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 – 12 – Bang the Drum Quickly

This week Tanjirou meets the boar-faced man with chipped blades while the guy is inexplicable stepping on poor little Teruko. Tanjirou throws him off and the guy is intrigued by his human opponent’s strength. Just when you thought this guy would help out, he doesn’t—but hopefully thanks to the tsuzumi demon’s room-spinning and slashing drums, he doesn’t have to deal with him too long.

For the record, I like the boar-man and his joyful belly laughing as he tears through the ever-changing layout of the mansion. He’s certainly less annoying than Zenitsu, for whom there is not enough cheese in the world to go with his whine.

It sure looks like Teruko’s brother Shouichi got paired up with the wrong demon slayer, as Zenitsu whines and quivers so much he only adds the boy’s considerable anxiety, especially when a long-tongued demon starts chasing them. Zenitsu eventually faints from acute terror, and we finally see his useful, dare I say badass side.

He’s able to literally defeat the demon in his sleep using his lightning breathing form, only to wake up freaking out with no memory of doing so. After an ignominious introduction, I like this new wrinkle in Zenitsu’s character, though it means that in order to be effective he has to be knocked out so his unconscious instincts can take over.

Tanjirou and Teruko eventually find the captive brother Kiyoshi, who has one of the demon’s tsuzumi that fell off when the three demons were fighting to determine who would eat him. Zenitsu destroyed one demon while boarman defeated another. The tsuzumi demon would seem to be the last demon standing. Tanjirou figures out which drums do what, but as he’s still recovering from his previous battle, he briefly loses his spirit along with his strength.

He has to remember Urokodaki’s training, in which he told his student that water can take on any form that could be needed. Even with limited mobility due to his injuries, as long as he trusts in his water breathing, he can adapt to the tsuzumi demon’s pattern of attack, dispel his fear, and go on the offensive.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 11 – The Pest House

How I wish Agatsuma Zenitsu stayed where he belonged: in the OP and ED and nowhere else. He was one note at the Final Selection when he was in constant fear of imminent death, and he’s one note here: a whiny, manic little creep who just. Can’t. Stop. Macking on some poor random woman who is already engaged. Apparently when she encountered him looking ill on the side of the road and asked if he was okay, he grew convinced she was in love with him.

Jesus Christ is this guy annoying. I’d rather watch an entire episode of nothing but Tanjirou’s crow yelling directions over and over again than listen to this sniveling little shit go on and on about how terrified he is of everything. Tanjirou is a saint for being as patient as he is. Nezuko is a saint for not bursting out of her box to kick him into the next prefecture.

Zenitsu is a serious irritant and a pest, and he drags down an otherwise decent episode involving a haunted mansion where the brother of two little kids and others are being held captive. The stakes are established when one of those captives is thrown out of the house from a height and falls to his painful, gruesome death. The kids are horrified, but he wasn’t their brother.

Tanjirou can smell that something’s not right in that house, but Zenitsu proves there might be something useful about him when he hears something Tanjirou doesn’t: a tsuzumi drum, as commonly used in Noh and Kabuki. Tanjirou heads in, and shames Zenitsu into following, but leaves Nezuko’s box outside to protect the little kids.

Once inside, Zenitsu has another exhausting tantrum. I really don’t understand why this character exists, why they made him so grating, and if there is any chance that he could ever be redeemed after this fiasco of a debut. The kids hear scratching from Nezuko’s box (Tanjirou should have explained his good demon sister was in there) and run into the house, and before long, Tanjirou and the little sister are separated from Zenitsu and the brother.

The room Tanjirou and the girl (named Teruko) occupy changes every time the tsuzumi is struck, and they eventually encounter a vicious-looking demon ignoring them and ranting about his prey being taken. Tanjirou rushes the demon and prepares to strike, but with another strike of one of the three tsuzumi growing out of his body, the entire room is turned 90 degrees, so that the floor is now a wall.

This Inception-style stuff is pretty neat, but before Tanjirou can adjust his tactics, a crazed shirtless man with a boar’s head busts into the room, bearing dual Nichirin blades. Zenitsu had encountered him previously and was—you guessed it—terrified of him. I can only hope going forward that Zenitsu learns to chill the fuck out, or otherwise gets an absolute minimum of screen time. Wishful thinking, I know…

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 10 – Just Like Family

Looks like Yahaba is toast, but before he’s destroyed he makes life particularly difficult for Tanjirou, shooting all his arrows at him one after the other and forcing the Demon Slayer to pull off a long chain of moves. By the time Yahaba is gone for good, Tanjirou can neither stand nor hold a sword. And because there’s still one enemy demon still very much standing.

