Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 22 –Nine Angry Hashira

This week we meet the seven remaining Hashira, a most colorful bunch in both appearance and personality. Unfortunately, when they’re all standing in one place they look a bit silly rather than intimidating, and they stand in one place this entire episode. Tanjirou is bound and lying on the ground the whole time, his voice of explanation drowned out by the competing egos of the entitled, arrogant Hashira.

This is an episode where nothing really happens. Everyone stands around, and for over half of the episode, they stand around talking about nothing in particular. This episode is meant to bring the Hashira up to speed about Tanjirou’s unique—and officially sanctioned—situation. We the audience are already up to speed. Thus, the Hashira look even more foolish for dominating the with their opinions despite being completely in the dark.

At the halfway point of this episode where nothing happens and nothing is said we didn’t already know, the venerable “Master of the Mansion” finally arrives. Where the hell were ya, buddy? He calmly explains to his “children” that Tanjirou’s traveling with Nezuko has been sanctioned by the Corps. Urokodaki, Giyuu, and Tanjirou have all vouched for Nezuko with their lives.

Considering the deference the Hashira show to the Master, the matter should be fucking CLOSED. And yet many of the Hashira won’t accept their Master’s decision. These are the same Hashira who only minutes before were barking and whining about Tanjirou and Giyuu “breaking the rules” all Demon Slayers were sworn to follow. Excuse me, but how is contradicting your boss and acting on your own following the rules?

Not all the Hashira are foolish. Giyuu is obviously on Tanjirou’s side. Shinobu is at least willing to hear him out. Kanronji Mitsuri, who seems to love everything and everyone, is fine with her master’s wishes. Tokitou Muichirou is indifferent, going whichever way the wind blows. But Hotheaded Wind Guy, Giant Weeping Monk, Everything Must Be Flamboyant Guy,  Snake Guy, and Hot Rod Guy form a caucus of dudes who have decided their Master’s word isn’t good enough.

Frankly, they are the ones who should be put in their place, for speaking and acting on matters they know nothing about. And yet, the Master gives them leave to make an argument convincing enough to overturn that of three people who have pledged to commit Seppuku if they’re wrong. Hotheaded Wind Guy (Shinazugawa Sanemi, yet another white-haired guy right on the heels of Rui & Co.) decides to make his argument by slicing his arm open and dripping it into Nezuko’s box to tempt her.

Leaving aside the fact Demon Slayer is playing fast-and-loose with these five Hashiras’ devotion to The Rules, as a practical narrative matter, you, I, and everyone else watching know full well that neither Tanjirou or Nezuko are dying anytime soon; they’re the goddamn co-protagonists, and this is not Gurren Lagann. So this is a big ol’ waste of time better spent formulating a plan for dealing with the real villain, Kibutsugi Muzan.

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 – 20 – Arachnofamilia

It sure looked like Tanjirou beheaded Rui last week with his Hinokami Kagura Breathing, but alas; in the moment before Tanjirou’s strike hit Rui severed his own head with his threads, and soon reattaches it. He’s mad as hell, and Tanjirou is totally spent, but it’s okay that he can’t lift his hand, because Tomioka Giyuu arrives to finish Rui off with ease, using an eleventh form of Water Breathing.

From there we cut to the lone surviving member of the spider family, the elder sister, and we learn about how Rui built his family. Turns out all his family members were really weak demons with whom he shared his power—which also gave them the same spidery aesthetic. He used their fear to draw them in, an punished and even killed those who didn’t shape up.

The present-day sister once had an older sister who tired of Rui’s pointless charade, and vowed to run away, telling only her sister so she could join her. However, our present-day sister betrayed the other by leading her straight to Rui, who tortured her and strung her up to be burned away by the morning sun.

Back when Tanjirou saw Rui cutting his “sister’s” face, we didn’t know what was going on, but Sister’s face reverted out of fear once Mother and Brother were killed. It’s her first screw-up, but it isn’t her last. That honor goes to when she encases Murata in one of her yarn balls, which fills with digestive fluid that will liquify his clothes and eventually, him.

Murata is saved by one Kochou Shinobu, fresh off of curing Zenitsu. When Sister insists Rui made her kill the scant five people she’s killed, Shinobu has proof she’s lying, as she saw over a dozen of the yarn balls in which Murata is stuck, and estimates the Sister has eaten up to eighty humans. Shinobu agrees to be her “friend”, but only after she’s faced proper punishment for the people she’s killed.

Hayami Saori voices Shinobu like she would any sweet, friendly, kindhearted young woman, only the words she says are anything but sweet. I’d even say Shinobu relishes the chance to show off her unique Insect Breathing ability, whereas Giyuu is much more stoic and businesslike. You can hardly blame her; both her graceful dance-like movements, her delicate blade, and clouds of butterflies make for a hell of a show.

When the Sister realizes she hasn’t been beheaded, that Shinobu lacks the strength to do so, she believes she still has a chance to gain the upper hand. But she’s wrong, because while Shinobu didn’t behead her, she did poison her with Wisteria, resulting in a slower and arguably more gruesome and painful death. She doesn’t burn to ash, either; she’s simply dead, and Shinobu can’t be bothered to do anything but leave her corpse to rot.

With that, we jump back to Rui’s final moments, when he looks back to how he tried to regain memories of his humanity by creating a pretend family. But by now it’s a bit late to engender any sympathy for the guy, nor his treacherous sister who led her sister to a horrible death.

Unlike Nezuko, who has yet to even accidentally kill a human, these demons have long since forfeited any chance of mercy by preying on untold numbers of humans. They were living on borrowed time, and that ran out when they ended up on the wrong end of Giyuu and Shinobu’s blades.

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 – 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 – 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?