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