Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 02 – The Scent of Kindness

After an emotional grind of a first episode, it was nice to start the second with some lighter comedy, starting with Tenjirou absolutely insisting on paying someone for materials he then expertly weaves into a basket for carrying Nezuko during the day. He may no longer have parents to answer to, but he was raised right.

There’s a lot of physical comedy inherent in Nezuko hiding in the darkest places she can find, even if she has to dig, as well as her neat trick of shrinking just enough to fit in the basket. Kitou Akari, well-known to me as a seiyu with a very precise and matter-of-fact meter, does a lot with little nonverbal sounds.

Her placid stare and bamboo gag conceal the smoldering demon within. While on the way to Mt. Sagiri they encounter a demon eating three humans, and Nezuko’s mouth waters profusely at the sight and smell of her new preferred food. Nevertheless, she doesn’t join, and has her brother’s back when the demon attacks him.

When characters are relatively still or moving slowly, we get beautiful backgrounds and vistas. When there’s action, the camera mixes frenetic 3D POV views with wide static or panning shots, to allow the motion to breathe. Every moment is a visually stunning spectacle, with a gorgeous cinematic score backing it up.

Tenjirou and Nezuko’s battle with the demon also blends action and comedy seamlessly, as Tenjirou deals with the peculiar circumstances of going toe-to-toe with a demon for the first time. What would’ve been a fatal hatchet to the throat is quickly-healed scratch, and even when the demon’s head and body are separated, the body still fights while the head grows arms and suddenly it’s as if there are two opponents.

Tenjirou is eventually able to disable the head, then tackles the body off a cliff before being caught by Nezuko. That’s when Urokodaki Sakonji arrives, to see if Tenjirou has what it truly takes to be a demon hunter. Unfortunately, taking forever to make decisions and showing empathy and kindness for your lethal foe are traits Tenjirou possesses in abundance, and are not ideal traits for a demon hunter.

That said, Tenjirou is clearly a tough kid with a head like a rock and keen sense of smell, and Giyuu respectfully asked Sakonji to train him as there’s just “something about” him and his sister, so Sakonji sets to work training him. The test begins with a grueling trek to Mt. Sagiri, with Tenjirou running while carrying his sis. Then he’s made to climb the mountain, and, as night falls, climb back down while avoiding a ridiculous number of punishing traps.

At first, Tenjirou is overwhelmed by exhaustion, the thin air, and his lack of early progress. But he hunkers down, slows and controls his breathing, and uses his nose to detect the traps and avoid…most of them. Just before dawn he arrives at Sakonji’s front door, the mountain having thoroughly chewed him up and spit him out.

It’s enough for Sakonji to accept him as his student. But the true challenge will be whether Tenjirou can learn to switch off his kind heart when it becomes a threat to his safety or an obstacle to his duty.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 01 (First Impressions) – A Spark in the Gloom

When the immensely popular and critically acclaimed ufotable series Demon Slayer aired between April and September of 2019…I missed out. Being highly susceptible to FOMO, when it first appeared on my Netflix home screen, I decided to dive in, buoyed by going back and catching up on the currently airing Jujutsu Kaisen.

With the first episode in the bag, I can confidently say that this is right up my alley, and I really should have cracked it open back in Spring 19. In my defence, back then I was busy watching the excellent Dororo reboot, Part 2 of Attack on Titan’s third season, and the second cour of the promising Rising of the Shield Hero, so I wasn’t just twiddling my thumbs.

That said, I’m glad I went back to check this out. While the number of characters and storylines are sure to balloon before long, I loved how simple it starts out: a boy carrying a wounded girl through a bleak wintry forest. I can’t stress that “bleak” part enough—once Kamado Tanjirou returns home to find his entire family slaughtered but one sister, I couldn’t help feel like we were entering Grave of the Fireflies territory.

I won’t spoil Grave for those who haven’t seen it; suffice it to say it’s by far the darkest and bleakest Ghibli film and one of the saddest films ever, and things don’t end well for its pair of siblings. Demon Slayer differs in that while Tanjirou and Nezuko suffer horrendous tragedy, the opening episode ends with a spark of hope that breaks through the unyielding cold.

Granted, that hope is a spark and only a spark, made possible by a titular demon slayer named Tomioka Giyuu staying his hand when it comes time to execute Nezuko. Did I mention demon blood got into her wounds, thus transforming her into a demon? Well, that’s the sitch, because it wasn’t enough that Tenjirou lose his mother and other siblings.

While this could easily have descended into tragedy porn, there’s a sense that things can’t get any worse, and that it’s always darkest before the dawn (though Tenjirou is warned to keep Nezuko out of direct sunlight). That fact is reflected in the stunningly gorgeous wintry mountain landscape, which at least started out bright and cheerful before the clouds amassed.