Fortunately for Tanjirou, Nezuko’s leg heals and she re-enters the fray. For a couple of minutes that fray turns into a soccer match, with Nezzy and Susa kicking the ball to each other with increasing ferocity. When Yushirou looks at Tamayo, she insists this is Nezuko’s own strength.

Even so, Tamayo believes Susamaru is still only toying with Nezuko, and it’s only a matter of time before she becomes impatient and goes all-out. In order to preempt that eventuality, Tamayo uses her Blood Demon Art to deaden Susamaru’s senses, then provokes her by calling Kibutsuji Muzan nothing but a petty coward.

While essentially under Tamayo’s spell, Susamaru says her master’s name while defending him, which causes Kibutsuji’s cells within her to tear her apart from the inside out. When there’s nothing left of her but an arm and an eyeball, Tamayo notes that she and her companion weren’t Twelve Kizuki after all, as the real ones have their number emblazoned on their eyes. She also collects some of her blood in hope it will help with her research.

Tanjirou, ever the empathetic lad, comes to Susamaru when he hears her death throes, and makes sure she has her beloved temari ball when the sun comes up, and with it her time. Like him I couldn’t help but feel bad for her, as she was merely a naive child used as a tool for the monstrous Kibutsuji’s whims.

Tanjirou is again reunited with Nezuko, who is once again healed up from Tamayo. While Urokodaki’s hypnosis makes her see all humans as family, Tanjirou is heartened to see she still has a measure of free will, because she’s chosen to see both Tamayo and Yushirou as humans and thus family as well. Tamayo tears up as Nezuko hugs her, and even Yushirou can’t help but blush when she pats his head. Who can blame them? Nezuko is a nigh-unbeatable combo of adorable, caring, and absolutely badass—all without uttering a word.

Tamayo offers to let Tanjirou leave Nezuko with her, as she’ll likely be safer than if she stays with her Demon Slayer brother. Before Tanjirou can respectfully decline, Nezuko does it for him, again making her own choice and taking his hand as a sign she wants them to stick together. They continue on to their next assignment, running into the blond kid from the Final Selection on the way. I see a team-up in the offing…

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 09 – Balls to the Walls

We learn that Susamaru and Yahaba are two of the Twelve Kizuki (Demon Moons), Muzan’s most trusted generals. When they say they’re going to do something—like bringing their master Tanjirou’s head—they usually get the job done.

But that doesn’t mean Susamaru isn’t going to have a little fun, sprouting four extra arms and pummeling the house and its occupants with her six temari balls. Whenever anyone tries to dodge the balls, they change directions, seemingly breaking the laws of physics. Despite appearing to be toys, one of them decapitates Yushirou, forcing Tamayo to fall back.

Tanjirou can’t slash away the balls and protect the others at once. Once Yushirou’s head grows back, he lends Tanjirou his sight, enabling Tanjirou to see that Yahaba is using his arrows to affect the trajectories of the balls. He adapts his offense and defense, gets in close, and lops off Susamaru’s six arms.

Nezuko, who sees Tamayo and Yushirou as family even though they’re demons, attacks Yahaba in the trees, but when she tries to kick one of Susamaru’s balls, it claims her leg, and unlike Yushirou she doesn’t heal nearly as quickly. Through trial and error and suffering quite a pummeling, Tanjirou eventually learns that dodging, countering, or slicing the arrows is useless; he has to make them work for him. 

By popping off a number of different Water Breathing Forms, he manages to finally crack Yahaba’s code, decapitating him with a new lateral water wheel that contains Yahaba’s own arrows. Of course, as Susamaru quickly grew her arms back and Yushirou grew his head back, Tanjirou’s victory could be short-lived.

These demons are beyond anything he’s fought before; if they fall to a relative novice demon slayer they’re going to seem like pushovers. That’s why I’m glad the battle doesn’t end here. I’m sure there will be more twists and turns before the night is one. Maybe he only needs to hold out until sunrise? But however things shake out, this episode was a showcase for the series’ trademark heart-pumping, inventive, balls-to-the-wall combat animation.

