thing I loved about Cast Away was how it just let events breathe, really pulling you into its world as if you were there on that beach with Tom Hanks and a volleyball. Only here, the situation isn’t a matter of survival, but simply getting away from the hustle and bustle of the town and enjoying Japan’s natural splendor.

Rin is clearly very practiced at camping and camping alone in particular, bringing everything she needed for a cool evening, carefully, perfectly setting up her tent and galley. With every completed task, she balls up her fists and lets out a little satisfied “yoshi” (Touyama Nao delivers a cute, subtle, pitch-perfect voice performance). And while she didn’t want to deal with a campfire, it eventually gets cold enough to warrant one, and once she’s beside it, there’s no substituting that warmth!

Rin’s tent isn’t too far from the public bathrooms, and the first time she passed them on her bike she noticed a girl with pink hair sleeping on a bench. She spots her again when she uses the bathroom, noting she migrated a bit but remained asleep. Finally, when Rin takes a second trip there in the night, the girl is seemingly gone…only to pop up behind her in tears. After a brief chase, the girl identifies herself as Kagamihara Nadeshiko, voiced by Hanamori Yumiri.

She recently moved to the town, and wanted to catch a look at Fuji-san, only to fall asleep and wake up in the pitch black of night. Rin, while not expecting company, is nevertheless a kind and generous host, offering Nadeshiko a spot at the fire, a cup of curry noodles, and the use of her phone to call her big sister. But before calling, both Nadeshiko and Rin bask in the sight of a moonlit Fuji-san, no longer obscured by clouds.

It’s a gorgeous, dreamy shot, only adding to the coziness of Rin’s warm campsite. Before Nadeshiko is carted off by her big sis, she gives Rin her contact info, saying they should go on a proper camping trip together sometime. Rin calls Nadeshiko a “weirdo”, but that doesn’t preclude the  fact that Rin is a little weird, too. Nadeshiko is the yang to Rin’s yin, if you will.

The next day, Nadeshiko makes her way to school, first by bike, then train, then foot. She’s excited to have seen Fuji-san in all its glory, and as she searches for her shoe locker, she passes Rin, who just happens to have her head down.

While the two miss each other, it should come as a surprise to Nadeshiko that her new acquaintance isn’t a grade schooler, as she suspected, but her own age. I imagine it won’t be long until Nadeshiko is introduced to the other members of the Outdoor Activities Club.

Yuru Camp is anime-as-meditation therapy absolutely oozing with charm. The vistas are gorgeous, the direction is simple and naturalistic, and the laid-back score by Tateyama Akiyuki is the perfect accompaniment. The first episode left me with a big smile on my face, and I couldn’t wait to see the next episode. It’s nice to not have to wait a week!

P.S. There’s a lot to love with this show, but one thing I can’t quite get on board with is the OP. The song sounds like a version of the Jackson 5’s “ABC” tweaked enough to avoid a copyright suit, while the visuals are a bit too herky-jerky for such a “laid-back” show.

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 03 – Like a Rock

This week is a very workmanlike training episode, what amounts to a lengthy montage in between scenes of Tanjirou writing journal entries to Nezuko describing all of the things Urokodaki teaches him over a year. That includes how to stand, land, hold a sword, breathe, hold your breath and more. All the while, Nezuko sleeps, and Tanjirou worries about her.

Tanjirou soaks it all up like a sponge in order for his master to clear him for the Final Selection that will determine if he can become a member of the Demon Slayer Corps. Once Urokodaki tells him there is nothing else to teach him, he offers him a final test: slice a giant boulder in the woods clean in half.

The varying environments (forest, mountains, waterfall) break up the repetition that is both a bug and feature of most training episodes, and despite how fast time passes you can really feel how hard Tanjirou is working and struggling, and how frustrated he is when he’s suddenly left on his own to accomplish the seemingly impossible.

For another six months Tanjirou tries and fails to slice the boulder, until he’s approached by a boy in a kitsune mask named Sabito and a cute girl named Mokomo. Sabito offers tough love and clichéd motivational patter as he wails on Tanjirou. In between their sparring sessions, Mokomo teaches Tanjirou how to properly achieve Total Concentration, which allows humans to fight on par with demons.