Tomioka admits he shares part of the blame for Tenjirou’s plight; if he’d arrived a few hours earlier he could have stopped the demons before they attacked. But he didn’t get where he is today by dwelling on the past. What keeps him from killing Nezuko is that despite most likely starving for human flesh, rather than eat her knocked-out brother, she shields him from Tomioka. Instead he places some kind of pacifier in her mouth that seems to calm her (and give her a very cute surprised expression).

So the story so far is simple and familiar: kid loses almost everything, and seeks to find and kill (or…slay) the demons responsible, and save his sister. Naturally, he’ll need to become stronger to do that, and Tomioka tells him to head to Mt. Sagiri to find a man named Urokodaki Sakonji.

ufotable, renowned for its action sequences, wows with the landscapes first, but is no slouch when it comes to the showdown with Tomioka and the Kamado siblings. The action is beautiful and precise, but not overly flashy or show-offy. Tomioka is so quick it’s as if he can teleport. Tenjirou is a lot more clumsy in his movements, as befits his desperate mood, while the demonic Nezuko is both beast-like and balletic in her strikes, leaps and lunges.

All in all, Demon Slayer is off to a stirring, enticing start, front-loading the tragedy but also presenting its hero with a chance to claw back from the brink and salvage what remains of his shattered life. I’m glad Tenjirou isn’t left all alone, and while Nezuko is a demon, and that sucks, there seems to be enough of her left that she’s not an immediate threat to him. As their quest begins, so does my quest to cover it. Better a bit late than never, eh?

Attack on Titan – 27

After a quick check in with Eren, Mikasa, Armin, and Zoe as they prepare to head to Ehrmich District—during which Zoe hopes her new buddy Pastor Nick will be more forthcoming regarding Wall Titans—the story jumps to Sasha Blouse, and it’s her story that dominates the episode.

A flashback shows she was always ravenous about sneaking food, and was at the time totally against abandoning her huntress lifestyle for the greater good, as her father was contemplating doing. He told her to suit herself, but to be forewarned: If you’re not there for people when they need you, they won’t be there for you.

Arriving at her home to find an unfamiliar new village, she finds only two people still alive: a paralyzed mother being slowly eaten by a small Titan, and the woman’s daughter, who can only sit by, watch, and become profoundly traumitized. Good lord do the kids witness some hellish things in this show.

Sasha is there for the girl and her mother, but the Titan’s nape is too tough for the axe she wields. Her only option is to leave the mother behind to buy time for her and the kid to get away. The girl later says the rest of the village left her and her mother behind (Not cool, villagers. Not cool). Things get even more tense when Sasha’s horse runs off, and you can hear her struggling to keep the panic in her voice, lest she scar this kid eve more (too late for that, I think).

In the flashback with her dad, Sasha spoke in her country bumpkin accent. While running from the Titan with the girl, she remembers a random little interaction with Ymir and Krista, who argued about whether Sasha is kind and polite because she’s scared of people and ashamed of her backwater upbringing, while Krista likes Sasha is just fine, however she wants to be.

Kobayashi Yuu has always been such a great choice for Sasha, because there’s both a gentle and an intense side (usually hangry, but in this case because of the situation) and she nails both perfectly. It’s time to be not-nice when she tells the kid to “Get Runnin’!” Then blinds the Titan to disorient it; ditching the bow to make sure the last arrow finds its mark, and slipping out of the Titan’s grasp thanks to the great deal of blood spilled by its wounds.

Meeting back up with the girl, they soon hear horse hooves: her father and others from her village. It’s the first time in three years she’s seen her dad. He knows what she did for the little girl, and when he tells her “Sasha…Yer all I hoped for,” its a lovely, warm moment of reconciliation.

Sasha didn’t quite get it before she left home, but she does now. Livin’ in the woods alone just ain’t gonna cut it no more; people gotta be non-awful-like if they’re to be survivin’.

Sasha may have found her dad and a little girl in her village, but when Connie arrives in his home village, it doesn’t look good at all…particularly the horrifying Titan with emaciated limbs lying face up on top of his family’s house.

Since we don’t see any bodies, there’s hope some or even all of Connie’s family got out, but more importantly, how did a Titan that can no longer move end up there? It looks like it could have been dropped down there like a giant sack of potatoes.

Keeping Eren and Mikasa on the sidelines hasn’t hurt the show two episodes in a row now thanks to a smidge more backstory on Sasha, whose gluttony shtick used to annoy me, but has become a much more sympathetic character…someone I definitely don’t want eaten.