There’s a fair bit of CG, but it’s used well: smoothly integrated so it doesn’t distract from the fighting in the least. It’s truly a delight to watch Tanjirou and Nezuko dance through the air dodging balls and arrows, while Yushirou’s head re-growth is wonderfully gross. I’m not sure how Susamaru’s tube top stays on when her extra arms punch through the sides…but that’s nitpicking.

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 08 – Doctor Tamayo, Medicine Demon

Tanjirou pounces on the man Kibutsuji Muzan transformed into a demon, while urging bystanders to keep pressure on the wife’s shoulder wound. The police arrive, and demand Tanjirou get off the man. When he refuses (for their sake), they whip out the batons.

A woman in the crowd scratches her arm and from her blood a flowery screen of illusion occludes the cops’ vision. Tanjirou locates the source of the magic: the ethereally beautiful woman and her boy attendant…both of whom appear to be demons.

Last week demonstrated that Kibutsuji Muzan can turn humans into demons with one scratch and has no qualms about doing so in public. This week we learn a little more about the man. To his wife and adorable daughter he appears to be the model husband and father, and they’re rich enough to afford a car and fancy western-style clothes.

But when his family isn’t around, he doesn’t hesitate to bear his claws, easily killing a drunk kid and his big brother and then burying his clawed finger into the brain of a poor woman, transforming her into a demon so quickly her body can’t bear it, and turns into a horrific mass of blood and viscera that collapses into red dust.

After making things right with the udon vendor by eating two bowls, Tanjirou encounters the lady’s attendant once more. Things between the two boys don’t start out smoothly, as he calls Nezuko a “hag”—which is just objectively false, by the way—but the attendant was order to fetch him, and he follows his lady’s orders. He leads Tanjirou and Nezuko through an apparent brick wall to reveal a hidden medical clinic.

It is the refuge and laboratory of Tamayo (Sakamoto Maaya), a doctor who was transformed into a demon by Kibutsuji but was able to sufficiently modify her to survive on only a small amount of human blood to survive. Her attendant, Yushirou, whom she turned into a demon, can survive on even less.

Tamayo is excited by Tanjirou and Nezuko’s arrival, because they each have something they can offer one another. Tamayo tells Tanjirou something he desperately needed to hear—it is possible to turn Nezuko back. But the means to do so must be thoroughly researched and tested. To that end, Tamayo asks for permission to study Nezuko’s blood, and also asks that he bring her the blood of demons that were made by Kibutsuji or his creations.

In a beautiful little moment during Tamayo’s proposal, Tanjirou tenderly places his hand on Nezuko’s lovely forehead and she affectionately takes it into her hands. It says all that needs to be said about their bond without words, as do most of their interactions, as she is no longer verbal.

He agrees to the deal, but no sooner is it struck than two demon henchmen Kibutsuji ordered to find and kill Tanjirou (whose earrings reminded him of someone he fought in the past) crash their way through Tamayo’s illusory barrier, ready to fuck shit up.

These two look like tough customers, but as we know well by now, so are Tanjirou and Nezuko…and Yushirou and Tamayo are likely no slouches either. I like the good guys’ odds.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 07 – Taking the Plunge

Nezuko emerges from her box to viciously attack the tripartite demons, but when Tanjirou tells her to cease her attack, she dutifully returns to his side. He has her protect Kazumi and the young woman he rescued while he dives into the soupy bog where the demons dwell and devour.

While the demons are confident of their aquatic home-field advantage, the because Tanjirou trained in the thin air of the mountains and his attacks are water-based, he has no trouble executing a devastating whirlpool attack that chops the two demons into rustic chunks.

He returns to the surface just in time to stop the third and final demon from further harming Nezuko, who’d already received a nasty slash to the forehead. Before dispatching him, Tanjirou asks about Kibutsuji Muzan, but the demon start to smell strongly of fear—a fear so intense he literally can’t say anything about Kibutsuji.

While Tanjirou was able to defeat the demon and save one of the women, that woman wasn’t Kazumi’s fiancée. Tanjirou tries to comfort him by saying he must keep living despite life’s devastating blows. Kazumi lashes out in anger—how could a boy know what he’s feeling? But Tanjirou gently takes Kazumi’s hands in his and smiles a gentle smile, and Kazumi realizes Tanjirou knows all too well, and his hands aren’t those of a boy.