After six months of that, Tanjirou is ready to face Sabito, who wields a metal sword for the first time after using only wood before. Tanjirou uses Total Concentration, her and Sabito rush at each other, and his strike hits Sabito first, cracking his mask in two. With that, the orphans trained by Orokodaki smile and disappear, and all of a sudden Tanjirou is standing before the boulder, which is sliced in two.

As I said, this episode has some cool moments but gets the job done in a pretty matter-of-fact manner. I’ve seen training regimens last only half an episode or less, while I’ve also seen them last entire arcs or cours. In the case of Demon Slayer, Tanjirou’s training takes an episode an change, which seems about right. On to the Final Selection…and hopefully Nezuko wakes up soon.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Hamefura – 11 – Waking Bakarina

That was a goddamn tearjerker.—Steve Zissou

That was…that was outstanding. This episode left me speechless, so I’ll simply type what I want to shout from the mountaintops.

It’s not everyday a protagonist in an isekai anime ends up right back in the “original” world where they started, but after falling victim to Sirius Dieke’s dark magic, that’s where Catarina ends up. She’s initially disoriented—calling her mom okaa-sama—but after dealing with her many morning cowlicks (wondering where, and then who Anne is) she’s off to school…with a cucumber instead of the classic toast?!

There, she finally reunites with her best friend Acchan, but it’s played out as just any other day. They talk about Fortune Lover—she’s currently on the Alan route—and read manga during a break from classes. This world is like a pair of old shoes, fitting so smoothly and comfortably that it’s as if she’s wearing no shoes at all (like when she had a romantic scene with Alan in a tree).

But back in the world of Fortune Lover, Catarina has been asleep for over two days. She cannot be revived, and one of the best docs in the land is clueless. All he knows is that if she never wakes up, her body will eventually weaken until she dies. The news hits her pansexual harem like a ton of bricks.

One by one, we see the women and men who love Catarina wallow in abject despair, suddenly lost and facing incalculable hurt. Talking as if giving a eulogy at her memorial, each of them describes what she means to them and why they can’t live without her.

She brought Color to Gerald’s world, and light to Keith’s. She helped Mary learn to love herself and fall in love with her in turn. She relieved Alan’s stress about being the lesser twin. She alone understood Nicol felt blessed to have such a special sister. She alone told Sophia, and helped her to believe, that she was indeed beautiful.

The last person in this sequence is Sophia, who suddenly hears the voice and senses the presence of…someone else. As we learned a few weeks back, Sophia and Acchan share a strange connection that bridges their two worlds. In a window reflection, Acchan assures Sophia that she’ll bring Catarina back, but she needs a little help. Sophia has to return to Catarina’s bedside.

As Sophia springs into action, everyone else similarly breaks out of their respective sorrow spirals, standing tall and vowing to stay by Catarina’s side until she wakes up. It’s almost as if Acchan’s guarantee to Sophia spread to everyone else, and they realized that sitting around crying won’t solve anything; they have to be there for the one they all love.

As dusk descends on the “real” world, Catarina meets Acchan in their classroom, where the latter tells her that while she’s immeasurably happy to have been able to spend a little more time with Catarina, this place is no longer her world, and there are many people who love her waiting for her to return.

As a parting gift, Acchan tells Catarina where Sophia is being held, then flashes a bittersweet smile as she says goodbye to her precious best friend for the last time. The tears…I had them.

Catarina finally wakes up in her bed, surrounded by her harem, and promptly lets them know where Maria is. When they ask how she knows, she credits both her dream and intuition, leading everyone to flash a skeptical look. Still, they’re no doubt enthralled their Bakarina hath returned to them. Now life is worth living again!

The group treks to the Dieke family-built storeroom, locate the secret door, and find Maria safe and sound, and release her. It’s a shame we weren’t privy to Maria’s thoughts about how Catarina changed her life, but after all she had no idea Catarina was unconscious to begin with, so her omission ultimately made sense.