A Demon Slayer is always in high demand, so within moments of completing his first official assignment, his crow arrives with his second. He and Nezuko travel to Asakusa, Tokyo, and he is immediately overwhelmed by the densely packed humanity and the lights that make it as bright as midday.

Since this is the Taisho period, electricity is commonplace in the capital and there’s a vibrant streetcar network; we don’t see any cars buzzing around, but only because they’re still pretty rare. The huge city looks and sounds fantastic, and seems to pulsate with a modern energy Tanjirou has never before encountered.

Tanjirou is only one slurp into some therapeutic udon when he detects a scent that quickens his pulse and has him leaving the sleeping Nezuko at the stand. He dives into the crush of Tokyoites, following the very same evil scent that was present when his family was murdered, and it leads him to a fair-skinned man in a western black suit, a white hat, and reddish eyes.

This is it: this is Kibutsuji Muzan, the progenitor of all demons whom Tanjirou has been seeking. It’s almost too tidy that he’d locate someone so reluctant to be found he threatened other demons not to talk about him, but then again maybe he simply doesn’t consider Tanjirou a threat and would just as soon dispatch him.

As for Tanjirou, before he can unsheathe his sword, Kibutsuji makes a quarter-turn to reveal he’s holding a young human girl, his daughter. Soon, his wife appears, wondering who the boy in the checked coat is. To the mother and daughter, Kibutsuji is their husband and daddy. To Tanjirou, they’re his hostages. But that’s only the beginning: Kibutsuji quickly slashes a passing man without his wife or daughter noticing.

That man instantly transforms into a demon and bites his wife, starting a panic in the chaos of which Kibutsuji will no doubt slip away while Tanjirou tries to clean up the mess. Perhaps this was just a matter of Kibutsuji’s guard being down, in which case he won’t be so careless next time.

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 06 – Live and Direct

Tanjirou’s got his special Demon Slayer Corps uniform (most of which he covers with his signature aqua checkered coat), his black sword (the properties of which are mysterious), and a new lightweight cedar box in which to carry Nezuko.

In other words, he’s ready to set off on his first official assignment: rid a town of a demon that is abducting young women. While making his way to the town, the vistas along Tanjirou’s travels are beautifully rendered with parallax scrolling, in which the foreground moves faster than the background, just like real life.

Once in the town, one of the larger settlements we’ve seen in the show thus far, it doesn’t take long for Tanjirou to locate Kazumi, whose fiancée Satoko is among the vanished women. Tanjirou puts his nose to work, eventually detecting a demon who can hide in floors and walls.

When the sun goes down, Tanjirou manages to pluck a recently-abducted girl from the demon’s clutches, but he soon learns there isn’t just one or two but three such demons, all with different personalities. The more gluttonous of the three shows off his collection of hairpins from those women he’s devoured…among them Satoko.

Tanjirou becomes enraged by the idea these demons are destroying families just like they destroyed his, but because he has to protect Kauzmi and the girl, he can’t stray far from them and thus can’t swing his sword freely enough to cut very deeply. It’s a valuable lesson: depending on the circumstances, he can’t always go all-out.

When the three demons surround Tanjirou and one attacks from behind, they get a little surprise: Nezuko pops out of her box, wide awake and ready for battle. We also learn that Urokodaki performed hypnosis on her while she was asleep, so that she’d regard all humans as her family and only demons as the enemy.

Needless to say this is incredibly useful, but Tanjirou’s true goal is to change her back into a human, not simply make her harmless to them. According to Urokodaki, the only one who might be able to help him with that is the progenitor of all demons, Kibutsuji Muzan. Something tells me no other demon will be in a hurry to volunteer Muzan-san’s whereabouts.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 05 – All Ore Nothing

Seemingly telegraphing the fact that Tanjirou isn’t going to face any demons more powerful than the one he beheaded last week, DS lingers on the aftermath of the Hand Demon’s life and demise. He started out as a little kid who just wanted to hold his big brother’s hand, but one day he became a demon, and that was pretty much that.

Tanjirou has shown that no matter how evil a demon might seem, he wishes for them to be at peace or be reborn as humans again. That empathy isn’t just the result of a kind heart: surely the only ones who know if Nezuko can be changed back are demons. Alas, the ones he asks aren’t even high-level enough to be capable of speech.