That just leaves dealing with Sirius, who is painted as far more of a tortured, misguided tragic figure than a mustache-twirling villain this week. He feels obliged to heed his mother’s dying wish to avenge her no matter the cost, and he’s resigned to putting his humanity up as collateral.

Even so, he remembers Catarina telling him how “gentle” his tea tasted, and how they were the same words someone else said (I’m guessing his mother). That’s when Catarina and the others arrive in his candle-filled lair. Her aim is not to fight or punish him, but to save him from certain doom—the same way saving everyone else staved off hers.

Peeps, this Hamefura shit is for real.

Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 11

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Last week really wiped the show’s slate clean, as I truly had no idea what was going to happen after seeing Satoru about to drown in a freezing lake. Part of me expected another time-jump, but unlike the last time it happened, young Satoru was in mortal distress. He couldn’t very well jump back to his future self if his past self was drowning.

But at some point between then and this week, Satoru survived Yashiro’s attempt on his life. In fact, it seems to be Yashiro who saved him, because no one else was around. However, when he presumably returned Satoru to his mother, he was fast asleep, and when we rejoin him, he wakes up for the first time in fifteen years.

Wait…what?

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Satoru’s generally excellent physical condition in spite of that long slumber is credited to his mother, who spend four hours out of every day keeping him clean, well-fed and exercising his joints and muscles, all while making ends meet with a convenience store job. If I didn’t already consider Sachiko a Super-Mom—before this act of selfless devotion and hope absent any indication Satoru would ever wake up—I sure would now.

However, when he wakes up, Satoru’s memories are scrambled, and he has no idea what put him in the comatose state in the first place, though he does remember Kenya and Hiromi, and wastes no time trying to walk again as a young cancer patient watches. However, Satoru can’t shake the feeling (as his older self narrates, suggesting even this isn’t the present day of the show) his old friends are being kept from bringing up certain things, perhaps at his mothers’ request.

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I harbored pretty neutral feelings about this situation, and the fact that Yashiro may have well let Satoru live only to wait for him to wake back up so he can finish what he started. But for some reason, it just didn’t sit right for me when an older Kayo appeared with an infant in her arms, and we later learn she married Hiromi and they started a family while he was asleep.

Satoru takes this a lot better than I do, and I say that knowing it was silly to think Kayo and Hiromi would put their lives on hold—the way Satoru’s mom did—in the off-chance he woke up. But it still stinks—a lot—that Satoru missed his shot with Kayo because he saved her, and that she ended up with one of the other two kids he saved. An unavoidable but still raw and frankly pretty disappointing deal to the shipper in me.

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But Satoru, happy he was able to save Kayo and Hiromi (along with Aya, the older version of whom we don’t see), is content to be the honored hero, and knows he still has vast stores of motivational power for the young cancer patient, Kumi, who is as amazed by everyone else by his quick recovery.

Satoru proves he’s his selfless, loving, heroic mother’s son, by offering Kumi advice on how to have courage: starting with simply picturing the people you care about in your head.

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Then Yashiro shows up, and it’s only a matter of time before he says or does something that triggers Satoru’s memory of who he really is and what he did to him fifteen years ago. I’m not that sure why Yashiro befriended Kumi (another victim?), but he actually seems to enjoy how his relationship with Satoru returns to the way it was, if only briefly.

Satoru seems to recall everything when Yashiro starts tapping the handle of his wheelchair, and now we’re right back where last week left off: a virtually helpless Satoru all alone in the clutches of Yashiro. Only in this timeline, Kayo had no choice but to pass Satoru by and choose someone else. Not saying that will be undone, but I wouldn’t rule out another time-leap back to the past now that Satoru is conscious and knows the score.

Nor would I mind such a development. I know, one shouldn’t push their luck, but surely he could create a future where he (and his mother) don’t have to sacrifice a significant chunk of their lives and happiness so that Kayo, Hiromi and Aya could be saved. But first thing’s first: Satoru has to somehow survive his latest encounter with Yashiro.

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