The sun rises on the final day of the Fina Selection, and it seems only four applicants survived, all kids. Oddly, we still aren’t introduced to any of them, though since they all appear in the OP and/or ED, that will happen at some point. The creepy twin girls in charge of the selection assign the survivors crows, new uniforms, and have them pick the ore from which they want their Nichirin blades to be forged.

The three other survivors consist of Silent Pretty Girl, Crazy-Haired Guy who is constantly afraid he’s going to die, and Short-Tempered Prick, who grabs one of the twins by the hair to protest not being given his sword immediately (it will take 10-15 days). Tanjirou, friend of the weak, comes between the two, putting the jerk in his place.

With his uniform acquired and the sword in the mail, Tanjirou makes the trek back to Mt. Sagiri, though it’s far slower going this time due to his exertion during the Final Selection. Even so, a newly-awake Nezuko literally breaks down the door to meet him when he finally arrives, runs to hold him wordlessly in her arms…I couldn’t help but get a little cloudy-eyed at their touching reunion.

Urokodaki believes that Nezuko is sleeping so much in order to conserve energy since she’s not eating humans. Haganezuka soon arrives to present Tanjirou with his very own Nichirin katana, which turns an apparently unlucky pitch-black when he unsheathes it (not red, as Haganezuka hoped).

Finally, the Kasugai crow the twins assigned to Tanjirou arrives and speaks the human tongue, announcing his first assignment in a town where young girls have gone missing. No rest for those who’ve just been given a really, really nice sword for free!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 04 – Above the Wisteria Line

We learn that Tanjirou was able to defeat Sabito, i.e. cleave the giant boulder, by sensing the “thread” of his target by smell, made possible during Total Concentration. After a celebratory dinner when Urokodaki gives him the cloud-emblazoned tunic like his and a kitsune warding mask, Tanjirou bids his master and still-sleeping sister goodbye and heads to Mount Fujikasane, which is replete with gorgeous glowing wisteria blooms.

The year-long blooms aren’t just for show, as the creepy twins who administer the Final Selection explain: demons hate wisteria, and so they are trapped above the elevation where the blooms don’t grow, making the top half of the mountain a demon prison. The applicants must survive seven days in order to pass. There are many other applicants, but we don’t meet any of them, which is was an unexpected but welcome choice.

Instead of introducing potential rivals and allies, the focus remains on Tanjirou, who decides he’ll stay as far east, where the sun rises earliest, as he can, and use the daytime when the demons aren’t active to rest. He smells his first two demon opponents before he sees them, and is initially a little uneasy, but remembers his training and defeats them both with relative ease (they had been fighting each other over terf, after all).

The third demon is a different story, as it is on a level unlike anything else he’s encountered. A giant grotesque mass of sinewy, veiny hands like something straight out of Akira, Tanjirou is again taken by fear at the mere sight of it, especially as it already has a human applicant in one of his many hands, and drops him into his maw.

Urokodaki told Tanjirou that the more humans a demon has eaten the stronger they are, and when Tanjirou confronts his Hand Demon, he helpfully tells him he’s eaten over fifty “brats” in his extremely long life (dating back to the Edo period).

Not only that, but this “morphed” demon has a particular grudge against Urokodaki, who imprisoned him on Mt. Fujikasane. He’s gotten his revenge by eating no fewer than thirteen of Urokodaki’s students—including Sabito and Momoko, who it’s now confirmed interacted with Tanjirou in some kind of spiritual form.

The demon successfully throws Tanjirou off the game on which he very critically needs to stay by describing in detail how the two others were killed, and our boy ends up smacked against a tree hard, his protective mask shattering. He avoids being killed only thanks, I believe, one of his departed little brothers shouting for him to wake up…just in time to dodge the demon’s killing blow.

Not about to let himself become Urokodaki’s fourteenth dead student (with that track record I can see why he was reluctant to train anyone else), Tanjirou re-centers himself, attains Total Concentration, and uses his specialized water-based attacks (which are beautifully rendered like Ukiyo-e waves) to slash the demon’s neck, defeating him.

So far Demon Slayer has been incredibly efficient, getting its protagonist from losing his family to meeting his master to training to reaching the final test that will make him a demon hunter. And yet even though I’m semi-binging, none of it has felt rushed in the least. Events pass as slowly or quickly as I’ve felt they should. Finally, this episode featured the most dazzling combat to date. As expected, ufotable knows what they’re doing.

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

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?